Tuesday, July 7, 2015

CASAA Podcast Update July 6, 2015

CASAA's Chief Scientific Officer, Carl V Phillips, joins Jan Johnson and Alex Clark to discuss the launch of CASAA's fundraising efforts to provide a grant to research the gateway claim and legislative- and advocacy-related matters of current interest to CASAA members and THR (tobacco harm reduction) advocates.

0:45 - California - Hearing on SB 140 in the Committee on Governmental Organization on Wednesday, July 8, 2015. California residents, please see the Call to Action to send a prewritten (fully editable) email to your legislator. While the Call to Action is open to all California residents, it is particularly important that those who live in districts with a legislator who serves on the committee participate in the Call to Action. Emails were sent to people with legislators on the committee, so if you received an email, it is vital that you respond. NorCal SFATA has been doing an excellent job of providing up-to-date information on SB 140 and has also issued a NorCal SFATA Call to Action, and we strongly recommend watching their site for updates. (NorCal SFATA can be found here on Facebook.) NorCal SFATA is organizing a get-together in Sacramento starting at 10:30 a.m. (hearing at 1:30 p.m.) on Wednesday, July 8th, 2015 in front of the Capitol Building. 

2:40 - Massachusetts - Expect a Call to Action this week.

3:00 - CASAA announces a crowdsourcing plan for a new research project, to be launched Tuesday, July 7, 2015. CASAA created the Research Fund in 2013, and its inaugural project was to give a grant to Dr. Igor Burstyn to review the research regarding the chemistry of e-cigarette vapor and liquid and provide an analysis of its health implications. This is probably still the most important paper on the topic of e-cigarettes. CASAA's goal with the Research Fund is to identify very high bang-for-the-buck research that will be important for THR advocacy, and we believe we have identified another such project to provide the definitive rebuttal of the various gateway claims.

The gateway claim is a classic strategy employed by those seeking to condemn a low-risk drug or behavior but can't come up with any good reason to do so based on its actual effects. Therefore, they claim that the relatively low-risk drug/behavior causes people to go on to do something that is harmful. The current gateway claim regarding e-cigarettes is that that e-cigarettes will cause people to take up smoking. 

Some may wonder why a research paper should be done to refute such a bogus claim. The answer is that, sadly, the unsupported gateway claim is gaining traction among policy-makers and legislators. In fact, the gateway claim comes up in almost every single legislative hearing involving e-cigarettes, even those where the issue is wholly unrelated to the legislation. It's even part of the FDA's discussion. As obvious as it is that the claim is absurd, we don't have something we can point to as the definitive rebuttal of all the gateway claims. 

Phillips has published a working paper on gateway effects here that basically shows what research would be needed to provide any evidence whatsoever that a gateway effect is occurring, but this paper is a highly technical methods paper and is not optimized for advocacy purposes. The research project being proposed will be led by Dr. Karyn Heavner, who has been working with Phillips on THR for 7-8 years, and joined by Catherine Nissen and Carl V Phillips, all of whom worked together at the University of Alberta on THR issues. The research team will review all of the papers, blogs, and other claims (including testimony and postings on authoritative websites) that are being put out there as evidence that there is a gateway effect and analyze those claims. To our knowledge, not a single one of these papers or blog posts actually comes anywhere close to providing evidence that there is a gateway effect, but there is a great deal of legwork and honest analysis to be done to identify where these claims are being made, to analyze the basis for the claims being made, and to trace the sources of the claims. The hypothesis is that many statements of gateway effect claims ultimately trace back to a few papers, which papers will be identified and analyzed to see if they do or do not support a gateway effect hypothesis.

The budget for the project is $15,000, and the CASAA Board of Directors voted to match donations to the fund one-for-one (up to $7,500 in contributions), meaning that we need the community to donate $7,500 to the research fund to fully fund this project. 

11:45 - The gateway theory is increasingly reflected in news stories and, distressingly, comments by the public, the people we are trying to win over. It is important for us to refute those claims, and it would be particularly effective if we were able to provide a single link to one research paper from a journal that fully rebuts each and every one of those claims. (Discussion of how the study could be used in advocacy efforts.)

14:00 - For those who may be interested, about ten years ago, Phillips traced the origins of claims about smokeless tobacco causing oral cancer back to a “telephone game” that traced back to a single study which was not sufficient to support the claims. 

15:30 - No one seems to even make a prima facie case for why a gateway would exist, and proponents of the gateway effect don't actually explain what it is that they are claiming. They mostly just cite data that shows that many teenagers and young adults who have smoked have also tried e-cigarettes, which, of course, doesn't prove the point that they're trying to make. In other words, they interpret mere correlation as causation. Moreover, they interpret it as all being in the gateway direction, when we know that there is a causal connection in the other direction: smoking causing people to adopt e-cigarettes for THR.

18:00 - CASAA believes that tracing where the claims about gateway effects come from will be incredibly useful. 

19:00 - Donations for the Research Fund can be made by clicking the Donate button located here.

Donations in any amount are welcome. Even very modest donations are valuable -- aside from the fact that they add up, they show broad-based support. The community has always been generous in supporting CASAA efforts, especially in connection with research. The Research Fund's initial launch to fundraise to support the Burstyn study was incredibly successful, reaching full funding in a matter of days.

22:00 - For those who want more detailed information on the research plan and protocol, you can see links provided in our announcement here. CASAA made the decision to support this research because we believe it would offer an important reality check for the policy and advocacy discussion, and also because we are committed to discovering and sharing truthful and accurate information. As consumer advocates, we are uniquely interested in learning the truth and making sure that all relevant information is shared with consumers.

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