A new study on the effects both smoking and vaping have on COVID-19 have lumped vaping into the same category as traditional cigarette smoking, allowing for huge misinterpretations of the conclusions by various external parties.
The researchers took data gathered from the American Heart Association’s COVID-19 CVD Registry to determine the role smoking has on the SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The study was led by a group of authors working in a lab that operates under a grant from the National Institutes of Health and Center for Tobacco Products, a branch of the Food & Drug Administration. The study was published to PLOS ONE on July 15, 2022.
PLOS ONE is a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal from the Public Library of Science. They have been operating primarily as a science and medicine research group since 2006.
There have been other studies with a similar scope to this one since the dawn of COVID-19, but this study stands out, particularly to pro-vaping advocates for one key, and erroneous, detail listed by the research team.
What the Study Says
According to the study, the effects and symptoms of COVID-19 are made worse with smoking or vaping. However, there is far more going on than the study alludes to.
Smoking status was self-reported and people were classified as smoking if they reported currently using either traditional, combustible cigarettes or e-cigarette products, with no distinction between the two and no information on the duration of smoking or former smoking status.
The lack of distinction between vaping and smoking is borderline absurd, especially in the context of a medical study.
A potential scapegoat for the research team would be that the data recorded by the AHA did not distinguish between vapers and smokers. However, the survey form made a clear distinction between the two in its self-reporting.
This means the research team deliberately grouped traditional cigarette or cigar smoking with vaping and e-cigarettes without consideration of the known, factual differences between the two in terms of their health implications.
What makes this worse is the lack of distinction between the duration of use. The results of a lifelong chain smoker are analyzed under the same guise as a casual vaper, but with zero insight into the differences between them – only to those participants who self-reported not smoking.
“The study findings indicate smoking or vaping are associated with more severe COVID-19 independent of age, sex, race, or medical history,” the study continues.
Again, such a broad, blanket statement makes all the significant reduced health implications of vaping null and void to readers of the study.
Thanks to the open review style of PLOS ONE, peers were able to question certain aspects of the study. Someone was quick to question why vaping and smoking were lumped together in the study, requesting certain adjustments to the study itself.
Through their questioning on the open peer review forum, an author of the study responded.
Somewhat shockingly, the number of participants in the study who used a vape or e-cigarette exclusively is incredibly small in comparison to the rest of the group. “The number of individuals in our registry who used e-cigarettes is very small – 41 patients reported e-cig only versus 2198 who reported smoking only without e-cigarettes,” the author stated in the response.
What this demonstrates is that the outcome of the study is hugely biased toward smoking due to the vast majority of the participants being smokers, not vape or e-cigarette users.
And yet, the researchers have grouped smoking AND vaping together in their role in worsening the SARS-CoV-19 infection.
Why Is This a Problem for the Vaping Community?
It is no secret that vaping has very few friends in the medical research community, and even fewer advocates championing its benefits in terms of tobacco harm reduction. And studies like this only perpetuate the misinformation that is circulating in the minds of both lawmakers and the general public.
This is all made worse with studies that interpret the relationship of harm between vaping and COVID-19, possibly two of the most misinformed topics that frequently brandish the headlines with fearmongering.
Another fact is that people often do not read full articles before deeming they have all the knowledge necessary to be informed on the matter. Having a study that broadly groups vaping and smoking together is just one of many things that only serve to worsen the image vaping advocates have been battling over the years.
The issue with this misclassification is the hugely different levels of risk associated with smoking and vaping.
There is also the potential for other studies to continue with these sorts of errors. The Center of Excellence for the Acceleration of Harm Reduction (CoEHAR) has performed admirably in the past when highlighting other studies that are blindingly flawed in their methodology when it comes to studying the effects of vaping.
Their work has demonstrated just how flawed many of these studies can really be. However, groups like CoEHAR are certainly far and few between lately.
Governments across the globe typically choose to enforce regulations against vaping because of studies like this, but perhaps they should turn their attention to the studies themselves. Increasing regulations around studies like this can foster more rigid results that give clear conclusions, particularly when comparing the effects of traditional smoking and vaping and e-cigarette usage.
A study published on PLOS ONE by a group of researchers has lumped combustible cigarette smoking and vape and e-cigarette usage as having the same worsening effects on the SARS-CoV-19 infection.
This kind of malpractice continues to misinform authors, lawmakers, and the general public. There are very few groups that champion the benefits of using vapes and e-cigarettes, which in turn is allowing the kind of continued persecution vaping is currently subject to in terms of regulations.