The latest from the "journal", Tobacco Control; what comes after jumping the shark?

It is long past the time when Tobacco Control, an advocacy newsletter that pretends to be a scientific journal, could be said to be jumping the shark.  That happened a very, very long time ago.  But the rag still possesses the power to amuse, if not astound anymore.  I followed a link from Jan Johnson and discovered this gem:

Awareness, perceptions and use of snus among young adults from the upper Midwest region of the USA     

Kelvin Choi, Jean Forster, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota, 20 July 2012

Background: Since its introduction in 2006, snus has been aggressively marketed by tobacco companies. However, little is known about the awareness, perceptions and use of snus among young adults after Camel and Marlboro snus were sold nationwide in 2010.

Let’s see…  “Snus” is just the Swedish language word for oral snuff, which means that snus was probably introduced into the “upper midwest region” closer to 6006 BCE (or 1706 if you are being Eurocentric about it).  If we charitably assume they are misusing the term as a shorthand for “products called snus” or “oral snuff made in the Swedish style” (as opposed to them simply not knowing what they are talking about, which really seems like a safer bet), then they are not off by quite so many centuries.  But imported Swedish products that use the word “snus” have been available and popular in some circles (keep in mind the strong Swedish connections in Minnesota) for many decades. 

Methods Data: were collected from 2607 young adults (ages 20–28) who participated in the Minnesota Adolescent Community Cohort Study in 2010–2011. Data include awareness of snus, ever and past 30-day use, perceived potential of snus as a quit aid, and perceived harmfulness and addictiveness of snus relative to cigarettes. The authors assessed the associations between these outcome variables and socio-demographic characteristics.

Kinda picky, but I suspect that the “Minnesota Adolescent Community Cohort Study” took place in Minnesota.  So you have to wonder why they did not just use Minnesota in their title, instead of a misleading regional descriptor that implies they also studied such demographically different places as Michigan and North Dakota.  I have some serious doubts about whether their study really measured “awareness of snus” in a meaningful way, given that the authors do not even seem to know what the word means.  But to find that out, I would have to read beyond the abstract, and I cannot see that being worth my time — besides, if their reporting of their methods is as bad as is typical for their ilk, they probably offer no further explanation of what the survey actually did anyway.

Results: Overall, 64.8% of participants were aware of snus, 14.5% ever used snus and 3.2% used snus in the past 30 days. Men and participants who smoked >100 cigarettes in their lifetime were associated with these three outcomes (p<0.05). Among those who were aware of snus, 16.3% agreed snus can help people quit smoking, 17.3% agreed snus is less harmful than cigarettes and 11.3% agreed snus is less addictive than cigarettes. These perceptions were associated with ever use and the past 30-day use of snus (p<0.05).

Seriously?  Someone at University of Minnesota epidemiology is reporting as an epidemiologic result only the p-value?  That place has really gone downhill in the last 15 years.  Even if the authors have standard tobacco control levels of understanding about their subject matter, you would think they would pick up on the local standards for how to do epidemiology.

Conclusions In this regional sample of US young adults, the majority of young adults were aware of snus, and over one in 10 had used snus. More young adults in the sample than the overall US adult population believed that snus is less harmful than cigarettes. Perceptions of snus are associated with snus use. Strategic health communication interventions targeting young adults to confront the positive perceptions associated with snus may be needed to curb the interest in snus.

In response to that, I will start by quoting Greg Conley’s paraphrase of it (from the above link):

We must lie to these young adults (ages 20-28) so that if they decide to use a tobacco product, they will choose the most hazardous one.

Their anti-tobacco extremism is bad enough, of course — the fact that these people are bothered by the fact that would-be smokers are instead using an alternative that has approximately the same health effects as quitting entirely.  The only “positive perceptions” they report is that a minority understand the basic facts about the benefits of product switching.  So, as Greg pointed out, exactly what they are calling for is for those in power to keep lying to people.  Of course, given the woeful minority who understand the truth, mostly this is just further evidence that their lies have already been remarkably successful, which is presumably the anti-tobacco extremists’ champagne-popping main conclusion from this is (though they are probably bummed that the young are less likely to believe the lies, and are perhaps even smart enough to realize that this points to the fact that they day will come when they will be recognized for what they are).

But let’s just set aside their anti-public-health goals and look at the “science” alone.  How can they possibly conclude what they concluded?  There can be no evidence in their results that these “strategic health [sic] communication interventions” would do anything to change snus use.  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  Their conclusion has absolutely nothing to do with their data.

Of course, I am sure many of you are thinking that this is really nothing new for Tobacco Control.  Conclusions that are in no way supported by the analysis (even apart from political issues) are standard there.  So why did I bother to write about this particular dreck.  Well, what pushed me over was that when I followed the link to the “journal’s” webpage, I found not just that abstract, but this survey in the sidebar, like it was some kind of movie fan site or tabloid newspaper:

Should tobacco control organisations use online social media, like Twitter and Facebook, to help smokers quit?

No – only time wasting teenagers are online anyway.
Maybe – if it can be shown to actually work.
Absolutely – embracing new technology is essential.
Huh? What’s a Twitter?

Your first thought might be to wonder who among those who are on the website where the survey appears would not know what Twitter is.  But your second thought should be, “what is a supposed scientific journal doing sponsoring a survey about advocacy strategies?”  And your third should be, “what kind of pathetic excuse for a journal puts a cutesy sidebar survey on their website?” (perhaps a survey to ask questions about the journal or the website itself to improve their activities would be fine, but this?). 

Next week can we look forward to them doing a reader survey about the latest bestseller/movie: Should [ingenue du jour] choose [her noble but flawed suitor] or [the dark and brooding but ultimately golden-hearted suitor]?  And at that point, you might circle around to “time wasting teenagers? who do they think are the smokers are who are good candidates for cessation? do they really know that little about the field they write about?”

And in case you were wondering, at the time I looked at the page, there were 1762 votes, and they were divided among the four answers, respectively: 62%, 22%, 11%, 4% (yes, they do not add to 100 because of rounding, as is frequently the case; unlike them I was not going to report the percentages to the nearest 1/10,000th for a total of less than 2000 — that would be a Tobacco Control level of innumeracy that I am just not going to be guilty of, even though that was easiest to copy and paste). 

Should you wish to vote, perhaps because you are someone who does not know what Twitter is ;-), let’s say, here is the link.


2 responses to “The latest from the "journal", Tobacco Control; what comes after jumping the shark?

  1. They've used the same tactic as with “third-hand smoke”. Nowhere do they actually make claims about harm. They manage to imply that snus is as harmful as cigarettes by asking “awareness” questions. See, for example your excerpt

    “More young adults in the sample than the overall US adult population believed that snus is less harmful than cigarettes. Perceptions of snus are associated with snus use. Strategic health communication interventions targeting young adults to confront the positive perceptions associated with snus may be needed to curb the interest in snus.”

    I'd comment directly at the journal article, but I've been banned.

  2. Correction:It is the Tobacco Control Blog from which I have been banned.

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