The damage done when researchers do not understand the harm reduction concept

Breaking news out of the University of California labs: Harm Reduction Cigarettes Can Be More Harmful Than Conventional Brands, UC Riverside Researchers Report: Prue Talbot’s lab studied the effect of cigarette smoke on human embryonic stem cells.

Perhaps when you are focussed on the minutia of determining the effects of tobacco smoke on embryonic stem cells you lose sight of the larger picture such as whether you are using the correct terminology when you are promoting your results.

Head researcher Sabrina Lin, a graduate student at the lab, has been comparing the differences of those effects between regular and harm reduction cigarettes. I found this of great interest since I had not heard of harm reduction cigarettes before and thought perhaps it was some odd way of describing e-cigarettes. What it ended up being on closer examination is a term horribly misapplied to light and nicotine reduced cigarettes.

It would behoove Lin, and her supervisor Talbot, to explore what the term harm reduction means before using it. Reduced nicotine does not qualify as harm reduced and neither do light cigarettes. Though there has always been ongoing research into developing a harm reduced product in the form of a conventional cigarette, to date there are few commercially available products that qualify as such; currently the only product that could be considered a harm reduction cigarette is the e-cigarette.

So what this lab has done, and this may tell us something about how slapdash the guidelines are for getting research funding in tobacco research, is create a false dichotomy, and then finding no differences between the two categories (which were really always just one), call the non result a finding. It is as if they had taken two apples, called one an orange, found no differences, and then proclaimed that oranges were no better than apples.

The damage done is that most people reading this will see it as confirmation that there is no hope for true tobacco harm reduction. It is bad enough when the safer alternatives are undermined by public health authorities and regulatory agencies but it is even worse when the safer products are castigated via research that has no possible application to the debate.

-Paul L. Bergen

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