Korean e-cigarette awareness study demonstrates the ignorance of the researchers

By Paul Bergen from the tobaccoharmreduction.org site.

A korean girl smoking.
Korean researchers worry Koreans will turn to e-cigs instead of tobacco cigarettes.

Imagine the following.

You chance upon an article reporting on a study which explored how many American adolescents might have heard of or tried e-cigarettes. Oddly enough, the opening paragraph talks about how many Koreans die each year as a result of smoking cigarettes. And the authors of this article cite a Korean health organization as their main source of scientific evidence.

Rather bizarre, wouldn’t you say? And yet that is what we have with the nationalities reversed.

The paper Electronic-Cigarette Smoking Experience Among Adolescents reports on a study which polled over 4000 Korean school attending adolescents on whether they were aware of or had ever used e-cigarettes.

Of the 4341 respondents, 444 (10.2%) had heard of e-cigarettes and 22 (.5%) had vaped at least once. Now the average reaction to this would be “gee, very few adolescents have heard of e-cigarettes and hardly any have ever tried one”. But wishing to justify their salaries, these intrepid researchers delved into those 22 people to analyze them ten ways from Sunday.

For example because 18 boys and 4 girls were the ones who had vaped at least once gender was found to be a significant predisposing factor. Yes, they did need statistics to determine that in this group boys had vaped more often than girls. I’m glad they ran those tests because otherwise there would have been no way to be sure.

Never to shy from the potential criticism of cultural differences, they also discussed these results in the context of other adolescent non-cigarette surveys (one from West Virginia and the other from New York City). What I also find utterly bizarre, and yes I know I am repeating myself here, is that this Korean-subjects-only study, plunks in the American-only boilerplate (the old 443,000 deaths a year). I am pretty sure there are Korean statistics available but perhaps it was easier to cut and paste from any old tobacco control article. The only attempt at scientific evidence is referring to the now thoroughly discredited (and dated) FDA e-cigarette analysis and an offhand reference to TSNAs.

Three PhDs (all of them also with a Masters in Public Health) appended their names to this document. It is a sad affair when not only one but three people who have reached the pinnacle of formal education turn their talents to squeezing a paper out of such thin material.

One of the gems is the line “Despite the fact that e-cigarette use is now a worldwide phenomenon, very little is known regarding its use within the adolescent community”. If the three doctors were honest at all, they would have concluded that that remains the case. Consider that you could get their entire group of 22 ever-vapers from one party in one room of friends all passing around one e-cigarette for everyone to try, and none of them repeating the experience.

Not that there isn’t more bad than good research in this area but even those authors who are already obviously opposed to vaping should in the name of good science read the existing literature. Though no one can argue that we need to remain concerned about the potential risks associated with long term vaping, it is clear from the way they state that concern, that they are either ignorant of or dismiss all the research about those risks that has been undertaken so far. I have not checked but I suspect that Korea has no law against accessing the considerable research done outside the sunless room of tobacco control.

But if we take their opening concern about smoking related deaths as genuine, why was there no discussion of how many adolescents were smoking? You’d think they could have spared at least a few comments about the ever smokers – around 20% of the students or about 40 times that of ever vapers.

There are plenty of graphs and statistics thrown around in this paper but all in the service of trying to make something out of nothing. It’s the sort of thing that throws a bad light on research and academia in general and that is perhaps the only true effect to be discerned in all this activity. To be fair, this study could serve as a historical curiosity. The data for this was gathered in 2008 which in the world of e-cigarettes would be similar to gathering smoking awareness in Europe a year after tobacco hit that continent.

Oddly enough this nothing study of Korean teenagers was published in a journal out of the American state of Illinois which either could mean Korean journals will only publish real research or that at least when it comes to anti-nicotine articles American journals will publish anything at all.

Also see:

Are teenagers vaping? (Apologies, page removed since this post was published.)

Image source: Movie Naver

6 thoughts on “Korean e-cigarette awareness study demonstrates the ignorance of the researchers”

  1. I’d say that it is a certainty the study will be quoted, not a possibility! And I reckon it will go like this:

    ‘studies carred out in Korea show that children are being influenced by electronic cigarette adverts…”


    “a study in Korea proved that e-cigarette retailers are targeting young children.”


    There will be no mention of the 0.5%, or the huge youth smoking rate in Korea, or the fact that if you are going to use nicotine you might as well use something 99% safer than smoking, and no-one will bother to click through and read the actual study.

    Which, IMO, is why it is so valuable to have researchers like Paul who can analyse these studies and arm vapers with the knowledge they need to refute these quotes 🙂

  2. I guess the upside is that it’ll make for fodder for certain people’s running news commentary posts 🙂 Thanks to Paul I’ll be able to sound intelligent in my snarky retorts!

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