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World Health Organization: E-cigarettes
Image courtesy of Regulator Watch

In its quest to mislead health practitioners and policymakers on the relative risk of vaping compared to smoking, the World Health Organization (WHO) is citing a discredited paper that was retracted by its publishing journal.

Earlier this year, a controversial study co-authored by now-retired UCSF Professor Stanton Glantz linking vaping to heart attacks was retracted by the Journal of the American Heart Association. As it turned out, a second analysis of the data revealed that many of the heart attacks actually occurred before the vapers ever began using e-cigarettes.

News of this retraction was covered in numerous publications — from USA Today to Medscape to Reason to VICE — and jumpstarted a movement within the tobacco research community to urge the retraction of other faulty papers that had slipped through the cracks of peer review. However, it appears this news did not reach the inboxes of bureaucrats at the WHO.

In a just-published resource (archive here) on tobacco and coronary heart disease, the WHO cites directly to the retracted Glantz paper to make the claim, “ENDS are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.”

The WHO also cites a second, as-of-yet not retracted paper, on which Glantz was also a co-author. For a thorough debunking of the results of this cross-sectional survey, see longtime anti-smoking advocate Clive Bates’ #6 argument here. In short, the paper suffers from many of the same flaws as the retracted paper, chief among them that it is absurd to even begin to blame vaping for heart attacks that happened before a patient ever started vaping.

Considering the WHO believes it is proper for countries to prohibit the sale of vaping products while leaving combustible cigarettes freely available, no one should be surprised by their willingness to use dodgy and outright fraudulent claims to mislead the public.

It remains to be seen whether the WHO will formally retract, apologize, and rewrite this resource for scientific accuracy. Judging by their past actions, we aren’t holding our breath for anything more than a quiet edit.

The credited authors of this article, none of whom recognized they were relying on a discredited study, are as follows: Ferranda Puig-Cotado, Edouard Tursan d’Espaignet, Simone St Claire, Eduardo Bianco, Lubna Bhatti, Kerstin Schotte, Vinayak Mohan Prasad.