On our French comment of October 2nd we questioned the findings of a recent Canadian study that was published online ahead of print. It was a collaborative effort of researchers from McGill University, Université de Montréal, the University of British Columbia, Concordia University, the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) and the Direction de santé publique de Montréal, and several Canadian and international mainstream media reported the findings a few days ago.
The researchers were investigating whether never smoking children can get addicted by their parents’ second hand smoke. The study found that 5% of never smoking children may in fact get addicted to nicotine from their parents’ smoking. As we have learnt to expect when it comes to tobacco, the journalists reporting the study don't seem to have examined the methodology with a critical mind before reporting such loaded findings and if they did, they chose to ignore the flaws.
What caught our attention was that the media were reporting that the findings of the study were based on answers to a questionnaire given by a sample of 1488 10 – 12 year old never smoking children. We commented in our French article that in our opinion the methodology was quite unscientific since many biases could have crept in, including the unreliability of young children diagnosing their own symptoms and their personal dislike of the smell of cigarette smoke that may have influenced the way they replied. The conclusion being transparent as to its intent, specifically to support legislation forbidding smoking in motor vehicles with children, what we would have liked to examine as we stated, was if the questions asked could have possibly been leading to a predetermined conclusion.
Our ink was hardly dry on our own commentary, that Dr. Michael Siegel proceeded to carefully analyze the study. Our suspicions were thus confirmed.
Some excerpts of his commentary linked at the bottom:
‘’To my surprise, the study did not actually measure nicotine dependence among young neversmokers. Instead, what the study used was a nicotine dependence assessment tool that was designed specifically for smokers. The measurement tool that was used was not relevant to measuring nicotine dependence symptoms in nonsmokers. In fact, nearly all the questions assumed that the respondent was a smoker and these questions were therefore irrelevant and not applicable to these nonsmoking respondents. Any nonsmoking youth would have had considerable difficulty answering these questions which clearly did not apply to them.’’
‘’The conclusions of the study and the worldwide headlines are way overblown. In fact, overblown isn't really right because that suggests that the results are exaggerated. It is not a question of exaggeration. The conclusion is simply wrong. The results do not support - at all - the conclusion that these young children were nicotine dependent.’’
‘’One could design a set of questions to assess the possibility of nicotine dependence among young nonsmokers, but these questions would not be on the list to try. They are leading questions which are not relevant to nonsmokers and whose use will ensure that nicotine dependence is found among nonsmokers.’’
‘’In essence, this study was designed in such a way to create the very result it now reports. The study was set up such that it could not fail to find "nicotine dependence" among young nonsmokers. Furthermore, it was set up in such a way that it could not fail to find a correlation between "nicotine dependence" and secondhand smoke exposure.''
We have since written to the researchers of the study to inquire about what Dr. Siegel suggests are inexcusable flaws in their methodology and about their funding. How much did this shoddy piece of ''science'' cost Canadian taxpayers?
The most disturbing part is that even if a retraction is published in some remote section of the newspapers, the public who read the original headlines will remain with the misguided impression that ‘’smokers addict their children through their second hand smoke’’.
New Study Concludes that Secondhand Smoke Exposure May Cause Nicotine Dependence Among Young Neversmokers