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Retracted Study Links Vapes and Liver Disease

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A study linking nicotine vapes to liver disease was retracted from Gastroenterology Research after the authors failed to reply to concerns about the researchers’ methods and findings, reports Filter.

The retraction stated that “concerns have been raised regarding the article’s methodology, source data processing, including statistical analysis, and reliability of conclusions.” The study was published in June 2022.

A letter was sent to the editor raising concerns, and the authors were given time to respond but failed to do so. “As is our journal and publisher’s policy, because there was no response or rebuttal from the authors, the manuscript was retracted, and the letter to the editor was not published,” said Robert Wong, editor-in-chief of Gastroenterology Research. “Typically, if there is an author response or rebuttal, we publish both the letter to the editor and the response.”

“This is a greater problem than just one study,” said Gregory Conley, director of legislative and external affairs for the American Vapor Manufacturers Association, noting a 2020 retraction by the Journal of the American Heart Association of a study connecting vaping to heart attacks. The 2020 retraction letter to the journal was made public, but the issue with the Gastroenterology Research paper is less clear because “there is silence around why it was retracted,” said Conley.

It’s gratifying that the journal took the step to retract the paper. There’s just a lot of things going on with this study that make it seem kind of weird.

Ray Niaura, epidemiology professor at New York University’s School of Global Public Health

The 13 co-authors of the study drew from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and analyzed participants’ responses for associations between liver disease and the use of cigarettes or vaping products.

They claimed the results showed “e-cigarette users … were associated with higher odds of having liver disease compared to nonsmokers.”

“I already have a bunch of questions just off the top of my head, basically, just looking at this paper,” said who studies tobacco dependence and treatment. He said there were issues with the data, noting that the only survey question on vaping is broad, asking “Have you ever used an e-cigarette?” Questions on combustible tobacco included “Do you now smoke cigarettes?” and if someone has smoked “at least 100 cigarettes” in their life. 

“That’s kind of a weak variable,” Niaura said. “What does it mean? It doesn’t mean much.”

The data also didn’t allow for analysis around timing, which means it’s not possible to tell whether liver disease was developed before or after smoking/vaping. “What’s the resolution of the information in studies like this?” Niaura asked. “It’s tricky.”

“It’s gratifying that the journal took the step to retract the paper,” he said. “There’s just a lot of things going on with this study that make it seem kind of weird.” 

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