Who is Rebecca Williams and Why Is She Wasting Your Money?

The queen of junk vaping research is a grant proposal superstar

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What happens when the federal government allocates almost a quarter-billion dollars for e-cigarette research, but doesn’t really want to learn anything? Garbage happens. Garbage like the “studies” churned out by Rebecca Williams of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. According to her bio, she has “several advanced degrees,” which probably says something about American academia.

Rebecca is a star in the crowded but still growing field of e-cigarette junk research. Every one of her papers concludes by claiming it provides evidence that strong regulation is called for — to save the children, of course. And none of it addresses issues that have created problems in the real world. You can laugh at her work if you like, but she has proven herself to be a master at writing successful grant proposals.

Revelation: vaping stuff is on the internet

Man on Laptop

Her greatest hits include the classic “Electronic Cigarette Sales to Minors via the Internet,” in which she proved that minors with credit cards were able to make online purchases. Then there was “Revisiting the Rise of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems Using Search Query Surveillance,” a truly inspiring work that purported to show that because potential e-cig buyers search online using terms like “shop” and “sale,” rather than ones like “health concerns” or “smoking cessation,” buyers may be more interested in buying e-cigs than reading propaganda from people like Rebecca. Genius!

As exciting as those studies were, they didn’t hold a candle to what is widely seen as her masterpiece, “VapeCons: E-cigarette user conventions.” In that brilliant exploration of the culture of vape meets, she concluded, “Vaping conventions promote e-cigarette use and social norms without public health having a voice to educate attendees about negative consequences of use. Future research should focus on the effects of attending these conventions on attendees and on indoor air quality in vapor-filled convention rooms.” The best part of this article is that she wrote it without actually attending an event. She merely searched events on Google and wrote about what she found. Carl Phillips wrote an absolutely hilarious blog piece about this article, and you should probably read it.

Williams’s suggestion that “public health” people should be present to “educate” consumers is not much different from Saudi Arabia’s current bid to gain a seat on the UN Commission on Women, or the fact that Iran already has a seat on that commission. Yes, those countries have a strong interest in being part of the conversation due to their very strong views on the subject — they would dearly like to be able to “educate” the rest of the world about their opinions. I trust I do not need to explain why this is the very reason they should not be allowed anywhere near the process.

The hits just keep on comin'

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Rebecca’s latest is titled “What is included with your online e-cigarette order? An analysis of e-cigarette shipping, product and packaging features.” This is not a joke. Your income tax dollars are being spent on grants — this one via the National Cancer Institute — that enable researchers to order vape products online and analyze the packaging. It’s science!

What did Rebecca find out? Huge discoveries! First, “This study confirms there is a vast array of e-cigarette products available online.” Yes there are. That’s so we can choose the products we like and buy them. If not for Rebecca’s fearless sleuthing though, the National Cancer Institute would probably still be laboring under the belief that e-cigarettes grow in vapers’ gardens. You’ll also be shocked to learn that 38.4% of products arrived without instruction manuals. Egads!

She has also done some very creative analysis of vapor product pricing. “Almost all vendors featured starter kits cheaper than disposables,” she writes, “Which were often sold in multipacks or at higher prices than starter kits, enticing customers to start with a reusable kit instead of a ‘throw away’ disposable, nudging them towards becoming regular customers needing to purchase e-liquid refills.” Yes, that’s right, the brilliant and evil capitalists, enticing customers to buy the less expensive products!

It goes on along those lines for a couple pages…blah blah blah…but really the important part — to the author — is the first line of the conclusion. “This study provides information that could guide future regulations and/or delivery company screening protocols for e-cigarette products.” Sure, if you say so, Rebecca. Packaging regulations are crucial to public health, because…wait…what does that mean?

More studies needed, she says. More grants from NIH. More money wasted while real questions remain ignored. Why is that? Because Rebecca Williams isn’t just ignorant, she’s deliberately ignorant — as are the bankers at the NIH, the puritans at the CDC, and the prohibitionist deeming authors at the FDA. They don’t want to know anything that might clash with the public narrative they’ve designed, which is all based on this: we just don’t like vaping, and therefore you shouldn’t be allowed to do it. So they’ll direct the money to studying non-issues while the FDA does the real work — banning every vaping product that actually works.

Jim McDonald
Smokers created vaping without any help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and vapers have the right to keep innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I recently joined the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy