Tuesday 8 December 2009

The Welsh miracle is not dead. It just smells bad.

When it comes to heart attack miracles, it's difficult to pick the most preposterous. Heart miracles constitute a sub-genre of pseudo-science which is so comically ill-considered it almost makes other quackery seem reasonable. 

At the moment, only a relatively small number of people are in on the joke (including Dr Siegel, who has just exposed yet another), but we can console ourselves that many of these studies have appeared in print, thereby leaving a paper trail for future historians to follow when they rake over the coals of this decade's exodus from rational thought.

One of the silliest heart miracles was reported last year. It concerned the case of Wales, which saw a rise in heart attacks in the five months following the Welsh smoking ban and no significant fall in the post-ban year overall. This - you might think - would be enough for tobacco controllers to turn a blind eye to the green, green hills of Wales, but no. 

With a sneakiness that bordered on the heroic, a Welsh politician named Chris Franks spotted that the 4th quarter of the post-ban year saw fewer heart attacks than the same period of 2006. He used his influence to get the "story" into Wales' Daily Post, where he found a willing accomplice in the form of journalist Tom Bodden who wrote an article headlined: 'Fewer Heart Attacks in Wake Of Smoking Ban'.

This was all back in June 2008. It got a little coverage elsewhere but not very much. ASH and the Department of Health didn't want to touch it because they knew that it was all a scam. I explained why it was a scam on my website and at SpikedDr Siegel did likewise. So did Reason.

Now, via Jacob Grier, I see that this ancient corpse has been exhumed and Tom Bodden (for it is he again) is trying to breathe new life into it:

Smoking ban ‘sees fall in heart attacks’ in Wales

NEW figures this week are expected to reveal how the first full year of the public smoking ban in Wales heralded a steep decline in heart attacks.

The findings will be contained in the Chief Medical Officer for Wales’ annual report showing hospital admissions have fallen since the ban came into force.

I will be intrigued if the Chief Medical Officer does make such a claim, because it is completely untrue. Not only is it untrue, it has become even less true - if such a thing is possible - since I last wrote about it.

You see, reading all again this inspired me to return to the NHS Wales hospital admissions data (available at Health Solutions Wales). Since I last discussed the Welsh miracle, another year's data have become available. And - wouldn't you know it? - heart attacks increased last year. (Some readers may recall a similar phenomenon in Scotland).

As you can see from the graph below, there was no "steep decline" in the heart attack rate in Wales after the smoking ban. The rate of decline followed the exact same trend of the previous two years. But you will also notice a rise in heart attacks in the second year of the ban - the first rise for seven years. 

To put it in precise terms, the number of Welsh residents rushed to hospital with acute myocardial infarction rose from 3,999 (2007/08) to 4,126 (2008/09)*. Even if you add in emergency admissions for angina and subsequent acute myocardial infarction, there is a rise from 9,783 to 9,851. It doesn't matter whether you look at Welsh residents or Welsh hospitals (there are different statistics for both), the story is always the same. 

So what does Welsh Health Minister Edwina Hart have to say in the face of this unequivocal evidence that hospital admissions for heart attacks went up last year?

"The Chief Medical Officer’s annual report to be published later this week will show that hospital admissions for heart attacks were reduced last year."

This would appear to be from the horse's mouth, which is worrying. If the Health Minister is correct and the Chief Medical Officer does indeed announce that "hospital admissions for heart attacks were reduced last year" there will only be one explanation. 

The Chief Medical Officer must be a liar.

*Emergency admissions for acute myocardial infarction (Welsh residents):

2000/01: 4891
2001/02: 5398
2002/03: 5374
2003/04: 5263
2004/05: 4719
2005/06: 4425
2006/07: 4180
2007/08: 3999
2008/09: 4126

The Welsh smoking ban was enacted on April 2 2007. There were no exemptions.


timbone said...

You see Chris, (well, you already know), they have a problem. This 'lung cancer fron passive smoking' theory takes time, (eternity as a matter of fact). They have however got this instant heart attack thing going - you have heard of second hand smoke, well this is second hand smoke plan B.

westcoast2 said...

If you take the average from 2000/1 to 2006/7 you get 4893 before the ban.
If you take the average from 2007/8 and 2008/9 you get 4063 after the ban.
Now that is an approx 16% fall.

Of course you have to hide the [secular] decline.

Christopher Snowdon said...


Why would anyone compare a seven year period to a two year period?

In the two years before the ban, the rate fell by 9.6%. In the two years since the ban, the rate has fallen by 3.1%.

westcoast2 said...

Chris I should have added a smiley after the message. I thought the 'hide the decline' (ref to climategate) comment would have given it away.

I will try and be more sensible next time :)


Anonymous said...

It's good when you can get 'official' figures but so often 'agencies' choose to fail to publish their latest data despite having followed trends for many years.
One such publicly funded body is the OTC in Ireland who have failed to update the smoking prevalence figures since March 2008.
Can a stats. finder such as you find out the latest, unpublished data?
It might prove interesting!!

Michael J. McFadden said...

Well done as always Christopher! Two quick questions:

What are the breaking point months in your 200x/200x years? I gather you're not talking Jan-Dec?


Have you tried examining data for children's asthma hospitalizations? I'd be willing to bet that they've gone up, and that the Antis *know* they've gone up... and are simply willing to sacrifice the children as "collateral damage."

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"