Thursday 23 December 2010

Crap predictions

As any pedant will tell you, we are now in the last month of the first decade of the century. And so, on that tenuous note, let's revisit some of worst predictions for what would happen by 2010. In Britain.

Over at Spiked, Rob Lyons rightly lays into the myth of the obesity time-bomb, which was only ever the result of taking existing trends and making the bone-headed assumption that they will continue at the same pace forever. Some readers will recall Caroline "window dressing" Flint predicting that there would be 13 million obese adults in the UK by 2010.

The report warns that, based on current trends, 33% of men and 28% of women will be obese by 2010. The government says it is the "most accurate estimate so far" of future obesity rates.

The data is published just days after a "minister for fitness" was appointed.

Unless a lot of people hit the turkey and mince pies in a big way over the next two weeks, this prediction looks to be what it has always been: a scare story based on junk statistics. As Rob points out:

According to the lastest results from the Health Survey for England, regarded as the best source of information on the topic, obesity rates have fallen. Yet you could have been forgiven for failing to notice: it’s barely been reported. After all the sensationalist headlines over the past few years about an ‘obesity timebomb’, would it be too much to expect some balanced reporting over the fact that the aforementioned explosive might not be going off after all?

Of course, the powers that be can always say that they prevented the obesity time-bomb by taking action, to which Brian of Nazareth might cry "well, what sort of chance does that give me?" In fact, the decline in obesity began before Jamie Oliver got involved and before the middle-class media started sneering at parents in Rotherham. The obesity time-bomb didn't happen because it was never going to.

And what has happened to the binge-drinking epidemic that was supposed to follow the introduction of the wildly misnamed "24 hour drinking"? As Monsieur Puddlecote and myself never tire of saying, it never happened. Whether one looks at alcohol sales, per capita alcohol consumption or self-reported drinking levels, the story of the decade has been one of falling consumption. And as Dick has recently noted, police arrests for drunk and disorderly have also fallen throughout the decade. But who cares about these silly things called 'facts' when the media can show some ropey bird in high heels lying on a bench with a bottle of WKD beside her?

The tabloid version of "Binge Britain" (another classic panic phrase) is not, and never has been, the truth. And as our present recedes into the past, the hysteria is already being documented by sociologists. Rather marvellously, for those who vividly remember the prophecies of doom when the Licensing Act was passed in 2003, the whole thing is already going down in history as a great British moral panic. A study by Henry Yeomans in Sociological Research provides an academic discussion of the frenzy and reminds us of the drivel that was spouted at the time:

The Licensing Act 2003 was speculatively linked to a projected explosion of violence, sexual assault and general disorder. On the eve of the Act coming into effect, The Sun reported in battle-ready terms the creation of a ‘field hospital’ in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to handle the imminent ‘casualties of 24-hour drinking’ (Perrie, 2005). Of course the press may be prone to sensationalism, but it was not just the Daily Mail who believed that ‘the binge is about to become an uncontrolled riot of drunkenness’ (Daily Mail, 2005). David Blunkett MP described the Act as ‘a leap in the dark’ that risked worsening crime problems (Daily Mail, 2005) and Mark Oaten MP claimed that ‘when the problem is running out of control in our town centres, extending drinking hours to twenty four hours a day is madness’ (Plant & Plant, 2006: 100).

It all seems like yesterday, doesn't it? All those predictions of "urban savages", mayhem and an epidemic of drunkenness, alcoholism and disorder. In some sections of the press, the panic endures, even as alcohol consumption falls year after year (with the steepest fall in 62 years coming in 2009). Perpetuating the fear is an easy job since—as Tom Papworth wrote at Liberal Vision —"it is these days very easy to send a film crew down to a town centre and film a few dozen people behaving badly, and extrapolate this to the wider country."

Yeomans paper (which is worth reading in full) explains the panic in terms of Protestant asceticism and the 'Iron Cage of Temperance'.

This paper views the reaction to the implementation of licensing reforms in 2005 as a moral panic for two reasons. Firstly, it was an intensified period of concern about alcohol use in Britain within longer term processes that have constructed alcohol as a social problem.

Secondly, the reaction appears irrational and disproportionate to the level of threat actually posed. This is partly because of the diminutive number and length of licence extensions granted and also due to the negligible effect on crime and disorder. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s evaluation of the Licensing Act 2003 found no uniform detrimental effects (DCMS, 2008) and Home Office statistics show that crime levels continued to fall from 2005 to 2008 (Kershaw et al, 2008).

Although it is easier to appreciate in retrospect, the mayhem widely predicted clearly did not materialise. In the absence of any rational support for the public outrage, this paper thus seeks a moral and ideological explanation for the events of 2005.

And finally, as Britain endures its coldest December for a century—and its third "unusually cold" winter in a row—this gem from The Independent in 2000 has become rather popular on Twitter. You need to read the whole thing to fully appreciate the hubris, but this gives a flavour:

According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become "a very rare and exciting event".

"Children just aren't going to know what snow is," he said...

The chances are certainly now stacked against the sortof heavy snowfall in cities that inspired Impressionist painters, such as Sisley, and the 19th century poet laureate Robert Bridges, who wrote in "London Snow" of it, "stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying".

Not any more, it seems.

Merry Christmas to all readers. I'll be back in a few days with the worst junk science of 2010.

Monday 20 December 2010

Vast study finds no heart miracle but lots of publication bias

In light of my recent posts about post-smoking ban 'heart miracles', it is timely that a new study of heart attacks rates in the United States has just been published. This study—by far the biggest ever conducted— confirms that smoking bans have no significant effect on either the incidence of, and mortality from, acute myocardial infarction.

Published in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, the study looked at more than two million heart attack deaths over the course of 16 years, making it by far the largest exercise of its kind ever conducted. The researchers found a great deal of fluctuation in heart attack rates but concluded that:

...large short-term increases in myocardial infarction incidence following a smoking ban are as common as the large decreases reported in the published literature.

The crucial four little words here are 'in the published literature'. The large increases get ignored while the large decreases get studied, written up, published and press released. The widely-reported studies that have found drops in heart attacks after smoking bans are—as regular readers already know—the result of straightforward cherry-picking and publication bias. We know that in most Western countries there is a long-term trend of declining heart attack rates. We also know that there is substantial variation in heart attack rates and that smaller communities (like the Isle of Man or Helena) are more likely to see bigger fluctuations because the average number of cases is already very small (single digits per month, in those instances).

As such, it is child's play to mine the hospital data and find places which have seen large drops in heart attack admissions following a smoking ban. It's not a coincidence that such studies usually rely on obscure towns in Montana or Ohio, and not the huge populations of Wales, Australia or New Zealand, where we know smoking bans have had zero effect on the number of heart attacks. And on the odd occasion when researchers get carried away and agree to do a heart miracle study for an entire nation before they've had a chance to look at the data, they can always ignore the actual hospital records and cook the books to create the illusion of a large drop in heart attacks, even though the real data show nothing of the sort.

What this latest study shows is that if you look at vast populations, there is far less chance of a fluke result and, if the findings are honestly reported, there can only be one conclusion:

"In contrast with smaller regional studies, we find that smoking bans are not associated with statistically significant short-term declines in mortality or hospital admissions for myocardial infarction or other diseases."

For more comment on this, see Michael Siegel, Jacob Sullum and Mr Puddlecote. The latter also has the news about regular commenter Junican winning a year's subscription to Tobacco Control after entering a competition to come up with new terminology for the anti-smoking movement to employ. His spoof suggestion turned out to be less risible than the real submissions. Junican is currently buying pornographic magazines to wrap around his issues of the world's foremost anti-smoking journal so he can read them in public without embarrassment.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Something for the weekend

A few blog-posts of interest for the weekend...

Find A Voice really, really hates smoking, but he hates junk science and intolerance more. He gives an account of his conversion here:

You may argue that the medical evidence provides an overwhelming case to introduce such bans but I don't accept this. Having had my eyes opened to all the pseudo-science that currently is awash throughout 'the case for banning / the case for introducing more powers' industry, I have revisited the purported science over the period and much to my surprise (as I thought the smoking science to be irrefutable) the damage to others by second-hand (and the dubious third-hand and extremely dubious fourth-hand) smoking is statistically insignificant.

There might be the tiniest evidence that in certain extreme circumstances (i.e. lock someone in a room for a smoker for a number of years without a supply of 'fresh' air) that second hand smoke may have a very small effect - but would be less than exposure to harmful emissions than one would get through regularly using a car. So that only leaves the smokers themselves and whether or not smoking causes the smoker terrible harm or none at all is entirely the smoker's problem. Nothing to do with me or anyone else.

Likewise, the nurses at Hypercryptical are not happy about the heart miracle hoax or the plan to deny smokers routine surgery.

You might think that I am a rabid smoker demanding my place back in the world, but I am not - I am just an ordinary person, saddened that research has been manipulated to give a false impression of health gains to suit a particular agenda.

The reason for this post is this article in Pulse. It appears that smokers will be denied routine surgery unless they quit or complete an NHS Stop Smoking course. NHS Surrey has take the lead here. Read it all, including the comments.

Smokers will contribute (as tax revenue) £10.5 billion into the coffers this year. Source: HM Revenue & Customs. This equates to 11.55% of the NHS budget for England (£11) billion).

Who will next become society's dog to beat - alcoholics, the obese, the elderly or you?

At, the Freedom Association has posted its response to the EU's latest consultation on tobacco control. The disproportionate influence of state-funded groups like ASH is mentioned, as is the ineffectiveness of the proposals. Have a read.

Also, Freedom in A Puritan Age is a new one to me and looks like a website worth keeping an eye on.

Finally, on an entirely different note, the best album I've heard all year is the self-titled debut and swan-song of Dan Haywood's New Hawks. It is a record of extraordinary breadth and ambition and has been getting the thumbs up from Uncut, The Independent and—somewhat incongruously—Clubber's Guide 24/7. I've been listening to little else for the last few weeks. Here's a sample:

Spate River from Kevin Cameron on Vimeo.

Friday 17 December 2010

How's that Scottish heart miracle going?

Being in the mood to look back on the effectiveness of tobacco control efforts (see Ireland's Abject Failure below), let's see how that Scottish heart attack miracle has been coming along. You'll recall the professorship-winning study by Jill Pell which claimed that hospital admissions for acute coronary syndrome  fell by 17% in the first year of the ban.

Pell didn't go down the traditional route of finding out how many cases were admitted to Scottish hospitals and comparing rates before and after the ban (the data are readily available). That would be far too obvious and accurate. Instead, she went to the elaborate effort of limiting her sample to a selection of hospitals and then extrapolated the results across the whole of Scotland. After all, why use the actual data when you can create your own?

The answer, of course, is that there wasn't a 17%, or anything like it. And now, with three years post-ban data in the can, let's see how that heart miracle looks using the real NHS admissions data.

And, just to be sure, let's look at the rates of acute myocardial infarction (heart attacks).

Is any further comment really required?

Ireland's abject failure

Anyone remember when Ireland was tobacco control's jewel in the crown? The Irish smoking ban of 2004 was reported around the world and was supposed to lead to a "cultural change" that would see smoking gradually fizzle out. Keen to 'lead the way', Ireland has since followed the tobacco control blueprint to the letter. It's banned packs of 10, banned tobacco displays in shops and put more tax on cigarettes than any other country in the world.

The result, as previously reported here, is now official...

More smokers now than before 2004 ban

More people are smoking now than before the ban on smoking in public places was introduced six years ago, the Dáil has heard.

Minister of State for Health Áine Brady pointed to figures showing that 29 per cent of the population smoked despite the ban, the abolition of packs of fewer than 20 cigarettes, the ending of in-store displays and advertising, and the cost of cigarettes, which at €8.55 a pack “are the highest in the world”.

Although, to be fair, Ireland's slavish devotion to tobacco control policies has had some effect:

Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described tobacco smuggling as a “huge and growing problem”

And let's not forget all those pub closures. All in all, a colossal disaster for all concerned except, perhaps, for the tobacco industry. I've said it before and I'll say it again. It's a damn good job it's not a results-driven business.

Thursday 16 December 2010

E-cigarettes banned because they are 'confusing'

Kings County, in Washington State, has banned the use of the e-cigarette in public places because it "threatens to undermine the social norming impact [of smoking bans]" and because e-cigarettes "cause confusion". This is an intriguing and dangerous development in 'tobacco control' since there is no evidence that e-cigarettes pose a health risk to the user, let alone to those around them.

I put the words 'tobacco control' in scare quotes because while this is undoubtedly a matter of control, it is no longer a genuine tobacco issue, let alone a smoking issue. Just as the anti-smoking movement became an anti-tobacco movement, so the anti-tobacco movement has become an anti-nicotine movement. When you have people campaigning against a product because it looks like a cigarette, it is difficult to sustain the delusion that we are not in the grips of scientifically illiterate, hysterical and—above all—moral crusade.

The Board of Health states that because e-cigarettes resemble cigarettes, they might cause "confusion and concern [to] the owners of those establishments who seek to comply with the Smoking in Public Places Regulations." Apparently, the possibility of causing confusion is now a legitimate reason for making an activity illegal in the United States of America.

The Health Board overstates the similarities between e-cigarettes and their combustible cousins. E-cigarette vapour dissipates within seconds. They leave no smell. Many of them are multi-coloured and look about as much like a cigarette as a pencil does. Above all, they don't cause cancer, but that doesn't deter those who want to ban e-cigarettes entirely from promoting a campaign that will lead to e-cig users returning to the real health hazard they had successfully given up.

Like all new products, e-cigarettes are bound to attract curious glances at first but this will disappear once people are familiar with them. Maybe some people will react with confusion and concern, but—and this is the real point—so what?

Ladyboys cause confusion and concern. Kerry Katona causes confusion and concern. My tax returns cause confusion and concern. It's not the government's business to protect sentient beings from confusion and concern. If the state must take a role in the e-cigarette issue it should be to quell the confusion through honest information and alleviate the concern with facts. And the facts are that e-cigarettes are, at worst, 99% safer than cigarettes, they create no secondhand smoke and they seem to be a damn fine substitute for smoking.

The idea that the government has to act to uphold "social norms" is particularly sinister. Quite simply, it is not for the government to decide what is normal and what is abnormal. Civil society decides what is normal and the concept of normality varies from person to person and community to community. And so it should.

A system that allows different people to plough their own furrow has been working just fine for years, thanks. And even if we did require a one-size-fits-all benchmark for normality, it is unlikely that we would turn to the inherently freakish collection of politicians and single-issue campaigners to provide it. You uphold your social norms and I'll uphold mine. K?

(For you early risers, I'll be making a similar point but less well and with more hesitation on BBC Radio 4's Today programme tomorrow. Or not, depending on what hits the cutting room floor.)

Is this the love child of Glantz and Gilmore?

The other day I was thinking of running a worst-junk-science-of-the-year poll. Thank God I bided my time otherwise I would have missed the chance to nominate this beauty.

Isle of Man smoking ban 'cuts heart attacks'

A ban on smoking in public places has reduced heart attack admissions, according to research commissioned by the Isle of Man's Department of Health.

The department has compared admissions in the two years prior to introduction of the ban on 30 March 2008 and the two years since.

It discovered that the number of men over 55 admitted for heart attacks had dropped since the ban.

But if we take a look at the 'study' (unpublished and not peer-reviewed, not that that makes a lot of difference these days), a very different picture emerges:

Do my eyes deceive me or does this graph show that there significantly more heart attacks after the smoking ban?

They don't and there were. In the 23 months before the smoking ban, there were 109 heart attack admissions, or 4.7 per month. In the 23 months after the smoking ban, there were 153 heart attacks, or 6.65 per month.In what universe does this count as a drop in heart attacks?

In the crazy world of tobacco control, that's where. Note the regression lines, designed to take your eye off what is actually happening. Note how the second half of the graph has a line that is driven down by the lowish figure for the last month shown (since the next month needed to make it a full two years has mysteriously gone missing).

This is a method taken straight out of the Anna Gilmore's box of tricks, with a dash of Glantz's Helena magic thrown in for good measure (small community, inaccessible hospital records, data mining etc.). If there isn't a drop in heart attacks, you simply 'predict' how many would have occurred if the smoking ban hadn't come in and make sure your prediction is higher than the real number. And before you know it the BBC will be falling over itself to report that "a ban on smoking in public places has reduced heart attack admissions" and the New England Journal of Medicine will be beating a path to your door.

And the feeble effort shown above is the best this researcher—a maths student at Rutherford Polytechnic the University of Northumbria—could conjure up. The graph that shows all heart attack admissions, (ie. the relevant, non-cherry-picked data set) is even less compelling.

Notice that before the ban, there were usually fewer than ten heart attack admissions. Notice, too, that after the ban the rate was usually well above ten. And, of course, there were more heart attacks in total after the ban than before it. And, as the flat black line shows, the monthly rate of admissions did not go down one bit in the nigh-on two years after the ban.

But you're not supposed to look at any of that. Instead, you are invited to look at the upwards line in the pre-ban period and assume that the rate would have continued rising, even though that line only goes up because of a big jump (by Isle of Man standards) to 14 cases shortly before the ban. Nor are you supposed to notice that any responsible statistician would identify that unusual leap as a statistical artifact. The fact that more than two-thirds of the data points are below the regression shows that it's being contorted by an outlier.

It's truly unbelievable that this sort of stuff gets taken seriously. Or it would be if it didn't happen every few months. This is a world where a flat line equals a decline, and a 50% increase in heart attacks equals a reduction in heart attacks.

In a year that has seen fierce competition for the title, Ms Howda Jwad of Northumbria University—for it is she—may just have clinched the inaugural World's Worst Junk Science Award in the dying days of the year. Glantz, Pell, Gilmore, Winickoff—it's time to up your game.

Thanks to Brian Bond for the tip

Wednesday 15 December 2010

The ban and the Beeb

A very busy day of smoking ban-related items at the BBC yesterday, evidently inspired by the Dutch rolling back its smoking ban. Belinda has the run-down and sound clips at F2C Scotland.

Nicky Campbell had a spirit-sapping phone-in on Radio 5 (all phone-ins are spirit-sapping). The usual suspects called up: people who gave up smoking and think everyone else should too, people who believe that bar-workers have no choice but to work in pubs, people asking why we don't ban drinking as well, etc. etc.

Points of interest included Rosemary Gillespie from the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation twice refusing to answer the question of whether Roy Castle smoked. Since the whole organisation is built on the idea that he got lung cancer despite not smoking, this is hardly a intrusive line of enquiry and her silence does make me wonder.

And a call from a gentleman who is happy that he can now enjoy a smokefree pint of real ale (CAMRA member?) crystallised the inherent snobbery and contemptuousness of the whole public health movement:

"Can I just say, quite a lot of the pubs that have closed down, to be honest I'm quite grateful they have. I think they were the most awful places which were actually just big smoking dens and had the most dubious clientele in them and they were just asking to be closed down."

I also find it very hypocritical for Cecilia Farren to talk (on Radio 4) about the "vested interests of the tobacco industry" when she is the director of GASP (UK). Aside from the fact that the tobacco industry had no hand in the grass-roots Dutch campaign, GASP is not just any ordinary anti-smoking group. It's not a volunteers' group, of course—hardly any of them are—but it is more explicitly commercial than most. It is a limited company that sells no-smoking paraphernalia and is therefore dependent on smoking bans for much of its business. Aren't conflicts of interests like that worth mentioning?

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Smoking 'n' apple sauce

An interesting period piece, this.

Death in the West was the 1976 British TV documentary which used the Marlboro cowboy as the starting point for a discussion on smoking and health. The film became controversial when Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights started showing it in America in spite of the industry's legal protests.

Someone has now put it up on Youtube and it's still worth watching, especially for those of you who have been following the debate round at Frank's. Of particular historical interest are the interviews with the still defiantly doubtful executives from Philip Morris. Some of this dialogue is quoted in Velvet Glove, Iron Fist.

Monday 13 December 2010

Who pays for these studies?

I'm not in the habit of fisking studies based on the abstract alone, but I'll make an exception in this instance.

Overestimation of Peer Smoking Prevalence Predicts Smoking Initiation among Primary School Students in Hong Kong


To investigate the relationship between perceived prevalence of smoking and smoking initiation among Hong Kong primary second- to fourth-grade-students.


A cohort of 2,171 students was surveyed in 2006 and again in 2008. Students who perceived ever-smoking prevalence in peers as “none” or “some” were considered as correct (reference group), whereas those who perceived it as “half” (overestimation) or “most/all” (gross overestimation) were considered as incorrect.

Hmm. So if they perceived that none of their peers smoked, they were assumed to be correct. That may be true in the sheltered world of tobacco control, but for the rest of us that should be classified as an 'underestimate'. Except there isn't an 'underestimate' option available in this study, which leads me to think that it isn't very well designed.


At baseline, overestimation was found to be cross-sectionally associated with ever-smoking. At follow-up, 7.2% of never-smoking students with incorrect estimation at baseline had started smoking, which was 79% (95% confidence interval: 3%–213%), greater than that of 3.7% for those with correct estimation. Among the never-smoking students with incorrect estimation, subsequent correct estimation was associated with 70% (95% confidence interval: 47%–83%) lower risk of smoking initiation compared with persistent incorrect estimation.

Regardless of whether these kids' estimates are right, it's fair to assume that those who said 'most' had more friends who smoked than the ones who said 'some' or 'none'. And since having friends who smoke is a major predictor of smoking initiation, that—not the overestimating—is the reason they start smoking. The ones who said 'all' would, of course, be liars having a laugh at the researchers' expense. Given that the subjects are schoolchildren I believe, and hope, that there were many of them.


Overestimation of the prevalence of peer smoking predicted smoking initiation among children. Interventions should be carried out to evaluate whether correcting children's overestimation of peer smoking could reduce smoking initiation.

Rubbish. The conclusion is that if your friends smoke, you're more likely to smoke yourself. But I think we knew that already, didn't we?

Saturday 11 December 2010

Friday 10 December 2010

"It's very scientific"

It was a mark of the crankiness of Victorian-era anti-cigarette campaigners that they claimed cigarettes caused instantaneous death (see Chapter 2, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist). And it was partly because the public became weary of such obvious scare stories that they found it difficult to believe the real truth—several decades later—that chronic smoking could cause fatal diseases in middle- and old-age.

But everything comes full circle and the latest comments from the new Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin, seem designed to take us back at least 100 years. Her predecessor was a tough act to follow. Scientifically illiterate statements like "There is no significant scientific evidence that suggests smokeless tobacco is a safer alternative to cigarettes" and "There is no safe level of secondhand smoke" set new standards of quackery at the Surgeon General's office. But the new incumbent looks up to the job, and when you have an obese Surgeon General serving a president who smokes, all bets are off.

The latest headline claim—breathing a puff of secondhand smoke can kill you instantly—is really just a variation of Carmona's "no safe level" rhetoric. It takes the theoretical possibility that someone at death's door who is critically, terminally ill with heart disease could be finished off by smoking a cigarette, and then extends it to suggest that healthy people are being killed in the street from breathing secondhand smoke.

Benjamin has done nothing to distinguish between these very different situations. Indeed, she has gone out of her way to add to the confusion. This is very clear from her recent interview with Ed Baxter on KGO Radio. Baxter gives her every opportunity to clear up any misunderstanding but Benjamin just keeps piling it up. The transcript is below, and requires little further comment, but I recommend listening to the audio to get a measure of the woman. She doesn't exactly ooze authority. (Listen here - starts at 17.00). My thanks to Becky Johnson for helping with the transcript.

EB: Well, this may be, there have been a lot of warnings about cigarette smoking, but this may be the scariest I've seen. So we really wanted to get it straight from the person who did the study and the survey so we went straight to the top. Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin is on the KGO live line. Thank you for joining us.

RB: Thank you for having me.

EB: If I'm reading this correctly, you're saying your next cigarette could be your last. That's a dramatic way of putting it: "The next cigarette could be your last." This  is a report coming straight out of the Surgeon General's office. Cigarette smoking can cause instantaneous shut down of systems, is that true?

RB: It can certainly cause a heart attack and death, that's true. This report is the 30th Surgeon General's report on tobacco. The previous reports have focused on what diseases are caused by tobacco. But this particular report focuses on how tobacco smoke really damages every organ in your body. One of the things we know is that if you inhale cigarette smoke or inhale passive, second-hand smoke you might have an underlying cardiac disease like heart disease and didn't even know it. When you inhale it, those chemicals, they can irritate the blood vessels, irritate that lining, causing immediate damage. And also cause your blood to be thicker and clot quicker so that can cause an immediate heart attack. So just that one cigarette can cause a heart attack.

JLJ: So even just second hand smoke? Just a whiff of the smoke?

RB: That's correct. We know that cigarettes today have over 7,000 chemicals and chemical compounds. And inhaling those chemicals causes immediate damage to your blood vessels.

EB: And this, of course, would be more severe or traumatic to somebody who has a chronic condition, who has been smoking for a while....

RB: No, it's anyone! Most people who have heart disease, for example, don't even know they have heart disease because they never had any symptoms.

EB: So anyone just walking on a street, a first cigarette or just second hand smoke?
This could be caused by hypertension or any underlining disease, correct?

RB: Any underlying disease or people who may appear to be very healthy and just didn't know it! And also people who are healthy, it affects them as well. It affects your blood vessels and can damage your DNA. We find that people who, particularly women who have reproductive problems, because the DNA is affected by the chemicals in the tobacco. We didn't even know these chemicals existed. We didn't even know that there were 7,000 different chemicals and chemical compounds so these things are new. It's very scientific, but how these chemicals affect your body. Every organ in your body.

EB: We know it causes cancer. It may lead to heart disease. People are talking about chronic diseases. We're talking about instantaneous—and I just want to make sure we're understanding this correctly—instantaneous... your next cigarette or breathing someone's secondhand smoke could cause, basically, an acute episode that could lead to instant death.

RB: That's correct. The other thing is that these cigarettes today are more addicting. The nicotine, the chemical compounds that we now have the science behind—and this report tries to explain how it becomes much more addicting.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

On e-cigs, snus and harm reduction

I've got an article up at Spiked today on the subject of the possible prohibition of e-cigarettes. With the exception of The Independent, the British media have ignored today's study in Tobacco Control which recommends taking e-cigarettes off the market while their safety is tested (and if you think they'll ever come back on the market, I have some magic beans you might be interested in). This being Tobacco Control, the study isn't available online, but I describe the main findings—which are few—in the article. Michael Siegel also discussed it on his blog yesterday.

The simple truth is that not one death has been attributed to the use or misuse of e-cigarettes since they appeared in 2004. Niche product though it may be, this is a sufficient length of time for any action against it now to be viewed as reactionary rather than precautionary. In the same six years, some stop-smoking drugs have been shown to have killed many people, and of course several million more have had their lives cut short as a result of cigarette smoking. And yet it is the e-cigarette that faces the chop.

Do have a read...

Sunday 5 December 2010

John Banzhaf is a liar

I've just been over to John Banzhaf's ASH website to see if he's said anything particuarly insane since the last time I visited and I see he is now claiming that ASH is 'America's first antismoking and nonsmokers' rights organization'.

This happens to be something I know a bit about. So let's see...

The Anti-Tobacco League was formed in Massachusetts in 1850.

The Anti-Cigarette League was formed in Chicago in 1899.

The Nonsmokers Protective League was formed in New York in 1911.

Action on Smoking and Health was formed in 1968.

Now, I pick my words carefully when dealing with this notoriously litigious individual, but let me say loud and clear that John Banzhaf is a liar.

Sue me, fatso.

[PS. New CATCH up now at Frank's gaff]

Saturday 4 December 2010

No. Inception.

I'd hate to think that some of you may have missed the fact there are new Alan Partridge episodes available online. Now scratching a living presenting Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital, it's so funny you'll want to drink a weak Australian lager.

Fill yer boots...

Friday 3 December 2010

Tobacco and Allergies: Is There a Connection?

[This is a guest post from An Apple a Day, who contacted me a while back offering to write something. At the time they had a post on their site about allergies so I asked them if they would give us an answer to the question of whether people can really be—as some claim—allergic to tobacco.] 

Edward Stern is a guest blogger for An Apple a Day and a writer on earning your online nursing degree for the Guide to Health Education.

We’re all well-versed in the fact that smoking is bad for you [I wouldn't be too sure about that - CJS]. But can you really be allergic to tobacco? By definition, an allergic reaction is the result of your body fighting off something it believes to be harmful such as a disease. Allergies manifest themselves in hives, itching, irritation, redness, more mucus produced, etc. Therefore, if there are people allergic to tobacco, it would mean their bodies find tobacco harmful and are reacting to it.

Whether this actually happens, and why, is still up to much debate. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study claims that individuals may be allergic to tobacco smoke. These allergies demonstrate themselves through nasal symptoms like runny nose and congestion. Tobacco smoke allergies may also cause headaches and nausea. Children with such allergies are susceptible to ear infection and lung deficiencies, such as a greater risk for asthma. Most of these symptoms are easily treated with over-the-counter medicines.

This begs the question: what ingredient is actually responsible for the “allergic reaction”? Is tobacco itself the culprit? Cigarettes are filled with all kinds of chemicals and carcinogens that are far more likely to act as irritants to our system and create allergy-like symptoms. How do these “allergies” manifest across different brands of cigarettes? The EPA study asserts that people can be allergic to smoke, yet failed to indicate what types of cigarettes were smoked in the studies conducted and what ingredients were present in the cigarettes. Other studies shedding light on these questions are scarce. Before any hard claims are made that tobacco causes allergies, more research needs to be conducted.

Regardless, claims of “tobacco allergy” seem to be sufficient for anti-smoking advocates who want to ban smoking from public places, or in places like Los Angeles, where the city wants to ban smoking outside of homes. People are allergic, that's enough, and no one really dares to question the veracity of such statements or what they really mean.

I'm not trying to say that cigarettes aren’t harmful. They are. But in making a case for legislation that bans personal habits from public places, I would argue that lawmakers need to know their facts and steer clear of studies that are speculative at best. Until someone knows why these supposed “allergic” reactions occur (and can definitively pinpoint tobacco as the active trigger), the topic should be avoided in anti-smoking legislation discussions.

Thursday 2 December 2010

What's the catch?

A quick reminder that the debate at Frank's is continuing with three more posts since I last mentioned it:

CATCH-3: Frank Davis adds his 2 cents to the discussion
CATCH-4: Chris Snowdon responds to Rich White and Frank Davis
CATCH-5: Frank Davis continues the discussion

To all those who have been commenting, I have been reading and I will try to reply to all your questions. Unfortunately, time has not been on my side recently, not least thanks to the inability of Britain's train operators, coach companies and taxi drivers to handle a dusting of snow in December.