Thursday 28 March 2013

Junk and buffoons

I've been busy working to a deadline these last few days, but that doesn't mean I haven't been keeping an eye on what's going on—and what a lot of goings on there have been.

I'm sick of writing about these risible smoking ban/heart attack miracles, but the latest effort from Prince Edward Island, Canada deserves a mention. Michael Siegel has already covered it and Dick Puddlecote reckons it's the worst ever. The category is too tight for me to endorse that view whole-heartedly but it's certainly in the top ten.

As ever, the claim is that the rate of heart attack admissions fell after the smoking ban was introduced. Siegel says that the heart attack admission rate actually rose, but you can make your own mind up by looking at the graph that the authors cheerfully published in the study.

The heart attack (acute myocardial infarction) rate is shown in blue. As you can see it stayed the same for a few years and then rose a few years later. I don't know what drugs you would have to be on to see a fall in heart attacks after the smoking ban, but nevertheless our intrepid researchers conclude that:
A comprehensive smoking ban in PEI reduced the overall mean number of acute myocardial infarction admissions

Actually, the only disease that showed a marked decrease right after the smoking ban was bowel obstruction (shown in red below), but since this is one of the few diseases to have not yet been blamed on passive smoking, it was used as a control.

Who knows how the authors conjured up this latest heart miracle? Frankly, who cares? Not the media, apparently, who completely ignored it. There is, however, a quiet admission in the study that it is not necessary for hospital admissions to actually decrease for tobacco control researchers to say that hospital admissions decreased.

The predicted reduced monthly AMI admissions and for angina in men demonstrate that, even when hospitalization rates are increasing, public health interventions can lower the expected rate of hospitalizations.

Truly, tobacco control is a fairytale world where madmen and charlatans run riot. We can only hope that branches of real science are not so irretrievably corrupt.

Speaking of charlatans, silly sociologist Simon Fenton Chapman has been exhibiting his phenomenal lack of self-awareness on Twitter again. Having spent his career accusing anyone who looks at him in a funny way of being in the pay of Big Tobacco, the boot is on the other foot now that he has rebranded himself as an expert on, and enthusiast of, industrial wind turbines. Dick Puddlcote's post about the narcissistic twonk is well worth reading, as is Carl Phillips'.

Meanwhile, fake charity ASH continues to pull out all the stops as they pursue the ridiculous and ultimately rather trivial objective of winning the plain packs campaign. As reported in The Guardian and not many other places, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health has gathered some of tobacco control's finest minds like, er, Anna Gilmore to assure them that making every pack of cigarettes look exactly the same will not help counterfeiters, no sir.

What the Guardian fails to mention is that the All Party Group was formed by ASH, is run by ASH and essentially is ASH with a few useful idiots from parliament like Stephen Williams roped in to give it legitimacy. It is the sock puppet's sock puppet, as I mentioned in the IEA paper of that name:

ASH continues to influence public and politicians through its media appearances, press releases and parliamentary briefings. In 2010/11, it responded to no fewer than fourteen public consultations, often in support of measures ASH itself had recommended to the DH, which continues to fund them. In Westminster, it works through the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, which was set up by ASH director Mike Daube in 1976 in the hope of persuading individual MPs to table Private Members’ Bills and Early Day Motions on ASH’s behalf. The APPG was originally known, more tellingly, as the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Action on Smoking and Health and ASH continues to dominate its activity.

The avenues that APPGs open up to lobbyists have received surprisingly little discussion in the popular press. The Register of All-Party Groups says that APPGs are “essentially run by and for Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords.” If this was ever true, it is true no longer. When Robin Fenwick investigated All-Party Groups in 2011 he concluded that APPGSs have been “comprehensively invaded by vested interests seeking to buy access to our legislators.” Of the 534 APPGs on the register, 77 were run by public affairs agencies and 98 were “run by charities with agendas to promote”.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health falls into the latter category. Its secretariat is ASH’s current director, Deborah Arnott, and the charity pays for the printing, stationery and group receptions, as well as providing the briefing material. The group’s secretariat is ASH’s current director Deborah Arnott and its last Annual General Meeting was attended by just four MPs, alongside three members of ASH and ten representatives from other charities. The group is used primarily as a vehicle for ASH to brief MPs, lobby for funding and send press releases.

The Hands Off Our Packs blog has more to say about this. Well worth a read.

Finally, Scotland has decided to become 'tobacco-free' by 2034. The bafflingly arbitrary date makes me wonder if there were all-night talks in Edinburgh in which ASH Scotland managed to get the government to climbdown on its original 2035 plan. Whatever, the health minister used it as another excuse to bang on about those bloody plain packs. No doubt he hopes to "lead the way" in some regard. It's pathetic how these little politicians have no other plan for getting themselves in the history books other than by passing some cheap law to ban something.

The ever-hopeful BBC reported this non-story thus:

Plain cigarette packaging is to be introduced in Scotland under a plan to make the nation "tobacco free" by 2034.

Sadly for Auntie's eager beavers, Scotland does not have the authority to pass such a law and so everything continues to hinge on whether the Westminster government decides to ignore coppers, ex-coppers, customs officials, packaging manufacturers, lawyers, intellectual property specialists and 500,000 members of the public. If you want to tell your MP to get a grip and do something useful, click on this link and send him or her an e-mail.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I wonder what would happen to ASH if its funding stayed the same, but was rigidly overseen and controlled so that ALL of it went to education and materials, and NONE of it went to pay any of its wonderfully altruistic staff?

Clearly, if it's indeed such a worthy cause, these individuals should be willing to work at what true activists used to call "bread labor" on the side and then use their free time to do their charity or activist work. I did that sort of thing for a good many years in the 1970s and 1980s as I worked in the peace/social-change movement and for bicycle transit activism.

And aside from the extremely modest amount of money I've gotten from Brains I've continued that tradition into the nineties, oughts, and teens.

If it was good enough for me, it should be good enough for them.