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Smoking ban health miracles

By Guest
April 15th, 2013 at 10:00 am | 7 Comments | Posted in health, pseudo science

Earlier this year a paper was published in a peer reviewed journal that was so contrived and so flawed that I had hoped it would convince any doubters that the evidence for miraculous immediate health effects from smoking bans is entirely the figment of activist’s febrile imaginations. Sadly, it appears that I was wrong and that true believers including David Cameron still cling to the notion that smoking bans “have had a pretty dramatic health effect”.  This delusion is shared by Anna Soubry who unforgivably and untruthfully claimed reductions in heart attacks and childhood asthma admissions as a result of the English smoking ban in evidence that she gave to the House of Lords (page 11).  The fact that she was standing next to the less than impartial Andrew Black at the time is no excuse as only someone without interest in truth or reality would take anything Black says at face value.

The “growing body of peer reviewed evidence” used to justify these counter-intuitive claims is an indictment of public health industry ethics and medical journal standards. This recent contribution claiming a 12% reduction is asthma admissions as a result of the smoking ban originates from Imperial College London which is cause for further concern because Imperial is a top UK research establishment and as such charges young people a small fortune to be educated by what one would hope are top academics.

The culprits behind this affront to science are Stanton Glantz and Christopher Millett. In case anyone is labouring under the illusion that these two are objective scientists, Glantz is a well-known anti-tobacco activist who together with Millett holds extreme views on smoking in movies. Glantz was recently mentioned in the US congress in relation to a $680,000 grant that he used to make the bizarre claim that the Tea Party was created 25 years ago by big tobacco. It is extraordinary that we ban tobacco company funded research on the basis of scientific objectivity but, by a widely accepted double standard, treat the output of blatantly biased activist obsessives as “scientific evidence” fit for Prime Ministers.

This paper is yet another example of torturing numbers to fit a theory. The authors produce a lot of complex statistical waffle to obscure the deception but their essentially simplistic claim can be illustrated using annual data for childhood asthma admissions from the same NHS source they use. In the figure below the blue bars are years pre-ban and the orange ones the year of the ban and one year later. The solid red line is a simple linear fit to the pre-ban data.

asthma 2002 2009

The claim that the ban reduced asthma admissions depends on showing that admissions rates were increasing pre-ban and that after the ban admissions were lower than predicted had that trend continued along the path illustrated by the dashed red line.  Millett uses the period 2002-2007 to model the “rising trend” in admissions but the NHS data goes back further and if we use all the available data the “trend” changes somewhat.

asthma 1998 2009

Cherry picking time periods is a common deception practiced by the public health industry together with taking advantage of coincidental variations in data series that happen to fit a theory or policy.

Those desperate to believe might argue that I am being too simplistic in that the “experts” took a more sophisticated approach and used monthly data. A 12% fall in admissions should not need sophisticated techniques to be apparent but it is true that 2007-08, the year of the ban, saw a big fall in admissions compared to the previous year. However, a look at NHS data for monthly admissions covering three years around the ban serves only to illustrate how the second element of the trick works.  asthma 2005 2008

If I asked a group of seven year olds which of the lines on the chart above was the odd one out, I would expect the majority to say the orange one. The orange line represents monthly admissions for the year before the ban. We can align the data on the month of July which was when the ban came in but it makes little difference. Admissions were low in the year the ban came into force but not unusually so. Both the alleged upward trend before the ban and the apparent fall in the year it was enacted work for the activists only because peak season admissions were unusually high in the year before the ban. That stroke of fortune combined with the cherry picked time frame form the basis of the deception.

This peer reviewed paper appears to be nothing more than a cheap trick, an abuse of academic freedom for political purposes. The authors admit to some of its flaws but this did not prevent them from issuing a carefully worded press release that inevitably led to a misleading claim being widely broadcast by a gullible and uncritical media. It even made BBC TV news! This is not an isolated incident. It forms part of a body of highly publicised but fundamentally flawed “research” that has led some politicians and at least one national leader to erroneously believe in unlikely health miracles associated with interventions such as smoking bans. This might well influence opinions when reviewing existing or considering additional interventions, which one can argue is the main purpose behind such publications and their attendant publicity.

Of course, those politicians obsessed with public health are never slow to accept even the most unconvincing “evidence” if it suits their prejudices. Despite widespread incredulity over the facile “evidence” underpinning the implausible notion that smoking bans produce big falls in heart attacks, Sarah Wollaston of minimum alcohol pricing fame has claimed that the UK smoking ban:

“…was a very good example of evidence-based policy. If you look at what has happened in terms of deaths of cardiac disease, it has been staggering. There’s been a huge drop … It surprised even the health experts.”

Wollaston exhibits blind faith in “evidence” that is of no better standard than the article reviewed here. Her need to believe does not make it true, or a good basis for policy.

I have contacted Pediatrics and asked how something so obviously contrived as the Millett paper could survive peer review. I was informed that it was reviewed by people who are “experts in their field”.  I wasn’t told what field, but expertise in either mathematics or ethics was apparently not considered necessary in this case. There are reasons why political stunts like this usually appear in medical journals rather than elsewhere in the literature and it is remarkable just how low some set the peer review bar. Peer review is supposed to be a minimum requirement able to identify fundamental methodological errors or false claims. Every time an article such as this is published in a “peer reviewed” journal, respect for this gold standard and science in general declines a little bit further. The collective damage is becoming significant and the implications extend way beyond smoking.

I have also contacted Imperial College press office but they have declined to comment on why they inflicted this press release on the general public. From direct experience I know that Imperial College employs many excellent lecturers and research scientists but based on this output I think that we should question what exactly young people are being taught for £9,000 a year and who is doing the teaching. Honesty, integrity and academic excellence are qualities that I would expect to see in those who benefit from the fees young people are now being asked to pay. I appear to be in a minority.

By Chris Oakley. Chris’ previous posts on Liberal Vision include: Minimum pricing – policy based evidenceAlcohol is Old News – Minimum Pricing for Digestives is the “Next Logical Step” , Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists , Alcohol Taxation: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth Lies, damn lies, statistics &… , The Department of Health is Watching You! , New bounty on smokers helps GPs balance their books.

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Smoking ban petition: “What’s to disagree with?”

By Angela Harbutt
August 25th, 2011 at 5:31 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Personal Freedom

I have just returned from my USA vacation and am delighted to report that tales of the demise of the smoker across the pond are greatly exaggerated. Indeed in some states the fight back seems to be on.

Despite what you may have heard, it was ludicrously easy to find hotels in New York offering smoking rooms.  Much easier actually than finding a smoking room in many UK cities. Smoking on the streets remains common place – and the numbers of open air bars encouraging you to light up are, if anything, on the increase.

Over in Las Vegas the story is even more encouraging. Back in around 2006 Nevada introduced a smoking ban on places that served food. Initially this meant that several bars simply went smoke free. In some casinos it was actually difficult to find a decent bar where you could sit down with your Sapphire tonic and enjoy the odd Marlborough Light. But public demand has caused many owners to rethink their policy. One casino on the strip has not only opened up two new smoking bars (complete with waitress service) in the last 12 months, but rejigged two of its most popular restaurants to accommodate outdoor seating for smokers. At the other end of the strip, my favourite restaurant – which bizarrely banned smoking on the terrace when the ban was first introduced – has relaxed its rules to allow its patrons to enjoy a cigarette once more. None of this is to the detriment on non smokers. There are still many places that you can go and find a smoke free atmosphere. But a sense of balance is finally being restored. Amen to that.

Returning to a damp Britain was therefore rather depressing.. A return to standing outside the pub with two bar staff avoiding the cars throwing up spray from the gutter while half a dozen people inside enjoyed their “right” to a smoke free environment. How marvelous it would be if we could see some of that Clark County commonsense over here. 

So what to do….? My first political act post-vacation has been to sign the e-petition calling for a review of the smoking ban.

The petition states

We petition the Government to review the impact of the smoking ban on pubs and clubs and consider an amendment that would give licensees the option of separate well-ventilated smoking rooms”

I share many folks scepticism of e-petitions but there is nothing to lose – and just perhaps something to be gained. I have tested out the wording of the petition with friends and family (mostly non-smokers) … “what’s to disagree with?” was the over-riding consensus.

Original legislation went too far. It is now widely known that the intention was never to include every single pub and club in the smoking ban. A growing number of MPs regret voting it through. And as a society,  we are frankly getting rather tired of the pontifications of those on high, and the intolerance and scorn of those who seem incensed by anyone around them who seems to be taking any enjoyment from life. 

So why not give this e-petition a go? You never know it may just work…..


Save Our Pubs & Clubs – join us in Westminster on June 29

By Angela Harbutt
May 23rd, 2011 at 11:20 pm | 27 Comments | Posted in Personal Freedom

Liberal Vision are off to the Houses of Parliament on 29th June. Well… We have certainly signed up to Simon Clark’s genius event. Details from the Taking Liberties website are shown below – you can click here to find out how to get your own invite to the reception.

Special thanks go to Rt Hon Greg Knight MP (Conservative), Roger Godsiff MP (Labour) and John Hemming MP (Liberal Democrat) who are hosting the event.

The fight to amend the smoking ban is going to the heart of Westminster.

On Wednesday June 29, two days before the fourth anniversary of the smoking ban in England, we want supporters of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign to join us at the Houses of Parliament.

Supporters are invited to attend a special reception hosted by The Rt Hon Greg Knight MP (Conservative), Roger Godsiff MP (Labour) and John Hemming MP (Liberal Democrat).

Location: Terrace Pavilion, House of Commons.

Time: 4.00-6.00pm

In advance of the event you will be asked to contact your local MP so you can arrange to meet them at the reception to discuss the smoking ban and related issues.

The aim of the event is to highlight the impact of the ban and demonstrate the strength of feeling that still exists in many quarters.

This is rare opportunity to lobby your MP in the presence of other like-minded people. We need as many people as possible to take part so please support this initiative and encourage others to do so too.

To attend the reception you MUST register in advance. So visit the Taking Liberties website and get yourself on the list.

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Land of the Free????

By Angela Harbutt
February 4th, 2011 at 12:38 am | 8 Comments | Posted in US Politics

I always thought of America as the place where personal choice and individual freedom where held in high esteem. Where informed discussion was preferred to berating and banning. Where politeness won out over prohibition. Where they chose discourse over directives.

Well that was then and this is now. In New York anyway. The very epitomy of the Land of the Free got that bit more Soviet today when Michael Bloomberg -Mayor of New York – extended the ban on smoking to  all of city’s 14 miles of beaches, marinas and boardwalks and some 1700 parks (including Central Park) as well as many”other” public places such as  Times Square.

“This summer, New Yorkers who go to our parks and beaches for some fresh air and fun will be able to breathe even cleaner air and sit on a beach not littered with cigarette butts,”said Mr Bloomberg. “Breathe even cleaner air” (I love the “even” in that sentence) – that’s if you can see the air for the car fumes of course… (no they lost the congestion charge battle some time ago).

Still, the few tourists they will have left following the introduction don’t have to be too concerned just yet.. It has also been announced the smoking ban will be self-enforced, with residents rather than police warning others not to smoke in public places. And should an over eager policeman decide he will fine you, a delightfully named “quality-of-life summon” will be handed down to a violator of the smoking ban, similar to what the city does for public urination (!) with a fine of about $50. But no “on-the-spot” fines here as the fear of corruption is too great! Go figure…..

So where can you smoke in New York? City sidewalks (obviously) and private businesses where smoking is presently allowed, e.g. rooftop bars and private apartments of course – though watch this space as many want to see a ban on smoking in private residences introduced here too. What will it be I wonder? Secret surveillance cameras in their bathrooms? or just good old ratting on neighbours.

There is much controversy about this ban as you might expect. Over half the city say they are against it, and the phone-ins across the city are awash with people asking why ban smoking in public parks (where there is ample space to get away from the smoke) but allow it on the pavements where people are squeezed in six to a dozen.

Well, welcome to the world of soviet planning folks…no rhyme nor reason…

It has been suggested that this ban is more about the cost of cleaning up the cigarette butts than it is about the “cleaner air”.  And they may be right. In 2010, New York taxpayers worked until April 23, ranking it 3rd highest in the nation, 2 weeks after the national Tax Freedom Day (April 9). …Who knows….

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Cool video…..

By Angela Harbutt
October 13th, 2010 at 11:59 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in freedom, Personal Freedom

Here is a really cool video I came across on my travels.  It highlights, as powerfully as anything I have seen anywhere, the issues surrounding the growing illicit trade in tobacco. MP’s (especially those of you who did not support yesterday’s Bill for an amendment to the smoking ban) take note…. To everyone else – please spread the word, email the Youtube link to friends, put it up on your sites…you know the drill.

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