Tag Archives: anti-smoking groups

More extremist junk science (and contest update)

Chris Snowdon recently posted an excellent analysis of a recent New England Journal of Medicine article that calls for bans on smoking in non-single-family homes.  This has all sorts of interesting implications including class-based discrimination (I would bet that most of the wealthy activists who are calling for these restrictions own detached houses and so would be immune from such restrictions they want to impose on others), ongoing nonsense about the effects of ETS, and various other matters.  But I will highlight just two points.

The penultimate point is what this says about the quality of health science journals.  As I noted a couple of years ago anti-tobacco activism is a threat to the already rather shaky integrity of health science and publication thereof.  In this case, Snowdon discovered that the references for the key empirical claims in the article were to one document and one speech which did not actually support the claim.  (His impressive abilities in forensic research were probably not too taxed by this investigation.)  Many people believe that “prestigious” journals in health science afford some measure of scientific legitimacy, though I have noted before that when I want a teaching example of a dumb excuse for epidemiologic analysis I usually start with NEJM. (This is probably due to this and other medical journals depending on editors and reviewers who were trained as physicians — consumers of research, never trained as scientists themselves — and do not understand that they do not understand scientific inference, but that is a story for another time.)

Nevertheless, it is important to note the implications of yet another case of anti-tobacco extremists taking advantage of the inability of editors and readers of health science journals to recognize complete anti-scientific nonsense when it comes across their desk.  By doing so, they undermine the trust that is the key to science.

That was the second-most important point.  The most important is that Snowdon is now a solid front runner in our contest to predict the most ludicrous anti-tobacco junk science article that will appear in the latter part of this year.  He predicted that there would be a study that claimed ETS travels through phone lines, and notes in his post that the article in question claims that ETS travels along electrical lines, which is tantalizingly close.  We have to give him the inside track right now, but it should be noted that the NEJM authors were actually probably claiming something different:  The claim is probably that tiny a bit of ETS can get into an electrical box (if it is not well covered), and from there an even tinier bit can get through small holes in the box (or, if the building is a substandard firetrap, there might be no box, but then — as Snowdon points out — the residents have bigger problems), from there a tiny bit is in the conduit or dead space in the wall, and from there an even tinier bit can get through small holes into the neighbor’s box, and then….

Come to think of it, maybe they were claiming that it transmits down the wires — it seems just a plausible.  Full marks for Snowdon then.  But the contest is still open for entries (though you do not get credit for anything that came out before you “predicted” it, of course) and who can doubt that something even more outlandish might still get written — the extremists’ creativity in making claims that damage the legitimacy of health science knows little bounds.


– Carl V. Phillips

The contest continues…

At the risk of running multiple threads but with the potential of gaining new participants I am starting another post to buttress the good entries already in place.

Here’s one from me:

In a rare public appearance today, the typically reclusive NYT health writer and journalism professor Roni Rabin came forward to answer questions regarding her article with its endorsement of the Canary in the Mines Petition being circulated. Previously Rabin had helped nationalize the concern about 3rd hand smoke but had in that case remained silent after her influential piece.

As reported in the latest article, a consortium of anti-smoking health organizations following the lead of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids suggested that what was missing in tobacco control were the voices of the children themselves. What would address this need would be a panel of children who would decide whether the tobacco companies were indeed marketing to them with their new smokeless products.

The same group at Pediatrics who did such fine work in regards to third hand smoke were asked to design the study that would show how much we needed children to weigh in on this important matter that directly concerned them. In an earlier interview, one of that team said “its really just a question of asking people “do you think tobacco companies should be allowed to market to children?” and if you say “no” then that is a fair indication that they are already doing so and that we direly need this new way of dealing with it.

Of course, because they are children and it is unethical and quite dangerous to expose them to even the sight of tobacco products of any kind, the Pediatrics group suggested that adults would be exposed to the toxic goods and then describe the colors, tastes and package design to the children (and if it helps tell them what products they are familiar with that they resembled) and then the children could safely tell them if they thought they were attractive and if those companies were trying to make them use them. (The children would receive continual reassurance that the companies could not get to them in the testing rooms).

Asked whether children should also be part of the FDA new tobacco control plans, Rabin nodded and then waving her arms and backing up croaked “fear good; tobacco bad” a number of times. She became progressively more excited and before any more questions could be asked had backed herself right out of the room.


Schwarzenegger saves lives, and more good news

Few bits of good news out there today:

1. Smokers could get nicotine gum on NHS indefinitely.

From The Guardian, a citizen’s council (not sure at this point how much influence they actually have) is recommending that the National Health Service provide nicotine replacement products (gum or inhalers) indefinitely instead of the current guidelines of a couple of weeks.

The British Medical Association’s position stands as:

“In terms of harm reduction, effective alternatives need to be considered that allow an individual to obtain nicotine without being subjected to the risks of smoked tobacco.”

The BMA supported the use of nicotine replacement therapy products for harm reduction but said they were not licensed for long-term use and were not significantly cheaper than cigarettes.

-Good intentions and let’s hope it is adopted. This has been one of the problems with NRTs and why they are so unsuccessful for so many; that they are discontinued after such a short time. And of course, if society is on about the health costs of smoking, and in regards to how much is already spent in anti-tobacco activism, an investment in providing smokers with supplements is in relative terms quite modest. Or if you want to save even more money; make sure that e-cigarettes remain available and promote them. Smokers will even cover the cost of their own non-smoking efforts.

Which brings us to the big news story from California

2. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetos banning e-cigarettes

Once known as the Terminator, Arnold can add life saver to his list of accomplishments. Nice to see some common sense in a governor, especially one in charge of the most rabid paternalistic health activism in the Union. (See his letter here.)