Tag Archives: christopher snowden

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

Third hand smoke: should we bother?

Once again third hand smoke has reared its pea brain head and once again we all rise to the bait. (See recent postings by Michael Siegel, Christopher Snowden, and myself). Not so much the challenge since the challenge is not the concept or the science, which are laughable, but the iteration through the culture.

Were it not for the acceptance of this nonsense among so many, and the attraction it seems to hold for media outlets, it would be like bothering to debate flat earthers. Or like trying to debate John Banzhaf as if he was a reasonable man.

But as Siegel points out, this bad science has the real world effect of affecting policies which could be quite harmful. And for that reason, we have to keep on it even though through the argument it may seem as though the whole concept is stronger than it really is.

Perhaps we really should be promoting ASH-US, the anti-humanist ravings of Banzhaf, and all this third hand smoke garbage as a means to bring home to the average person how absurd the anti-smoking movement has become, and how if we want to move forward on addressing tobacco related health issues, they must be seen for the anti-health extremists that they are.


Wars on drugs part 2

See Christopher Snowden’s blog for insights on how the seemingly beneficial reclassification of drugs may end up being fuel for increasingly anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol initiatives.


Book reviews, health and politics, etc.

1. Book reviews

Over at Spiked, Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick has two book reviews; one we’ve read (Velvet Glove Iron Fist) and another one that looks as promising (Geoffrey Kabat’s Hyping Health Risks). (See The anti-smoking ‘truth regime’ that cannot be questioned:Two new books expose how epidemiology has been used as a tool of propaganda in the war on tobacco – and woe betide anyone who tries to inject some real facts into the debate.) Fitzpatrick’s own Tyranny of Health is a bracing rant against the medicalization of everyday life including the valuation of length over quality of life.

2. At The Rest of the Story (two narratives)..

Most recently, Michael Siegel writes New Study Finds Nicotine Gum May Pose Carcinogen Hazard to NRT Users; Will Anti-Smoking Groups Call for Removal of Oral NRT Products from Market?
The title is fairly self explanatory with the blog post asking whether these same groups who have campaigned so strongly for the removal of ecigarettes (which in terms of this research have less proven harm than oral nicotine) be consistent and campaign against these now. This is not an argument against the NRTs since they are still obviously much safer than smoking but rather a question of consistency…..if oral NRTs are better than smoking, then surely ecigarettes are as well.

And previously this same writer posted Colleagues Accuse Me of Working for Big Tobacco and E-Cigarette Industry; Anti-Smoking Advocates Seem Unable to Address Opposing Views Substantively. This sort of experience is not news to those of us in tobacco harm reduction but it is even more dramatic when it happens to Siegel who was a vociferous supporter of smoke free legislation. He has remained health focussed while his erstwhile colleagues have become even more political and is now being castigated for what they believe is fifth column behavior.

Both these posts and so many other commentaries illustrate the depressing fact that in this area rather than the debate being over which is the best way to improve health it is a battle between health and politics and as the battle continues the casualties are not among those fighting but among the civilians.


Velvet Glove Iron Fist


Subtitled A History of Anti-smoking, Christopher Snowden‘s book Velvet Glove Iron Fist is perhaps the best ever written on this subject, at least the best I have read. Entertaining as well as informative, this book should be in every library. (See the Velvetglove website for excerpts).

Though harm reductionists and anti-tobacco activists share the goal of getting smokers away from smoking, we differ radically on how we conceptualize the process. Anti-smoking activists are paternalistic and feel that smokers will only respond to force as in increasingly onerous restrictions and various other steps in the direction of prohibition.

Harm reduction is based on the idea of choice and autonomy. Smokers smoke for good reason (even if it is unhealthy) and only by accepting those reasons as valid can we develop attractive alternatives to smoking. Secondly, and quite a different point, is that the anti-smoking movement has created the very barriers that stop smokers from knowing about safer alternatives.

Know the enemy; read this book.