Tag Archives: nyt

I guess being a retired ballplayer means you can dispense medical advice…

Recently some health advice was given out most appropriately in the Baseball section of the NYT because coincidentally that is the first place I look for any expert help on how to improve the state of my health.

Joe Garagiola (they probably just forgot to mention his medical degree or equivalent background in some related area of health) held forth on how smoking was similar to jumping from a 50th story window and using smokeless tobacco was more like from a 25th story window. I guess both forms of tobacco use are more dangerous than I had thought with either case ending in certain death.

This struck close to home since a few of us wrote a paper about the absurdity of the falling metaphors used in discouraging people from switching to safer forms of nicotine (see our article in Harm Reduction Journal in 2006).

Of course, I wonder why you should even bother considering our position at all, since none of us are former professional baseball players.

Apparently the affable Joe is quite deprecating in regards to his previous career; if only he were as sensible when it comes to an area he has no training in.



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.


A lesson about tobacco harm reduction from the American Tea Party movement

A column a couple of days ago by David Brooks (who, just for the record, I usually do not agree with) noted several threads of analysis that liken the American “Tea Party” movement to what he calls the New Left – the late-1960s / early-1970s Anglo-American hippie political movement. Despite the superficial differences that inevitably provoke a strong objection to the comparison from the current left, both of these are individualistic and anti-establishment. Both are probably doomed to flash and fail because counter-establishment efforts can build something for the ages, but anti-establishment is ephemeral — but that is not the part that is relevant to this blog.

What is relevant is the invocation of the classic high school civics story (admittedly oversimplified) of Rousseau’s vision of authority chaining the people versus Hobbes’s vision of authority being needed to protect people from anarchy and their own preference for sinning. This goes a long way to explaining something that many people find confusing: Why is the compassionate, liberal, and humanistic endeavor that is tobacco harm reduction so violently opposed by those who are thought of as the “left” (government bureaucracy; self-appointed guardians of the public health; the New York Times, which recently contributed to killing nicotine users by telling them they might as well smoke) even though the left is usually considered liberal and compassionate, but supported more by the “right” (Canada’s National Post and the U.S.’s Washington Times and Rep. Steve Buyer)?

The answer lies in recognizing that the left-right spectrum defined by ownership of the means of production (and related tax and welfare policy) or tendency toward foreign adventures is almost orthogonal to the Rousseau-Hobbes spectrum of liberty vs. paternalism. Deep ethical thinkers on both the left and right generally support enlightened drug policies, including encouraging harm reduction. Unfortunately, the institutional right still sees most illicit drugs as a crime or sin, and the institutional left similarly objects to tobacco/nicotine, soda, and the like. The latter mostly talk themselves into believing that they are attacking the corporations that supply the products, not the freedom to make our own decisions about our brains and bodies, but this is a transparent rationalization that does not stand up to even casual scrutiny.

Thus, the institutional left and right are quite happy to collaborate, via law and propaganda, in making sure that Leviathan keeps we ignorant masses from sinning by indulging a bit. And, of course, like every other government action, they dress it up as being for our own good.

Maybe it is time to create a Snus Party movement. Arguably the e-cig supporters and devotees are coming very close to this via the online community.

–Carl V. Phillips

NYT: Misleading the public again

Many hold the New York Times up as a worthy model for good news reporting and whether this is true I am not sure but what I do know is that when it comes to tobacco and health, this paper has an anti-tobacco stance that no concerns for health can possibly dislodge.

Today, and ironically placed in the Science section, the question When adolescent boys (and others) substitute smokeless tobacco, the kind held inside the lip or cheek, for cigarettes, what are the health effects? is posed and in a fashion answered. (Full article here.)

The author, C. Claiborne Ray, fails to mention the one most salient part of the answer, if indeed he actually processed the question, which is that the health risks drop dramatically to roughly 1% of the level associated with smoking. The cavalcade of information that masquerades as a helpful response serves chiefly to preserve the popular misleading message that using smokeless tobacco is as dangerous as smoking, and thus, any smoker who thought of switching should think again.

My colleague Carl Phillips wrote to the author and pointed out that he had, through his naive and unthinking repetition of misleading information, killed people today. That might sound hyperbolic but it is anything but. This sober message from a trusted source will be taken as gospel by many readers, many of them smokers, and result in them maintaining the risky lifestyle that they had considered abandoning.

Dr. Gilbert Ross at American Council on Science and Health in a letter to the NYT wrote:

Mr. Ray’s answer to the question about the relative risks of smokeless tobacco when substituted for cigarettes was dangerously misleading where it was not simply wrong. The overwhelming majority of the toxicity of tobacco comes from inhaling the products of combustion: smoke. The two salient facts he ignored are these: modern smokeless tobacco products are 99% less toxic in all health outcomes as compared to smoking, and over 400,000 among the cigarette- and nicotine-addicted 45 million smokers in our country die of their addiction each year. Smokeless tobacco has shown evidence of effectively helping addicted smokers quit their deadly habit, whereas other methods work much less often. Mr. Ray ignored the many studies showing these statements to be true while managing to find two which support his predetermined position, thus rendering his readers a potentially lethal dose of misinformation.

Somehow I do not think that this manipulation of readers quite falls under the category of what was intended by “all the news that’s fit to print”.


Third Hand Smoke, Again!?

I see that Chris Snowdon has a great post on the absurdity and a bit of history on the third hand smoke meme that refuses to die. It seems that while good ideas are often unnoticed or ignored that the really bad ones, and this one is bad in so many ways, tend to get a lot of press. I suppose that they do serve a purpose in uncovering which journalists uncritically repeat items without examining the source materials (for instance, this article from Roni Rabin at the NYT).

The third hand smoke nonsense is particularly dear to us here as we responded (quite some time prior to this blog’s existence) to the Journal of Pediatrics article when it came out. At the time, we had noticed how fast and furiously this story spread throughout the news media and the blogs. It was as though so many had been waiting for this, just like someone suddenly getting some small evidence of what previously rated as little more than a conspiracy theory. You could hear the “I knew it” s resounding throughout the land. Perhaps the most risible of the follow up stories was of Apple techs refusing to touch smokers’ computers.

One small excerpt from our letter:

The authors, in the article, press release and subsequent interviews, argue the danger of third hand smoke, such that smokers are encouraged to change clothing and bathe before holding their children. And yet, the authors still encourage the smoker to breastfeed the innocent child, rather than substitute a tobacco-free bottle of milk or formula (6). This can only mean that, despite repeating the nonsensical mantra of there is no safe level of exposure, whatever this non-safe level of exposure is, it must be much lower than the toxicity of bottle-feeding. The authors also suggest, not in the article but in related interviews, that the nose is an accurate determiner of toxicity, an interesting but outdated pre-scientific method that cynically takes advantage of the lay population (8, 19, 24, 26).

Many educated readers already have a jaundiced view of what passes for epidemiological research, and this article not only justifies their attitude but serves as the epitome of sloppy science, of politics and opinion and desire masquerading as science. We predict that a decade from now, if books and blogs continue to claim that epidemiology is junk science, they will still be citing this article as a perfect example.


The battle is not between public health experts and tobacco companies..

In the Business section in the NYT this weekend, Duff Wilson and Julie Creswell put together a more balanced article than ever would have been accepted in the same paper’s Health section. (You might recall that this was perhaps the most prominent newspaper uncritically repeating the most inane tobacco nonsense of the last year if not the century, the laughable concept of and pseudo-study on third hand smoke. (See article here.)

That being said, the article contains within it a few of those amusing contradictions so typical of the anti-tobacco crowd, amusing until you realize that there are real world consequences to these folks treating health issues as political games.

The article reports critics saying that allowing tobacco companies to market their reduced risk products as reduced risk products is simply a strategy to “dodge indoor smoking laws” and “to encourage smokers to use oral tobacco products as supplements”. They go on to cite Stanton Glantz criticizing the dual use marketing that companies engage in.

In any other field, mandating that a company not describe its product accurately would be considered absurd, and furthermore having self described health proponents demanding that a company limit itself to promoting a potentially life saving alternative purely as an option to maintain the opposite is just short of criminal. To add insult to injury, these same experts then blame the companies for complying with the very regulations they, the experts, drafted.

Now, as well, the critics are saying this attempt at informing the public about the greater safety of smokeless tobacco is simply a diversion from dealing with the more harmful cigarettes. Again, one marvels at the cognitive convolutions taking place since one of the most effective way of dealing with the harm associated with smoking is to promote safer alternatives.

(The persistent spotlight on smokeless products can be found via anti-tobacco activists more than with tobacco companies. It is not uncommon to find on many dental or ENT websites volumes about the dangers of smokeless tobacco and not a mention of cigarettes.)

Ultimately, and there are so many other things to comment on here (the nonsense about flavoured tobacco products, characterizing political figures as health experts, etc..perhaps a part 2 post will come), we once again are given the notion of an upcoming battle between tobacco companies and public health experts. This dichotomy only makes sense politically and has no place is discussions of health. With the article quoting Nitzkin, we see at least some division in public health, and that is where the battle will really be on, between persons in public health who are subverting the common good for their own ends and for those who truly are trying to improve that good.


Working to keep smoking as dangerous as possible…

From the New York Times (The Needle Nexus)….

Moscow’s drug policy could be called harm augmentation: discourage drug use by making it as dangerous as possible. Arseniy and David, for example, can’t direct addicts to methadone clinics, since methadone — the global gold standard rehabilitation method — is illegal in Russia

Kind of sounds like North American tobacco policy…

Tip of the hat to CVP for bringing this article to my attention.