Sunday, 27 September 2009

Flogging a dead horse


The Sunday Times is showing no signs of backing down from last week's voodoo science regarding the English heart attack miracle. Quite the reverse, in fact, as the paper has now provided a forum for Prof. John Britton (Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies) to perpetuate the smoking ban/heart attack myth.

Under the fanciful headline 'Why are smoking bans so good at cutting heart attack rates?', Britton makes the explicit claim that...

[A]voiding tobacco smoke cuts the risk of a heart attack almost immediately – and it is this that has led to the marked reductions in hospital admissions and deaths.

Except that we know that there was no 'marked reduction in hospital admissions' in England, Scotland and Wales.

I won't go over the facts of this again, but my eye was drawn to this sentence:

In fact the smoke-free legislation, along with the tobacco advertising ban, media campaigns, NHS stop smoking services, and many other initiatives have all contributed to a near 30% reduction in UK smoking prevalence since 1997.

1997 is a rather odd year to use as the start date here, because there is no smoking prevalence data for 1997. I wonder if anything else happened in 1997 that would make Prof. Britton want to use it as the beginning of a great national revival? 

Labour routs Tories in historic election

Oh yeah, that. Aren't people like Prof. Britton supposed to avoid playing party politics?

For the record, there has not been a 'near 30%' fall in smoking prevalence since 1997. The most recent figures* from the Office of National Statistics show:

Prevalence of cigarette smoking amongst adults (Table 2.1)

1996: 28%

1998: 28%

2000: 27%

2002: 26%

2004: 25%

2006: 22%

This shows that smoking prevalence fell by 21.4%, so it would be truer to say there was a 'near 20% reduction in UK smoking prevalence since 1997.'

Is it too much to ask for the Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies to get these basic facts right?


* Official stats for 2008 are not yet available. The government's target is to reduce smoking prevalence to 21% by 2010. Even if that happens - and there is no evidence that it will - it will still not represent a 30% drop since 1997.



4 comments:

Mark Wadsworth said...

"Is it too much to ask for the Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies to get these basic facts right?"

Yes, it is too much to ask.

I do wonder about those statements on fag packets that say "Stopping smoking reduces risk of heart attack by 50% after one year" (this may or may not be true, I do not know).

Surely, they are going to have to change this to "Stopping smoking reduces risk of heart attacks by 100%" (which is clearly untrue) to make the rest of their outlandish statistics appear even vaguely plausible.

BTS said...

"one of the most effective health policies ever introduced in the UK in the past ten years."

It would appear that Professor Britton's English is as poor as his maths..

Bearwitch said...

"[A]voiding tobacco smoke cuts the risk of a heart attack almost immediately – and it is this that has led to the marked reductions in hospital admissions and deaths."

Let me see if I have this right. If you are a heavy drinking tub of lard, all you need to do is steer clear of smoke and you have cut the risk of a heart attack?

No, didn't think so....

Therefore in my overactive little mind, this statement, by itself, is clearly inaccurate.


I know this has been said many times but just feel the need for a vent. A lot of people will class themselves as non smokers when they go to the doctors, complete forms, etc because it saves them a great deal of hassle, but actually do smoke (even 1 a week is classed as being a smoker, in spite of the fact that those who scrounge my fags on a regular basis when drinking usually insist they are non-smokers). The sale of fags has gone down in recent years because a lot of folks buy them from abroad. Note the marked 'reduction' in smokers over the years where European travel has become cheaper and easier. I would therefore love to know exactly how they can pinpoint these figures.

I am totally fed up of the whole witch hunt.

Frank Davis said...

Are those figures for smoking prevalence in the least bit plausible? As best I understand it, they I arrived at by conducting door-to-door or telephone polls. How many smokers are prepared these days to admit to complete strangers that they smoke?