Thursday, 24 September 2009

A voice of reason

Dr Christian Jessen

Is the penny starting to drop? On the day Spiked publish my article on heart miracles, a doctor writes (in The Evening Standard):

Some good has come from the smoking ban: researchers in Italy found that it resulted in a significant fall in hospital admissions for heart disease. In England, a similar trend has been noted. The Department of Health found a 10 per cent reduction in the number of hospital admissions for heart attacks in England in the year after the ban on public smoking was imposed in July 2007. This is good news as Britain is among the worst countries for deaths from heart disease — smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise being the main culprits.

As a doctor I should be delighted, but I do question if those results are indeed a true interpretation of the facts. The largest recent study (still ongoing) in the US has so far shown that smoking bans have no effect on heart attacks at all, and the main studies quoted in the press have been shown to be flawed, either in their methods of data collection, or in how their data was statistically analysed. I find it hard to believe that, given that smoking is claimed to increase the heart attack risk of lifelong passive smokers by 20 per cent, any noticeable drop in heart attacks as a result of the ban is yet to be seen. The numbers are just too small and the timescales too short.

Covering this story on their website, ASH once again strike a note of caution. Although they refer to a "growing body of evidence" in other countries, they also say:

Editorial comment: The reference to England is inaccurate as no data has yet been published.

This is the third time ASH have advised caution about the 10% claim which, according to reports, comes directly from the Department of Health. We know that ASH work very, very closely with the DoH, so what's the story? Perhaps if the DoH went on the record with this claim, instead of whispering rumours to journalists, we might have some clarity.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Good for him! Aren't doctors supposed to have a little bit of training in maths and stuff?

BTS said...

A doctor who wouldn't try to link an ingrowing toenail with smoking? That is newsworthy. What a sensible fellow.

Kris said...

I think it is quite irresponsible producing research that suggests quite a larger proportion of heart attacks can actually be stopped through smoking-bans.
We all know by now that there is a large number of factors involved ,that cause heart attacks, and researches like this might actually give people a false sense of safety whenever they are not around smokers, but eating or drinking whatever they want, and not thinking about their cholesterol or things like that.