Saturday, 27 February 2010

Nick Hogan jailed for 6 months

Nick Hogan has become the first person in Britain—and one of the first in the world—to be imprisoned for taking a stand against the smoking ban. He has been given a six month prison sentence for non-payment of a £10,000 fine. His crime was allowing people to smoke on his own property.

Both the fine and the prison sentence are completely disproportionate to the offence but it has been clear from the outset that the authorities intended to make an example of Hogan. The offence itself—"allowing people to smoke"—is absurd and has no place in a civilised society; the state has no right to force individuals to act as policemen.

The excessive fine of £3,000 was bolstered by ludicrously high court costs and further penalties. In my view, Hogan was right to refuse to pay it. In taking a stand he may have expected some sort of custodial sentence. Nobody could have expected a sentence of six months. A quick Google search shows us what company Nick Hogan has been placed amongst...

Two months

Brighton woman jailed after campaign of violence

A woman who carried out a campaign of violence and intimidation against council tenants has been jailed. Shirley Miles, 45, has been given a two-month prison sentence for anti-social behaviour.

During her terror campaign at a number of council properties in Kemp Town, Brighton, Miles abused two vulnerable tenants, using a razor blade toattack and cut a tenant's face and body.

She also caused criminal damage to council property and stole property and money.

Three months

Dungiven man jailed for three months

A Dungiven man convicted of sexual offences has been sent to jail for three months and ordered to sign the Sex Offenders' Register for seven years.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was convicted of gross indecency with a child and indecent assault on a female.

Four months

Merseyside teenager jailed for four months for 'despicable and horrendous' animal cruelty

A MERSEYSIDE teenager was sent to jail for four months for setting dogs on defenceless animals and filming them being ripped to pieces.

Six months

Baby beater jailed for six months

A man who was caught on camera repeatedly punching a friend's sleeping baby has been jailed for six months.

Hogan's 'crime' was, above all, a political protest so perhaps it would be better to compare his sentence against other political protesters. Like Greenpeace, for example, who cause criminal damage and yet are still acquitted:

Not guilty: the Greenpeace activists who used climate change as a legal defence

Six Greenpeace climate change activists have been cleared of causing £30,000 of criminal damage at a coal-fired power station in a verdict that is expected to embarrass the government and lead to more direct action protests against energy companies.

Note that these people admitted to causing £30,000 worth of damage. Despite being manifestly guilty, they were acquitted because their defence was, effectively, that global warming was sufficient provocation.

This is not a unique case. Take this one from 2001...

Trident protesters found not guilty

Two anti-nuclear protesters who entered a dockyard planning to disarm one of Britain's Trident submarines with an axe were yesterday cleared of conspiracy to cause criminal damage.

Sylvia Boyes, 57, from Keighley, West Yorkshire, and River - formerly Keith Wright - 45, from Manchester, admitted that they plotted to damage HMS Vengeance while it was docked at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, in November 1999.

But they denied criminal damage, claiming their actions were justifed because nuclear weapons were immoral and illegal under international law. They argued politicians could not be trusted with Britain's nuclear arsenal, so civilians had to act to stop disaster.

Or this from 1996...

£1.5m Hawk attack women freed

Four women walked free from Liverpool Crown Court yesterday after a jury found them not guilty of criminal charges despite their admission that they did more than pounds 1.5m worth of damage to a Hawk warplane.

They broke into hangar 358 and used hammers to damage the plane in 25 places. All four claimed their actions were justified because the Hawk was destined for Indonesia, where it would be used against the civilians of East Timor.

The three cases above involved a jury trial, something that Hogan was not afforded. The disgraceful treatment dished out to a decent man who has caused no harm to anybody is further proof that the idea of equality before the law is a dead concept in Britain. If you have a politically correct excuse for your crimes, you are set free. If not, you are thrown to the dogs.

Leg-Iron has more on this.

Friday, 26 February 2010

A little light reading (2)

A lot of good stuff around the web this week...

Tobacco Harm Reduction finds an explanation for social engineering from Terry Pratchett:

Paraphrasing, the observation was that the problem faced by self-declared revolutionaries of the people is not that we have the wrong government — that goes without saying — but that we have the wrong people. In other words, the self-styled revolutionary has talked himself into believing that he is devoting his life to save the people from their oppressors. But he usually discovers, much to his frustration, the people do not really mind how things are — at least not enough to join him on the barricades.

So eventually, after breaking the power of the old guard, the Peoples’ Revolutionaries (c.f. Stalin, Mao, Castro, et al.) they have to start devoting their energies to controlling the behavior of the people who they were supposedly try to help because those damn people just do not understand what is good for them.

At the Sunday Times, Minette Marrin is bang on the money, echoing the idea set out by Peter Obourne in The Triumph of the Political Class:

What’s really going on, I think, is that the nature of class war has changed. The old virus has mutated. The old social and political divisions have given way to two new classes — rather as on the trains. Those in economy are most of us, paying for the comforts of those in first class. And those in first class are the new political class — all those who owe their advancement and their security and their pensions and their privileges not to their backgrounds or their talents, or even necessarily their political parties, but to the state and our taxes.

At Spiked, Patrick Hayes has a great article about the British government's massive expenditure on public service advertising:

Nothing better reveals the contempt in which the New Labour government holds the British public than its advertising campaigns. Millions of pounds are being spent to ensure that wherever there is a potential captive audience there will be a government advert telling you how disgusting you are.

I would only add that one effect of having the government as the country's biggest advertiser is that it acts as a disincentive for commercial organisations to criticise its schemes. When the news comes from an independent source like ITN this isn't too much of problem, but I know from working in the local press that if one of your major sources of revenue is the council or health authority, this cannot help but influence editorial decisions.

As reported by Pub Curmudgeon, the UK's public health minister is mad, stupid or a liar. Whichever it is, she's not fit to hold office.

“The pub trade does have challenges and I am aware of that but it isn’t the case that the ban had led to pub closures.”

Taking Liberties has more on this jaw-dropping comment.

Tobacco Truth has more on thirdhand smoke hysteria:

The anti-tobacco extremists’ motto: if you can measure it, it must be deadly.

And finally, Stanton "trust me, I'm a doctor of mechanical engineering" Glantz gives a lesson in how to lose friends and alienate people from his San Francisco bunker. Still banging on about smoking in the movies, he takes pride in Julia Roberts' assistant sending his junk mail back unread and threatening to sue him. After calling actors 'self-absorbed jerks', the great scientist recalls how one of the major studios also threatened to sue him. 

This is followed up in the New York Times, with Glantz admitting that the Smokefree Movies ruse is designed to lose studios money:

Dr. Glantz led the way to hold tobacco companies accountable for profiting from smoking, and did the same with Hollywood, helping expose and end product-placement deals that promoted cigarette brands in movies. His current Smoke Free Movies campaign wants films that include smoking to receive R ratings, which might substantially hurt their box office receipts.

“That’s the whole idea,” Dr. Glantz said.

Way to wins hearts and minds, Stan!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

That French anti-smoking advert

Whenever you think anti-smoking activists have scraped the bottom of every barrel, they plumb new depths. Taking Liberties reports an almost unbelievable new anti-smoking advert in France that makes a bizarre connection between smoking and sexual abuse. You can see the ad here. Taking Liberties comments:

"As far as I know, practising fellatio doesn't cause cancer," said a spokeswoman for the Movement for Women's Liberation. I think this misses the point of the advertisement which, as I see it, implies that under-age smoking is on a par with a teenager being forced to have (oral) sex with a middle-aged man (ie child abuse or sexual assault if not rape).

Or am I reading too much into this?

I don't think he is reading too much into it and nor does The Strait Times:

Child sex anti-smoking ad

Deliberately shocking anti-smoking adverts that compare nicotine addiction to sexual abuse, and which the French government has vowed to ban, sparked a lively debate on Wednesday.

The ads show a man pushing a kneeling child's face towards his crotch. Two feature boys and one a girl. The children look fearfully up at him, holding in their mouth a cigarette that appears to protrude from his fly. Under the image runs the slogan: 'Smoking makes you a slave to tobacco.'

There is so much wrong with this campaign that it is hard to know where to begin. It should be emphasised that this is not an official government campaign. It comes from France's Non-Smokers' Rights Association (who funds them, I wonder, and what does this ad have to do with nonsmokers' rights?) The health minister and the minister for families have both spoken out against the ad.

But that fact that anyone could (a) come up with such an idea, and (b) go through with it, gives you some idea of how warped these people's minds are. This is, to use activist parlance, 'the next logical step' in a campaign that knows no limits of taste and whose values have become hopelessly twisted. It is the product of an ideology that says that smoking is bad therefore anything that is anti-smoking must be acceptable. As I have long said, this fallacious reasoning leads us down a very dangerous road.

Whether it's the quack science of second- and third-hand smoke, or ads like this, the failure of normal people to speak out and bring some measure of sense and proportion has allowed the lunatics to run free. Obsessive and mentally unbalanced individuals have found a crusade which allows them to act without restraint or reason.

Ads like this are the inevitable outcome of denormalisation. Ironically, they serve only to expose the people behind them as being far from normal. Their mask of sanity is slipping.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Smoking bans on the ropes

It's been a bad few weeks for smoking ban lovers. After events in Croatia last year, Macedonia's exceptionally draconian smoking ban — which includes some outdoor places — is coming under severe pressure. The law came into force last month, with a predictably devastating effect on trade. Now, even the Public Health Committee is having second thoughts:

The Macedonian parliament's Public Health Committee Wednesday endorsed the ruling party's motion to amend the strict anti-smoking law that has angered the country's many smokers since its introduction in January.

No wonder. Businesses are so angry that they closed down en masse for a day last month in protest.

The amendments come after the Macedonian Tourism Chamber revealed a survey showing an astonishing 90 per cent drop in profits among café and restaurant owners since the new law entered into force.

90 per cent? Ouch! Don't they know smoking bans are good for business?

In Poland, a proposal to 'protect' bar-workers from secondhand smoke has been opposed by... er, bar-workers. With a nice line in irony, the Polish Bar Tenders Association are asking the government to protect them from the smoking ban...

Polish bar tenders have addressed a dramatic appeal to Parliament warning that the planned ban on smoking in restaurants and pubs will cause many to go bankrupt.

The Polish Bar Tenders Association, which wrote the letter to the lawmakers, says their profession needs to be protected against the impact of the anti-smoking legislation.

In Cyprus, a group of MPs are organising to get the smoking ban overturned. The reason, of course, is that the Cypriots have seen the usual fall in bar trade:

Themistocleous told the Cyprus Mail yesterday, “This law does not just attack the tourist trade and bar and restaurant owners: it attacks all Cypriots. We hope to change the law by April and in any case before July.”

In a survey of bar owners last month, some estimated that their revenue had dropped by up to 40 per cent. Yesterday, however, one owner of a popular Nicosia bar said that the worst affected have reported 60 per cent losses.

And in Bulgaria, the smoking ban has been liberalised before it's even been introduced...

Bulgaria's ruling party ready to qualify ban on public smoking

Amendments aimed at qualifying the full ban on smoking in all public places in Bulgaria, due to come into force on June 1 2010, will be introduced by ruling party GERB, Bulgarian media said on February 18 2010.

The full ban, it was believed, would undermine Bulgaria's tourism and restaurant industry. The amendments will be more flexible to enable restaurant and bar owners to comply with the ban.

This now looks like a done deal, but the leader of the right-wing Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria is nonplussed, saying that it is...

"not a European thing to do"

Which should remind us what this is really about. It is significant that these countries are recent EU member states or are hoping to become members (see also: Turkey). Smoking bans are the easiest way to win gold stars from the EU mandarins, but, as time goes on, the claim that business will be unaffected becomes more and more difficult to sustain. Which is why a growing number of countries including Croatia, Portugal, Liectenstein, the Czech Republic, Greece, much of Germany and now Macedonia and Bulgaria have either voted against a ban or have amended it. As I reported recently, the ban in the Netherlands is being widely flouted, while the Spanish are going cold on bringing in "comprehensive" legislation.

But in Britain, despite a looming election, none of the big three parties are giving the public any reason to believe they will amend the law, despite overwhelming evidence that it has decimated the pub trade. The Tories don't see it as a vote winner and are terrified of announcing any policy that might be in the least bit controversial. 

Seems to me that announcing a modest amendment that would allow smoking in some rooms or venues would win them votes from people who wouldn't normally vote Conservative, whereas it's hard to believe that many people are so intolerant as to vote against them just because they propose a little accommodation.

Whatever the case may be, it will be interesting to see if Gordon Brown cites the smoking ban as one of Labour's achievements when the campaign begins proper. He might do, but then he's not the politician Tony Blair was. A shrewd operator to the end, Blair quit four days before the ban came into force.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Fat chance

They mean 2020, of course. Is the sub-editor of The Times on holiday, or is this headline a subtle satire on the soothsayers of public health, who were making drastic predictions about 2010 a few short years ago?

Predictions like this:

England to have 13m obese by 2010

More than 12m adults and one million children will be obese by 2010 if no action is taken, a report by the Department of Health is predicting.

Did that happen? Of course not. Back then (2006) the big headlines were about childhood obesity, which was supposed to rocket up. In fact, this happened:

It went down. This epic fail has been implicitly recognised by the new forecasters, who say:

“Unlike the recent report on child obesity, which showed some indications of a plateauing or at least a significant reduction in the rate of obesity..."

That sentence is the wrong way round, surely? Whatever. The point is that childhood obesity has fallen and was already falling when the public health doomsayers were warning of the sky falling on our heads. But hey, everyone makes mistakes. Let's change the subject...

"...the future projections for adults are less optimistic.”

Well, naturally. Show me an optimistic projection for anything to do with obesity and I'll show you a public health professional heading for demotion. Having cocked up the childhood obesity predictions, they are now focusing on adult obesity which has risen, albeit by a lot less than was predicted. It means they lose the think-of-the-children aspect, which is politically inconvenient, but nevermind.

The study, led by Professor Klim McPherson, of the University of Oxford, uses figures from 1993 to 2007 to predict future levels of obesity in England. It says that about 41 per cent of men aged 20 to 65 will be obese by 2020 and 40 per cent will be overweight; 36 per cent of women will be obese and 32 per cent will be overweight.

As the Department of Health recently - though quietly - announced, male obesity is 24% and female obesity is 25% (see here, p. 14). This is significantly less than the 33% and 28% predicted in 2006, but it is significantly more than the 16% and 13% recorded in 1998.

Leaving aside issues of data collection, that is a pretty big rise in obesity. In ten years, an extra 8% of men and 12% of women have become obese.

The new projection says that a further 17% of men and 12% of women will become obese in the next ten years. Altogether, they say, a total of 81% of men will be overweight or obese by 2020. Any projection that suggests that fewer than 1 in 5 men will be normal (or under) weight in ten years time should raise eyebrows.

And how do they get to these figures? By using "figures from 1993 to 2007". But the past is no guide to the future. How do we know that the biggest rise hasn't already come and gone? Buried away in the Health England Survey is an indication that this is exactly what has happened (emphasis mine).

Between 1993 and 2008, there has been a marked increase in the proportion who were obese. This proportion increased from 13% of men in 1993 to 24% in 2008 and from 16% of women in 1993 to 25% in 2008. However, the rate of increase in obesity prevalence has been slower in the second half of the period than the first half, and there are indications that the trend may be flattening out, at least temporarily.

You can't just extrapolate from previous figures. The childhood obesity figures show us that. Contrary to received wisdom, obesity is not a disease. It is not contagious and it won't spread inexorably. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that obesity in America has not increased at all since 1999. 

The JAMA study is important because it shows that obesity flat-lined at 32.2% (men) and 35.5% (women). The new British projections give figures of 41% (men) and 36% (women). Is it really likely that the UK is going to overtake the fattest country in the world - by quite some way in the case of men? Isn't it much more likely that, as with children and as with the US, the 'epidemic' will peak long before it gets to that point?

Public health projections are, quite simply, worthless. Whether the issue is swine flu, smoking or obesity, they are never anything but guesses (how could it be otherwise?). They are intended purely for the purposes of lobbying. Nothing else.

Blistering barnacles!

Turkish TV fined for showing Captain Haddock smoking

Turkey's media watchdog has fined a private television channel over scenes in the Tintin cartoon that show Captain Haddock and other villains smoking.

Now, I'm more of an Asterix man myself, but surely Haddock wasn't one of the villains? Let's check up on Wikipedia...

Haddock was first introduced as the whiskey loving captain of the Karaboudjan, a merchant vessel used by his first mate Allan Thompson without his knowledge for drug smuggling. Due to his alcoholism and temperamental nature, he is characterized as weak and unstable, at times posing as great a hazard to Tintin as the villains of the piece. He is also short-tempered, given to emotional and expletive-ridden outbursts, and capable of infuriating behavior; at one point in the album he even attacks Tintin

This guy sounds like a great role model for children. If only he didn't smoke, he'd be perfect.

Turkish broadcasters normally blur the images of cigarettes, pipes and smoke to evade fines, but critics say the method is counter-productive as it disrupts the viewer's attention and draws it to the smoking scene.

D' ya think? Come to think of it, doesn't Tintin carry a gun in these stories? And don't people get shot and killed?

One board member objected to the fine, arguing that children can distinguish between the fiction and non-fiction...

You mean to say that Explorers on the Moon and The Crab with the Golden Claws is fiction? Billions of bilious blistering blue barnacles!

...and that smoking fitted with the features of villains.

Of course. And what better way to show that a character is evil than having him smoke?

In Turkey, the world's 10th largest tobacco consummer, almost one in three adults smoke, with the rate reaching 48 percent among men.

So no chance of children seeing anyone smoking in real life then? Good work guys. Now if we can just ban Avatar, we should be well on our way.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Smoking bans in Europe

In Britain, one of the lemons we get sold by the media is that our smoking ban is really no different to those elsewhere. And if the rest of the world is doing it, why grumble?

As I've said before, this really isn't true. The total smoking ban is a phenomenon largely confined to the English-speaking world. I was in the Netherlands last week - and will be again next month for TICAP - of which the BBC reported in 2004:

Dutch clamp down on public smoking

Dutch smokers have begun the New Year with severe restrictions placed on where and when they can light up.

Laws which came into effect at midnight ban smoking in many public places including railway stations, trains, toilets and offices.

Okay, not that "severe", but then in 2008, the BBC told us:

Dutch smoking ban goes into force

A tobacco smoking ban has come into effect in cafes, bars and restaurants in the Netherlands.

The country is following a growing trend across Europe and the world of bans on smoking in public places.

This was followed by widespread protests from the Dutch which, of course, were not reported by the BBC:

Dutch cafe owners rally against smoking ban
Nov 29, 2008

THE HAGUE (AFP) — Dutch cafe owners on Saturday took to the streets of The Hague in protest at a smoking ban they say has seen business drop by up to a third.

And last year, a court ruled that the smoking ban didn't apply to owner-run bars (again, not reported by the Beeb):

Dutch smoking ban is up in the air

The appeals court in Den Bosch has ruled in favour of the owners of a Breda cafe who defied a national smoking ban, effectively repealing the smoking ban for small bars and cafes.

As I saw with my own eyes last week, there is effectively no smoking ban in the Netherlands (not Amsterdam anyway). The places I saw didn't look owner-run to me, and some of them did prohibit smoking, but most didn't. So either the ban is being widely and openly flouted or there's been a change to the law. The point is that I don't know because the issue is not being reported. 

Spain, meanwhile, was reported to have a smoking ban in 2006. Anyone who's been to Spain since knows that the ban's a joke. It hardly applies to any bars at all. But if you relied on the British media you might believe that the Spanish ban was comparable to that of the UK. 

The Spaniards were supposed to bring in a UK-style ban this year but, with half the country opposed to such a measure, that is now looking unlikely:

Anti-smoking ban postponed by Spain in search of consensus

Sources of the Health Ministry on Monday said that a parliamentary debate on tougher anti-smoking legislation has been postponed by the Spanish government in the hope of mustering more support for the controversial plan. The government had intended to present the law during the Spanish European Union presidency in the first half of this year, but may only do so later in the year, the sources said.

It may do so later in the year, but - as this article implies - the intention was to do so while Spain holds the six month EU-presidency. Once that ends, the idea of impressing the EU with tobacco control policies will lose its appeal. The government might decide to deal with some real problems instead, like its 19.5% unemployment rate.

All of which will mean that of the 27 EU states, only 2 - the UK and Ireland - will have a total smoking ban*. So who is really 'in line' with the rest of Europe here?

* Italy, France, Malta and the Scandinavian countries all allow designated smoking rooms

Out of the frying pan

From the BBC:

Australian former anti-immigration politician Pauline Hanson is selling up and heading to Britain, according to an interview with an Australian magazine.

She told Women's Day that Australia was no longer a land of opportunity and she had "had enough" of living there.

She told the magazine she would "never be given a chance to re-enter parliament" and wanted to "get out there" while she still had her health.

"Sadly, the land of opportunity is no more applicable," she said, blaming high taxes, over-regulation and a "lack of true representation".

So she's moving to Britain. Shall I tell her or will you?

Monday, 15 February 2010

Talking e-cigarettes and the rest

Last week I did an interview with, discussing thirdhand smoke, the Nazis, John Banzhaf, Big Pharma, tobacco harm reduction and more. You can read that all here.

I'm also grateful to James at for pointing me to this document, titled Smoking Cessation Report 2009-2015. It's produced by Visiongain for the pharmaceutical industry. At $2,500 a copy, I won't be buying it, but its table of contents are tantalising, especially Chapter 6 which looks at the challenges facing Big Pharma (my emphasis)...

6 Issues Affecting the Smoking Cessation Market
6.1 SWOT Analysis for the Smoking Cessation Market
6.2 Strengths of the Smoking Cessation Industry
6.2.1 Innovation in Smoking Cessation Therapies
6.2.2 Innovative Marketing Techniques
6.2.3 Manufacturers are Providing Support Plans in Combination with Pharmacotherapy
6.2.4 OTC-Switching
6.3 Weaknesses of the Smoking Cessation Industry
6.3.1 Drugs Do Not Replace the Tactile and Oral Sensations Obtained from Smoking
6.3.2 Currently-Marketed Smoking Cessation Therapies Have High Relapse Rate
6.4 Opportunities for the Smoking Cessation Market
6.4.1 Smoking is Prevalent Worldwide and Slowly Increasing
6.4.2 Countries with Untapped Smoking Cessation Market Potential
6.4.3 Growth of Emerging-Economy Smoking Cessation Markets
6.4.4 Health Effects of Tobacco
6.4.5 Economic Impact of Tobacco
6.4.6 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)
6.4.7 Government Smoking Cessation Programmes
6.4.8 Increasing Tobacco Taxes
6.4.9 Smoking Bans

6.4.10 Warning Information on Tobacco Products
6.4.11 Bans on Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship
6.5 Threats to the Smoking Cessation Industry
6.5.1 Concern over Side-Effects of Smoking Cessation Drugs Champix/Chantix Showed Potential, but then Hit by Safety Concerns Side-Effect Concerns for NRT and Bupropion The Result of Side-Effect Concerns
6.5.2 Lack of Reimbursement for Smoking Cessation Therapies
6.5.3 Traditional Smokeless Tobacco Snus and Gutkha A Possible Impact of Greater Smokeless Tobacco Prevalence
6.5.4 The E-Cigarette What are E-Cigarettes? The E-Cigarette Market E-Cigarettes Will Revolutionise the Face of Tobacco Smoking and Could Pose a Threat to the Smoking Cessation Market Will E-Cigarettes Compete with Smoking Cessation Therapies?

Saturday, 13 February 2010

We have a winner!

In a highly competitive field, this week's hypochondriac is Shawn, posting at Woman's Day. Shawn gets extra points for gullibility, hysteria and stupefying scientific ignorance.

It's about time this issue is addressed. If you can smell a smoker after they have smoked, there must be harmful nicotine present.

Nicotine is harmful? Really? Because that's not what the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency thinks:

While the risks to health from smoking tobacco are well established, a body of evidence is emerging that suggests that nicotine, while addictive, is actually a very safe drug.

But you were saying...

I'm also worried about fourth hand smoke. 

That doesn't exist either, but carry on.

This happens when a smoker urinates and the nicotine finds its way into the water supply...

Hang on - you just made that up!

...such as this:

AP probe found traces of meds in water supplies of 41 million Americans

From that link: "To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe."

Why should my family be exposed to the nicotine from smokers due to something as basic as needing a glass of water?

Why won't someone think of the children? Shawn's invented a whole new health scare here. Alright, it's only a hunch and it's based on a fundamental ignorance of toxicology, but you can't be too careful. This man (woman?) has a family, dammit.  

Look, the government needs to look into this because it's not right to harm others by choosing the filthy weed over common sense. 

Hey, you can't be the centre of the world! I'm the centre of the world! 

As Shawn says, all we need here is a bit of common sense. Like this, for example...

Smokers should have to urinate in a separate system or something so as not to pollute the earth and harm others.

That would only involve designing, financing and building a new sewage network in every city in the world. Is that so much to ask?

Well done, sir (or madam). A true classic of the genre.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Thirdhand smoke roundup

An extended version of my article about the thirdhand smoke study is on the Free Society website today. Quick summary: they used 14 times as much nitrous acid and 15 times as much nicotine as would be found in a normal home to produce a few nanograms of a substance that isn't a carcinogen. Apart from that, great study.

Meanwhile, it's been interesting to see what the reaction has been to the whole story in the press and on the blogs.

Some fell for it hook, line and sinker. Bro WTF? thinks...

So not only do smokers ruin my ability from wearing [sic] my same “go-to” outfit two nights in a row amongst two separate groups of people because my clothes now smell like an incinerator, smokers are killing me long after they leave a room.

Live Well! is not alone in seizing on thirdhand smoke as another excuse to tax smokers...

I say raise cigarette taxes! Not only is it good for our health, it will be good for the states who will receive more tax revenue that they desperately need for school systems, roads, and other infrastructure projects.

Honors e/e genuinely seems to be worried by the threat and wants to go further than mere taxation... 

Until I read this I always felt like if people want to smoke they should be able to it was not hurting me and if I did not want to be around it I could walk away, but now I am not so sure. This study shows that not only are smokers hurting themselves but they are also hurting people who come into a building, get in a car, or visit there [sic] house after they have been smoking. If tobacco is so harmful to everyone maybe it should be ban [sic].

Woman's Day says smokers should take a few precautions...

If you still insist on smoking, smoke outdoors only. Just make sure you take a shower and wash your clothes afterwards—at least you can help protect someone else’s health.

See? Is that so much to ask?

A member of an Indiana anti-smoking group can't separate cause from effect but she has her own story to tell at the Star Press...

Then, last year, I became a victim of third-hand smoke -- the residual toxins that linger on the hair, skin and clothing of smokers. I had come into contact with a couple who smoked and their clothing had the strongest stench of tobacco I had ever experienced. Being a previous smoker myself, I know that smokers don't realize how awful they smell and many times try to cover up the signs of smoking by using sprays and colognes (which) only make it worse.

The result of my contact with third-hand smoke was initially a sinus headache, then coughing. I ended up using a week's worth of vacation time because I developed what is called community acquired pneumonia.

John Banzhaf of ASH (for it is he) takes some dodgy science and exaggerates it still further:

Interestingly, another very recent study shows that nicotine exhaled into the air is converted by other common indoor air pollutants into cancer-causing chemicals which can linger on clothing, furniture, draperies, etc. -- a new risk being termed "thirdhand smoke."

The risk could be comparable to that of smoking.

Check that last line. Good grief.

Back on planet Earth, and on Spiked, Rob Lyons thinks differently:

Yet even the junk science of secondhand smoke seems like the stuff of Nobel Prizes next to the new kid on the block: ‘third-hand smoke’. Now, claim researchers, you don’t even need to breathe smoke in, you simply need to be in contact with smokers or touch surfaces that have been in contact with their smoke to be at risk. If the dodgy research that produced the smoking ban was bullshit, the claims made for third-hand smoking are in a whole new category: ‘beyond bullshit’.

At The Examiner, Thomas McAdam was showing signs of - shock, horror - having actually read the study:

His “study” did not involve any clinical trials with actual human beings (or even actual mice or rats). He and his student assistants simply applied tobacco smoke to sheets of cellulose as a model indoor material, and determined that TSNAs detected on cellulose surfaces were 10 times higher than those originally present in the sample. That is, after spraying the cellulose sheets with nitrous acid.

And he has some information about the study's funding source:

Before you jump to the conclusion that Dr. Hugo is some sort of moron, you need to know about California’s Proposition 99. In November 1988, California voters approved Prop. 99, “The Tobacco Tax and Health Protection Act”, which instituted a 25¢-per-pack cigarette surtax. Part of this tax revenue is deposited into a Research Account, to be appropriated for research on tobacco-related disease, by the TRDRP. For the bizarre little study we have outlined above, Dr. Hugo Destaillats was awarded $704,901.00 by TRDRP and the taxpaying smokers of California. Maybe Dr. Hugo’s not such a moron after all.

And, finally, he points out that not only are people prepared to believe anything they're told, they're already hunting out fresh scares for themselves:

Within months, the neologism “third-hand smoke” was getting more than 3 million references in a Google search. (Interestingly, the term “fourth-hand smoke”—the theory that you can get cancer from simply watching a movie in which Humphrey Bogart is smoking—is now getting 56,600 Google references.) Stay tuned.

We'll leave the last word to Andrew Button at The Muse:

The point at which your activism goes from being an attempt to protect people from harm to a plot to make life harder for people with a weakness, is the point you should probably call it quits.

The thing is, big anti-tobacco is a thriving business, and they’re not going to stop on their own...

The anti-smoking movement of today is less about health, and more about discriminating against and controlling people.
Anti-smoking activists want a nanny state that protects people from themselves, and punishes behavior some people find aesthetically unappealing.

The state should not have the power to regulate what it doesn’t like arbitrarily, unless that behavior poses a real risk to other people.

Until people realize this, anti-smoking legislation is only going to get more restricting and oppressive

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The thirdhand smoke scam

Now that the thirdhand smoke story has been reported around the globe, it's time to look at the study which led to headlines such as:

Third-hand smoke causes cancer, study shows risks to babies and toddlers

This is not your average piece of epidemiological number-crunching. It involved some real lab work which, when written down, is largely unintelligible to the layman*. Journalists rarely bother to read scientific studies at the best of times, but what chance do they have with paragraphs like this?

Laboratory experiments using cellulose as a model indoor material yielded a > 10-fold increase of surface-bound TSNAs when sorbed secondhand smoke was exposed to 60 ppbv HONO for 3 hours. In both cases we identified 1-(N-methyl-N-nitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridinyl)-4-butanal, a TSNA absent in freshly emitted tobacco smoke, as the major product. The potent carcinogens 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridinyl)-1-butanone and N-nitroso nornicotine were also detected. Time-course measurements revealed fast TSNA formation, with up to 0.4% conversion of nicotine. 

And that's from the abstract - the bit that summarises the study for the casual reader. So what does it actually say?

To put it in something close to simple terms, the experiment involved putting nitrous acid (HONO) in contact with nicotine. The nicotine had been absorbed into surfaces (hence 'thirdhand smoke'). In the real-life experiment, this surface was the glove compartment of a truck driven by a heavy smoker (presumably the cabin of a truck was chosen because it is the smallest space a smoker might work in). In the other experiments, they used cellulose substrates. 

The aim was to see if the reaction created tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), specifically NNK, NNA and NNN, some of which are believed to be carcinogenic.

The scientists found no trace of NNN in any experiment. In the glove compartment, they found levels of NNK that were barely above the detectable level (less than 1 ngcm-2). Even in extreme experimental situations, in which cellulose substrates were exposed to pure nicotine vapour, NNK levels failed to reach 5 ngcm-2.

They found somewhat larger measurements of NNA (20 ngcm-2 in extreme experimental conditions) but levels were much lower in the real-life conditions of the truck (1 ngcm-2). This was all rather academic anyway because, as the authors admit:

"NNA carcinogenicity has not been reported." 

In other words, the one TSNA they did manage to find in any quantity doesn't cause cancer. 

There is nothing obviously wrong with the way the chemistry was done here. The paper simply shows that nitrous acid (HONO) molecules will react with absorbed nicotine (just as it would with free-floating nicotine) to produce TSNAs. The more HONO in the room, and the more nicotine on the surface, the more the reaction will occur (of course).

The problem (and it's a big problem) is that mixing nitrous acid with nicotine is an experiment with virtually no practical application. If your house or car is full of nitrous acid then you have more to worry about than it reacting with absorbed nicotine. As the authors point out near the top of the 2nd column, 1st page:

"The main indoor sources of HONO are direct emissions from unvented combustion appliances, smoking, and surface conversion of NO2 and NO." 

NO2 and NO themselves are products of unregulated combustion. So you'll only be exposed to high concentrations of HONO if you're exposed to the products of combustion - ie. you're a peasant in a smoke-filled hut, you live in a very polluted city like New Delhi, or you are in fact smoking a cigarette. The combustion products themselves are carcinogens, and are present in much higher concentrations than the TSNAs. Any surface reaction is negligible. Your problem is the nitrous acid, not the TSNAs.

Is this kind of surface reaction likely to take place in the home? Not at all. Nitrous acid concentrations in the average Californian home are 4.6 parts per billion (ppb). This is 14 times lower than the 65 ppb concentrations used in this experiment (which indirectly compares with EPA limits for NO2 of 53 ppb). The chances of HONO and nicotine reacting to create detectable, let alone harmful, concentrations of TSNAs outside of a laboratory experiment are zilch.

In summary:

  • The researchers used concentrations of nitrous acid 14 times higher than would be found in a normal environment
  • Even at the unrealistic levels found in the experiment, there is no evidence that such doses are harmful to humans
  • The main TSNA produced is not a carcinogen
  • The weakest results were found in the real-life conditions, with measurements barely exceeding detectable levels in the smallest conceivable workplace of a heavy smoker
  • Any effect from the TSNAs is negligible compared to the effects of the nitrous acid itself 

* And I thank my bio-chemist friend JPM for his assistance in making it intelligible to me. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Thirdhand smoke

The 'thirdhand smoke' canard has reared its head again today. If users of e-cigarettes weren't worried before, they should be now. Not by the health risks, of course, but by the seemingly infinite capacity of the University of California to produce junk science to further the tobacco control agenda. 

More on the study later in the week. For now, here's the article I wrote when the lie was born last year. Interestingly, the Dr Winickoff mentioned below is the same Dr Winickoff who is helping to lead the charge against e-cigarettes.

Thirdhand smoke: A scare is born

For many years, the concept of 'thirdhand smoke' was reserved for political satirists and stand-up comedians. In January 2009, however, the laughter stopped.

Thirdhand smoke is, according to the New York Times:

"the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers' hair and clothing, not to mention cushions and carpeting, that lingers long after second-hand smoke has cleared from a room. The residue includes heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials that young children can get on their hands and ingest, especially if they're crawling or playing on the floor."

Dr Winickoff, a Boston pediatrician, put it rather more strongly in an interview with Scientific American:

"Smokers themselves are also contaminated... smokers actually emit toxins."

And to the BBC, he said:

"The dangers of third-hand smoke are very real - when you smoke - any place - toxic particulate matter from tobacco smoke gets into your hair and clothing."

Dr. Winickoff has had a high profile since he co-authored a paper in the journal Pediatrics which brought thirdhand smoke to the attention of the mainstream media. But the real inspiration behind the new scare is his colleague Prof. Georg Matt.

Matt, a psychology lecturer at San Diego Univeristy, has been on the trail of third-hand smoke for five years. His first foray into this virgin territory came in 2004 when he published 'Households contaminated by environmental tobacco smoke: sources of infant exposures' in the Tobacco Control journal. That study failed to generate any press interest and thirdhand smoke remained a joke until the summer of 2006, when Matt made another effort to promote it. Perhaps spotting a silly season story in the making, the thirdhand smoke theory was reported in Britain with sensational headlines such as 'Hugging can expose infants to smoking health risk' (The Scotsman) and 'Even smoking outside can harm your baby' (The Daily Mail).

In the 2004 study, Matt's team found nicotine levels to be twice as high in the bedrooms of children whose parents claimed not to smoke outdoors than in the bedrooms of nonsmokers' offspring. The implication was that even if a mother smoked at the bottom her garden, she was bringing in dangerous toxins that would double her child's risk of developing smoking related diseases. And yet the doses in either case remained exceptionally small. The bedrooms of nonsmokers had nicotine concentrations of 0.09 mcg/m3 whilst the children of smokers had concentrations of 0.22 mcg/m3.

To provide some perspective, the legal limit of workplace exposure in the US is 500 mcg/m3, some 2,500 times more than was found in the smokers' households. The reality was that nicotine levels in the bedrooms of a completely nonsmoking family's house are effectively zero and a doubling or trebling makes no real difference. It would take a paranoid hypochondriac to believe that such sub-microscopic traces pose a threat to health.

In truth, Matt's 'discovery' owed more to the ability of expensive scientific apparatus to detect particles even when they can be only counted in parts per trillion. The fact that he was able to detect nicotine in an astonishing 97% of nonsmoking households bore testament to the wonders of modern technology but was it conceivable that these trace levels represented risk?

According to the notorious Surgeon General's report of 2006 there was indeed reason to believe that such minute quantities could be life-threatening. In the course of the press conference staged to publicise the report, Surgeon General Richard Carmona famously announced:

"There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke."

Lest anyone misunderstand what he was getting at, he added:

"Stay away from smokers."

The idea that there was no safe level of secondhand smoke turned the laws of science on their head. The first rule of toxicology is that the dose makes the poison. All substances are toxic at high enough levels just as they are harmless, even beneficial, at lower levels.

Most of us understand that coffee contains benzene, water contains arsenic and that televisions pump out radiation but we don't let it worry us since the levels of these highly carcinogenic toxins are too low to pose a threat to our health. Apparently only one substance disobeys this law of toxicology: secondhand smoke.

In his eagerness to wage war on cigarettes - a product that Carmona said he would like to see made illegal - the Surgeon General's office had laid the foundations for a retreat into anti-science and the door was opened to thirdhand smoke.

It is apt, then, that the new thirdhand smoke 'study' begins by citing the now-retired Surgeon General:

"The 2006 Surgeon General's report on involuntary smoking concluded that more than 126 million people are exposed to secondhand smoke (SHS), 50,000 deaths per year are caused by SHS, and there is no "safe" level of exposure."

Setting the scene, the authors then provide a list of substances found in tobacco smoke accompanied by nasty-sounding products that also contain them.

"According to the National Toxicology Program, these 250 poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals include hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical weapons), carbon monoxide (found in car exhaust), butane (used in lighter fluid), ammonia (used in household cleaners), toluene (found in paint thinners), arsenic (used in pesticides), lead (formerly found in paint), chromium (used to make steel), cadmium (used to make batteries), and polonium-210 (highly radioactive carcinogen)."

There was a time when serious scientific journals were able to list chemicals without having to explain them to their readers. That time, it seems, has now passed. Dr Winickoff upped the baby-talk when talking to Scientific American. Asked the question: "What do you consider the most dangerous compound in cigarette smoke?" he replied:

"I would say cyanide, which is used in chemical weapons. It actually interferes with the release of oxygen to tissues. It competitively binds to hemoglobin. Basically people with cyanide poison turn blue... [And] arsenic, that is a poison used to kill mammals. We [used to] use it to kill rats. And there it is in cigarette smoke." 

None of the six authors are chemists or toxicologists. Three of them are social psychologists, one has a master's degree in English and the other two are pediatricians with a background in tobacco control. Remarkably, for a study so overburdened with authors, there is no new research in Matt's paper. Everything within its six pages is based upon a 2005 telephone survey that is conducted every year by the Social Climate Survey of Tobacco Control, with one question taking centre stage:

"One question was asked to assess health belief about thirdhand smoke. Respondents were asked whether they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed, or strongly disagreed with the following statement:

"Breathing air in a room today where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of infants and children."

Respondents who strongly agreed and agreed with this statement were categorized as holding the belief that thirdhand smoke harms the health of children."

The findings of the study/survey, as reported by the press, were that:

"His team surveyed more than 1,500 households, asking smokers and non-smokers about their attitudes. They found that while 95% of non-smokers and 85% of smokers agreed that direct inhalation of second-hand smoke was harmful to children, just 65% of non-smokers, and 43% of smokers believed the same for "third-hand" smoke."

As this quote from the BBC indicates, the media reacted with shock that "just 65%" of the public knew that thirdhand smoke was harmful. But why should anyone believe in a concept that had only just been invented? The BBC itself had never before mentioned it, nor had most other news organisations. There was no evidence at all that tobacco particles lodged into carpets and clothing posed a threat to health and Georg Matt's study neither provided any nor cited any.

The nearest thing to evidence against thirdhand smoke had been a solitary study that claimed that cognitive skills were poorer amongst children whose parents smoked outdoors than amongst the children of nonsmokers. The study was highly questionable since it assumed that thirdhand smoke 'exposure' accounted for the difference between the children's abilities when social and genetic factors were more likely to have been at work. Indeed, there is a small but growing body of evidence that suggested that nicotine improves cognitive function.

Either way, no further study has appeared to support it and, more to the point, no study has ever shown thirdhand smoke to be deleterious to physical health. Oddly, the more obvious 'smoking related' diseases of the heart and lungs have been wholly ignored by thirdhand smoke researchers.

Throughout the paper, the authors appear indifferent to the fact that no evidence exists to support their theory. As the title of the study indicates, they are more interested in whether the belief in thirdhand smoke will encourage home smoking bans.

"We hypothesized that belief about the harmful health effects of thirdhand smoke would be associated with higher rates of strict no-smoking policies within the home."

Since the ends justifies the means in the world of tobacco control, thirdhand smoke is useful if it helps to modify the public's behaviour and of little interest if it doesn't. Whether the theory is actually valid or not is of secondary importance. Like a religion, thirdhand smoke is about faith, not science, for there is no science to mention. The study itself is called 'Beliefs About the Health Effects of "Thirdhand" Smoke and Home Smoking Bans' and it is around beliefs that the study revolves.

Despite a conspicuous lack of hard, or even soft, evidence, a host of news organisations including ABC, The Telegraph, The New York Times, NBC, the BBC, The Toronto Star and The Chicago Tribune rushed to report the shocking news that one third of the population were unaware of the perils of thirdhand smoke. Although most journalists had never heard of the term until they were sent the press release, they feigned surprise at the appalling statistics that "only 65%" of the public were mindful of thirdhand smoke. No one wanted to admit that they, too, had never heard of the perils of thirdhand smoke.

It was a masterstroke by Georg Matt and his team. Their greatest weakness was that thirdhand smoke was almost universally unrecognised even as a concept. Worse still, it had not one shred of evidence to support it. Ingeniously, they turned these weaknesses into their strengths. Like the tailors who made the emperor's new clothes, the authors dared the media to admit that they were ignorant of thirdhand smoke and, winning the bluff, blasted the idea into the public consciousness.

This study breaks new ground by using the opinions and beliefs of random members of the public as a substitute for scientific evidence. In recent years, the anti-smoking movement has been accused of conducting science by press release; bypassing the scientific process to influence public opinion. The movement's first study of 2009 displays a bold new tactic: using public opinion to bypass science.

Is thirdhand smoke a plausible health threat?

There is no biological, toxicological or epidemiological evidence to suggest that thirdhand smoke poses any threat to health. The closest thing we have to a scientific study on the subject appeared in 2004 and was also co-authored by Georg Matt.

In it, levels of nicotine found in the smokers' living rooms were reported to be 0.32 mcg/m3 compared to 0.10 mcg/m3 in the nonsmokers'. Levels of cotinine (a bio-marker for tobacco smoke - and an anagram of nicotine) were found to be between 0.33 ng/ml and 0.43 ng/ml in the children of nonsmokers.

Amongst the children of smokers who did not smoke in the home, cotinine levels fell between 2.47 ng/ml and 3.49 ng/ml. According to Matt, this seven-fold increase is proof of "persistently high levels of tobacco toxins" in the homes of smokers who do not smoke in the house. Although it is quite possible that this is the result of undeclared smoking in the home by some subjects, Matt believes that it is the result of "off-gassing" from tobacco smoke that has been absorbed into the hair and clothes of smokers. He explicitly refers to these trace quantities as Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) ie. secondhand smoke.

"ETS contamination and ETS exposure were 5-7 times higher in households of smokers trying to protect their infants by smoking outdoors than in households of non-smokers."

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to document that surfaces, dust, and air are contaminated in homes of smokers with infants. Infants of smokers are at risk of ETS exposure in their homes through dust, surfaces, and air."

Sheer speculation of course, but the fact that nicotine was detected in no fewer than 97% of the non-smoking households raises an interesting question. In the study, nicotine is used as a marker for secondhand smoke. The fact that the homes of smokers had two or three times the level nicotine found in the non-smoking households (even when the smoking took place outside) is considered significant by the authors. But the fact remains that even homes lived in entirely by nonsmokers have measurable levels of nicotine and, by Matt's logic, of ETS. Are they also at risk? Is everyone at risk?

Presumably no anti-smoking advocate would claim that a home inhabited by nonsmokers poses a risk to health from firsthand, secondhand or thirdhand smoke. To argue otherwise would be to suggest that risk is universal and inescapable. And yet, 97% of non-smoking homes have measureable quantities of nicotine and the children of nonsmokers have measureable quantities of cotinine. If a nicotine concentration of 0.32 mcg/m3 (ie. a third of a millionth of a gram per cubic metre) suggests the presence of "tobacco toxins", then why should a concentration of 0.10 mcg/m3 be considered safe?

If, as the Surgeon General famously insisted, there is "no safe level of exposure", and if fractions of a microgram represent risk, then even nonsmoking households contain a dangerous level of secondhand smoke. It is a ridiculous notion, but then we are in the realms of the ridiculous.

The common sense answer is that the levels are tiny in the non-smoking households but then they are tiny in the smoking households as well. The cotinine levels of 2 to 3 ng/ml found in the urine of the children of the smokers are extremely low compared to the levels of 300 to 1,500 ng/ml that are typical of smokers. Similarly, while the nicotine level reported in the smokers' homes (0.32 mcg/m3) is slightly higher than that found in the non-smoking homes (0.10 mcg/m3), both are dwarfed by the nicotine levels found in smoky bars (35.5 mcg/m3) and even smoke-free bars (5.95 mcg/m3). According to tobacco control advocates, there is no significant risk for lung cancer below air nicotine levels below 6.95 mcg/m3 ie. 21 times higher than that reported in Georg Matt's 2004 paper.

With levels this low, deeming one safe and one unsafe becomes a matter of faith rather than science and it is fitting that the 2009 paper is tilted 'Beliefs About the Health Effects of "Thirdhand" Smoke and Home Smoking Bans'.

How could 65% of the respondents be aware of thirdhand smoke?

The media attention afforded Georg Matt's 2009 paper implies that ground-breaking research has been carried out. In fact, the study provides just one, rather mundane finding: People who believe that thirdhand smoke is dangerous are more likely to forbid smoking in their homes.

This is hardly earth-shattering news. What is more of a shock is that two-thirds of those surveyed claimed to be concerned about thirdhand smoke. This is odd because, apart from a handful of articles that appeared in the summer of 2006, thirdhand smoke is a new concept to nearly everybody. How, then, were so many people able to be concerned about it?

The answer lies in the question asked in the survey. Thirdhand smoke is not mentioned by name and the concept was not explained to those surveyed. Instead, they were asked the following question:

"Breathing air in a room today where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of infants and children."

Those who agreed with this statement were, as the authors explained, "categorized as holding the belief that thirdhand smoke harms the health of children".

This is rather a leap. The question itself is very vague. It conjures up the image of a smoky room left overnight. The fact that it refers to "people" plural rather than one smoker gives the impression that many cigarettes had been smoked the night before. Considering that the vast majority of respondents agreed that secondhand smoke was hazardous, it is only to be expected that a large number of them would err on the side of caution when dealing with a room in which a number of smokers had congregated the previous evening, particularly when "infants and children" are involved. But this room would be better described as having lingering secondhand smoke rather than "thirdhand smoke".

No mention is made of the more fanciful notion of "tobacco toxins" being carried in from outdoors on smokers' clothes, hairs and fingernails, even though it was this element that captured the attention of the press when the study was reported. Nor were those surveyed informed that the concept they were invited to embrace included a room that had been smoked in "days, weeks and months earlier."

The respondents were not told that the idea of "tobacco toxins" being harmful at ultra-low levels was no more than a "possibility" (in the words of the final study), nor that the researchers themselves referred to thirdhand smoke only as a "concept". If they had been told that the researchers believed that smokers spread disease "through contaminated dust and surfaces, including the frame of an infant's bed and a smoker's finger" it is fair to guess that far fewer of them would have endorsed the theory.

And this is how it was reported in the media...

Monday, 8 February 2010

Stanton Glantz: A one man junk science machine

Readers may have heard about the anti-smoking backlash against the movie Avatar last month. It was led, as usual, by the notorious tobacco control-freak Stanton Glantz, who took umbrage at one of the characters - heaven forfend! - smoking cigarettes. 

In the debate below, Glantz manages to be rude and obnoxious to both the presenter and the other guest, as well as making the laughable claim that "hundreds of thousands" of children start smoking each year because of brief scenes of smoking in a handful of movies (most films that depict smoking have adult ratings for other reasons, so it really is a handful). 

As Glantz argues with characteristic grace and courtesy in part two, this only applies to smoking. Magically, scenes of eating don't make people fat and scenes of violence don't make people violent.

The first words out of his mouth are: "There is overwhelming scientific evidence..." a phrase which, at some point in the last few years, has come to mean the exact opposite of what it should. He goes on to say:

"There is a huge scientific literature in this area of research that's been done all over the world that clearly shows that the more kids see smoking on screen, the more likely there are to smoke."

Overwhelming evidence there is not. A vast literature there certainly is. Never mind the quality, feel the quantity. See if you can see a pattern...

Mekemson C, Glantz SA. How the tobacco industry built its relationship with Hollywood. Tob Control.2002;11 (suppl 1):i81–i91

Glantz SA, Kacirk K, McCulloch C. Back to the future: smoking in movies in 2002 compared with 1950 levels. Am J Public Health. 2004;94 :261 –26

Polansky JR, Glantz SA. First-run smoking presentations in US movies 1999–2003. 2004.

Hazan AR, Lipton HL, Glantz SA. Popular films do not reflect current tobacco use. Am J Public Health. 1994;84 :998 –999

Stockwell TF, Glantz SA. Tobacco use is increasing in popular films. Tob Control. 1997;6 :282 –284

Kacirk K, Glantz SA. Smoking in movies in 2000 exceeded rates in the 1960s. Tob Control.2001;10 :397 –398

Glantz SA. Smoking in the movies: a major problem and a real solution. Lancet. 2003;362 :258 –259

Glantz SA. Rate movies with smoking "R." Eff Clin Pract. 2002;5 :31 –34

Charlesworth A, Glantz SA, Smoking in the Movies Increases Adolescent Smoking: A Review, Pediatrics, Vol. 116 No. 6 December 2005, pp. 1516-1528

Polansky J, Glantz S (2009) Taxpayer subsidies for US films with tobacco imagery. UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research & Education.

Polansky J, Titus K, Glantz S (2009) Two years later: Are MPAA's tobacco labels protecting movie audiences?

Titus K, Polansky J, Glantz S (2009) Smoking Presentation Trends in U.S. Movies 1991-2008

Lum KL, Polansky JR, Jackler RK, Glantz SA (2008) Signed, sealed and delivered: Big Tobacco in Hollywood, 1927-1951

Polansky J, Titus K, Glantz S (2007) Six months later: Are MPAA's tobacco ratings protecting movie audiences? University of California, San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education

Song AV, Ling PM, Neilands TB, Glantz SA (2007) Smoking in movies and increased smoking among young adults. Am. J. Prev. Med. 33(5):396-403.

Polansky J, Glantz S (2007) First-Run Smoking Presentations in U.S. Movies 1999-2006. University of California Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education

Alamar B, Glantz S (2006) Tobacco industry profits from smoking in the movies. Pediatrics 117:1642.

Charlesworth A, Glantz S (2006) Tobacco and the movie industry. Clin Occup Environ Med. 5:73-84.

Polansky JR, Glantz S (2005) Clearing tobacco from films would avert deaths worldwide at virtually no cost. Global Health & Environment Monitor 13(2):3-5.

What a busy fellow he is.

(PS. Since Glantz started bitching about it, Avatar has become the highest grossing movie in history. The curse strikes again.)

Friday, 5 February 2010

More unintended consequences

I'll be away until Monday so I shall wish you a good weekend and leave you with two things.

Firstly, Leg-iron has a message for those who want to ban e-cigarettes:

All you antismokers cheering, consider this. We are going to smoke. If we can't have Electrofag any more we will go back to tobacco. Those who have switched completely from tobacco to Electrofag will switch back. Gum and patches are no good, it's the action of smoking that smokers enjoy. The gum is as bitter as an ASH activist and the patches are as irritating as a fake cough. Especially the fake cough produced by the hideous old bat who passed me in the street as I was rolling a cigarette. Cough cough cough. Pathetic. At least wait until I light it before pretending it bothers you.

It's the action of smoking that bothers you people. Not the smell. Not the health. Not the pretendy science that backs up every damn report ever issued. It's the sight of someone enjoying something that you don't like.

Secondly, via F2C, the curse of the smoking ban has struck again. First Ireland, then the USA, then Italy and now...

Imperial Tobacco reports first rise in British cigarette market in four decades

Imperial Tobacco said yesterday that the annual duty-paid cigarette market in the UK had increased by 1 per cent to 45.5 billion cigarettes in 2009, while the fine cut tobacco market grew by 21 per cent to 4,650 tonnes. It is the first time that the number of cigarettes sold in the UK has risen in almost four decades.

You can lead a horse to water...

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

E-cigarettes could be taken off the market this year

The UK's National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has formally supported a policy of tobacco harm reduction. This has been seen in some quarters as good news for users of e-cigarettes. I'm not so sure. It is possible that e-cigarettes could be approved and regulated, but it is also possible that they might be banned for good. 

A public consultation has been launched which emphasises the dubious findings of the FDA:

We know from work done by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States that laboratory analyses of e-cigarette samples were found to contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals, against which general product safety legislation could not protect.

The UK has previously banned snus and Skoal Bandits, despite undeniable evidence that they are far less harmful than smoking and possibly not harmful at all. When NICE talk about tobacco harm reduction, they are really talking about pharmaceutical nicotine products. E-cigarettes have no real support amongst public health professionals and are very unpopular with John Banzhaf and others in the intensive care wing of the anti-smoking lunatic asylum.

Will e-cigarettes go the way of snus? It's too early to say. For now, the government's objective is to get them off the market. The consultation ends in May and NICE favours doing this within 21 days of a decision being made. Once taken off the market it could be years, if ever, before they return. In the meantime it will be back on the cigarettes for Britain's vapers. Some harm reduction strategy that would be.

The consultation reads:

In order to ensure there is no risk to public health from unlicensed products on the market that have not been assessed for safety, quality and efficacy and in the light of the developing extent of their use and familiarity we are consulting to elicit views on whether and how to bring all products containing nicotine into regulation.

Option 1 – Whether products containing nicotine should be considered by the Agency to be medicinal products by function and, if so, whether all unlicensed NCPs should be removed from the market within 21 days. Currently, MHRA operates a strict practice regarding the period of notice operators are allowed to comply with under the Marketing Authorisation Regulations following the classification of a product as medicinal. Given that these Regulations do not make explicit provisions for a staged withdrawal from the market of an unlicensed medicinal product, immediate cessation of the sale or supply is usually required by the Agency, with written confirmation of the same within 21 days.

Option 2 – Whether products containing nicotine should be considered by the Agency to be medicinal products by function and, if so, whether a notice should be issued to manufacturers that all marketing must cease by a certain date e.g. June 2011. After this date enforcement action would be taken against manufacturers not holding an MA for any such product on the market. This would effectively allow manufacturers a year from the end of public consultation to produce relevant evidence to support an application for an MA, submit it to the MHRA for approval and get the newly licensed products on to the market.

Option 3 – Do nothing and allow these unregulated products containing nicotine that have not been assessed for safety, quality and efficacy to remain on the market.

The MHRA’s preferred option is option 1, which is in line with current practice.

Deborah Arnott: lying about Ireland

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH, is interviewed in The Guardian today and comes up with a novel explanation for the smoking rate rising in Ireland since the smoking ban:

To pause is to run the risk of the numbers once again increasing: in Ireland, she tells me, the government successfully brought in smoke-free legislation, but "they didn't do anything else, and smoking started to creep back up again".

As reported previously, the smoking rate did rather more than "creep back up again". It has risen to an astonishing 33%. As for the idea that the Irish "didn't do anything else", where to begin? 

Ireland has constantly increased the price of tobacco and now has the highest rate of cigarette tax of any EU country; it has graphic warnings on cigarette packs; it has banned all forms of tobacco advertising; it has raised the age of purchase to 18 and it was the first country in the world to ban tobacco displays in shops.

It is completely untrue to say that Ireland has done nothing else since the ban. It has, in fact, done even more than the UK. And yet it is fast becoming one of Europe's heaviest smoking nations.

I don't recall ASH predicting that the smoking ban would make more people start smoking unless it was followed by an endless stream of legislation. I seem to recall them saying the smoking ban would be the nearest thing to a magic bullet. I also recall smoking rates falling for decades when ASH did very little and rising when they started doing a lot.

It looks like Arnott is rehearsing her excuses for when the smoking rate is shown to have risen in England. It's a convenient line to take: "what we wanted then didn't work because it needed to be accompanied by what we want now." It's not true, of course, and it doesn't make any sense, but that has seldom been a handicap.

The Banning Years

The fag-end of the New Labour government

As it heads for possible defeat in a General Election, what is Labour’s big idea? To ban smoking all over again.

It is not uncommon, near the end of their career, for bands to release a greatest hits collection. In the case of not-so-legendary bands, they tend to name it after their best-known hit. So it is with little surprise that as New Labour staggers wearily into a likely defeat in the General Election, it is taking the opportunity to wheel out a few golden oldies. 

It is not the curious mid-career blowout of Iraq that New Labour wants to be remembered for, nor that slightly embarrassing period towards the end when it replaced its lead singer. No, the title of New Labour’s greatest hits will be The Banning Years.

This is the start of a very fine piece on Labour's anti-smoking plans by David Bowden at Spiked. Do yourself a favour and go read it, if only for this priceless quote from the New Statesman's Mehdi Hasan...

"The public are very concerned with freedom – even though they don’t properly understand it."

Classic stuff.