Friday, 17 June 2011

New blog location

The blog has now moved to be integrated with the new site. To access it click here

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Imperial Tobacco, Continuing the Fight Back

It's been interesting to watch the 'smoking issue' lately. For a long time the anti-smoking side has been very vocal, very visible and very forceful in getting things done to try to eradicate smoking. Lately, though, the tobacco industry has started to wake up and start something of a retaliation. Imperial Tobacco has released a paper that demands transparency regarding tobacco control - which is only fair, considering the MSA ruled transparency for the tobacco industry. Besides, considering tobacco control is supposedly there to make things safer for the public, they should have nothing to hide, right?

I'll paste some interesting excerpts from the new paper:

Under the banner of "public health policy" many adult lifestyle freedoms and choices including where to smoke, how much to drink and what to eat, have been unjustifiably attacked.The underlying philosophy appears to be that, left to ourselves, we will inevitably make bad choices and that encouragement is less effecive than controlling behaviour through regulation. The Nanny State has become the Bully State. Nudge has rapidly turned to shove.

I don't think many of us would argue any of that.

The time has come for all Governments and Health Departments to engage in meaningful, transparent dialogue with Imperial Tobacco and the tobacco sector. Until the current situation changes, and a balanced debate takes place, policy will continue to be ineffective and disproportionate in their approach.

Seems wholly reasonable. Why shouldn't the tobacco industry be in on the discussions? It is, after all, their product that is under scrutiny.

The Government is to be congratulated for appearing to tackle the difficult, long-term solutions needed to prevent youth smoking...Provided such education is based on independent factual information rather than that provided by organisations with vested interests, such as ASH and the pharmaceutical industry[Emphasis mine], Imperial Tobacco welcomes and will support the Government's efforts in this area.

Well it's about time someone stood up to that point.

The Government's tobacco control policies have never been subjected to proper evalutation. There is therefore no basis on which to claim that the decline in smoking rates is a direct result of such policies, particular when, even with a 'comprehensive strategy' in place, smoking prevalence has remained flat amongst adults in Wales since the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007.

Perhaps my favourite part:

It is therefore bewildering that the Government sees adult free choice as a 'problem'; that prevalence stagnation is due to a lack of mass-media anti-smoking campaigns, the use of niche tobacco products, and smoking in cars and homes, all of which were considered negligible issues at the time of the smoking ban. When informed adults choose to continue smoking the answer should not be yet more draconian and disproportionate policies to force behaviour change[emphasis mine].

An understanding of [the factors that cause people to smoke] must be central to achieving effective policy aims...Their omission here betrays an approach that is more anti-smoker than it is pro-public health - 'denormalising' smoking as an activity is clear evidence of this. As a result, policy is not led by empirical evidence but by pressure from anti-smoker lobby groups.

And then we're told what we already know, but the public aren't quite so aware of:

The Plan contains multiple referenes to unelected anti-smoker groups, indicating an alarming level of undue influence on polic formulation and implementation. For example, ASH Wales are features no less than 39 times in the 45-page Plan. [Emphasis mine] Such levels of influence from vested interest groups invariably lead to unrealistic, unachievable and ineffective policies.

The facts suggest that, rather than tobacco manufacturers having an undue influence over policy, it is the anti-smoking lobbying industry and other vested commercial interests that are having a disproportionate impact on policy, with manufacturers unfairly excluded from debate.

Imperial Tobacco now highlight the stupidity of the government:

Any effective tobacco control measures aimed at improving outcomes for deprived communities should focus primarily on controlling the illicit rather than the legitimate trade in tobacco. In many communities...a higher proportion of smokers will be sourcing their tobacco from illicit providers and criminal gangs. For example, in Ireland the evidence is unequivocal that many former paramilitaries have moved into this highly lucrative business. It is also worth noting that since the introduction of the display ban Ireland has seen a dramatic increase in illicit trade... Smugglers and organised criminal gangs do not adhere to any of the existing tobacco laws, including those restricting sales to under 18s, and the illicit trade makes tobacco products more easily available. It is therefore disappointing that illicit trade is only mentioned a mere 4 times in the entire Plan (compared to the citations of 39 ASH Wales)...Given this imbalance of focus it is unsurprising that in considering how to further limit the supply of tobacco to young people, rather than focus on illicit trade, the Plan instead focuses on the possibility of retailer licensing.

The paper covers pretty much most of what we have been talking about for a long time - including increased smoking rates since the ban and a devastating effect on the hospitality industry. You can read the whole thing here (it's not very long).

Perhaps this is the start of the turning point. It should be interesting watching how this all progresses.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Problem With Smoking Epidemiology

Some of you may remember the CATCH debate over at Frank Davis' blog, primarily between myself, Frank and Chris Snowdon about the effects of active smoking on health. Frank made a very interesting point that, so far as I can see, hasn't been acknowledged in any of the studies: cigarette size.

Frank stated that true science uses rigorous standards of measurements, and to keep it as basic as possible when we say "one centimetre" we don't mean "somewhere between this length and that length, but it varies" - one centimetre is one centimetre, and the recent success in trapping antimatter was certainly only achieved with rigorous and painstaking accuracy, not a "it should be sort of that much". In mathematics, 1+1 = 2, 1.5 + 1 = 2.5; the slightest change makes a big difference to the outcome, and the same is true of science.

Epidemiology, particularly on smoking, is somewhat different. The humble cigarette is itself considered a unit of measurement - "how many cigarettes do you smoke a day?" for instance. This is fine if each study participant smoked the same brand, for they will be the same size and strength. However, beyond such a level of control there really is no symmetry. A marlboro Red is different to a Marlboro Light or a Camel Light, but it gets murkier in the world of roll your own.

Typically, a 'rollie' is much smaller than the size of a standard pre-made cigarette. Yet in studies the researchers do not ask if the participant smokes pre-made or roll-ups, rather if both smoke ten a day, they get classified as ten a day - when in reality the one rolling his own is smoking perhaps 50% that of the person smoking the pre-mades. But some people roll their cigarettes incredibly thin and tight, with or without filters, while others roll them as fat as a regular cigarette. Others use the 'tubes' to make their own cigarette that is the same size as a pre-made.

On my current trip to America I have noticed the huge difference in filter size for roll-ups compared to what we have in the UK. At home, even the largest filter commonly available is about half the size of that found in a pre-made cigarette. In the USA, filters are almost the same size as the pre-made filters, or they can be smaller, and the papers are much bigger too. Some filters are longer and narrower, others wider and shorter. The paper tends to be much wider than what is on sale in the UK, so roll-ups in the USA can be much bigger.

Studies into smoking have tried over the decades to turn a 'cigarette' into a unit of measurement. The problem is, it isn't. It's like asking how many plates of food someone eats a day when the plate could range from a saucer-sized one to a large dinner plate. Hence why typically diet research deals in calories, and drink research deals in units. With cigarettes, such a rigorous distinction has not been made. Not only do cigarettes vary a lot, but people have different smoking habits - some will smoke only half, some will smoke while preoccupied and inhale very little, some will inhale every available puff that's on offer.

If we try to evaluate something scientifically, we need protocolos, measurements and definitions. If we don't have them and try to measure something anyway, what can we really deduce? Even if we happen to find some sort of link, there's no way to of testing the authenticity of the results.

For much more interesting musings over this topic, head over to Frank's blog.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Dave Atherton Meets Deborah Arnott - Poor Guy

Freedom 2 Choose's friendly fellow Dave Atherton was interviewed on CNN alongside ASH UK's Deborah Arnott. If you've been following either side of the smoking debate for any reasonable length of time both names will probably be familiar to you. Dave did a great job and provided a number of key facts that completely undermined Deborah's position - although undermining her position is like shooting fish in a barrel. Check out the video below:

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Kill A Smoker Before Cancer Does, the game

Some of you will have already seen this, some won't. There really aren't any words for this, you have to see it to believe it. Smoker Sniper Game

The description is:

"This smoker sniper game does exactly what it says, you're a sniper and its your mission to go out and kill every smoker. Its an easy game to play and the instructions are simple "Kill the guy, he's a smoker." As your sniper killing spree success rate improves you get to earn money which you can spend on weapon upgrades. You might even get promoted and as you gain higher ranks, even more sniper and other equipment become available. But basically its about killing. Go kill the smoker before cancer does. After you play this free smoker sniper game, why not check out and play our other free online arcade games?"

And you can find a commentary of it here

More Junk Science: Passive Smoke Increases Blood Pressure of Boys; Lowers it in Girls

This study has been commented on and rightfully criticised by Chris Snowdon, Carl Phillips and Michael Siegel. Rather than rehash the same comments again I will simply redirect you all to Snowdon's article.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Second Free Society Article: Defrauded by the NHS

The second article on The Free Society can be found at this link so again, if you do read it here, click the link to give The Free Society some extra traffic.

Recently it emerged that the aging population is now a drain on the economy. Of course, it is easy to understand how the elders of society can cost more than the younger generations, as it is typically in old age that we require increased healthcare and medication. However, it is one thing to say the elderly cost more money than youngsters, but it is quite another to say they are, in and of themselves, a drain on the economy.

It is a baffling proposition: old people are draining the economy that they spent their whole lives paying into. Unless each pensioner is racking up astronomical medical bills, it is most unlikely that they take out more than they have paid in. And if what we pay doesn’t cover our eventual withdrawals, one must wonder what purpose the NHS has these days. We are increasingly told that smokers, drinkers and obese people “drain” its resources, despite the huge amount of money smokers alone pay through cigarette tax, and now the elderly are a target too.

If the NHS is unable to cope with these three causes of illness, does it have any value at all? If, as we are told, we are a drain on the NHS, just what happened to all the money that each working adult pours into it to ensure healthcare when required? We are instructed to stop smoking, cut back on drinking and watch what we eat so we save the NHS money by living longer – but now living longer is akin to siphoning untold sums of money out of the organisation.

What is most troubling about this is the idea that the money apparently isn’t there. After all, it should be there: each working citizen has been paying for it long enough. Just what is the purpose of giving a very generous slice of your pay cheque to National Insurance if you can’t use it for what it’s intended?

Such a circumstance would not be tolerated elsewhere: if you paid private health insurance each month only to be told the money won’t actually be used to treat you, you would be able to sue the company for defrauding you. National Insurance is precisely that – insurance – so there is room to argue that the British citizens are being defrauded too.

How much of this ‘defrauding’ is going on? Yorkshire NHS managers are proposing to stop smokers and the obese from having hip and knee surgery, apparently on the basis that their lifestyle choices lower the chance of success of the operation.

Something has been overlooked here, though: the smokers and obese are due a refund. Not just from their National Insurance, but a hefty chunk of the 76% tax per pack of cigarettes goes to the NHS; smokers pay into the British treasury around £10 billion annually, and ASH estimate that they take out in healthcare costs between £1.5-2.5 billion a year, giving the public purse a very nice surplus. If they are not being given the treatment they have paid for, they should be given their money back.

This leads onto the premise that if the NHS is unable to provide what it exists for, why are we retaining it? If it really is losing money, and unable to treat the people paying for it, we would all be better off using the money we spend on it to pay private insurance instead, paying our own personal health fund that we know will be there when we need it.