Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Big Pharma exposed

This is the industry we're all up against. Not just smokers and people who are somehow compelled to take 'diet' drugs, but every one of us is facing a huge industry that is constantly trying to convince us we're ill; an industry that makes drugs and then defines a new 'illness' to sell those drugs, that spends three times as much money on marketing as it does on research, that has doctors and health organisations in its pockets. The pharmaceutical industry is so powerful it has been granted immunity, so if someone suffers severe reactions or dies as a result of a drug, no action can be taken against the industry. Drugs can be created and fast-tracked through testing, meaning you, your family and perhaps most importantly, babies and children, are being injected or pill-fed drugs that are potentially lethal and a lot of the time have no positive effect anyway. None of us should allow ourselves to be human guinea-pigs.

Check out some of the other videos in the side-bar, too.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Secondhand Smoke, Firsthand Lies

Secondhand Smoke has reared its ugly head again. We were so caught up with display bans, plain packaging, thirdhand smoke, outdoor bans, apartment bans, potential private housing bans, airbrushing smoking out of photos and banning it from films that secondhand smoke all but disappeared.

It's actually a pretty brave comeback, seeing as a lot of people never bought it in the first place and a lot of others have gradually realised it's a lie, too. But, two days ago, Science Daily reported this:

being exposed to even low-levels of cigarette smoke may put people at risk for future lung disease, such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Ok, former Surgeon General Carmona was spouting this rubbish, in direct contradiction of his report, back in 2006, so it's nothing new. It goes on:

Epidemiological studies have long shown that secondhand smoke is dangerous

No, they haven't. The famed 1992 EPA report contained 11 studies, none of which individually showed a risk. The only way they purported any risk was by lowering the Confidence Interval to 90% and cherry-picking data, and even then the 'risk' emerged so low that it wouldn't be accepted in any other area of science. The large study undertaken by the WHO found no statistically significant risk, the only statistical significance was that passive smoke offered a 22% decrease in a child's chance of getting lung cancer as an adult - a protective effect. The largest passive smoking study, by Enstrom and Kabat, also found no risk. President of the prestigious Research Institute Necker, retired world-renowned pulmonolgist Professor Philippe Even has spoken of the lack of risk from secondhand smoke:

There are about a hundred studies on the issue. First surprise: 40% of them claim a total absence of harmful effects of passive smoking on health. The remaining 60% estimate that the cancer risk is multiplied by 0.02 for the most optimistic and by 0.15 for the more pessimistic … compared to a risk multiplied by 10 or 20 for active smoking! It is therefore negligible. Clearly, the harm is either nonexistent, or it is extremely low.

Interviewer: It is an indisputable scientific fact. Anti-tobacco associations report 3 000-6 000 deaths per year in France ...

Even: I am curious to know their sources. No study has ever produced such a result.

Interviewer: Many experts argue that passive smoking is also responsible for cardiovascular disease and other asthma attacks. Not you?

Even: They don’t base it on any solid scientific evidence. Take the case of cardiovascular diseases: the four main causes are obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. To determine whether passive smoking is an aggravating factor, there should be a study on people who have none of these four symptoms. But this was never done. Regarding chronic bronchitis, although the role of active smoking is undeniable, that of passive smoking is yet to be proven. For asthma, it is indeed a contributing factor ... but not greater than pollen!

A pretty different picture to what we're led to believe, then. But why wait until retirement to tell the public this information?

As a civil servant, dean of the largest medical faculty in France, I was held to confidentiality. If I had deviated from official positions, I would have had to pay the consequences. Today, I am a free man.

Not sure what he means? Ask Dr Enstrom, one of the remaining scientists who lets his research speak for itself rather than speaking from a political idology or agenda. His bravery to remain a true scientist has cost him his professional position (more here and here)

Back to Science Daily:

but there have never been conclusive biological tests demonstrating what it does to the body at a gene function level, until now.

"Even at the lowest detectable levels of exposure, we found direct effects on the functioning of genes within the cells lining the airways," says Dr. Ronald Crystal, senior author of the study

She's right, there haven't been conclusive biological tests demonstrating what it does to the body. Actually, it's still not known what 80 a day does to your body, and it's also the case that light smokers, of about <5 a day, have no elevated lung cancer risk over non-smokers. That won't stop this laughable research though:
"The genetic effect is much lower than those who are regular smokers, but this does not mean that there are no health consequences," says Dr. Crystal. "Certain genes within the cells lining the airways are very sensitive to tobacco smoke, and changes in the function of these genes are the first evidence of 'biological disease' in the lungs or individuals."

Sounds good, right? Not really. We experience gene mutations and changes in functions every single day, simply through being alive. Our cells die and get replaced and our body heals itself of all manner of damage. Simply noticing that the lungs are part of this process is not damning news. It's akin to saying that when you eat, your digestive system changes and therefore eating is bad for you. when we eat, our whole body changes; blood is directed to the stomach and our body works hard to process what we eat - it's not inconceivable for someone to turn around and say 'hey, the body is working really hard to get that stuff out, because it shouldn't be there!' See where I'm going with this?

There's probably not much point in me including the following excerpt as it's now so routine in study reports that we'd be more surprised to not see it, but just in case you're wondering why this so-called researcher is spouting such propoagandist manure:

Dr. Crystal says that this is further evidence supporting the banning of smoking in public places, where non-smokers, and employees of businesses that allow smoking, are put at risk for future lung disease.

I think the gaping flaw is that if a wisp of smoke is maliciously altering lung function, how can we smoke 40, 60 a day and survive to be elderly? Even CRUK acknowledge that the average age of cancer in a smoker is 65 - the same age as it is for non-smokers.

As for the specifics of this "study", check this out:

Crystal and colleagues took urine samples from 121 participants to see how much exposure people had to cigarette smoke, measuring nicotine and its breakdown products. This allowed them to classify participants as active smokers, nonsmokers, and people with low-level exposure.

Like it isn't bad enough trusting a doctor with a stripper's name, we now see a sample so small most other studies and sciences wouldn't even permit it, and categorised people based on nicotine in the urine. Let's hope they didn't have potatoes, aubergine or tomatoes for lunch. CNN reported on it, too, saying:

Crystal speculates that the effects of secondhand smoke may be reversible if a person cuts off exposure to smoke entirely.

Of course she did. I think someone needs to tell her what secondhand smoke actually is

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Children Encouraged to Assault and Steal from Smokers

It's not a headline I was expecting to write, but that's the startling news now. The perpetrators don't consider it assault and theft, they consider it some sort of moral crusade that can only be good, but make no mistake about it: a group of people swarming a person and taking their legal, paid-for cigarette out of their hand or mouth is assault and theft. Here's the low-down:

"The final idea was to go out and literally ambush smokers and take their cigarettes off them. The adverts don't works so we are going to make you stop smoking."

Firstly, "literally ambush" is illegal and constitutes a premidated attack.
Secondly, take their cigarettes off them. The cigarettes they legally purchased in a premise that is legally allowed to sell them. If they rushed up and stole your watch, or even a bottle of water, it wouldn't be accepted.
Finally, the adverts don't work? Sure they do, many people believe them, others realise they're bullshit. But it sure as hell isn't anyone's place to make anyone else stop doing what they want, especially when what they're doing is legal.

The group in question is children of CHundred of Hoo Comprehensive School in Medway. They call themselves the Ciggy Busters and even film themselves in the act of assault and theft - happy slapping is punishable, but this apparently is condoned.

The teacher responsible for this, Margherita Gramegna, said:
I was scared about doing something so crazy on the street - I mean you can get arrested.

But we researched it properly and planned it in a way that we covered all the possibilities.

We didn’t start directly with the general public because we were scared of their reaction, so we planted some people to demonstrate with first.

She also said that

I knew we could not really go and film in public and attack people in that way and take goods off of them, so we devised a cunning plan.

We planted some people and we started with them. People were watching and following us and at the end we tried with some other people.

Huh. She acknowledges it was an attack, that it was illegal and that she was scared of public reaction, so they just utilised tactics to convince themselves they were in the clear. Wrong. Encouraging students to behave in a manner is not only immoral and unjustifable but utterly against the law, too. So what did the law have to say about it? Nothing. The police were actually told before the event took place that it would be happening, and rather than turn up to arrest the infantile, intolerant little dipshits, they turned a blind eye. It'd be interesting to see if they do the same should they be informed a gang is running around stealing other purchased goods from the general public.

One of the most worrying things of this story though is the neglect from the teacher. She has willingly put her students into a potentially dangerous situation - there are plenty of people on the streets who won't take kindly to being assaulted and having their tobacco wrenched from their person, and will think nothing of fighting back. Where is the teacher responsibility (and that of the law)? She should be the first to say it's dangerous and not acceptable behaviour - no doubt she wouldn't condone them stealing alcohol from patrons leaving the supermarket (how could she, with a name like Margherita?).

The possible side-effects of such a stupid attack could be enormous. Aside from the students being assaulted back, what would happen should one of the smoking victims become injured as a result, or even worse, if one suffered a heart attack from the shock of what's going on? It's shocking this is condoned on any level, and the police should be arrested for not upholding the law (most other people get sacked for not doing their job, why are the police exempt from that?).

Should you think I'm overreacting with the word 'assault' or mentions of possible heart attacks or injury, take a look at the video of the kids in action. Click the video to watch it in Youtube and read a handful of the comments to see that the teacher really did put her students in a potentially hugely dangerous situation.

Arm Yourself With Facts

Not a day goes by that doesn't see more garbage spewed by anti-smokers, in the vain effort of further demonsising smoking, the tobacco industry and smokers themselves. This is a couple of years old but is showing its head again http://www.smokefreepartnership.eu/IMG/pdf/Spotlight_5.3.pdf Straight away we know it's a crock, because the "spotlight" on FCTC is in support of it, rather than exposing the horrendous implications it carries. It's full of factual errors, which I have rebutted point by point and which should be passed around as much as possible so people can do what the blog title says.

1. Its products kill. Tobacco is the only consumer
product that kills one half of its regular users
when used as recommended by the manufacturers.
More people die from tobacco related
conditions per year than tuberculosis, hepatitis
and HIV4 combined.

"smoking-related disease" is intentionally fickle. There is not one single illness that smokers get that non-smokers don't; in fact, rates of "smoking related" illness is rising faster in non-smokers than smokers, most probably due to the fact that we have less smokers these days, showing that the illness is not smoker-specific but because the percentage of smokers was higher it produced an illusion. Therefore, the claim that 50% die from tobacco is fraudulent - while 50% may die from cancer, emphysema, heart disease etc, this figure isn't much different than the non-smoking population. With life expectancy at an all-time high, cancer and other diseases come with the territory. Plus, the countries with the highest rates of smokers, like Japan and Greece, have lower rates of heart disease and lung cancer than countries with the lowest rates of smoking, like the USA. Seeing a smoker with lung cancer does not mean smoking caused lung cancer, the cause could be the same as it would be in a non-smoker. As Lord Nimmo said, the fact non-smokers also get the disease means we cannot say with certainty that had the smoker abstained from the habit he would not have suffered it anyway. Finally, plenty of products kill people when used as intended, if a tyre blows out on a motorway then the risks of a high-speed crash, and fatality, is high. And let's not forget guns, a product whose design is specifically to kill. Not only is the 50% figure bogus, but the claim that tobacco is the ONLY product to kill a high percentage is outrageous, especially taking weaponry into consideration. The CRUK site has figures explaining that 0.03% of smokers get lung cancer a year - a number far lower than anyone would imagine given the anti-smoking hyperbole. Even Richard Doll noted that smokers have a 99.9% chance of NOT getting lung cancer (annual risk).

2. If tobacco products were developed today they
would not be allowed on the market. The tobacco
industry developed at a time when there
was little understanding of the detrimental
health effects from smoking so that until the
1960s, it had little oversight from regulators.

Possibly, but it's difficult to say. To this day, no animal study has ever managed to induce lung cancer in an animal using tobacco (excluding tobacco condensate on bald mice to induce skin cancer; any irritant can cause skin cancer however). Furthermore, smoke-exposed animals typically outlive the non-smoking animals AND suffer less cancer, which means if tobacco were developed today it would very likely be marketed as safe, just as other animal-tested products are. In the field of epidemiology though, the average age of a smoker developing lung cancer is 65 (the same age as it is for non-smokers, incidentally). If the average smoker starts at 18, it takes almost 50 years for cancer to become apparent. So if tobacco were introduced today and subjected to epidemiology, given the very long length of time it takes to notice any disease the study would probably not last that long, and tobacco would probably be passed as safe. Even if the study went on for 50 or 60 years, it may well note that given smokers get lung cancer at the same age as non-smokers, and there is no immediate risk from the activity, tobacco would probably not be banned. We consume and use things everyday that we know may pose a threat to us, so there is no reason to think that tobacco would be an exception.

3. The industry cannot be relied upon to
regulate itself. As early as the 1960s tobacco
industry sponsored research showed that
nicotine was addictive. This information was
never willingly disclosed by the industry. The
tobacco industry also uses tactics in the developing
world that are outlawed in other areas5
such as promotions to children6 and young
people smoking, advertising that glamorises
smoking. The tobacco industry also exploits
farmers to such an extent that they struggle to

Nicotine is actually a habit, not addiction. ASH have recently admitted this (http://www.ash.org.uk/media-room/news/ash-daily-news/:ash-daily-news-for-16-july-2010#article_514). It is also verifiable by noting that NRT has a failure rate of over 98% - if nicotine was the sole reason for smoking then smokers would happily turn to NRT. In any case, nicotine being addictive is a moot-point - alcohol can be addictive, as can caffeine and many prescription drugs. The tobacco industry tried to develop a safer cigarette in the 1960s but was squandered by the anti-smoking movement - even when the industry DOES try to regulate itself, it is hindered. Nicotine occurs naturally in the tobacco plant and any additives the industry uses are approved safe for consumption and are found in our food, drink and air.
Tobacco accounts for huge profits and generated income for developing countries. How it affects individual farmers is a separate point, but it must be remembered that banning their prime crop is going to cripple them financially far more than the tobacco industry. Criminalising tobacco is not the answer, but instead the respective governments should implement legal protection such as minimum wage. Any business can treat its workers badly, this is the reason sweatshops in developing countries are so popular for such brands as Nike and Adidas. While their actions are not condoned, there is no purpose in singling out the tobacco industry - they abide by the little laws in the country. The tobacco industry also employs thousands upon thousands of people around the world.

5. The industry has actively fought against
regulation. The tobacco industry tried to block
the development of the FCTC and weaken its
content and has attempted to discredit the
WHO. An independent enquiry into the tobacco
industry’s attempts to undermine the WHO
concluded that “the attempted subversion has
been elaborate, well financed, sophisticated, and
usually invisible8”.

Of course it has, what business would not try to halt a movement trying to put it out of business? The WHO are openly anti-smoking, with posters showing they want the whole world to be smoke-free. If you ran a business, would you not stop someone destroying it? The WHO have no objectivity with tobacco, either; their study into passive smoking, the world's largest ever carried out, found no statistical significance for non-smokers exposed to smoke, and even found a 22% decreased risk of lung cancer for babies exposed to smoke. The results were duly hidden. They should be discredited, and the tobacco industry wasn't the only one to do it: the British media was very vocal when it got hold of the study results.
The FCTC is a hateful and wasteful organisation, attempting to outlaw smoking around the globe and put a government monopoly on nicotine delivery. The FCTC costs vast sums of money to be a part of and removes government choice in deciding what laws and regulations to place on tobacco. As an initiative, it is intolerant and hateful, with a sole purpose of destroying the tobacco industry.

6. The tobacco industry has either suppressed
research or aimed to create ‘controversy’
around the harmful effects of smoking. Despite
strong scientific evidence demonstrating
the negative health effects from smoking
tobacco, the tobacco industry has
consistently sought to discredit it and funded
confounding studies. This was especially the
case of second hand smoking. Gilmore and
McKee9 show how the industry systematically
tried to undermine a crucial Environmental Tobacco
Smoke study conducted by International
Agency for Research on Cancer.

The studies - and internal documents - of the tobacco industry are freely available on the internet. The prime reason the industry refuted third-party studies was simple: they were bogus. A good example is the famous smoking beagles study, with its methodology having 80 something smoking dogs and only 7 non-smoking dogs, allowing them to make the (unsurprising) discovery that the smoking group had higher rates of illness. Epidemiology cannot 'prove' cause and effect, and that is the only research on smoking and illness for humans. Moreover, as said earlier, it has been consistently shown that countries with high rates of smoking have less rates of lung cancer than countries with low rates of smoking. The industry had good reason to discredit the studies.
With regards to secondhand smoke, the IARC study in question is the aforementioned WHO study, finding no statistically significant link, meaning no reason for a smoking ban. The WHO radically twisted these results, but they are available for all to see on the internet should anyone doubt this. The other large study, by Enstrom & Kabat, was initially funded by the American Cancer Society and anti-smoking groups. The primary data came back showing no risk of SHS and these groups, with their clear agenda, pulled funding. It is no secret they only support studies that are guaranteed to provide the 'right' results. Their tactics are worse than those of the tobacco industry and their claims of discrediting studies is wholly hypocritical.

6. The interests of the tobacco industry, selling
more tobacco, are in direct conflict with the
goals of public health. In order to continue
generating high profits the tobacco industry
needs to replace the smokers who have either
died or quit. The industry argues that it does
not directly target its advertising at young people.
However a major study found ‘a positive,
consistent and specific relationship’ between
exposure to tobacco advertising and later takeup
of smoking among teenagers10.

Tobacco advertising is banned. Most smokers start as teenagers because that is when it is legal to do so, just as most people begin to drink when it is legal to do so. The goals of public health are not to encourage people to be more healthy, but to conduct phony studies to fulfil political ambition. The tobacco industry does indeed need people to smoke, or it will have no profits. However, their advertising is banned so there can be no claims made against it. People smoke because they want to.

7. Corporate irresponsibility: WHO has stated
that corporate social responsibility and tobacco
companies are an “inherent contradiction’. The
tobacco industry’s own documents show that
most of its youth smoking prevention campaigns
are designed to promote the industry’s
political and marketing aims rather than to
reduce smoking. Their campaigns mostly focus
on underage smoking, stressing that smoking is
an adult activity rather than an unhealthy one.

It would make little sense for any company selling a product to try to reduce the number of said product being sold. There is no factual error in what the tobacco industry says: smoking is an adult activity. A quick look at the Philip Morris website clearly shows abundant health warnings, too, but in this day and age no one is ignorant to the potential risks from smoking. What is more remarkable is that the tobacco industry does this at all, as other industries do not promote such self-harming warnings - for instance, Coca Cola does not mention the aspartame in its diet drinks can cause a variety of health problems.

8. Negative to society: The World Bank argues that,
on economic grounds alone, tobacco should be
controlled, and estimates that when all costs of
tobacco around the world are subtracted from all
the benefits, the net result is a global economic
loss of US $200 billion each year.

They 'estimate' that because the real figure could never be in agreement. In Britain alone, smokers pay between £8 billion and £12 billion tax, and "smoking-related diseases" costs about £1.5 billion. Smokers therefore pay an extra £6.5 bn - £10.5 billion. Taking into account that this is a similar trend in other countries, each country has a lot of profit. Then factor in the amount of jobs the industry offers and it is clear that tobacco is very good for the economy.

It's Time to Leave the FCTC

Last week I came across this terrible, frightening article http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02720.x/full

I sent the following email to both authors explaining their errors and ignorance and thought some of you would like to read it and pass it on. No reply as of yet (I don't expect that to change either)

Dear Ms’ Gartner and McNeill,

I have just come across the paper “Options for global tobacco control beyond the Framework Convention in Tobacco Control” and have some comments, if I may.

Firstly, you state “Retail display bans and mandatory plain packaging of tobacco products are simple extensions of advertising bans. It is accepted widely that cigarette packs provide brand imagery, convey promotional messages, are displayed to maximize imagery and positioned at eye level in the most visible position in shops [1,2]. Restricting packaging and placement are accepted by the public for other products, such as ‘prescription only’ medications [3].”

Whilst this is true, the paper fails to note that prescription only medicines are visible at eye-level and in brightly coloured packages. Tobacco products are banned from advertising, so a display ban is not necessary. The simple fact is that tobacco is never not behind a counter, meaning children do not have access to it unless the shop proprietor is willing to break the law (in which case, a display ban is useless). Products being at eye-level is no conspiracy, it is simply so consumers are able to see what is available. Moreover, plain packaging and display bans will encourage criminal gangs. Tobacco smuggling is big business now and with plain packages it will be incredibly difficult to tell the difference between legitimate and illegal. There is also the risk that illicit tobacco contains unregulated ingredients that could cause any level of harm to the user. There is also proof that display bans increase youth smoking rates – see this link http://blog.iea.org.uk/?p=3468

Secondly, the paper says that “Many jurisdictions ban distracting activities while driving, such as using a mobile phone. Smoking while driving has been linked to traffic collisions [4], and a good case can be made that lighting a cigarette, smoking it and disposing of it are unnecessary distractions that increase risk [5] and expose other car occupants to high levels of second-hand smoke [6].”

Indeed, using a mobile phone has been banned, but only using a handset – it is not illegal to use a hands-free kit, with the premise being that both hands are free. Smoking permits both hands to be free to drive, as the smoker can place the cigarette in their mouth or the ashtray. Lighting and disposing require less time than initiating a phone call via a hands free kit, using satellite navigation equipment or changing the radio station – all of which are legal. It is also legal to eat and drink while driving, despite the fact both activities are far more distracting than smoking. If the driver unscrews a bottle lid and drops it, it will be a huge distraction as they will wonder what to do with the open vessel. Similarly, if they take a bite from a sandwich and spill the ingredients over themselves, they will be distracted. The paper also overlooks the very real psychological effects of not smoking. By that I mean that if a smoker has a long drive, the stress of not smoking will be a far greater distraction than the act of smoking itself. Psychological distractions will cause decreased awareness, while craving a cigarette can also trigger decreased awareness, as well as mild anxiety and stress, which could prompt the driver to drive less sensibly in order to get to the destination quicker or find somewhere to stop.
The other simple fact is that a car is one’s private possession, like a home. Banning smoking inside takes government interference a step too far and removes any degree of responsibility for the owner. While second-hand smoke exposure will be higher inside a car than outside a car, it is up to the passengers to decide if they think the risk is too great for them or not. Moreover, a smoking ban in cars would be blanket, meaning that even a single person with no children who only drives alone would still be banned from smoking.

Thirdly, “Adolescents' exposure to movies containing positive smoking scenes has been found to be associated with greater likelihood of smoking initiation [7]. Research also suggests that this effect can be reduced by screening anti-smoking counter advertising prior to these movies [8]. The net effect of these measures, in addition to those in the FCTC such as tax increases, is likely to be a slow but steady downward trend in smoking prevalence.”

This is a falsehood. Smoking rates were declining year on year until the smoking ban, at which point it increased. People will not stop smoking just because they are told to, in fact it will cause the opposite effect. Furthermore, increased taxes will not lower smoking rates but will merely drive trade towards the black market, causing economic problems, a strengthened criminal activity and the introduction of unregulated tobacco products. It should also be noted that while current measures mean children can only purchase cigarettes from licensed premises, criminal gangs will have no problem in pushing their products on the streets, in clubs and outside schools. I have made that last point bold because the enormity of it cannot be overstated.

Fourth, “However, more radical approaches need to be considered to achieve a faster impact on smoking prevalence and related harm. In this category we place: harm reduction with low nitrosamine smokeless tobacco (LNSLT) and/or high dose recreational clean nicotine products [9]; improving the regulatory structure [9]; restrictions on where tobacco can be sold and the number of outlets [10]; regulated market models, i.e. moving retail sales from the open market to a government controlled monopoly [11]; and smoker-licensing schemes that require smokers to obtain a licence to purchase a restricted quantity of tobacco always accompanied by advice as to its harmfulness [12].”

Why is smoker reduction so important? It is not a case of cost, because smokers pay into society far more than their estimated health costs withdraw. In a free society people are allowed to consume legal products and engage in risky activity. There is simply no reason to hound smokers or force them to quit. In this day and age, no one is ignorant to the risks or dangers, meaning each smoker made a conscious choice to smoke, in the same way that alcohol users choose to do so despite consuming a neurotoxin and risking alcohol poisoning or disease later in life. Unlike alcohol, tobacco does not make a person violent, nor are there ‘smoke driving accidents’ like there are drink driving accidents. Alcohol suffers no display ban nor packaging rules, indeed alcohol is promoted at exceptionally low prices, and not behind a counter where children are unable to reach it.

I await your response.

Thirdhand Smoke: The Plot Thickens

Since my last blog post about thirdhand smoke and Winickoff's bogus study to further the anti-smoking ideology, I contacted the man himself with queries about his findings. I sent him the following email:
Dr Winickoff,

I read your latest ‘report’ with mixed feelings of great amusement and sadness. I fail to see exactly how you can claim that tobacco smoke travels down telephone lines and “air ducts, through cracks in the walls and floors, through elevator shafts, and along plumbing and electrical lines to affect units on other floors.”

Of course, I would be able to grasp rudimentary understanding of these claims had you provided evidence, but as you didn’t, I can’t. Referring to your own non-study on third-hand smoke is not proof of concept, especially when said non-study was utterly ridiculous anyway – sorry, but phoning people and asking if ‘third-hand smoke’ existed would it prompt them to quit smoking is not, in any level of study, demonstrative proof that third-hand smoke a) exists or b) poses a threat. The first rule of toxicology is the poison is the dose and furthermore, you admitted some time ago that third-hand smoke is mere smell.

You claim in your ‘report’ that Georg Matt and two other studies show that lingering tobacco toxins reach high levels, yet the levels are actually so low as to be barely present. Moreover, none of the three referenced studies mention tobacco smoke travelling between apartments. You must surely be aware that fabricating an argument is not science, is not persuasive, and actually means the evidence is lacking and therefore your entire premise is baseless?

It still perplexes me that decades ago upwards of 80% of American and British adult males smoked, in any area they pleased besides libraries, galleries and churches. If tobacco posed such a threat that the slightest wisp can cause disease, then living in a perpetual fog of the stuff should surely have killed off a vast percentage of the population. Instead, we saw a baby boom and generations getting stronger and living longer. While smoking rates dropped, cancer rates increased. While smoking rates dropped, asthma rates increased.

Please, can you provide justification for your continued insistence of the health threat of third-hand smoke and these notions that second-hand smoke can travel along plumbing and phone lines to pose a threat to neighbours?


This initially received no reply, so I sent a follow-up email asking for a response and received this:

Thank you for your interest and intellectual engagement. Many of the compounds exhibit a stochastic pattern of harm. Understanding this concept will help you understand the science better.

Also, there are important differences between childhood exposure and exposure for adults--related to neurophysiologic processes that occur during development.

Regret that I cannot carry on a personal dialogue with you on this but I hope these responses get you started on deeper scientific inquiry.

All the best,

The keyword here is "stochastic". What Winickoff is saying is that the harm is random. Or, in other words, the results were inconsistent to demonstrate any harm, so rather than admit defeat they said "oh, well the people who did get ill suffered as a result of thirdhand smoke". Put simply, it is a tacit admission that their study was bogus and demonstrated nothing except thirdhand smoke poses no risk.

Winickoff is no different to the other researchers in the anti-smoking field - avoiding questions and refusing to reply to specific queries, instead giving short undetailed responses that do nothing other than show he is alive. If the research demonstrated what they purport it does, no avoidance would be necessary.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Your Home is Not Safe

Most of us knew the 'discovery' of thirdhand smoke was nothing more than a new political leverage for the anti-smokers; something they could use to deny smokers fostering, adopting, teaching and smoking at home. This could never happen straight away, but in small increments. With vindication that we never wanted, this turned out to be exactly the case. In the USA especially, smokers are increasingly demonised and an increasing number of businesses refuse to employ smokers - even if they smoke outside of working hours. This is spreading to anyone using NRT, presumably in case they 'relapse' and go back to tobacco. Anyone following the F2C blog will be aware of the fuss Grampian hospitals have been kicking up to refuse anyone smoking on the grounds, including patients, with the penalty being that treatment will be refused. Completely illegal of course, but that never stopped them trying.

Michael Siegel reported earlier in the week how a new study has claimed that secondhand smoke exposure causes poor performance academically. The first point of common-sense is to simply ask if SHS causes poor academic performance, how come active smoking has positively beneficial effects on the brain and concentration, and how did we ever evolve with people smoking for our entire history?

As you might have guessed, the study was a crock of shit, as it simultaneously measured self-reported secondhand smoke exposure and self-reported academic performance. In other words, people estimated how much passive smoke exposure they had (I couldn't ever quantify that, could you?) and also stated their academic performance. Not exactly rigorous science by any stretch of the imagination. So how much did their performance suffer? "Students exposed to SHS at home 1 to 4 and 5 to 7 days per week were 14% (95% CI, 5%-25%) and 28% (15%-41%)"

So, uh, hardly at all. Averages of 14 and 28%? Come on now. No real scientist would ever genuinely consider that noteworthy, so what's the agenda here?

If exposure to SHS could impair the students’ academic performance and hence reduce their chances to succeed, then home smokers are depriving the students’ human rights to higher education stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—Right to Education (Article 26), which states 'higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.'
Tobacco control advocates, educators, and human right advocators can also make use of our evidence to negotiate an expansion of smoke-free legislation to the home environment.

Ahhhh. The tried and tested "for the sake of the children" argument. Or, put in a real context, " we have no evidence whatsoever that tobacco smoke impairs academic performance or cognitive ability, so we'll tug at the heart-strings instead." Although it must be noted that the study author is using the term "evidence" incredibly loosely, and it's admitted by the researchers that there was a significant margin of error:

Although restricting our analyses to nonsmokers only should have largely reduced the confounding effects of unfavorable lifestyle factors associated with smoking, residual confounding cannot be ruled out because of the crude self-reported measures of socioeconomic status and unmeasured lifestyle factors.

In other words, they were unaccounted variables that could, and most certainly would, have affected the results - and if the results were affected, then there would be no "evidence" to push for a home smoking ban, and that just won't do at all. Moreover, as Siegel notes:

In addition, there are other important confounding variables, such as parental involvement with the child's education. In other words, there are many reasons why children who are more heavily exposed to secondhand smoke may do poorer in school, and the study cannot adequately rule out these alternative explanations.

Therefore, it is mystifying why the study goes ahead and concludes that the observed association in the study is attributable to a direct, causal effect of secondhand smoke exposure.
 Siegel makes another excellent point, that "because the study is cross-sectional, it cannot establish whether the academic performance problems might have predated the secondhand smoke exposure." What he means is, no base level of performance was taken. It's all well and good comparing smoke-exposed to non-smoke-exposed children, but without comparing the same child's performance before and after exposure began nothing is actually being measured at all.

 If a child typically scored 70-90% on tests, then was exposed to secondhand smoke and his grades went down to 40-50%, and all other variables had been accounted for e.g. general change in attitude towards studies, then a case could exist for secondhand smoke impairing academic performance. As it stands, however, all we have is more pseudo-science, political bullshit printed in a journal to win support.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

San Francisco Aiming to Ban Tobacco in Grocery Stores

There's an almost laughable certainty now that any new draconian measures will first take place somewhere in California, especially when it relates to smoking.

San Francisco became the first city in all of America to ban all tobacco products in drugstores, like Walgreens. Maybe customers given the choice in front of them between Marlboro or Nicorette will opt for the more enjoyable product and this will annoy Big Pharma. However, we're rapidly learning that all the new steps taken by Tobacco Control to appease them are never good enough; that they're merely a stepping stone to the next piece of excessive legislature that does nothing but profit big business and criminal gangs. Smokers do not give up when new laws come into effect, they simply buy elsewhere and therefore remove money from the economy and place it into the hands of black market providers. For some reason beyond comprehension, governments and councils must see this as a good thing. So, following the usual trend, San Francisco has proposed a new bill: banning tobacco from superstores with an in-store pharmacy. To clarify that, it doesn't mean the pharmacy section of a store, but the entire premises will be banned from selling tobacco products.

Stupid, pointless, draconian? Yes, yes and yes. But San Francisco is creating its own bigger picture here, and is aiming to become smoke-free entirely (or, to put it in blunt terms that they're too cowardly to admit, smoker-free).

Recent legislations against tobacco includes expanding areas where smoking is not permitted throughout the city, an adjustable litter fee of 20 cents has been added to the price of each pack of cigarettes, and debates have taken place to reduce the number of permits allowing places to sell tobacco. In other words, they want less places to sell tobacco and almost nowhere to smoke it. Adding money to cigarettes for litter is absurd though; the tax on tobacco is already far beyond normal and fair, meaning smokers pay hefty sums, well into the billions, to society each and every year. This does, by the way, does help provide council support including road sweeping. Besides, if we're going down the route of charging for things that can be dropped on the street, should packaged food suffer the same fate?

 Supervisor Eric Mar, the man so out of touch he believes tobacco bans help improve health and lower smoking rates, said that

Cigarettes and chewing tobacco are a tiny fraction of the products sold, and pharmacies should be selling medicine and helpful items, not items like cigarettes that kill you. It sends the strong message that we are a city that promotes healthy living and stores should sell products with some accountability to the public.
Actually Eric, it sends the undeniable message that you are supportive of segregating a large minority of people who contribute vast sums of money to society. By purchasing legal products. To "promote" something means you try to educate, or entice people to take up something healthier; it does not mean berate, abuse and isolate. The correct words for that are bigotry and hatred.

Not only does this measure affect smokers, it is also guaranteed to affect businesses (again). Safeway has ten stores in San Francisco with pharmacies, so the unavoidable outcome will be smokers purchasing their tobacco elsewhere and quite possibly their other shopping goods with it.

Quite rightly, the 2008 move to ban tobacco in pharmacies was met with the comments that it targets one specific type of business. Unfortunately, the City took this as an incentive to just hound other businesses, too.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

E-Cigarettes to be Banned in the UK

We all knew this day was coming. Ever since their release onto the public market ASH and so-called health groups have demanded they be banned. No one who understands the source of funding and overall agenda of these groups had any illusion as to why they wanted e-cigarettes removed from the market - the groups are funded by the pharmaceutical industry, the pharmaceutical industry makes nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) which has a 98.4% failure rate, e-cigarettes are not made by the pharmaceutical industry and work as a good tool for smoking cessation. E-cigarettes satisfy every facet of real cigarette smoking. ASH, Department of Health et al are still eluded by the fact that smoking is not an addiction to nicotine, but is a multi-faceted sensual habit. Smokers smoke for different reasons, from the Freudian theories of wanting or needing something to hold in their hands on their mouth, to enjoying the hypnotic dances of the smoke through the air, to the simple feeling it provides. E-cigarettes, with their looking, feeling and, to some extent, tasting like real cigarettes, allow a smoker to smoke without smoking. NRT, on the other hand, simply bypasses all the aforementioned, working instead on the placebo effect by convincing smokers they are simple addicts.

The pharmaceutical industry developed some time ago the inhalator; essentially their own equivelant of the e-cig except it looks like a lump of plastic and, frankly, anyone users it looks plain stupid. It also emits no vapour, looks nothing like a cigarette and feels nothing like a cigarette. Big Pharma cottoned on to the fact smokers often feel the need to have something in their mouths, but again overlooked the multi-faceted interest in smoking.

Chris Snowdon reported on his blog that e-cigarettes will soon be banned in the UK:

Michael Kitt at ecigarettedirect.co.uk has received a letter from a Trading Standards Officer who has (apparently) been told by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) that they  will be opting for what they always said was their preferred option and banning all nicotine products. There are are—of course—two major exceptions: the most hazardous nicotine products (smoked tobacco) will continue to be on sale, as will the least effective smoking cessation aids (pharmaceutical nicotine).

From the letter:

I have been in discussions with other Trading Standards authorities and have found out that the consultation is almost complete. The outcome will be that as of a date (yet to be announced) there will be a 21 days period and then these products will be outright banned in the UK, unless the traders apply for certification as a medical device from MHRA. This process could be complicated and costly so it is expected that many traders may cease trading.

There is a large and growing number of e-cig users in Britain, known as 'vapers'. With their newfound method soon disappearing, they will simply pick up real cigarettes again. Can we really take "health" groups seriously when they purport that cigarettes are the biggest health threat we face, yet systematicallyremove any harmless alternative? And why are we so quick to ban everything? We should long be aware by now that banning doesn't eradicate a substance or a problem, it simply increases criminal activity and turns good citizens into criminals in the process. As Angus Macqueen argued in his brilliant article and tv series Our War On Drugs, we are failing spectacularly.

We know the pharmaceutical industry acknowledges the threat posed by e-cigarettes, so it's very simple to see why they oppose them. And it's also plainly obvious why the anti-smoking brigade are against them - their agenda, now very much public knowledge, is against smokers themselves and not a dislike to the smell of tobacco smoke. They routinely use the phrase "denormalisation of smokers" to highlight their motives and end-goals. Clearly, e-cigarettes undermine this. Sure, they're a great alternative to anyone wanting to stop using the real things or to stop smoking entirely, but if more people use them then the image of smoking will perhaps become more normal again. Plus, e-cigarettes are permitted indoors, including planes, trains and pubs. While they pose no threat or irritation to people in the vicinity, they may remind people of when real smoking was allowed indoors. The long and short of it: e-cigarettes have the potential to shift the attitude towards smoking back to tolerance and acceptance. This isn't acceptable to ASH.

So unacceptable, in fact, that borderline Loony Toon Stanton Glantz has previously said that 

Promoting smokeless tobacco as a safer alternative to cigarettes will not result in a reduction of harm and may lead to an increase in harm at the population level.
 No, I'm not sure how he reached that conclusion either. He has changed his opinion ever so slightly this year though, saying instead "Promoting smokeless tobacco as a safer alternative to cigarettes is unlikely to result in substantial health benefits at a population level."

What needs to be realised is that these people are as far removed from public health as is possible. They spend years shouting of the thousands of chemicals and additives in tobacco, saying these are the reason for the harm, and when an alternative comes along with just nicotine it is apparently just as lethal.

It really is about time this madness was renamed from the anti-smoking movement to the anti-smoker movement.