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.


  1. Your home is not safe! I know this because I live in a high rise block and is warden controlled. The warden, a nice chap, has to do six monthly 'reports' and we have to sign. The first time he came to my home he asked the usual 'box ticking' questions but when he asked me if we both smoked (I then pointed him to my flat 'front door' and told him of the sticker on it that said that I was the office for freedom to choose.) When I refused to sign because of the smoking question he spouted the usual crap that it was for 'fire and safety' reasons. I suppose I am a marked man.

    There is no doubt in my mind that some sort of 'no smoking on council property' is in the offing.

    If this happens then I have no option other than to go to court.

    There is no end that the anti smoking fraternity will not go, I know this.

    Great and informative blog Rich, I fell less and less alone when reading it.

  2. Er, em, *feel* not *fell* oops.

  3. Thanks John, if youl could retweet it i'd be grateful.

    Any media appearances coming up?

  4. Retweeted Rich. If only I had the media attention that F2C Scotland has at the moment Rich I'd be sending them your way but, alas, nothing here for a while now. But it WILL happen.

  5. Yeah it's all looking very good for the Scottish section, which is great news - at least someone is listening.