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.

My article on the Free Society: Thirdhand Smoke

Simon Clark has been kind enough to post two of my articles on The Free Society website. Click here to view the article on his site (and if you read it here, please at least click the link to give him the traffic) but i've included it here too so that people can comment if they want to.

According to a BBC report last year, thirdhand smoke is the “lingering residue from tobacco smoke which clings to upholstery, clothing and the skin releases”. Warning signs, say researchers, is the smell that lingers on a smoker’s clothing or in an area where someone has been smoking.

The concept came to public attention in 2009 courtesy of Dr Jonathan Winickoff, who also coined the term. Winickoff took his discovery to the media not on the basis of a study but a survey. Asked if they believed that “Breathing air in a room today where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of infants and children”, 65 per cent of non-smokers said “yes”. And so a new health threat was born.

While the perceived threat of secondhand smoke allowed legislators to ban smoking in enclosed public places, the alleged dangers of thirdhand smoke takes the war on tobacco one step further. According to Winickoff, smokers themselves are “contaminated”. They “actually emit toxins” he says.

How long will it be before smokers are excluded from certain professions, teaching or other forms of childcare, for example? Or perhaps they will be banned from hospitals in case they “contaminate” nurses and other patients.

Thirdhand smoke plays on the standard antismoking cry to “think of the children” (which tobacco control conveniently ignored when they sent smokers home from pubs to smoke around their families instead). Winickoff, for example, claimed that infants spend much more time closer to surfaces, like the floor, and thus ingest more of the toxic brew from tobacco smoke.

The big discrepancy though is that no study exists that demonstrates any harm from this tobacco residue, either in children or adults. It is all based on suppositions that are based on US Surgeon General Richard Carmona’s warnings to non-smokers that “there is no safe level of tobacco smoke” and even to “stay away from smokers”. The suggestion that tobacco smoke is dangerous in any dosage defies the basic knowledge of toxicology: “The dose makes the poison”.

Winickoff built on a 2004 study by Georg Matt that claimed that nicotine levels in the dust of children’s bedrooms in homes where parents commonly smoked indoors averaged about 40 micrograms per cubic metre. Worrying over such levels is akin to worrying that a child will get caffeine poisoning from a single Kit-Kat. At the same time it should be noted that while nicotine levels in the dust of children’s bedrooms may indicate that someone has been smoking, nicotine itself is harmless – addictive, perhaps, but harmless.

While it is true that miniscule smoke particles do exist and can cling to surfaces, the issue is not whether they exist but in what quantities. In his book Dissecting Anti-Smokers’ Brains, Michael McFadden wrote of secondhand smoke:

Most of these chemicals can only be found in quantities measured in nanograms, picograms and femtograms. Many cannot even be detected in these amounts: their presence is simply theorized rather than measured. To bring those quantities into a real world perspective, take a saltshaker and shake out a few grains of salt. A single grain of that salt will weigh in the ballpark of 100 million picograms!

For context, a nanogram is one billionth of a gram, a pictogram is a trillionth of a gram, and a femtogram is written as 0.000,000,000,000,001 grams.

The residue from secondhand smoke – what some people now call thirdhand smoke – is so miniscule it is absurd that it should cause anyone serious concern. Quite simply, if a femtogram of tobacco smoke residue is enough to damage our health, a single cigarette should be all but fatal.

Of course we have long crossed the line of absurdity when it comes to tobacco control. Far from objectively researching the issue, researchers now openly admit that their work is aimed at getting smokers to quit or promoting smoking bans. even in private homes.

Talking to Scientific American about his survey, Winickoff said: “This study points to the need for every smoker to try to quit.” He also argues that “Emphasizing that thirdhand smoke harms the health of children may be an important element in encouraging home smoking bans … Your nose isn’t lying. The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: ‘Get away.’”

We can apply this logic to anything whose smell we don’t like. If you don’t like the smell of deep-fried fish and chips does that mean you should run away from it? If science is telling us to fear smell, what hope do we have?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Update on smoking in homes

As an addendum to my post "Think Your Home is Safe?" is this news story about a man being sued by his neighbours for smoking in his own apartment.

According to the story:

Poses family say they have all been loosing sleep and suffering from headaches, chest pains and respiratory issues as a result of the second-hand smoke. The suit is seeking $500,000 in damages for each member of the Poses family.

However, the defendent is rightly contending the suit:

Dale contends that majority of his smoke breaks are taken outside and says he uses three air cleaners. Dale also claims that he went as far as hiring a specialist to attempt to seal off his apartment from his neighbors to help keep the smoke at bay.

If you ask me, it seems like Dale has been more than reasonable and accommodating. The fact that the neighbours have been having disputes for over a year suggests the smoke can't be causing that much of a problem, else they would have taken action before or tried to move. To suggest that minor secondhand smoke (supposedly surviving air filtration systems, walls and a sealed apartment) is causing chest pains and lack of sleep is absurd. It seems this family is more just looking for an easy income, and the war on smokers has made them an easy target. After all, everyone knows secondhand smoke kills, and smokers are selfish and obnoxious, and that smoking bans on private property are on the cards, so what better time to take action?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Researchers Admit Thirdhand Smoke Study Is An Advocacy Piece

In a research grant application to the state of Califnornia for funding into a study on thirdhand smoke, the researchers openly admitted that the purpose of the study was not to explore the potential harm of thirdhand smoke, but to push for further bans.

"Overall, our proposed work will be a critical step in a timely assessment of whether the THS exposure is genetically harmful to exposed nonsmokers, and the ensuing data will serve as the experimental evidence for framing and enforcing policies prohibiting smoking in homes, hotels, and cars in California and elsewhere in order to protect vulnerable people."

Ok, so when the funding comes from the Tobacco Related Disease Research Program there's no surprise the grant was given or that the researchers were unashamed to admit their despicable agenda. Still, though, why is such a program allowed to exist in the first place, especially when it lacks the objectivity that a science program should exhibit?

What this really means is that individuals with a prejudice agenda are able to openly admit it and receive lavish amounts of money in return. It's a shame that America has just celebrated Martin Luther King day, a man who is revered for helping to erode social segregation, but simultaneously it is working hard to segregate another group of society - even fabricating evidence to do so.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Think Your Home Is Safe?

Blogging has been light since December for the usual reasons of Christmas and New Year, and I'm now in America for a while so it isn't going to be picking up much too soon, except for those stories that can't go unnoticed. This is one of them, H/T Chris Snowdon.

When the smoking ban originally hit the UK in 2007 there were many people, in the days before its enactment, saying they will ignore it - including bar owners. That didn't happen, and the more astute of us who knew where this was heading knew exactly that pubs were neither the beginning nor the end. I wrote an article in 2008 that Califnoria was trying to pass a ban on smoking even in one's home, unless it was a detached property. That bill didn't get through, and people declared such a ruling would never pass because the home is private property and authorities wouldn't be able to check. For now, perhaps, but if they can get in to check for illegal substances, all they need to do is put tobacco in such a light that the (anti-smoking) public would not mind.

In Bhutan, it's already happening:

Bhutan police can raid homes of smokers in a search for contraband tobacco and are training a special tobacco sniffer dog in a crackdown to honour a promise to become the world’s first smoke-free nation...

The Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency has started raids, with officials allowed to enter homes if someone is seen smoking or if officials have reason to believe there is illegal tobacco there...

“The sniffer dog is being trained at the moment. The dog will be able to sniff out tobacco products,” said Major Phub Gyaltshen of the Royal Bhutan Police.

Bhutan’s prime minister said the law cannot be called draconian and it was passed in the “collective wisdom” of the members of parliament.

“It is cancerous, both in the literal and the metaphoric sense, cancerous to society and to individual and in many ways it is no different from psychotropic drugs, for which the penalty in certain countries is death,” Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley said.

True enough, Bhutan isn't in the UK, or America, or such "civilised" countries. But does that make a difference? No. Most of you will remember the recent petition I started to stop Philipina Sergevitch from being evicted just for being a smoker, and America is trying to make all sheltered accommodation for senior citizens non-smoking - forcing residents to either quit or give up. I don't need to mention this is abhorrent and cruel, so I won't.

Those favouring smoking bans in pubs utilise the argument that they don't want the exposure to secondhand smoke, or the smell from the smoke, or they shouldn't be exposed, and so on. That's a public place, though, so how does it translate to the home? It's not as difficult as you'd imagine.

Dr Winickoff, of thirdhand smoke 'fame', is still busying himself in Satan's Lab conjuring up all sorts of horseshit studies to rid the world of the foul and obnoxious tobacco plant. One of his recent 'discoveries' was that smoke can travel through vents, down phone lines, through cracks in the wall and so on. Put another way, you smoking in your own privately owned space can impact on your neighbours - or so they think. Once that happens, it's easy for the smoker to be at the bad end of a punishment.

And don't bet that these places will let you smoke outside, because third and fourthhand smoke will still be putting non-smokers at risk - tucked up in their apartments with all the windows and doors shut so the air remains clean (if only they knew).

Beyond that, the "save the chiiiildren" crowd are still churning out studies faster than Ford can churn out cars, showing all manner of things like this:

In healthy preschool children, parental smoking is an independent risk factor for higher blood pressure, adding to other familial and environmental risk factors. Implementing smoke-free environments at home and in public places may provide a long-term cardiovascular benefit even to young children.

In fact, take a look around at the new studies and reports and what you'll find stated over and over again is the researchers' advocation of smokefree homes. And when researchers say something enough, and the media reports it enough, you can ever so slowly see the public pendulum swing from 'no way' to 'take action!'. Either that, or the global population will discover their European sides and remember where their middle finger is.

I'm reminded of wise words from two great comedians:

"Second hand smoke bothers you?, there are people from Chernobyl still alive for fucks sake!, they look weird, but they are still here.... and now we make them smoke outside!" - Steve Hughes

"Doesn't the idea of making nature against the law seem to you a bit... paranoid?" - Bill Hicks