Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Epidemiology: A New Graduate For The Corrupt 'Science'

You might have missed this. Surprising really, since the author tweeted it a dozen or more times over the past week, and pimped it out to Cancer Research UK and the plain packs campaign amongst others. Must be a true work of art then, obviously.

Indeed it is.
Yesterday an article in the Daily Mail was brought to my attention by Ben Goldacre, and Transform Drug Policy Foundation.
Yes, it's not much of an introduction if you're looking for impartial, evidence-based comment, but give her a chance, eh?
There have been a few articles along a similar line to this one, questioning tobacco control research and policy.
The cheek!
This one seemed particularly one-sided, so it's made me decide to go through the arguments, and discuss.
That's what debate is all about. Great to see.
The very first sentence of this article riled me, I have to say:
There are few industries to have come under such sustained attack as big tobacco.
It's almost too ridiculous to know where to start. I may be arguing semantics here, but I would say it's not the tobacco industry under attack so much as the disease and death caused by smoking cigarettes.
I can see that we are faced with someone a bit new to all this, and - just a hunch - I reckon she might be rather 'one-sided' herself.

It would be fantastic if it were just the effects of smoking being addressed but tobacco control long since veered away from such things. When you have tobacco controllers changing the rules of economics and blaming tobacco companies for the consequences of their own high taxation policies, we're well past any sensible measures to tackle the harms of smoking, and profoundly into personal crusades and policies motivated by obsessive hatred of a legitimate industry. Yesterday's risible nonsense proves that quite comprehensively if the Master Settlement Agreement hadn't already.

From an inauspicious start, it just goes further downhill.
So on to the meat. One thing that immediately leaps out to me about this article is that nowhere does it state that tobacco KILLS PEOPLE.
Because, you see, this is a bit of secret. No-one is aware of the fact that smoking carries dangers, least of all those who read articles in a section of a newspaper dealing with business and the money markets.

It's astounding, to Suzi at least, that highly educated people haven't been told the bleeding obvious. She didn't go on to say that they should also be informed that tobacco comes in boxes or pouches and sold in places called 'shops', but I suppose she was keeping to prescribed word limits.
OK, we all know this, but it's fundamental as to why there is this legislation in the first place.
If you're a tobacco control advocate, yes, that's how you start every article. But this isn't one of those, d'you see?
It's not there as some 'Nanny state' agenda, it's put in place primarily because there is evidence that most (8 out of 10 according to a cancer research document on the subject) people start smoking before the age of 19.
That's where we tend to disagree. Anything that claims to be worried about the choices of people 18 or over is definitely part of a 'nanny state agenda'.
Tobacco control has a two-armed approach: preventing children from starting smoking before they're in a position to appreciate the risks, and helping those who want to quit but struggle. To me, this is not a Nanny state, but a state with a social conscience.
So where is her article on how the army is an abhorrent organisation as it admits 'kids' who choose to join from 16 upwards without - according to this reasoning - appreciating the risks of being blown up in Afghanistan? The dangers of tobacco are part of the national curriculum, the deadly nature of joining the army isn't. I don't see any health warning on this website but I'm sure youngsters are pretty well clued up before they apply.

Social conscience is a state which educates and allows choices to be made, and products enjoyed, without coercion. A nanny state is one which sets out to destroy even quiet enjoyment of a product. Let me quote ASH on the subject.
Smokers display the branding every time they take out their pack to smoke. In doing so they are making a statement about how they want to be seen by others as they display and endorse the brand they have chosen.
As such, the banning of branding is a direct attack on how smokers choose - according to ASH, remember - to enjoy the product they pay a lot of money for.

If that's not nanny state, I'm struggling to imagine anything that is.

If you thought that was bad enough, wait till you get a load of this.
Let's consider some of the arguments against tobacco control.
...since the UK Government annually reaps £12billion in levies from the likes of industry giants British American Tobacco, Imperial and Gallaher-owner Japan Tobacco, is it shooting itself in the foot?
Aha! Of course, never mind the health of our citizens, we're in a financial crisis, let's not lose money here. A fallacy for a couple of reasons. Firstly, figures from 2010 suggest that smoking is a net cost to the economy - with every cigarette costing the country 6.5 pence.
Did she just cherry-pick that pharma-funded Champix advert written by a guy at Policy Exchange who was tweeting after an ASH AGM about how 'something should be done' about his personal hobby horse? Indeed, one of the negligibly few economists worldwide who share such a minority opinion? Yes, she was.

As if that wasn't enough, she compounded the error with this conflict of method.
And secondly if money isn't getting spent on tobacco, it will get spent elsewhere, it won't simply disappear, so it will still be being taxed; alcohol, petrol, all sorts of things are highly taxed. The money will remain in the economy.
That's right. Money not spent on tobacco isn't being lost at all, it'll just be spent anyway.

Well, the Policy Exchange study said we'd save £342m by not having to pay people to clear up cigarette butts, the equivalent of ditching 17,000 street cleaners on current wage levels, if smoking was banned tomorrow ... because they obviously wouldn't have any other rubbish to sweep up. Or is that just the usual anti-smoking ploy of changing the terms of debate to suit? Yes, I do reckon it is. Sorry, but if she's willing to accept crap like Henry Featherstone's she's hardly in a position to state that cash spend on tobacco would be spent elsewhere.

Suzi also seems to believe that smokers don't die early thereby saving billions in pension provision, otherwise Policy Exchange's figures simply don't stack up anyway. So if smokers die at the same age as non-smokers, Suzi, where is the problem?
'You hardly need research from anti-tobacco campaigners to tell you that people may prefer elegant and attractive packaging to grim, uniform, dour packs designed by politicians and health lobbyists,' says Mark Littlewood, director general (of the Institute of Economic Affairs). 'But this proves absolutely nothing at all. The idea that youngsters take up smoking because they find it impossible to resist the colour scheme on a cigarette pack is risible.'
Erm...the scientific evidence does seem to suggest otherwise. The shocking video by Cancer Research (see below) shows children spontaneously commenting on cigarette packets. Suddenly it all looks a little less risible. And this is before we get to the evidence.
Well, I'd hardly call kids being recruited and stuck in front of a camera, which pans out exactly when required after they're shown doctored packets by a vested interest, as 'spontaneous', but if it floats your boat.

And evidence? Great. Tell me more.
Experiments conducted on teenagers have found they falsely believe packs of certain colours to be more healthy (gold and silver for example), and more importantly that they would pick these packs to try.
Err, it isn't tobacco companies telling consumers that some cigarettes are more healthy than others, it's the EU. That's exactly why they set tar, nicotine, and Carbon Monoxide limits in the first place, and why SCOTH keep a register of different strengths. If that's all bollocks, it would be great to get rid of such red tape in a recession, eh?

They can't, of course, because there is a huge lobby of froth-mouthed lunatics who would go ape-shit if they did. Because it was they who lobbied the EU to impose the limits in the first place ... on the premise that it would make cigarettes less damaging. If all cigarettes are now homogenous in terms of risk no matter the levels of differing constituents - a concept at odds with rules of biology and nature, by the way - can we now abolish the EU limits tobacco control once said were vital, then?
Why, if it won't work, is the tobacco industry both here and in Australia where plain packaging has already been approved by the Government, fighting so hard to stop it? Something doesn't quite add up.
Only if you haven't the first clue about business, market share and the role of premium branding in a competitive shareholding environment. What do you do again, Suzi?
2nd year Epidemiology PhD student looking at the relationship btwn cannabis, psychosis and depression, writer, sci comm, knitter, musician, Bristolite
Plain packaging brings us to our next argument (again a quote from Mark Littlewood):
'If the health campaigners are listened to in this policy area, they can expect the lasting gratitude of organised crime networks, whose task of counterfeiting will be made much easier and who have no qualms at all about peddling their products to kids.'
Another straw man. Counterfeiters are hardly having problems making near perfect copies of current cigarette package designs, it is trivially easy to counterfeit current cigarette packages, so plain packaging makes NO difference.
She's a good little apprentice bansturbator, of that there is no doubt. Being wilfully ignorant of economic reality is a prerequisite.
The final argument in this article is that the Government is being 'inconsistent', by bringing in shutters to hide cigarettes from view, AND consultation on plain packaging. To me, this seems entirely consistent with trying to protect young people from marketing that is potentially targeted at them (according to this Cancer Research document)
You're behind the times kiddo. Cancer Research UK have since produced this document which destroys that argument. Here are a few quotes.
Generally, there was little awareness of different styles of tobacco packaging [...]

Aside from Mayfair, there was little prior awareness of the packs used in the focus groups.

[...] it appeared that participants were seeing most of the packs used in the focus groups for the first time.

To some extent the pack appeared peripheral compared with the cigarette in youth smoking [...]

[...] low brand and pack awareness of all but the most popular brands.
All in all, it's rather disappointing that someone who is aspiring to be an epidemiologist of the future can be so credulous and unquestioning of evidence. But then, the profession isn't one which is known for its integrity, is it?

She did, at least, fact check her nonsense first. Well, up to a point.
Thanks to the members of TARG who fact checked this for me.
I didn't know who TARG were before the weekend, but fortunately they educated us yesterday.

Ah. The Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group of Bristol University, of which 'Sooze' is a student member.

No wonder she pumped it out all over Twitter. Not only is it off the scale in terms of agitprop posing as reasoned, impartial comment, but just producing it no doubt brings reward points towards her PhD in righteous hectoring.

Under the circumstances, why should she care about rigour and objective assessment? A perfect epidemiologist of the future, then.


Anon said...

'Knitter'? - there's an extra consonant and the wrong vowel in there...

Frank J said...

Perhaps it's me but I can't see that anything she's talking about here has anything to do with epidemiology. It's just her opinion.

Rubicon South Bank said...

Talking about costs,losses and cover ups re Anti smoking hysteria
The Spanish government has just sunk 4.5 BILLION Euros into the
BANKIA Banking and Mortgage Group to save it from collapse
What the media fail to highlight is the Group's massive exposure to
losses on value of their loans to small businesses especially in the Liesure
Sector.The media kindly wrap the details up with the term
We await the figures on Licensed Venue's  CLOSURES..FOR SALE AND
TO doubt a long wait.

The Night Watchman  

JonathanBagley said...

Blimey, how many universities now have a tobacco and/or alcohol research group? There must still be a heck of a lot of taxpayer wonga up for grabs  

Sam Duncan said...

 “To me, this is not a Nanny state, but a state with a social conscience.”

And what's the difference?

It's a rhetorical question. There is none. People who protest that this or that nannying measure “isn't the nanny state” seldom have a full appreciation of what “nanny state” means. The state can't have a conscience, qualify it by whatever adjective you like. It can't care. The term was coined not to describe the excesses of a caring state gone too far, but to ridicule the very idea that it can. Any governmental attempt to save people from themselves is the nanny state.

Ian R Thorpe said...

Soon as I see that name Goldacre I know we're in for a treat. The "Bad Science" man would not recognise serious scientific work if it ran up to him and pulled his pisser.

And I know from experience the sad gook Googles himself a bout 50b times a day to see what people are saying about him. So I'm sure he will see this.