Thursday, September 01, 2005

Another False Accusation? Health Groups May Have Wrongly Suggested that Poll was Funded by Tobacco Groups

It appears that several health groups in Wisconsin may have falsely alleged that a recent public opinion survey reported to show that Madison residents oppose smoke-free bars was funded by pro-tobacco groups.

According to an article on the web site, representatives from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and American Lung Association criticized the results of an opposing survey of public opinion regarding smoking in bars among Madison residents, alleging that the poll was paid for by pro-tobacco groups; that poll was conducted by Chamberlain Research Consultants of Madison:

"Doeppers [from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids] and representatives of the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association ripped the Chamberlain survey, calling it biased. The health groups said their poll, done by the Mellman Group of Washington, D.C., was fair. In a conference call, pollster Mark Mellman said his survey results were consistent with other polls done in U.S. cities where smoking bans have been enacted. They also alleged that Chamberlain survey oversampled smokers and was paid for by pro-tobacco organizations, a charge strongly denied by Chamberlain representatives."

In a letter to the editor in yesterday's Madison Capital Times, a spokesperson for Chamberlain Research Consultants stated: "Last Thursday, a coalition of local health organizations issued a press release, in conjunction with their own poll results, accusing Chamberlain Research Consultants of having conducted a slanted, biased poll for unnamed pro-tobacco organizations. We at Chamberlain wish to set the record straight. No outside group paid for the research either directly or indirectly."

The Chamberlain poll results were reported as showing that Madison residents oppose a ban on smoking in bars, while the competing poll funded by the health organizations was reported as showing the opposite.

The Rest of the Story

If it is indeed true that as reported in the Capital Times, the health groups accused the Chamberlain poll of being funded by pro-tobacco organizations, then I think that was an irresponsible and inappropriate accusation.

It seems quite clear that the poll was not funded by any organization, much less a pro-tobacco organization, and it certainly doesn't appear that the health groups had adequate evidence or documentation to substantiate such an accusation.

Even though the ultimate goal of promoting clean indoor air may be a good one, it doesn't justify making false or inadequately documented accusations in order to help achieve that goal.

Now there is always a possibility that the reporter got the story wrong and that the health groups made no such accusation, and I feel compelled to mention that possibility here. However, there seem to be at least two sources of information to suggest that such an accusation was made and it is hard to imagine where else the idea would have come from.

Before being criticized for "defending" Chamberlain Research Consultants or their survey, let me make two things clear:

1. Yes - Chamberlain Research Consultants did apparently receive funding from Philip Morris to conduct a 1998 public opinion survey regarding a proposed smoking ordinance. But that in no way proves or provides evidence that its 2005 survey was similarly funded by Philip Morris or by any other tobacco or "pro-tobacco" organization.

2. No - this post is not about the validity of the survey. It is simply about the ethics of making false or undocumented accusations in support of health goals.

The rest of the story suggests that health organizations in Wisconsin may have made false and inadequately documented allegations to support their campaign for a continuation of a smoke-free bar and restaurant policy in Madison, an action which I think is inappropriate and irresponsible for organizations in public health.


roxxon said...

Just ask the antis.
Anyone who opposes hysterical and untruthful anti-smoking propagana or government imposed smoking bans must be on the pay-roll of
"big tobacco."

Even if it is proven that such statements are completely untrue, the professional, anti-smoking lobby will lie, deny and omit the truth until the bitter end.

Anonymous said...

Any poll about smoking in any venue should include a question asking when they last attended the venue and how often they attend such venues. If an individual never visits a venue their opinion has no merit.

Restaurants, as a venue, do not include fast food establishments. A Restaurant is a place with metal silverware, glasses, waiters and other wait staff who earn tips.

Bill Godshall said...

I think the objectivity of these surveys is a far more important issue than the source of funding or what somebody said about the source of funding.

By analyzing and critiquing just a few words from a press release, your editorial didn't reveal the Rest of the Story.

Michael Siegel said...

I agree completely that the objectivity of these surveys is important and that the source of funding of the studies is just one factor that must be looked at in terms of analyzing the validity of the survey results.

However, I wouldn't downplay a public health organization making a public, false accusation because I think the methods we use to promote public health are as important as the ends we are working for. I guess I just don't see good ends as justifying inappropriate means.

Thus, I think that in this case, the ends being used by the health groups are actually "the rest of the story" that anti-smoking groups don't seem to want to admit, acknowledge, apologize for, and talk about.

Bill Godshall said...

Since pro smoking organizations have funded dozens (and perhaps hundreds) of biased surveys/polls on smoking legislation in the past, its understandable that the health organizations presumed that pro smoking organizations also funded this survey in Madison.

And without the health group's allegation, nobody would be aware of the survey's funding source (presuming the head of the survey firm's letter was truthful, which may or may not be the case).

Anonymous said...

Philip Morris has a long history of hiding behind front groups.

Chamberlain has a history of doing polls paid for by Philip Morris,
polls that deliver results useful to Philip Morris, polls that
hide Philip Morris behind front groups:

Now Chamberlain has done another poll that delivers results
useful to Philip Morris and that claims to have nothing to
do with the tobacco industry.

Conclude whatever you like.

-- Jon

Michael Siegel said...

The reasoning provided by Jon above is really troublesome. "Conclude whatever you like" is really an inappropriate response. We don't conclude whatever we like in public health. We try to evidence before we make a public accusation.

In this case, the claim made was that the survey was paid for by a pro-tobacco group, and that claim turns out to have been false.

Do you really want to publicly defend this action? Even with Chamberlain's history of doing work for Philip Morris, the accusation is still false.

Perhaps most troublesome is the fact that some anti-smoking advocates seem to be so loose with telling the truth, yet at the same time, they attack the tobacco industry incessantly for its lies. I think we better be more careful with our own honesty before we lose all credibility in attacking the tobacco industry for its lies.

Bill Godshall said...

Why are you so certain that the Chamberlain survey in Madison wasn't paid for by a pro smoking organization?

In the past, cigarette industry funded organizations have misled the public about many things, including their source of funding.

For example, the National Smokers Alliance had claimed that it was funded primarily by concerned smokers, but then an investigative news reporter exposed that Philip Morris provided more than 95% of NSA's funding. Shortly afterwards (and immediately after the NSA violated federal electioneering law by making false accusations against John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary to help George W Bush secure the GOP presidential nomination), PM shut down NSA.

Anonymous said...

"Why are you so certain that the Chamberlain survey in Madison
wasn't paid for by a pro smoking organization?"

That's more to the point.

Given the tobacco industry's long and extensive use of front groups,
the burden of proof isn't on the person who suspects a pro-smoking
group is an tobacco industry front; that's an entirely reasonable
suspicion. Time after time after time, city after city, you look
hard at a pro-smoking group, you find the tobacco industry.
At this point the burden of proof is on the person who claims a
pro-smoking group or action is independent of the industry.

Chamberlain is claiming that despite a long and profitable
history of doing PR for the tobacco industry, its latest
action is independent and objective, even though that action
is remarkably similar to actions it got paid for in the past.
Why should we believe that claim?

-- Jon

Michael Siegel said...

I find the assertion that the burden of proof isn't on the person making an accusation of wrongdoing to be quite troubling. Because what it is really saying is that anti-smoking groups can accuse the opposition of anything they want to, even if it is untrue and they have no documentation or evidence to support the accusations and that there is nothing wrong with that.

I reject that.

I think that ethical standards of conduct in public health require that health organizations have evidence to back up accusations that they make, whether they be against individuals or against groups.

Anonymous said...

> evidence to back up accusations that they make

Why should we believe Philip Morris is uninvolved here?

-- Jon

Michael Siegel said...

I've reviewed all of the above documents, but nowhere do I see any documentation that the 2005 Madison smoking survey was paid for by Philip Morris. Until and unless such evidence is available, I simply don't think it's right to claim that Philip Morris paid for the poll.

Cantiloper said...

Speaking of polls and bias and the desire of Antismoking groups to only present the truth...

Let's look at a recent poll conducted by the smoke-banners in Springfield, Illinois and at a statement about it by Kathy Drea, a director of the American Lung Association. Kathy is quoted as saying:

"...sometimes surveys do lead people down a certain path to answer questions a certain way... We wanted to make sure this survey did not do that. "

As Garnet Dawn, the Midwest Regional Director of the Smokers Club pointed out in a letter written to the State Journal Register, "In question Number 8 - Part B, why were only two extreme alternatives made available? 'Smokers have a right to smoke cigarettes, cigars, pipes and other tobacco products in all indoor workplaces, restaurants and other public places.' No reasonable compromise was even offered as an alternative, other than a total ban."

So the Lung Association's idea of a "fair and objective poll" is one in which people are given a choice that sounds like one between a total ban or having smokers smoke in maternity wards, kindergarten classrooms, and movie theaters.

Of course those aren't the choices at all... but the poll wording was quite clearly and deliberately slanted to give the predicted results of about 70% in favor of a ban.

No surprise there. Give me control of the wording, setup, and population pool of a poll and I could probably have over 50% of "Americans" voting for Osama Bin Laden over George Bush.

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

Heather Hagenow said...

As the Director of Communications for Chamberlain Research Consultants in Madison I don't know how many times I can reiterate that the poll we conducted with city of Madison residents (not voters as was the case with the Mellman poll) was conceptualized, designed, and implemented on Chamberlain's dime. In regards to the afore mentioned projects listed on the PM site, these projects were conducted with the Wisconsin Restaurant Association in which PM was an undisclosed third party. And to that end the work we did consisted of consulting on survey development. The sampling, data collection, and analysis was done by an entity other than us.

The real problem as I see it is that people need to take the time to review the sampling plan, the question wording, and study intent before jumping to conclusions or stating that a poll is biased. The accusatory organizations are unfortunately ones which we as a company respect and have donated money to in the past. Had we been given the chance to review our findings side by side in an effort to uncover greater understanding of how people perceive the ban, I think we would have been able to provide a clearer understanding of the ban for the city and its residents. The really interesting part is that in an interview given to the Cap Times, we openly share our interpretation of the results on who the "swing vote" would be should the ban go to a referendum vote.

I understand that in order for anti-smoking organizations to reach their goals, they need to gather information that shows support for their programs and initiatives; and that's great, we are all trying to find ways to help us accomplish our mission and goals. Unfortunately, we've spent quite a lot of time and effort to show that we have no pro-smoking agenda—just one serendipitous survey that was worded differently, that talked to different people, and that was conducted for the sole purpose of keeping our finger on the pulse of the community in which we live.