Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Challenge to Anti-Smoking Groups Highlighted on Hit & Run Blog; So Far, No Takers

On Reason Online's Hit & Run blog, Jacob Sullum has highlighted my challenge to anti-smoking groups to report the two-year follow-up data from Scotland, which show that admissions for acute coronary syndrome in Scotland increased during the second year post-ban, meaning that overall, there has been no decline since the smoking ban went into effect. These results refute the earlier conclusions - widely publicized in the media - that the smoking ban led to a 17% decline in heart attacks.

Sullum writes: "As I noted in connection with smoking bans in Massachusetts, such laws, to the extent that they encourage smokers to quit and deter others from picking up the habit, can be expected to reduce heart disease over the long term, even if secondhand smoke has no effect on the cardiovascular health of bystanders. But the sharp, immediate reductions reported in some jurisdictions with smoking bans (beginning with Helena, Montana, in 2003) are not biologically plausible and are almost certainly due to random variation or pre-existing trends."

"Michael Siegel challenges anti-smoking groups that seized on the NEJM report as evidence of the benefits from smoking bans to acknowledge the more recent data. He cites misleading statements about the Scottish ban from 19 groups and offers a $200 prize to the one that corrects the record first. 'I am not going to lose sleep worrying about my $200,' he says, 'because I am sure that no anti-smoking groups will respond appropriately.'"

The Rest of the Story

So far, not a single anti-smoking group has publicized - or even acknowledged - the findings from Scotland. To me, this shows that the anti-smoking movement is not really interested in the scientific truth. What they are interested is finding and publicizing data that are favorable to the cause. The truth is not an issue. The only issue is selectively finding data that will support the agenda, even if those conclusions turn out to be wrong.

No corrections or apologies are necessary, you see, because the truth isn't what matters. It's all about publicizing favorable findings and suppressing findings that are unfavorable.

In other words, the movement is no longer about science. It is about propaganda.

This is very disappointing to me because it didn't used to be like this. The difference? The tobacco industry is no longer active in monitoring and responding to the movement's pronouncements. That used to keep the movement somewhat honest, because practitioners knew that anything they said would be challenged by the tobacco industry and they had to have the solid scientific basis to back up their claims. Now, the industry has relinquished that role and practitioners no longer need to back up or defend their claims. The truth just doesn't matter any longer.

Ironically, while one might question the industry's decision to relinquish its watchdog role, it turns out that by letting the groups spin out of control, they have lost their scientific integrity and reputation and have done more damage to themselves and the movement than the industry could have done through publicly challenging the communications. Plus, this is happening without the industry even having to lift up a finger. They can just sit back quietly and enjoy watching the movement destroy its own credibility.

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