Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Wales Study on Smoking Ban and Heart Attacks Takes "Science by Press Release" To a New Level

According to an article in the Daily Post, the smoking ban in Wales has resulted in a steep decline in heart attacks. The announcement of this finding was heralded by ASH Wales, which stated: "Bans on smoking in enclosed public places have been demonstrated to effectively reduce heart attack rates so it is not surprising to see Wales following this positive trend."

According to the article: "New figures this week are expected to reveal how the first full year of the public smoking ban in Wales heralded a steep decline in heart attacks. The findings will be contained in the Chief Medical Officer for Wales’ annual report showing hospital admissions have fallen since the ban came into force."

The specific findings highlighted in the article are as follows: "There was a 12.5% fall in the number of patients admitted to hospital with a heart attack between October and December last year, compared to the same period in 2006, before the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces was introduced in Wales: some NHS trusts have seen the number of heart attacks fall by up to 40% in the same period."

The Rest of the Story

Despite extensive searching, I was unable to find - as of this time - any report, any study, any data, or even any summary of data from the office of the Chief Medical Officer related to changes in heart attacks in Wales associated with the smoking ban. It appears, then, that what was released to the media was not a press release reporting that there was a decline in heart attacks due to the smoking ban, but an announcement that there will be - at some point in the future - a release of a study showing such an effect.

This is even worse than "science by press release" because not only are the authors of the study not sharing the actual study, but they are not even sharing the data or the findings themselves with the public. We just have to take it on faith that there exists a study which contains data that show an effect of the smoking ban on heart attacks. Not only is the public unable to scrutinize the study, it is also unable to scrutinize the data or the findings of the study.

So this is a complete co-optation of the media to spread a message, while avoiding any kind of scientific scrutiny. Even if it turns out later that the data or findings are completely bogus, it will be too late. The conclusion has already been widely disseminated.

Why even bother reporting the science any more about smoking ban and heart attack studies? Why not just report the fact that there will be announcements in the future that studies have been done indicating an effect of smoking bans on heart attacks? Then we could put this whole issue to rest and wouldn't have to worry about actually examining the research.

Anti-smoking groups appear to be getting more and more sly in their apparent desire to avoid public scrutiny of their conclusions. Now, they simply issue announcements that they are going to, at some point in the future, announce the findings of a study showing the effect of smoking bans on heart attacks, and they think that should be enough for us all to accept their conclusions on faith.

When and if the actual study on the effect of the Wales smoking ban is released, The Rest of the Story will cover it and provide an analysis.

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