Friday, January 22, 2010

Missouri GASP Disseminates Results of Tuscany Heart Attack/Smoking Ban Study, Wins $100 Award for Scientific Integrity

As promised in the challenge I issued on January 12, I am today sending a $100 donation to Missouri GASP in recognition of its dissemination of the results of a study which demonstrated no effect of the smoking ban in Tuscany, Italy on heart attacks within the first year of the ban. Missouri GASP reports the results of that negative study here. Previously, GASP Missouri had posted information on studies concluding that there was a large immediate impact of smoking bans on heart attacks. Thus, Missouri GASP has answered the challenge and earned the $100 award.

In my note to Martin Pion, the president of Missouri GASP, I stated the following: "I commend you for being willing to consider the scientific evidence, even if it is “unfavorable” to our agenda. I will highlight your action on my blog and will also make a $100 donation to Missouri GASP. I hope this will set an example for other groups and demonstrate that we can promote anti-smoking policies and retain our scientific integrity at the same time. They are not contradictory to each other. Thanks for taking a leadership role in the movement in terms of scientific integrity."

The Rest of the Story

Unfortunately, Missouri GASP - under the leadership of Martin Pion - represents a very rare and unique exception to the general rule among tobacco control groups, which is: publicize only findings favorable to our position and hide studies that do not support our position. Actually, I have known Martin for some time and always found him to be an individual of the highest character and integrity. He treats opponents of smoking bans with respect, does not automatically accuse them of being funded by Big Tobacco, and is willing to consider and share all scientific data, whether favorable or not. Even in his article on outdoor smoking bans, Martin shared the quote from Gary Nolan (regional director of Citizens Freedom Alliance, which opposes smoking bans) opining that outdoor smoking bans are going too far. So I think Martin has always been an exception to the general rule I've observed in the tobacco control movement.

Other notable exceptions to this rule include the American Council on Science and Health, which is one decidedly anti-smoking group which has taken a balanced and reasonable position on tobacco issues and has been guided by science and not ideology, and Smokefree Pennsylvania, which - under Bill Godshall's leadership - has always been willing to consider the scientific data and which has in fact helped me to inform anti-smoking groups of their inaccurate claims (like me, without much success).

Why aren't there more anti-smoking groups out there like Missouri GASP, ACSH, and Smokefree Pennsylvania? I believe the answer largely has to do with the response that individuals and groups which go against the established dogma and tactics of the movement receive from the rest of the movement. You are essentially viewed as a traitor, accused of being a Big Tobacco front, accused of taking tobacco money, and generally scorned, attacked, and even censored. With that response, one wouldn't expect a lot of anti-smoking groups or individual advocates to break out of the group think mentality of the movement and to be guided by science rather than pure ideology. Even when individuals may personally have views that differ from the organization as a whole, they are hesitant to speak out because it could cost them their job. Very understandable.

The only way to create a movement in which scientific integrity returns is to restore an environment in which groups and advocates can freely share their opinions, as well as the scientific facts, without being subject to personal criticism from others. Right now, that simply does not exist in tobacco control. Believe me, it is a poisonous atmosphere in which any expression of sentiments or even facts that go against the dogma of the movement is heresy, and treated as such.

But it is comforting to know that there are at least a few shining exceptions.

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