Peer review: Bad science justifies second-hand smoking bans?

From Jacob Grier at Slate:

We Used Terrible Science to Justify Smoking Bans

For three anti-smoking advocates—local physicians Richard Sargent and Robert Shepard, and activist and researcher Stanton Glantz from the University of California at San Francisco—this sudden drop in heart attacks was proof that smoking bans usher in extraordinary benefits for public health. “This striking finding suggests that protecting people from the toxins in secondhand smoke not only makes life more pleasant; it immediately starts saving lives,” said Glantz in a press release sent out by UCSF.

Newspapers ran with the story, credulously assuming that the correlation had been truly caused by the smoking ban. “The bottom line of Helena’s plummeting, then soaring, heart attack rate is painfully obvious,” warned an op-ed in the New York Times. “Secondhand smoke kills.” The BBC projected that “[banning] smoking in public places could prevent hundreds of deaths from heart disease.” Wire services carried the result around the globe, and even the conservative Wall Street Journal cited the result as an important finding.

When the Helena study and its heirs were originally published, a few scientists noted that the results were wildly implausible and the methodologies deeply flawed. So did a handful of journalists, including Jacob Sullum writing for Reason (to which I am also a contributor) and Christopher Snowdon in England. Yet their criticism was generally ignored. Studies reporting miraculous declines in heart attacks made global headlines; when better studies came along contradicting those results, they barely registered a blip in the media. …

There were good reasons from the beginning to doubt that smoking bans could really deliver the promised results, but anti-smoking advocacy groups eagerly embraced alarmism to shape public perception. Today’s tobacco control movement is guided by ideology as much as it is by science, prone to hyping politically convenient studies regardless of their merit and ostracizing detractors.

This has important implications for journalism. More.

Yes, the winds were favourable for pom pom-waving, unfortunately.

Of course, if science communicators keep getting away with it, they will keep doing it. Science really can be high tech voodoo using numbers. And then it must be kept in place by fear, not trust.

On a personal note: I found the anti-second hand smoke campaign rolled out across Canada some years ago disturbing. One government-sponsored ad featured women who were dying of cancer, whose husbands had smoked. The clear implication was that the wife got cancer (implication terminal) because the husband smoked.

The problem is, we don’t usually know that. Smoking greatly increases a person’s chance of lung cancer but not all lung cancers are caused by smoking. And second-hand smoke damage necessarily depends on many factors, including how much time a person spends involuntarily inhaling how much smoke.

I have never smoked, disapprove of the practice for many reasons, and support smoking bans in public places, as well as crackdowns on sales to minors and smuggling.

But I am concerned about using science to pretend we know more than we do, using voodoo numbers. That could lead to later family problems: = Dad killed Mom because he smoked. Science PROVES it! = We hate Dad. = [that’s just great when Dad is old and sick and needs family support]

Please. The world is full of problems for which we have a much clearer trail of cause and effect. – O’Leary for News

See also: The skinny on salt, veggie oil,, skim milk, whole foods. Nutrition science is nearly baseless but it rules.
Sitting does not increase overall mortality risk.

  • FactsWillOut

    “I have never smoked, disapprove of the practice for many reasons, and support smoking bans in public places, as well as crackdowns on sales to minors and smuggling.”

    So, banning smoking as I walk down the sidewalk is OK with you? Or while I wait for a bus?
    Banning smoking in restaurants, bars, variety stores, laundromats, malls and so on is OK with you?

    • deplorabledave

      Does the owner of any business premises have the right to ban smoking in said premises?

      • FactsWillOut

        Yes.
        But the state does not.

        • deplorabledave

          I smoked for years, tried to quit many times till it finally took. I hate the stench of cigarette smoke and avoid it wherever I encounter it be that in a confined space or walking in the great outdoors.

          • FactsWillOut

            So what?
            Does that give you the right to call in state goons to “protect” you from smells that you don’t like?
            Before the smoking bans, businesses of the sorts I mentioned all had ashtrays around, as a measure of courtesy to the customers.

          • dance…dancetotheradio

            I figured out how old the VIA train cars were from the steel inserts that replaced the ashtrays in the armrests.

          • dance…dancetotheradio

            You know the most rabid religious adherents are converts.

  • FactsWillOut

    Crackdowns on smuggling?
    So I guess a 500% – 700% tax on tobacco is OK with you, too? That’s why there’s so much smuggling. I guess you also think that the government is entitled to all that money, because “the children”, rather than the actual producers who make the fucking product?

    You seem to me to be part of the problem.

    • dance…dancetotheradio

      Governments don’t understand the Laffer curve.

  • FactsWillOut

    When I was a kid, I could go to the store for my parents to buy them a pack of smokes.
    In France, when I was 9, I could go and buy a bottle of wine.
    You are just another authoritarian who likes to ban behaviors you don’t approve of.

  • Mannie

    There’s another group pushing for the relaxation of smoking bans; the pot community. They want to be able to smoke pot anywhere.

    Fot all that, I always thought the hysteria about second hand smoke was bullshit.

    • Alain

      I don’t recall how many years ago, but it was just when all the smoking bans started, reading a report from the World Health Organisation. They had done extensive research and could find no harmful effects from “second-hand smoke”. This was ignored by all the MSM along with every busybody and the government. It is one thing to find the smell offensive, but it is totally different to make the false claim of it killing people. Still this all boils down once more to the loss of freedom with far too many not being able to grasp the fact. A private business should have the right to decide to allow or to ban smoking in the establishment not the government. The real decision maker will be the free market place. Even though who do not smoke or even detest smoking should be able to understand that.

      • FactsWillOut

        Agreed.
        My view is that the state enacted the ban for 2 reasons:
        1. To see if they could get away with it.
        2. To put us in our place.

        Point number 2 is especially important here, as not only did it remove the freedom of business owners and their customers, but it also forced business owners into servitude by forcing them to enforce these laws, rather than having law enforcement do so.

        • Alain

          The majority of citizens have blindly allowed the state to remove their most basic freedoms, little by little. The smoking issue is just one example. It has been a long and slow (although it is really speeding up now) process of creeping totalitarianism.

          • dance…dancetotheradio

            The smoking issue was the canary in the coal mine.
            If they can regulate your right to smoke then they can also regulate your right to anything.
            It’s especially pronounced in countries with socialized medicine.

        • dance…dancetotheradio

          Sidebar:
          The liability laws of serving alcohol were also over reach.
          A stupid kid gets too drunk in a South Winnipeg bar on twenty five cent draft night and decides to swim across the river and suddenly we all have to pay a minimum price for our drinks.
          As well, this made all of us in the hospitality industry liable in the extreme for over serving.

      • terrence22

        Yes, I read about the WHO studies, too; and I looked into them. The studies spanned 50 years and included several thousand subjects. Most of the subjects had stay-at-home moms; both parents were chain-smokers; almost all of the families had two or more preschool kids. These kids were tracked for 50 YEARS; the results were conclusive – very few, if any of these kids had lung problems of ANY sort; many of them did not become smokers; overall, these kids had BETTER health than kids from non-smoking parents (but it was not a “statistically significant difference”.

        But “second-hand smoke” is EVIL; and the do-gooders are SAVING THE PLANET, doing it for the children.

    • dance…dancetotheradio

      It’s cognitive dissonance.

  • Readers seem to misunderstand. The focus here should be on the dodgy science underlying claims about second hand smoke. I state my own view to avoid the usual claims of conflict of interest. Please focus on the false science, not my opinions, thanks.

    • FactsWillOut

      1. I’ve known for some time that the science is dodgy at best.
      2. The fact that you support the very policies that the dodgy science was used as a pretext to enact shows that you don’t really care about the science at all. You support the policies with or without any scientific basis.

      Given point number (2), how can you disagree with any others who enact policy with no scientific basis without being a hypocrite? Why should anyone care what you say about science when you have made it clear that you don’t care about it when it comes to enacting policy?

    • Alain

      I understand that. I have responded to the policy of bans and the fake science in general.

    • dance…dancetotheradio

      The dodgy science of second hand smoke refined my radar for many other issues.

  • kkruger71

    I always said that at the time; even if the studies were accurate, the interpretation was faulty. I don’t remember the number now, but second hand was said to be 4 or 8 or whatever times worse for you than what the smoker gets, but my argument they never presented was what was the amount of second hand smoke people were actually ingesting? Is a person working at a restaurant ingesting less in a week than a smoker takes in in a single puff? The comparison was meaningless without all the relevant facts and just rang like a hollow scare tactic to me.
    And even with all that put aside, I was against the government over-regulating businesses. I was fine when McDonalds chose to ban smoking even though I ate there all the time, I just took my business elsewhere. My thought was always to let the market decide. if a business wanted to cater to non-smokers I had no issue with it; they have the right to chose what happens on their premises, I have the right to chose whether to go there or not.

    • Drunk_by_Noon

      That was the part that the anti-smokers could never explain.
      They just lied.

      • dance…dancetotheradio

        And that is why I support the NRA.
        The smokers let the laws push them outside and then fifty feet away and then completely off the grounds.
        The NRA says fuck you this is my constitutional right and we’re not giving you one goddamned inch.
        Smokers are the German Jews of modern times.
        NRA members are the Americans.

        • kkruger71

          I can assume you’ve heard Carolla comparing the two?

          • dance…dancetotheradio

            Yes.

  • Drunk_by_Noon

    I have been telling everyone that would listen that the second hand smoking scare of the late 1990’s was nothing less than a moral panic ginned up by the tobacco Prohibitionist.
    All the claims of poor waitresses dying of second hand smoke were just lies.
    We see their tactics used by the gun Prohibitionist, the global warming crowd, and the soda tax proponents.
    Public health “Science” in its present form over the last 50-years is not trustworthy.

    • Alain

      I think all the prohibitionists whatever their objective use the same tactics, especially since they were so successful with tobacco. It also allowed them to make a bundle by shaking down the tobacco companies, which should never have been allowed.

      • dance…dancetotheradio

        The governments shook down the tobacco companies.
        As a matter of fact, the governments gave the tobacco companies indemnity from prosecution in exchange for money.
        Do you know why you never hear of people suing tobacco companies anymore?
        Because it is no longer legal to do so.

        • Alain

          My point is that they should not be allowed to sue the tobacco companies regardless, any more than an alcoholic should be able to sue alcohol producers. Of course this kind of stuff is heaven on earth for parasite lawyers, even suing because your coffee or soup was hot.

    • dance…dancetotheradio

      I told all the people who supported the smoking bans that there was nothing then that could stop the government from coming after them next.
      Hey, fat boy, you like that cheeseburger?
      They are going to tax that, too, one day.

      • Alain

        Those same people still don’t get it I wager.

  • Gary

    That ad is post WW2 because the label was Green until 1942. After Pearl Harbour was attack the Government took over the Auto/aircraft factories and Paint Companies for the war effort .
    Green paint was rare while red was abound to paint barns and for Lucky Strike to print their packages.

    But , how odd that the Government sees pot smoking as okay but 2nd hand smoke is dangerous except when it’s pot fumes .

    • dance…dancetotheradio

      Interesting about the paint thing.

      • Gary

        In the early 1960’s , Green paint must have been abound and cheap Post-war because my working class area pretty well had Green for most Porches and Eaves troughs systems.
        btw
        Just over 115 years ago there was the germ-Scare over the Bubonic plague in San Francisco which people thought was over after the 1890 crisis .
        This caused a new panic where Bathrooms and Kitchens when to White Porcelain that expose dirty areas to keep clean . Hospitals used White for Bed sheets and most garb .
        It wasn’t until about the late 1950’s where bathrooms and Kitchen appliances saw new colours .

        ** Many Hospital O.R.’s switched to Green coverings
        ( sometimes blue) which reduces the gore of the blood splat s because the Red blood on Green creates a dark gray .
        Torture rooms had Green paint up to about the 4 foot mark to the blood . This may be why the TV shows have the Comics wait in the Green-room which is almost torture.

        • dance…dancetotheradio

          Maybe the green paint was army surplus.
          Do they even have army surplus stores anymore?
          There were two in Winnipeg when I was a kid and now they are gone.