Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No e-cigs, so it's back to smoking

Earlier this month, in a post titled “Who stole my e-cig”, I mentioned that I had tracked an electronic cigarette I'd ordered to a customs office in Mississauga. It had apparently arrived there on November 4, 2009. Just before Christmas, over six weeks after the package arrived at customs, I received official notification from Health Canada (Health Protection Branch) advising me that the product contained “prescription drugs” and they were refusing entry.

“The above product(s) contain Schedule F drugs. The importation of prescription drugs is restricted to persons designated under Section C.01.045 of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. In the opinion of the undersigned, the sale of this product in Canada would constitute a violation of Section(s) C.01.045.”

Section C.01.045 of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations states quite clearly: “Importations of Schedule F drugs by Canadian residents are not permitted by mail or courier.”

The “Report of Examination for Customs Entry” identifies the product as an e-cigarette, with a quantity listed of 10 cartridges. Nowhere in the documentation I received, however, is the “prescription” drug identified, although we can safely assume it was nicotine. OK, maybe we shouldn't assume anything for fear of making an ASS out of U and ME. After all, I once assumed I could rely on Health Canada for accurate, science-based information.

What a crock of shit that turned out to be, at least as far as smoking and secondhand smoke is concerned.

But, the last time I looked, the pharmacy I deal with was selling at least some nicotine products “over-the-counter”, without the need for a prescription; nicotine gum, lozenges and the ever-popular patch, for example.

Schedule “F” of the Food and Drugs Act tells us that nicotine is on the list of prohibited drugs . . . unless it's in an acceptable form and dosage:
“Nicotine and its salts, [are prohibited] for human use, except
(a) in natural substances;
(b) in the form of a chewing gum containing 4 mg or less of nicotine per dosage unit;
(c) in the form of a transdermal patch with a delivery rate of 22 mg or less of nicotine per day;
(d) in a form to be administered orally by means of an inhalation device delivering 4 mg or less of nicotine per dosage unit; or
(e) in the form of a lozenge containing 4 mg or less of nicotine per dosage unit”

Surprise. Surprise. The acceptable forms of nicotine are those produced by the major drug companies.

The form letter explaining the refusal of entry suggests that if I have a prescription from a doctor, the drug (nicotine) is apparently acceptable, but . . . the prescription must be filled in Canada. “It is recommended that you contact your doctor to obtain a prescription for this medication which must be filled in Canada.”

But, would any doctor cut a prescription for nicotine to be administered via an electronic cigarette? Actually, I believe they would. Several prominent public health authorities have recently expressed support for the electronic cigarette as a means of harm reduction for smokers unable (or unwilling) to quit.

Professor Carl Phillips is one of a number of experts who have come out in favour of the device. Phillips, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, estimates that electronic cigarettes carry a risk that "is probably in the order of 99 percent less harmful than smoking." He adds: "I think there's absolutely no doubt that it is a safer alternative to regular cigarettes."

Other experts who have spoken out in favour of the electronic cigarette include Dr Joel Nitzkin, Chair of the Tobacco Control Task Force for the American Association of Public Health Physicians, Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University School of Public Health, and David Sweanor, a former advisor on tobacco control to the WHO.

And, during a visit with my cardiologist just before Christmas, I was told:. “I don't know that much about the electronic cigarette, but if it will get you off the (unprofessional expletive deleted) cigarettes, it's OK with me.”

Of course, I suspect he may have had a similar reaction if I'd told him I was going to dry and cure the bullshit spread by the anti-smoker cult and use it as a tobacco substitute.

But, it must be pointed out, that, even with a prescription, I still couldn't get my nicotine in Canada. None of the major drug companies in Canada provide medicinal nicotine in a format consistent with the particular delivery system with which I chose to experiment, an electronic cigarette. The drug companies, in fact, are in direct competition with the manufacturers of the electronic cigarette. Their nicotine replacement products (gum, lozenges, inhalors, etc) bring in billions in revenue annually.

So, it's not surprising that their industry allies in the anti-smoker brigade lobby against the new nicotine delivery system. What's good for big pharma is good for the anti-smoker zealots.

Health Canada has a legitimate role to play in protecting the public from potentially harmful products. The electronic cigarette should be regulated to resolve quality control issues and protect consumers. But the outright prohibition of electronic cigarettes deprives the consumer of choice and protects no one but the big pharmaceutical companies and their monopoly on alternative nicotine delivery systems.

And, if it's simply the nicotine cartridges to which Health Canada objects, why are they still holding my two spare batteries, the battery chargers and carrying case. Why not simply remove the objectionable material and send me the rest of the shipment?

I will be writing a few letters to various government agencies and ministers of the crown; to voice my disapproval. I won't hold my breath waiting for any kind of response.

That might prove a damn sight more hazardous to my health than the e-cig.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Anti-smoker groups target Santa Claus

Anti-smoker groups are demanding that President Barack Obama deny Santa Claus access to US airspace this Christmas unless Santa's Toyland immediately signs on to the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and Santa quits smoking.

A spokesman for the Alliance to Stomp on Smokers (ASS) claims Santa is a smoker, pointing to the poem by Clement Moore, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas", which clearly states:

“The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.”

The spokesman explained that, as a smoker, Santa could become a corrupting influence on young children if he is allowed to continue his disgusting, despicable habit. “Seeing Santa as a smoker could lure millions of kids to take up the habit, turning them into hopeless, nicotine addicted perverts”, said the spokesman.
“And, need I mention the serious health hazards associated with third hand smoke posed to kids in homes where Santa decides to take a smoke break.”

The spokesman is pointing to candid pictures of Santa smoking his pipe that have recently flooded the internet on sites such as You Tube. “Kids see these things and think it's cool to smoke.” he said.

Another anti-smoking group sees it as a tobacco company ploy meant to entice kids to take up the habit. They have initiated a campaign to have parents put out a supply of nicorette gum or lozenges in place of the more traditional milk and cookies.
“We must protect the children from the evil influence of this tobacco company stooge.”

Confronted by reporters at the White House, President Obama bummed a cigarette, had the Secret Service cordon off a nearby washroom and retired “to give the matter some thought.” Said Obama, “Jeez, don't you guys smoke anything but these bloody menthols.”

A State Department spokesman said it was unlikely there would be time to take the matter before congress prior to Christmas, but promised to take the matter up in the new year.

Merry Christmas, Everybody

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Godber Blueprint: the anti-smoker manifesto

Back in 2008, I posted an entry on a comment made by Sir George Godber to a UN sponsored conference. I'd found the reference in a written copy of Godber's address on a tobacco documents web site. But, I neglected to follow up on the document.

The 3rd World Conference on Smoking and Health (“The Worldwide Campaign Against Smoking”) was held in New York from June 2 June 5, 1975.

Sir George noted that the means by which smokers could be encouraged to quit, was to : “foster an atmosphere where it was perceived that active smokers would injure those around them, especially their family and any infants or young children who would be exposed involuntarily” to secondhand smoke.

In other words, the perception of harm to others would have a far greater impact on convincing smokers to give up the habit than merely harping on the long term health risks to smokers themselves. It would also make it easier to convince the public that discrimination against smokers was justified, not just for their own good, but to protect the health of those around them.

Among the recommendations coming out of the conference was: “That it be recognized that unrestricted tobacco smoking in closed areas create a health hazard for millions of persons with a wide variety of medical susceptibilities and conditions and causes physical irritation and discomfort to the majority of nonsmokers . . . “

But while Godber and associates were prepared to recognize secondhand smoke as a health hazard, there was no scientific evidence to support that contention. This was made clear by another of the recommendations suggesting that: “Research [be conducted] to find out if [secondhand] smoke harms nonsmokers.”

In fact, it would be years before Japanese epidemiologist Takeshi Hirayama released his first study in 1981 associating a higher risk of lung cancer among non-smoking women married to smoking men than non-smoking women married to non-smoking men. Hirayama is generally credited with publishing the first study linking SHS to lung cancer.

But, despite the lack of evidence, the anti-smoker zealots declared secondhand smoke a health hazard in 1975 . . . six years before the Hirayama study. And, Hirayama's study proved controversial, as do most studies on the subject.

The anti-smoker zealots were already laying the groundwork to create the perception that secondhand smoke was a health hazard. And, true to the prognostications of Sir George Godber, the perception has replaced the reality. The public, misled by the propaganda, now accept secondhand smoke as a deadly substance from which non-smokers need protection.

Author Chritopher Snowdon explored the epidemiological evidence in an appendix to his book, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist.. “Of the epidemiological papers that studied the effect of secondhand smoke on nonsmoking wives, 9 found a statistically significant positive association, 3 found a statistically significant negative association and the remaining 52 found no statistically significant association either way.”

If you truly want to understand the evidence, how these studies are conducted and what they really mean, you'll find Snowdon's paper an excellent tutorial. It's available from his website in PDF format.

One of the guiding principles of science is that an experiment or study must be reproducible. In simple terms, other scientists should be able to conduct the same experiment or study and obtain the same results. In the case of secondhand smoke, this is clearly not the case. Only 9 of the 64 studies (roughly 1 in 7) suggested a positive association between secondhand smoke and lung cancer or heart disease.

Yet, the general public remains pitifully unaware of this lack of consistency in the scientific evidence.

This is not really surprising, since the public relies primarily on the press for their information. And, the press has been grossly negligent in their duty to inform the public, merely regurgitating whatever propaganda they're fed by the anti-smoker zealots. The result is a badly misinformed populace easily misled by the bullshit and bafflegab of the anti-smoker cult.

From the 3rd World Conference on Smoking and Health (and subsequent conferences) came the public declaration of principles, policies, and plans of the anti-smoker brigade; their manifesto. It has been institurionalized in the WHO (World Health Organization) treaty called "The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control".

Vincent-Riccardo (Rick) Di Pierri, PhD, author of “Rampant Antismoking Signifies Grave Danger: Materialism Out of Control” has an excellent synopsis of what he calls “The Godber Blueprint” on his website. It contains excerpts from documents related to the conference and an excellent commentary on the subject.

Note: A PDF version of the Rampant Antismoking book is available free on Rick's site.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ottawa named as defendant in BC tobacco lawsuit

In an October post, I pointed out the blatant hypocrisy of a lawsuit against Canada's tobacco companies launched by the Ontario government. I noted that the tobacco companies had been vilified for decades for putting profit before health, while government profiteering (in the form of tobacco taxation) was routinely ignored.

British Columbia was the first province to launch legal action against the tobacco companies. Their lawsuit was filed in 2001 to recover billions of dollars allegedly spent by the health-care system for treating “smoking-related disease”.

Since the BC lawsuit was filed, six other provinces, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, have jumped aboard the bandwagon and have passed, or are in the process of passing, legislation that will allow similar legal action in their respective jurisdictions.

In March 2008, the tobacco companies petitioned the British Columbia Supreme Court to add Ottawa as a third party defendant arguing that the federal government should also be held liable “as senior partners” of the tobacco industry by keeping it legal and collecting tax revenue from it.

And, it's really hard to argue with their logic.

Both senior levels of government have been aware of the alleged health hazards of smoking for decades. The federal government could have legislated against the manufacture and distribution of tobacco at any time. Instead, they chose the course of action recommended by anti-smoker zealots: extortionist levels of taxation and draconian smoking bans. They chose to protect the billions of dollars they and their provincial counterparts collect annually from the sale of tobacco products.

Initial efforts to have Ottawa named as a third party defendant in the lawsuit were dismissed in court. But early in December, the British Columbia Court of Appeal reversed that decision, at least in part. Ottawa may now be held liable when the case goes to trial.

The latest ruling by the BC Court of Appeal will likely impact lawsuits pending in other provinces, setting precedent for naming the federal government as a third party defendant in those cases.

The ruling will also affect a class action lawsuit, filed in BC against Imperial Tobacco, which alleges consumers were misled into believing that cigarettes labeled "mild" or "light" were safer to smoke than regular cigarettes. Imperial Tobacco contends that Ottawa initiated and promoted the development and sale of low tar tobacco products.

This is also a reasonable claim. Starting sometime back in the sixties, the anti-smoker crowd (including the federal government) was indeed calling for the tobacco industry to reduce the tar and nicotine content in cigarettes. The tobacco companies voluntarily accepted those proposals, reduced tar and nicotine and added labels to their packaging indicating the levels of various components.

Naming the federal government as a third party defendant will complicate the proceeding in BC and subsequent lawsuits in other jurisdictions. If tobacco is the health hazard it's made out to be, both the federal and provincial governments are duplicitous in its continued sale and distribution And, they must also be prepared to accept a significant portion of health care costs.

Tobacco control strategies (graphic warnings on cigarette packages, for example) employed by government indicate that they were aware of the potential health hazards of smoking. If the tobacco companies can be held accountable for marketing a potentially hazardous product, the federal government should be held accountable for allowing it to continue long after they became aware of the possible dangers.

In addition, during the last two decades, government has extorted tobacco taxes from smokers that, annually, far exceed the profits of all three major tobacco companies combined. They are as guilty of exploiting tobacco consumers as the tobacco companies.

The British Columbia lawsuit, claiming unspecified damages, is not likely to be settled any time soon. Trial is not expected to begin until 2011. And, it is likely to be a lengthy trial, costing many millions of dollars. And, whatever the outcome of the trial, there will be the inevitable appeal.

Hopefully, I'll live long enough to see the outcome.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Welsh smoking ban leads to more heart attacks

Those anti-smoker brigands are a fine bunch, aren't they? One lies and the others swear to it.

Over the past year or so, there have been a number of “scientific studies” concluding that smoking bans reduce heart attacks. The main stream news media are quick to pounce on such studies, publishing the exaggerated claims as fact, without verifying the integrity of the information.

Of course, the same media is reluctant to publish any correction or retraction when the studies are found to lack scientific credibility. And, whether it's an inability to admit their own incompetence, or whether they merely wish to hide their complicity in the fraud being perpetrated by the anti-smoker zealots, the result is the same. A badly misinformed public.

Take, for example, a December 7, 2009 a article in the Daily Post in Wales. The article, written by Tom Bodden declared: “Smoking ban ‘sees fall in heart attacks’ in Wales”. The opening statement claimed that: “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."

But, the only thing “new” about the claim was the spin.

In June, 2008 Mr. Bodden published an article in the Daily Post proclaiming: “Fewer heart attacks in wake of smoking ban”. The June article relied on cherry-picked data to claim an immediate positive impact of smoking bans on public health; a reduction in heart attacks. The subterfuge was clearly demonstrated by Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University School of Public Health, in an August, 2008 blog entry.

In his latest article, Bodden sought to resurrect the questionable claims of his original story using the latest report from the Chief Medical Officer for Wales.

Author Christopher Snowdon (Velvet Glove, Iron Fist) picked up on the story and commented on his blog: “I will be intrigued if the Chief Medical Officer does make such a claim, because it is completely untrue. Not only is it untrue, it has become even less true - if such a thing is possible - since I last wrote about it.” (Snowdon analyzed the original data last year and found it lacking in credibility, as did Dr. Siegel.)

It's said that all propaganda contains an element of truth. And, the article by Bodden is no exception. Apparently, the data from Wales does reflect a decline in heart attacks in the year following implementation of their smoking ban. But, the devil is in the details.

And, Bodden, by omitting several pertinent details, turns his article into a propaganda piece; bullshit and bafflegab at its finest.

For example, he fails to mention that for two years prior to the ban, the rate of heart attacks had been declining at a similar pace as the year following the ban. This would indicate that the smoking ban had nothing to do with the decline in heart attacks. It was simply a result of a trend which had been ongoing.

And, Bodden also neglected to mention that, in the second year following the ban, heart attacks went up. So, the decline in heart attacks was not sustained and could not be attributed to the smoking ban any more than the subsequent increase in heart attacks could be attributed to the smoking ban.

Even the Chief Medical Officer contributed to the deception by ignoring the increase in the second year following the smoking ban. His report states that: “there is already some evidence that the ban is having a beneficial effect on health. Hospital admissions for heart attacks were reduced in 2008 and although this decline cannot be wholly attributed to the smoking ban, some studies suggest that at least some of the reduction is due to the legislation.”

No evidence is provided in the report to substantiate that claim.

But, the propaganda effort served its purpose. The public was left with the mistaken perception that smoking bans could reduce heart attacks and that the effect was both dramatic and immediate.

And, apparently, the politicians were also taken in. On Dec 7, Health Minister Edwina Hart announced new funding of more than £650,000 (over a million dollars) for smoking prevention.

Said Ms. Hart: "The Chief Medical Officer's annual report to be published later this week will show that hospital admissions for heart attacks were reduced last year. My announcement today builds on this good news and aims to prevent children from taking up smoking in the first place.”

ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Wales also welcomed the good news. Said chief executive Tanya Buchanan: “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.”

But then, ASH Wales stands to benefit handsomely from the new government funding. They'll get £143,000 a year over the next three years to enable the charity to continue raising awareness of the effects of tobacco and smoking and a further £30,000 a year to fund No Smoking Day activities and campaigns across Wales.

I guess none of them were aware that there was more recent data, publicly available, showing an increase in heart attack during the second year of the Welsh smoking ban. Or maybe they merely wanted to hide the increase in the same way climate scientists wanted to “hide the decline”.

You just can't trust anyone these days.

Additional reading:
Dr: Michael Siegels latest blog entry
The Chief Medical Officers of Wales report

Monday, December 7, 2009

Who stole my e-cig?

In an October 7 blog, I ranted about anti-smoker efforts to deprive smokers, wanting to quit or cut back, of access to the electronic cigarette. I noted that, since I had written several articles on the new device, it was time to give it a real test.

Health Canada has already banned the e-cig on the basis that the product hasn't been fully tested for safety (in Canada, at least). And, I had heard that Canada Customs was intercepting shipments of the device which originated outside the country.

But, despite the potential for losing my investment, I ordered two electronic cigarettes: one from a US supplier and the other (same model) direct from China. They were cheapie models, to be sure, but I figured they'd be good enough to conduct a decent evaluation. (You've gotta give me a break here people, I'm an old age pensioner on a fixed income.)

And, as I noted at the time, whether they were stopped at the border or not, I'd wind up with the material for a blog.

The one I ordered from the US, a supplier in upstate New York, arrived within ten days, making its way through customs with no problem. And, I must say I was pleasantly surprised.

After receiving my new e-cig, I fully charged the battery, inserted a cartridge and gave it a trial run. It performed much better than my expectations. It didn't have the full tobacco flavour I've come to expect from the real thing, but the taste was something to which I could become accustomed. I honestly didn't like the taste of scotch when I first tried it many (many) years ago.

In truth, the e-cig provided the whole smoking ritual in a satisfactory manner; the hand to mouth routine, the little puff of (make believe) smoke when I took a drag, etc. All in all, a satisfactory simulation of actually smoking a cigarette. And, by the time I had exhausted my supply of cartridges (roughly a week), I had cut my cigarette consumption by half.

Part of the reason for this was my habit of lighting up while working on my computer or working on a piece of music. Usually, after a few drags, the cigarette would be placed in the ashtray where it would burn away to nothing before I could get another drag. Wasteful. The alternative was to stop what I was doing and smoke the cigarette in it's entirety, whether I really wanted to or not. Throwing away half a fag is also wasteful.

With the e-cig, after a few drags, I could simply lay it down, or drop it into my shirt pocket, thus reducing waste and cigarette consumption.

I can see why many smokers might turn to “vaping” to help them quit or at least cut back on their smoking. And, it is possible to use it to beat some smoking bans.

But, it does have its drawbacks.

To some smokers (myself included), cost will be an issue. Cartridges for the electronic cigarette may be less expensive than store bought, highly taxed cigarettes, but they are two to three times the cost of cigarettes purchased from, er . . . unapproved alternative sources.

The second drawback is availability. In Canada, the e-cig is available only from mail order sources. So, if you run out of cartridges and you're in the throes of a nicotine fit, you'll have to revert to the real thing and make a run to the local corner store. That's bad news if your intention is to quit.

The Health Canada prohibition on the electronic cigarette, as well as similar action by the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration), is the result of objections from anti-smoker groups. They are opposed to the e-cig, not because it has proven to be hazardous, but because it looks like you're smoking. And, I suspect there's a desire to protect the profits of their partners in the pharmaceutical industry. If the electronic cigarette were to catch on, the drug companies lose their monopoly on nicotine replacement products, nicotine gum and lozenges.

And, government bodies have been quick to jump on the ban-it-bandwagon, mostly because no-one has been able to work out how to levy taxes.

And, if you're wondering what happened to the second e-cig and extra cartridges I ordered, I've tracked it to a Canada Customs office in Mississauga, Ontario. It's been sitting there for the past month.

It's too bad. Those things actually have potential for smokers wanting to cut back or quit.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Climategate: objective science or fraud?

There was an Interesting article (Nov 26) by Lorrie Goldstein in the Toronto Sun on Climategate. He opined that: “Big Government, Big Business and Big Green don't give a shit about "the science”, before concluding, “They never have."

Said Goldstein: “What "climategate" suggests is many of the world's leading climate scientists didn't either. Apparently they stifled their own doubts about recent global cooling not explained by their computer models, manipulated data, plotted ways to avoid releasing it under freedom of information laws and attacked fellow scientists and scientific journals for publishing even peer-reviewed literature of which they did not approve. “

Goldstein also had some criticism for the press: “Now they and their media shills -- who sneered that all who questioned their phony "consensus" were despicable "deniers," the moral equivalent of those who deny the Holocaust -- are the ones in denial about the enormity of the scandal enveloping them.”

What struck me was the similarity between Goldstein’s appraisal of global warming and the science used to promote it, and my own evaluation of the anti-smoking cartel comprised of government, the drug companies and the anti-smoker industry (also known as tobacco control and/or public health).

For example, earlier this year, anti-smoker activists published an article in the European Journal of Public Health accusing those who do not accept the causal relationship between secondhand smoke and lung cancer/heart disease of being “denialists”. It equated those guilty of such scientific heresy to those who deny the Holocaust.

Authors publishing studies which are not in complete harmony with anti-smoker consensus are often subjected to attacks designed to discredit them on a personal basis, rather than an honest evaluation of the science they produce. Disagreeing with the “consensus” makes them tobacco company “lackeys” and their science suspect.

And, like Climategate, there is evidence the science surrounding secondhand smoke has also been manipulated; the EPA study from 1992 being a blatant example.

Another Toronto Sun columnist, Michael Coren, wrote in relation to Climategate: “What is extraordinary is how few other columns and articles have appeared in the press and how little attention this story is receiving on television and radio.”

The same comment could have been made about the complacency (complicity) of the press in parroting the claims of anti-smoker extremists who insist that: “The debate is over, secondhand smoke kills.”

It's become a matter of routine for the media to refer to anti-smoker claims as fact, with no effort made to verify the integrity of those claims. Earlier this year, the press hyped claims of a new-found threat called third hand smoke. The “scientific study” turned out to be a telephone survey soliciting public opinion.

Studies claiming that smoking bans prevent heart attacks are given widespread coverage. But, in many instances, the studies have not been peer reviewed or published. In some cases, the studies haven't even been completed (some never will be). Criticism of these studies is ignored, regardless of the credentials of those proffering a contrary viewpoint.

But, the media is apparently satisfied to accept the conclusions of such studies without question. As far as secondhand smoke is concerned, investigative journalism is dead. If journalists would do a little research, they would find that the debate on SHS as a health hazard is far from over, except in the mainstream media.

Whether the issue is global warming or secondhand smoke, the public has a right to be fully informed of the facts; all the facts, not just those which support a particular or popular position.

Lorrie Goldstein closed his column with the line: “What about saving the planet, you ask? This was never about saving the planet. This is about money and power. Your money. Their power.” Uh-huh.

The parallels between Climategate and the hoax of secondhand smoke are unmistakeable.

Outside influences, politics, industry profits and the concerns of special interest groups should not be permitted to corrupt the scientific process. The public should not be manipulated into believing something which is still open to debate in the scientific community.

Unfortunately, they have. The objectivity, and credibility, of science in general is now in question.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Climategate: scientific integrity compromised?

Global warming has been a hot topic in the news for several years now. And, there's been a lot of flap on the internet over the past week alleging skullduggery among some climate scientists. So, although what I know about global warming will fit on the head of a pin, the issue merits some comment.

In 2007, former US vice-president Al Gore, and the IPCC ( Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) won the Nobel Peace Prize for their fight against global warming. The IPCC is a UN organization that provides advice to governments on climate and climate change.

Gore's documentary film,"An Inconvenient Truth", won two Oscars, Best Documentary and Best Original Song. The film is being widely distributed to US schools, ostensibly to alert young people to the dangers inherent in man made global warming.

Said Gore: “We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity." As it turns out, that may not be the case. Politics may be playing a bigger part in the controversy over global warming than has been made public.

Proponents of global warming, which apparently constitutes a majority among climate scientists, insist that the alleged crisis is man made, caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels. Therefore, their solution is to reduce greenhouse gases, particularly carbon emissions, around the globe.

But, no matter how the reduction in CO2 emissions is carried out, it is likely to adversely impact economies in the developed world.

Skeptics point out that variations in the earth's temperature are natural events that have occurred throughout the history of the planet. Some claim there is no evidence of trends that can be attributed to human causes; that variations in solar activity, not greenhouse gases are the true driver of climate change.

A global climate conference is scheduled to take place in Copenhagen from Dec. 7 to 18. The summit will be attended by many world leaders, including US President Barack Obama.

But some recently leaked documents from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (Great Britain) may prove to be something of an embarrassment to those promoting the doom and gloom scenario. The CRU is a world-renowned climate change research centre and a repository for much of the data on climate change.

The leaked (or hacked) documents contain more than 1,000 emails and 2,000 other documents which, in some circles, are being interpreted as proof of "the greatest act of scientific fraud in history".

In the UK, there have been calls for the head of the CRU (Phil Jones) to resign over the scandal. The former chancellor, Lord Lawson, who has launched a new think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation to challenge the consensus on global warming policy, is calling for a full-scale public inquiry.

The hijacked e-mail exchanges appear to indicate that scientific data has been manipulated to strengthen the case for man-made global warming. In addition, some e-mails refer to efforts by those scientists who believe man is responsible for global warming, to exclude contrary views from important scientific publications and also attempts to avoid queries under freedom of information legislation.

One e-mail, from CRU director Phil Jones, suggested to climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State University that research from skeptics was unwelcome: “We will keep them out somehow -- even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

A Wall Street Journal article by Keith Johnson notes that:: “The American Association for the Advancement of Science, a large professional organization, expressed concern that the hacked emails would weaken global resolve to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. The association believes "that climate change is real, it is related to human activities, and the need to counteract its impacts is now urgent," said Ginger Pinholster, an association spokeswoman. She added that the association's journal, Science, evaluates papers solely on scientific merit.”

Johnson's article also notes that: “John Christy, a scientist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville attacked in the emails for asking that an IPCC report include dissenting viewpoints, said, "It's disconcerting to realize that legislative actions this nation is preparing to take, and which will cost trillions of dollars, are based upon a view of climate that has not been completely scientifically tested."

And, therein lies the crux of the matter.

If those scientists promoting the theory of man made global warming have the evidence they claim, why would there be a need to manipulate data and stifle dissenting views? If global warming is such a grave threat to humanity, why not share their data with the skeptics and encourage a full and open debate?

Deceit and deception will not further their cause. It will adversely impact on their own credibility and the integrity of science in general.

The public deserves better from the scientific community, especially on such an important global issue.

Additional reading:
Climategate: The Fallout Continues (Wall Street Journal Online)
And, check out this weeks video on the same topic

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Should you trust some guy with a blog? Hell, no.

MOH's in Ontario have a statutory duty to undertake efforts such as this to protect the public's health. Peel's MOH has specifically stated that measures such as those proposed in the report are a matter of balancing public health and personal autonomy (as are most smoking-related proposals).

You are of course entitled to make conclusions based on as much non-empirical evidence as you like. But I would caution you against impugning the credibility of public health officials.

"Trust me, I'm a doctor." Yes I think I will trust a public health physician who has spent a career protecting the public's health, thank you very much. Or should I trust some guy with a blog? That, sir, would truly be "lunacy".

The above comments were posted in response to my last two columns.

In those columns, (prior to a brief and unexpected hiatus), I commented on a report prepared by public health officials in Peel Region (Toronto's neighbours to the West and Northwest) calling for a province wide ban on smoking in apartments and condos. The objective of the ban was, allegedly, to protect non-smoking residents in multi-unit dwellings from exposure to second-hand smoke.

I opined that there were measures short of an outright ban that might be used to mitigate the grossly exaggerated hazards associated with exposure to secondhand smoke seeping through electrical outlets and through the plumbing.

The problem, of course, is that there was no effort whatever to balance the issues of public health and personal autonomy. The authors of the report assumed the position that secondhand smoke wiggling through cracks in walls and floors of multi-unit dwellings was a health hazard of such significance that it warrants stripping smokers of any right to personal autonomy in their own homes. No other potential solutions were considered.

Let's look at the facts.

According to the October 19, 2009 article by Madeleine White for Torstar News Service, the report was compiled because Peel region “had been receiving an average of five calls a month from tenants complaining about second-hand smoke seeping into their dwellings from other units and open windows”.

There is no indication that health officials investigated the validity of any of the five complaints a month. How old were the buildings from which the complaints originated? What type of construction was involved? What kind of ventilation/heating system was installed? Was there any attempt to quantize the alleged problems? How much secondhand smoke were non-smokers being “forced” to inhale on a daily basis?

Were the complaints related to legitimate health concerns as opposed to the simple nuisance of what many non-smokers consider the “obnoxious smell” of secondhand smoke?

The point of my columns was to show that the extent of the alleged hazard will vary, depending on the age of the building, method of construction, ventilation , etc. In addition, there are a variety of methods available to alleviate the problem of smoke migrating from one apartment to another. There is no demonstrable need for draconian and discriminatory smoking bans.

And, I'm not alone in my observations. Hazel McCallion, the Mayor of Mississauga, the largest municipality in Peel Region, has suggested building code changes are among measures that could be taken; changes that would require retrofitting ventilation systems in old buildings and ensuring that new ones are capable of filtering out second-hand smoke.

The report from Peel Region health officials appears to have ignored all other potential solutions in favour of a blanket policy which would dictate what behaviour individuals would be permitted in the privacy of their own homes; a gross infringement on personal autonomy. And, their one size fits all solution, in the form of a province-wide smoking ban, is being promoted by anti-smoker activists despite the fact that there is absolutely no definitive evidence that any significant health hazard exists.

When groups formulate policy recommendations without addressing the science, it makes their motivation suspect. And, that has a negative impact on the credibility of their policy recommendations.

In fact, the evidence that secondhand smoke in any quantity represents a significant health risk to non-smokers remains open for debate. The anonymous commenter to my columns asks whether he (she) should trust a public health physician who has spent a career protecting the public's health or some guy with a blog?

My suggestion is that he (or she) should conduct a little research and trust the evidence. Start with a few of my previous columns. (The WHO Study (Part 1)), The WHO Study (Part 2), Faulty science from EPA) Then read about the secondhand smoke study conducted by professors James Enstrom and Geoffery Kabat on Enstrom's web site, the Scientific Integrity Institute.

Perhaps he/she may gain some insight as to why I question the credibility of many public health officials.

The Regional Municipality of Peel has a population of roughly 1.15 million people. Health officials claim to receive 60 complaints a year about secondhand smoke seeping into their apartments. On that basis those officials are now recommending that hundreds of thousands of smokers across Ontario be deprived of their right to use a perfectly legal product in the privacy of their own home.

Sorry, neighbour. The report from Peel Region should be filed under the category of bullshit and bafflegab.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Secondhand smoke and multi-unit dwellings

In my last post I commented on allegations by the anti-smoker crowd that secondhand smoke possessed supernatural powers. These otherworldly properties allow it to travel against the wind, drift downwards instead of up, and flow through minute openings in electrical outlets to attack non-smokers.

For the most part, these assertions by the anti-smoker crowd are pure nonsense. Modern methods of building construction already negate the likelihood of secondhand smoke migrating to a neighbour's apartment through most of these routes.

Drywall joints, for example, are taped where individual sheets abut, at corners and along ceiling joints. Drywall compound is added to give the walls a seamless appearance. The housing co-op in which I live was completed in 1993. I have never found a crack of any kind in the walls, let alone one that would allow secondhand smoke to migrate to a neighbour's unit.

And, even in much older buildings, there are inexpensive construction techniques that can be used to resolve such issues.

Older buildings, for example, may have used crown moulding to seal the joints where the walls meet the ceiling. A similar condition might exist along the baseboards, where the walls meet the floor. The simple remedy is to remove the moulding or the baseboards, fill the gaps with any of the dozens of products available for the purpose (silicone, expanding foam, etc.) and replace the moulding or baseboards. Problem solved with very little cost or effort.

Smoke traveling through drains is a non-starter. All drains are equipped with a P-trap (unless you're living in the bush and still have to make the trot to the little old shack out back). The P-trap holds standing water and is designed to prevent sewer gases from entering the home. And, if the sewer gases can't get in, smoke is unlikely to get out.

These days, special care is taken in the construction of bathrooms and kitchens, especially around plumbing fixtures. Care is taken, not because of potential problems with secondhand smoke, but because of the possibility of water damage from leaking water lines or drains. That's why, if you look closely, you will see fine beads of silicone around bath tubs, toilet bowls, counter tops, etc. And, if water can be prevented from seeping into walls, secondhand smoke doesn't stand a chance.

And, once again, in older buildings, solutions are inexpensive and really quite simple.

In my co-op, most of the apartments have only one door to a common hallway, although some multi-level units have two. So is it possible that smoke could travel through a crack under the door, into the hallway, then travel back into my neighbour's unit?

I decided to check it out. The idea was to have someone stand in the hallway while I stood in the apartment, close to the closed door, puffing merrily away on a Putter's Lights (and taking an occasional sip from a cold can of Keith's Ale). The observer in the hall would try and determine how much smoke was escaping into the hallway.

I lit up a fag, with the door wide open and advised the hallway monitor (my wife) to keep a close eye on what happened after I closed the door. I knew immediately it wasn't going to work. As I exhaled after a lengthy drag, a cloud of smoke blew back into my face.

The air make-up fans draw fresh air from the roof and force it down into the hallways, thereby equalizing the air pressure inside the building with the air pressure outside. Theoretically, if the air pressure outside exceeds the air pressure inside, the building could implode. And, as long as those fans were running, there was no way cigarette smoke from my apartment was going to get past the threshold of the door (and the current of air from the air make-up fans) and into the hallway.

Of course, if you smoked in the hallway, the smoke would seep into the apartment through the crack under the door. But, it could only seep in through under the door because there was weatherstripping on both sides of the door frame and along the top, creating a tight seal.

The solution to the problem could be as simple as adding weatherstripping along the underside of the door. Or, to prohibit smoking in the halls and common areas (already in effect), not in the member unit. And, I had to ask myself how many tenants stand in the hallway smoking cigarettes at any rate.

One area where the anti-smoker control freaks might have a legitimate grievance is from smoke migrating to an adjacent unit through duct work. I share a common wall with one neighbour who told me he could smell smoke in a bedroom on the shared wall through an air duct. I asked why he hadn't mentioned it over the five years he had lived next door. He gave me a puzzled look and said: “No big deal, Matt. I fixed it.”

Knowing the man has a degree in mechanical engineering, I was curious about how he'd resolved the problem. His hi-tech solution: he'd cut a piece of cardboard to fit the 6” X 10” vent, used duct tape to secure it to the inside of the vent cover and put the vent cover back in place. That's why he makes the big bucks.

In the case of older buildings, some legitimate concerns might be raised, but the remedies are usually inexpensive and are not labour intensive.

And, the problems are by no means universal.

For example, not all buildings use forced air heating which might allow secondhand smoke to move from one unit to another through the duct work. There are thousands of older, two and three storey walk-ups in the city that still rely on hot water radiators to heat their unit. The semi-detached townhouse units in my co-op use electric baseboard heating. In those situations, there's little probability of smoke migrating from one unit to the next via duct work.

The proposition that secondhand smoke seeps into a neighbour's unit through “electrical outlets, plumbing, duct work, ceiling light fixtures, cracks in walls, floors or doors and through common areas, such as hallways,” is a classic example of the scare-mongering tactics employed by the anti-smoker crowd.

And, with the fear, rational consideration of the problem and the common sense solutions which are readily available go out the window.

The anti-smoker brigade proposes a one-size-fits-all solution: impose a blanket smoking ban in multi-unit buildings. They would deprive millions of Canadians of their right to personal autonomy and choice. They would allow police, or other authorities, the right to intrude on the privacy of Canadians engaged in a perfectly legal activity. And, they would do it without a single shred of evidence that a problem of any proportion exists and without exploring other, less intrusive options.

More bullshit and bafflegab from morally bankrupt anti-smoker fanatics.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Secondhand smoke travels through solid walls

Peel Region (west of Toronto) has apparently been flooded with complaints about secondhand smoke seeping into the dwellings of non-smokers from other units and open windows. OK, so maybe it's not a flood, but the five complaints a month that have been pouring in were serious enough for Commissioner of Health Services Janette Smith, and Dr. David Mowat, Peel's medical officer of health to call for a smoking ban.

The region's public health officials have compiled a report suggesting Peel council demand that Queen's Park (the provincial government) enact a province wide ban on smoking in apartments and condos. The objective, of course, is to protect non-smoking residents in multi-unit dwellings from exposure to second-hand smoke.

The dynamic duo of healthscare professionals claim in their report. "Tobacco smoke can seep from various openings in a multi-unit dwelling, including electrical outlets, plumbing, duct work, ceiling light fixtures, cracks in walls, floors or doors and through common areas, such as hallways. Some units may share ventilation or heating systems, which can further spread the smoke throughout a building." Uh-huh.

I have read of the mystical powers of tobacco smoke; its ability to travel great distances against the wind, to pass through solid walls, to worm its way through electrical fixtures, etc., but I've always remained a skeptic. Could the deadly concoction of chemicals from the lit end of a fag really migrate from one apartment to another in sufficient quantities to cause death or serious illness? Through the plumbing?

Now, I have heard that some people like to browse through the latest edition of Popular Mechanics when they, er . . . do their business. I do not keep magazines in my bathroom. It's strictly an in and out affair. And, smoking in the shower is the next best thing to impossible; fags are very hard to light when they're all wet and soggy.

But, does the smoke from the living room travel the 22 feet down the hallway to the bathroom, turn the corner, navigate to the bathroom sink, resist the tendency to travel upwards, make its way down the drainpipe, past the P-trap, and enter my neighbour's unit through the drain of his bathtub? Are these people serious?

My old English teacher used to have a sign above the blackboard that read: “Impossible is a word found only in the dictionary of fools.” (I've often wondered if Bonaparte uttered those immortal words before or after Waterloo.)

At any rate, I hesitate to use the word impossible lest I be branded a fool. But, it's highly improbable that secondhand smoke could make such a journey. Unless, of course, it's possessed by evil spirits with a grudge against my neighbours.

In my bathroom, I found no gaps where the walls met the ceiling. They had been sealed with drywall tape and several layers of drywall compound during construction. There was a neatly laid bead of silicone around the back of the bath tub; another along the floor at the foot of the tub. The silicone is meant to prevent water damage inside the walls or along the floorboards. But if water can't get through, how can smoke?

In addition, the bathroom exhaust fan is tied into the light switch so that when you turn on the lights, you also activate the fan which vents directly to the outside. So, unless someone was perched on the throne, reading Popular Mechanics by candlelight while smoking up a storm, my neighbour is not likely to be bothered by secondhand smoke intruding on the “quiet enjoyment” of his premises. And, even then it's a stretch.

Bullshit and Bafflegab. On to the kitchen.

After a thorough investigation, I determined that it was unlikely smoke could move from one unit to another via the drains. The smoke would have to travel downwards, penetrate the standing water in both my P-trap and the neighbours. So that conduit was ruled out.

But, it might get through the openings where the pipes enter the wall. If the smoke traveled downwards, made its way through the rear of the cupboards, seeped through a similar opening on my neighbours side of the wall and into his unit. As noted previously, nothing is impossible.

So I removed the basket of cleaning material and the cute little garbage containers from beneath the sink. I lit up a fag, poked my head into the cupboard and prepared to bombard my neighbour with 4,000 deadly toxins.

Shit. Like in the bathroom, someone had plugged the opening around the pipes with silicone. No way any smoke was getting through there, even if it was anorexic. I withdrew from the confined space which was rapidly filling with smoke and making my eyes water.

OK, I thought, maybe the smoke could force itself through a gap between the countertop and the wall, down to the floor, find a crack where the floor meets the wall and steal into my neighbours unit? Nope. Along the ledge between the countertop and the wall behind it, was another neatly laid bead of silicone.

Even if I wanted to terrorize my neighbour with secondhand smoke, I couldn't. Unless, of course, I was prepared to spend some time with a brace-and-bit and make a mess of my walls. And, I suspect he might be more pissed off about the holes drilled in his wall than secondhand smoke.

How much smoke is likely to escape into a neighbours apartment through “cracks in walls, floors or doors”. Think about it folks. When drywall is installed, gaps between individual sheets and along the ceiling are sealed with drywall tape and two or more layers of drywall compound. The same technique is used in corners.

And, just how much secondhand smoke is actually going to seep through a ceiling fixture or an electrical outlet? Use a little common sense. If you were trapped in a sealed room and about to run out of oxygen, just how long do you think you'd last if the only source of air was coming through a light switch or a wall receptacle?

Yet, the anti-smoker crowd want people to believe that vast quantities of secondhand smoke are pouring into their neighbour's apartment through plumbing, cracks in the walls and electrical outlets. It's insane.

Let's be clear. There are ways that smoke can enter your neighbour's unit. But wall receptacles and cracks in the walls are not likely to be among them.

I'll have more to say on this lunacy in my next post.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Smoking bans, heart attacks & scientific fraud

“Smoking ban benefits come swiftly,” read the headline, “A new study at Kansas University found that smoking bans reduce the number of heart attacks each year by as much as 26 percent.”

But as noted in a previous blog, that “scientific study” by Dr. David Meyers at Kanas University was, er . . . somewhat less than credible. In that blog post, I quoted Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University School of Public Health: “The rest of the story is that anti-tobacco researchers and groups are making ridiculous, highly exaggerated, and scientifically unsupported claims in order to try to justify smoking bans.”

That's tough talk from an anti-smoking advocate like Dr. Siegel. In fact, some people might refer to studies such as Meyers' as unequivocal scientific fraud and propaganda.

Then, on October 15, Siegel reported some serious misgivings with a new report on the same subject matter; this time from a committee of experts at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in the US. In that article, he asserts that the conclusions reached by the experts contradicted the contents of the report itself; noting that most of the studies looked at by the committee were not only badly flawed, but that the committee was aware of the flaws.

Said Dr. Siegel: “The committee recognizes that the existing studies are so seriously flawed that one has no confidence in being able to judge the effect size. But, instead of concluding that the evidence is insufficient, they go ahead and conclude that smoking bans significantly reduce heart attacks anyway.”

What the committee did, in fact, was draw conclusions which were not supported by the evidence. And, what was even more egregious, they distributed their unwarranted assertions to the public as fact.

Staunch anti-smoking advocate that he is, Siegel stopped short of criticizing the committee of experts: “Finally, I want to make it very clear that I am not impugning the integrity of the committee or any of its members. I don't think they've done anything wrong. I just think that the report is biased and that subconsciously, there was some sort of pressure operating which led to the report drawing conclusions that were not appropriate given the report's own assertions and review of the evidence.”

So, the report issued by the IOM was biased, drew inappropriate conclusions and misled the public, but the experts who compiled the report did nothing wrong? The disingenuous report was merely the result of some unstated, subconscious pressure being exerted by some unidentified force. I wonder what a deliberate attempt to mislead would look like?

On October 16, Siegel commented on the subject again, noting that the IOM report failed to include data that found no effect of smoking bans on acute coronary events in three countries; England, Scotland and Wales. In other words they ignored data which was contrary to the unsupported conclusions of the committee.

Said Siegel: “These data are all national data which include all hospital admissions at all hospitals in these countries. Thus, they represent a better source of data than what was used in some of the published studies (which only included a sample of hospitals). Moreover, they cover large populations, with a sample size greater than that of all other studies combined. Thus, the data from these countries are critically important and carry much weight in the overall analysis.”

An oversight perhaps? The committee could hardly be expected to be aware of unpublished studies, especially if they failed to make the morning news. And, that's essentially what the IOM committee claimed in their report: “"no such (unpublished) studies were identified."

Unfortunately, those studies did make the news; big time. And then there's this from Dr. Siegel: ”I find this difficult to believe, especially since I was a reviewer of the report and I made the committee aware of several unpublished analyses which documented no significant effect of smoking bans on heart attacks.“

Whoops. Nothing like a little inside information to set the record straight.

One of the most definitive studies to date, an NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) working paper, “Changes in US Hospitalization and Mortality Rates following Smoking Bans,” found no statistical evidence that smoking bans reduced heart attacks. “In contrast with smaller regional studies, we find that workplace bans are not associated with statistically significant short-term declines in mortality or hospital admissions for myocardial infarction or other diseases.”

This study was also ignored in the IOM report.

But then, presenting both sides of the argument might have detracted from the anti-smoker message.

How could the experts at the Institute of Medicine ignore all the contradictory data and conclude that smoking bans result in fewer heart attacks? How could a committee of experts acknowledge that they couldn't confirm the extent of any positive effect from smoking bans, yet insist that the effect exists nonetheless? Why the compulsion to manipulate scientific studies and data to score political points? Is this what science has become: an exercise in political propaganda devoid of honesty?

Could it be that science has become subordinate to the anti-smoker crusade in the Orwellian world of tobacco control? More and more, it seems, scientific integrity is being sacrificed to further the cause of smoker denormalization. Bullshit and bafflegab are the order of the day.

It's unfortunate. Science and medicine were once such noble professions.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sue the tobacco companies, smokers will pay

On September 29, the Ministry of the Attorney General (Ontario) issued a press release announcing that the province had filed a lawsuit against a group of tobacco companies seeking damages “for past and ongoing health care costs linked to tobacco-related illness”.

The 50 billion dollar lawsuit was launched under the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act, passed earlier this year. The legislation was approved unanimously by Queen's Park, meaning all parties are on record as supporting the lawsuit. Six other provinces have indicated their intention to initiate similar legal actions, although only two have actually filed .

According to the press release, Ontario is seeking $50 billion in damages, representing health care costs borne by Ontario taxpayers since 1955. It claims that tobacco-related health care costs are now estimated at more than $1.6 billion per year in the province.

The lawsuit is a transparent attempt to emulate a similar government cash grab in the US where over 40 states collectively sued the tobacco companies over similar issues. The result of that action was an out of court settlement called the MSA (Master Settlement Agreement). The tobacco companies agreed to pay roughly 250 billion dollars over 30 years from future earnings based on annual sales. The annual payments were apportioned among participating states.

The MSA cost the tobacco companies nothing, of course, since the deal allowed them to increase tobacco prices and pass the costs on to the consumer. Although it was hailed as a major victory against tobacco companies, it was, in fact, an agreement to indirectly tax tobacco consumers. The tobacco companies simply collected the tax and passed it on to the individual states.

Canada's smokers should not expect any better treatment from their governments. They will not force the tobacco companies into bankruptcy; not with billions of dollars in tax revenue at stake. So that means tobacco consumers will wind up footing the bill, just as they did in the US.

But, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the lawsuit is the blatant hypocrisy of the government action.

Both the provincial and federal governments profit handsomely from the tax revenue generated by the sale of tobacco products. When this rather well-known fact was pointed out to Ontario's Attorney General, Chris Bentley, he responded: "Even if we related the two, the amount paid out in health-care costs far exceeds the amount any government has collected for taxes."

Mr. Bentley has his facts wrong.

According to figures provided by the anti-smoker group, Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada, the total cost of medical treatment for smokers nationwide was $4.36 billion in 2006. That’s a hefty chunk of money.

But, for the 2005/2006 fiscal year, revenue collected by federal and provincial governments was $7.09 billion from taxes on tobacco products, not including sales taxes. Health care for smokers cost the “taxpayer” nothing.

But, smokers are taxpayers too. And, ignored is the the fact that smokers, in addition to the punitive tobacco taxes extorted by their government, make the same contributions to health care costs as any other Canadian.

And, just for the record, while the anti-smoker cartel and their puppets in government moan about the billion dollars plus in profit posted by the tobacco companies, government is making those profits look like chump change. In 2003, Canada's three largest tobacco companies made an estimated 1.53 billion dollars in profit. Combined government tax revenue was 7.05 billion dollars for the same year; over four and a half times the profit earned by the three tobacco companies combined.

The government's greed is mind boggling.

First, they extort tens of billions from smokers in tobacco taxes which they spend like drunken sailors on everything but health care. Then they demand that tobacco companies pay them billions more in compensation for health care costs; money that can only come from the same smokers who have already been forced to pay usurious levels of tobacco taxes for decades.

For decades, the tobacco companies have been vilified for putting profit before public health. But, government has been even more guilty of exploiting tobacco addiction for financial gain than the tobacco companies.

And, there's one more incontrovertible fact. If government was really convinced that smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke causes tens of thousands of deaths annually, they could have stopped it at anytime over the past half century. They could have passed a law.

They chose not to do so. Instead, they took the cash.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Smoking & heart attacks, another suspect study

According to a meta-analysis conducted by Dr. David Meyers and his team at Kansas University Medical Center, smoking bans have an immediate impact on heart attacks, reducing admissions to hospital by as much as 26%. In addition, Meyers claims a nationwide smoking ban could prevent as many as 154,000 heart attacks annually.

Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University School of Public Health disagrees with the conclusions of Meyers' study. In fact, he suggests that both the meta-analysis and the individual studies used to compile it are badly flawed junk science. Siegel is an anti-smoking advocate who strongly supports smoking bans. But, even he notes: “Nevertheless, I believe they should be supported based on valid scientific conclusions, not on junk science conclusions such as those in this article.”

As a smoker, and admittedly prone to bias in my interpretation of these “scientific studies”, I believe most of what is passed off as science by the anti-smoker crowd these days is junk; propaganda, pure and simple.

For example, one troublesome aspect of Meyers' study is the use of heart attack admissions as a gauge of the beneficial aspects of smoking bans. According to study authors, heart attacks were used as a measuring stick because, unlike cancer, they don’t take years to develop.

But, why measure only admissions to hospital?

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) website claims: “Of the people who die from heart attacks, about half die within an hour of the first symptoms and before they reach the hospital.”

If Meyers and his team counted only admissions, then they didn't account for the true incidence of heart attacks since roughly half would be DOA (Dead On Arrival). There would be no need to admit them for treatment. Was this a simple oversight; or a deliberate attempt to mislead? Was the possibility accounted for in some other way in the study?

Again, why measure only admissions?

The same NHLBI website claims: “Each year, about 1.1 million people in the United States have heart attacks, and almost half of them die. CAD (Coronary Artery Disease), which often results in a heart attack, is the leading killer of both men and women in the United States.”

The Womens Health Foundation sets the number of heart attacks at 1.5 million each year with 500,000 deaths.

But, if one-third to one-half of those experiencing a heart attack will die, why not simply count the number of deaths from heart attack? Wouldn't this give a far more meaningful statistic than admissions? After all, if smoking bans can prevent as many as 154,000 heart attacks annually, as claimed by Meyers, wouldn't that mean that one-third to one-half that number of heart attack deaths would also be prevented?

Is it really plausible that smoking bans could reduce the number of heart attack deaths by 50 to 75 thousand annually? Wouldn't that eliminate all deaths currently attributed to secondhand smoke?

Smokers, according to the anti-smoker cult, will die from heart attacks as a result of their smoking. Logic dictates that they will die whether they smoke in public or private, since it is the habit that allegedly kills and not the location where the habit is practiced.. So, is it logical to expect a decline in heart attack incidence among smokers without a corresponding decrease in smoking prevalence?

And, if a decrease in heart attack admissions can't be linked directly to either smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, how can it be attributed to smoking bans?

According to study authors: "Heart attacks are caused in large part by blood clots. With 20 minutes or so of tobacco smoke exposure, people’s blood becomes hypercoagulable and sticky and clots easily, and bam, you have a heart attack."

That's right folks. Twenty minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke and non-smokers start dropping like flies. Can't you remember the bodies being removed en masse from bars, restaurants and the local legion hall before the smoking bans? Aren't non-smokers keeling over from the effects of exposure to SHS in those jurisdictions where bans have not yet been implemented?

Dr. Siegel points out that brief secondhand smoke exposure is likely to trigger a heart attack only in people with severe existing coronary artery disease, saying: “The same hypercoagulability and endothelial dysfunction is also caused by eating high-fat foods and even by mental stress. It doesn't follow that you are going to prevent this person from having a heart attack merely by asking them to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.”

David Meyers says the research should put to rest the debate about the health benefits of smoking bans. “The argument — that this is bad science — has now been put definitively to rest.”

And, therein lies the problem.

If (when) this story is picked up by the national media, it is not likely to include a rebuttal from Dr. Siegel (or anyone else for that matter). In fact, media coverage is unlikely to contain any dissenting opinion on the study. The public will be left with the perception that it has been scientifically proven that smoking bans reduce the incidence of heart attacks. Dr. Siegel, and others who contest the findings of Meyers' study, will be branded denialists; their voices silenced.

The perception rather than the reality will become entrenched in the public mind. Which, I suspect, is exactly what was intended by the authors of the study. For it appears that this study is not simply bad science, but a propaganda effort deliberately designed to mislead the public. The anti-smoker cult wants desperately to justify the growing number of smoking bans around the world.

Concludes Dr. Siegel: “The rest of the story is that anti-tobacco researchers and groups are making ridiculous, highly exaggerated, and scientifically unsupported claims in order to try to justify smoking bans.”

Just one more question before I sign off. If researchers are willing to use this kind of dishonesty and deception to convince the public of the hazards of smoking and SHS exposure, just why in hell should anyone believe anything the public health community has to say on the subject?

The bullshit and bafflegab is coming thick and fast.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Helping smokers quit, the anti-smoker way

According to supporters, the electronic cigarette (aka the personal vapourizer) is a modern marvel; an innovative invention that allows smokers to engage their vice while avoiding the health concerns associated with tobacco. And, there are many in the public health community who agree with that assessment.

Dr. Michael Siegel, of Boston University School of Public Health, has written a number of articles on his blog, Tobacco Analysis, chastising anti-smoker groups for their efforts to suppress (read ban) use of the e-cig. He believes that the e-cig does help smokers kick the habit. And, Siegel stands ready to support almost anything that will get smokers off that wicked weed (tobacco, not that other wicked weed). Whether they want to or not.

The anti-smoker fanatics, on the other hand, have launched a full-scale assault on what they claim is a deadly new device designed to, among other things, ensnare children and turn them into nicotine addicted misfits.

The e-cigs are marketed to kids, according to anti-smoker cultists, by providing flavoured nicotine cartridges; strawberry, menthol, cherry, chocolate, etc. Dr. William Bailey, medical director of the UAB Lung Health Center, asks : “Who's going to want a chocolate cigarette but a kid?”

Geez, Doc, I don't know. A chocoholic smoker, maybe?

But, really, how many kids can afford fifty to a hundred bucks for a chocolate flavoured, make-believe cigarette? If it's the chocolate they're after, wouldn't it be much cheaper to spend a buck on a candy bar at the local corner store.

A recent FDA study, and I use that term very loosely, raised only two health concerns with e-cigs: they contained known carcinogens in the form of nitrosamines and one out of 19 cartridges tested contained di-ethylene glycol. The nitrosimamines were, in fact, present in only trace amounts, at levels similar to those found in nicotine replacement products; the gum, the patch and the nicotine inhaler.

And, as Dr. Siegel pointed out in one of his blog posts, “pharmaceutical grade propylene glycol is readily available and contains no appreciable amount of di-ethylene glycol, this problem is most likely not a widespread one.” In fact, it's likely a quality control issue confined to one brand of e-cig rather than a serious health concern inherent in the product itself.

Ellen Hahn, Director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, claims in an article on the
Public News Service, that “e-cigarettes could actually end up creating new customers for tobacco in a state where adult and youth smoking rates are at epidemic levels.”

We'll ignore the fact that despite decades of smoker-bashing, smoking bans, punitive taxation and discriminatory action of all kinds directed at smokers, Kentucky is still in the grip of a tobacco “epidemic.” And, we won't ask what Ms. Hahn and her colleagues have been doing with their time and money.

Ms. Hahn says “it would be a bad idea for Kentucky smokers, who are trying to quit their habit, to get hooked on alternatives to smoking.” Uh-huh. What she means is that it would be a bad idea for Kentucky smokers to get hooked on the wrong alternatives to smoking.

The nicotine patch, nicorettes and the inhaler are perfectly acceptable. But e-cigs are a no-no which must be fought tooth and nail, despite the fact it has been used by hundreds of thousands of smokers to cut back and/or quit. So why would the anti-smoker crowd want to deny smokers use of a device which helps them fulfill their mission?

They are claiming, after all, that they want to “help” smokers kick the habit; for their own good, of course. They are claiming that they want to protect non-smokers from the alleged hazards of secondhand smoke. They claim that they are protecting the public purse by reducing the alleged high health care costs posed by smoking real tobacco.

So, why are they trying so desperately to persuade the FDA to ban the electronic cigarette; a device with the potential to address all three of those concerns? Why are they trying to vilify the product in the eyes of the public; to dissuade it's use. Isn't that counter-productive?

Unless, of course, the whole charade was never about public health in the first place. Unless, the pretext of protecting public health was merely an excuse to conduct a moral crusade against smoking. Unless they're more concerned about protecting their funding sources in the pharmaceutical industry and from the government (through the legalized extortion known as tobacco taxation).

At any rate, since I've commented on the electronic cigarette several times on this blog, I figured it was about time I invested in one. There's one slight problem of course; getting them into Canada. Health Canada has decided to follow the FDA lead and is apparently stopping shipments into the country.

But, what the hell. I'll wind up with the material for a blog whether it gets throug
h or not.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Health Canada subterfuge embarrasses government

The anti-smoker cartel has been effectively setting public policy on tobacco control for many years. Governments appear to have abdicated responsibility in this regard, content to rubber-stamp whatever legislation the fanatics demand with little or no critical evaluation of the potential social or economic consequences.

The extent of anti-smoker influence on public policy became very clear with the passage of Bill C-32 in Canada's House of Commons earlier this year.

Staff at Health Canada were charged with drafting legislation to fulfill a campaign promise made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last September. He promised to ban “candy-flavoured” cigarillos allegedly being marketed to children. The legislation, Bill C-32, is called “The Cracking Down on Tobacco Marketing Aimed at Youth Act”. The title itself makes the government's intention pretty clear.

Harper, at the time, flourished colourful packages of candy flavoured cigarillos to emphasize the need for such legislation; a seemingly graphic example of the Prime Minister's intention.

Policymakers at Health Canada, however, had a somewhat different interpretation of what was needed. And, thanks to language used in the bill, it went far beyond anything the government intended. Health Canada appears to have substituted their own more restrictive policy for the the one Harper had promised.

The language used by Health Canada apparently bans all flavoured cigarettes, including such well known American brands as Marlboro, Camel and Winston, as well as some European brands. But, the flavouring used in American cigarettes are not candy flavours meant to entice children; they're flavourings and sweeteners used to make the harsh taste of burley tobacco used in American blend more palatable for adult smokers.

The anti-smoker element at Health Canada acknowledge they were aware of the implications of the language. They argue that it's impossible to ban candy flavoured cigarillos, and not Marlboros. Said Paul Glover, assistant deputy minister of Health, "a product that is easier to smoke and less harsh is easier for youth to start." Uh-huh.

Says Health Canada spokesperson Christelle Legault: “The intent of Bill C-32 is to prohibit the use of flavorings, except menthol, and appealing additives in all cigarettes. We know that the addition of flavours and additives makes them more appealing to youth and this is exactly the kind of tobacco industry marketing tactic that we want to prevent in order to protect our vulnerable youth."

But, it was not the intent of parliament, at least not the publicly stated intent. Harper promised merely to prohibit candy flavoured tobacco products which might encourage young people to experiment with tobacco, not all cigarettes containing any flavouring or additives.

MP's, anxious to appear tough on smoking and perhaps score some cheap brownie points with constituents, passed the anti-smoker legislation with something less than due diligence. They either failed to read Bill C-32 or totally misunderstood its implications. Or, of course, they could have simply misled the public about the legislative intent.

The significance of the wording was not lost on US politicians or trade groups, however, especially those in the tobacco growing regions of the US. They pointed out, quickly and forcibly, that banning American blends of tobacco, but not Canadian varieties, violates NAFTA and sets the stage for a potential trade dispute with Canada's largest trading partner. Protests have been sent to Ottawa and some US politicians have demanded reciprocal action be taken by the US.

And, the chagrined Conservative caucus in Quebec took the unprecedented step of recanting their prior votes, threatening to withdraw support for the legislation unless it's amended. It seems a Rothman’s factory in Quebec City, which produces American brands for the export market, is threatened with closure and the loss of over 300 jobs because of the language ostensibly slipped into the legislation by Health Canada.

Officials at Health Canada claim there was “nothing covert” in their actions, they just wanted to make sure there were no loopholes in the legislation (except for menthol, of course) for those nasty old tobacco companies to squeeze through.

What they fail to acknowledge is that the legislation as written ignores the stated intent of the government. The publicly stated intention was to ban candy flavoured cigarillos which might entice young people to experiment.

Did the anti-smoker zealots at Health Canada attempt an end run around parliamentary authority? Or has the government been lying to the public about their intentions all along?

Luc Martial (of Casa Cubana, a Montreal-based importer of cigar products, including flavoured cigarillos) says the legislation is based “on a premise of fear, not fact – hate, not health.” He points to the lack of any real research on the subject.

Martial, formerly with the Non-Smokers' Rights Association and the Tobacco Control Programme at Health Canada, claims Health Canada conducted “no specific research on the use of flavours in tobacco products; the market for flavoured little cigars/cigarillos and the industry itself.”

In addition, says Martial, “The Government chose not to consult in an honest, meaningful, transparent and open manner with the thousands of legitimate private sector stakeholders whose businesses and jobs will be devastated by Bill C-32.”

He's right. They didn't. Of course, the anti-smoker crowd has never needed evidence to convince the government to pass anti-smoker legislation. And consulting with the business community regarding the economic consequences of anti-smoker laws has never been part of their standard operating procedure.

Bill C-32 was approved by the House of Commons, with little debate and no objection. It is now under scrutiny in the Senate. During Senate hearings, Senator Michel Rivard compared Bill C-32 to “crushing a fly with a bulldozer”. Senator Hugh Segal was prompted to ask witnesses to explain what Health Canada was up to.

The anti-smoker crowd, in turn, claims resistance to the bill comes only from the tobacco industry and politicians in Quebec who are concerned about the possibility of losing a few jobs. And, thanks to a strong lobby effort by the anti-smoker crowd, it appears the Senate will knuckle under and approve the bill.

But, the anti-smoker brigade, and their cheer-leading allies in the press, seem determined to avoid discussing the unethical conduct of those involved. Either the policy makers at Health Canada subverted the parliamentary process by including language that the government never intended; or, the government misled the Canadian public about the intention of the legislation.

A little incident in the grand scheme of things, to be sure. But, those adults who choose to use a legal product, and those who make their living from the legal sales of those products, are being buried under a mountain of bullshit and bafflegab.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lowering punitive tobacco taxes not in the cards

As expected, Dalton McGuinty's Liberals shot down MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament) Toby Barrett's attempt to lower tobacco taxes in Ontario. His private members bill was defeated on second reading in the provincial legislature. Barrett's proposal would have cut the punitive tobacco tax by 33% and asked the federal government to do the same.

Barrett's proposed legislation was intended to help reduce the rapidly escalating problem of contraband in the province which he claims is now 50% of tobacco sales in Ontario.

Said Revenue Minister John Wilkinson: "We are with those who believe that we need to get our smoking rates down (and) that taxation is an effective deterrent..I think it's important that people understand when they buy illegal cigarettes, they are stealing from their neighbours."

Wilkinson is wrong on both counts. When people buy illegal smokes, they're not stealing from anyone; they're protecting themselves from the legalized extortion demanded by senior levels of government. And, taxation is no longer an effective deterrent to smoking. In fact, the usurious levels of taxation have become counterproductive and may be doing much more harm than good.

In 1994, federal and provincial governments saw that contraband tobacco was becoming a problem. They lowered taxes. But, around 2000, anti-smoker crusaders lobbied government to impose dramatic new tax increases, once again driving consumers into the welcoming arms of the black market.

In 1994, it was estimated that only 11% of tobacco was illegal; today it's 50% and, according to Barrett, some experts claim it could go as high as 80% by the end of next year.

And, tobacco taxes are no longer having the desired effect.

According to a 2007 study by PSC (Physicians for a Smokefree Canada): “The number of smokers in Canada has remained virtually unchanged over the past 5 years.”

PSC claims that, in 2005, there was an estimated 4,889,511 smokers in Canada; by 2007, that number had climbed to 5,165,376. Smoking prevalence went from 18.7% to 19.2% over the same period. Contraband sales went from an estimated 4% in 2002 to a whopping 40% in 2007. And now, they're estimated at 50% of the market.

In addition, tax revenue dropped from 1.453 billion dollars in 2004, to 1.217 billion in 2007. That's a 226 million dollar loss in provincial tax revenue. A loss that not only continues, but continues to grow. Latest estimates from the provincial Auditor General's report estimates Ontario is now losing $500-million in taxes due to contraband tobacco.

But, the provincial government, and their colleagues in Ottawa, are prepared to spend tens of millions more on policing contraband sales rather than admit that their tax-gouging policies have been an abject failure. The politicians prefer to kiss the collective ass of the anti-smoker brigade and punish 20% of the adult population in a futile attempt to impose a backdoor form of tobacco prohibition.

It's not working.

And, the reason it's not working is that a contraband smokes can be manufactured for less than $8.00 per carton of 200 cigarettes. In Ontario, provincial tobacco tax alone is roughly three times that amount per carton. Ottawa adds twice that amount. The potential for profit in the black market is huge; literally billions of dollars. It is this direct and indirect taxation on tobacco that makes the sales of contraband even more attractive to the flourishing black market.

The demand exists whether the anti-smoker fanatics like it or not. Government is unwilling to allow the legal market to fill that demand; at least not at a price the consumer is willing to pay. Dealers in contraband stand ready and willing to furnish the supply side of the equation. And, rake in sizable profits for their efforts.

Most politicians refuse to admit that tobacco taxes exceeded their effective limit years ago; that they are now faced with the law of diminishing returns. Heads buried firmly in the sand, they'd rather find fault with consumers for refusing to pay punitive, discriminatory taxes. No other legal product in the country is taxed to such extremes.

Yet, the provincial government seems poised to exacerbate the problem, rather than resolve it. They are prepared, once again, to allow the anti-smoker brigade to dictate public policy. OCAT (Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco), one of the more strident anti-smoker groups, continues to insist that penalizing smokers financially is the most effective way to force them to give up the habit.

Ottawa and Queen's Park will ignore the lessons learned in the early nineties when contraband threatened to get out of control. They'll ignore the lessons from the early part of the twentieth century when attempts to prohibit alcohol led to an upward spiral of illegal activity and violence.

And, they'll ignore the fact that it was following advice from rabid anti-smoker groups which is, in large measure, responsible for the current problem with contraband.

Politicians followed that advice, hoping to enhance government coffers with an opportunistic tax grab. But, every tax increase added greater financial incentive to the criminal element. And, the law of unintended (but not unforeseen) consequences has done the rest.

Young people have greater access than ever to cheap cigarettes; from the trunk of a car, without the hassle of providing ID. Tobacco wholesalers and retailers are unable to compete with the far less expensive contraband. Tax revenue is declining despite the highest levels of tobacco taxation in Canadian history.

Politicians believe more stringent enforcement will resolve the issue. History, and common sense, suggest otherwise.

Unfortunately, Toby Barrett's effort to bring some common sense to the debate was doomed from the start.