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Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Government agencies being neutral and just following the science untainted by ideological, political or any other biases

A on Singapore's proposed tax/ban on high-sugar drinks: While I can somewhat understand the sugar tax, I don’t think banning is a logical solution, especially since cigarettes themselves aren’t banned. Yes, cigarettes are highly taxed, but instead of high sugar consumption which affects only the individual, smoking affects the people around you too. They should follow through with a cigarette ban if they insist on a sugar ban.

Probably the thing I take the most issue out of this proposal is that banning will take away people’s freedom to choose for themselves. There are better ways to encourage a less-sugar intake such as subsidising healthier drinks, labelling sugary drinks with health warnings and education. Banning should never even be considered.

If they do go through with a ban, I’d argue that we should also ban not just cigarettes, but alcohol as well. Alcohol can affect people around you, if you become drunk and violent. I think if the government feels like we cannot make choices properly and control ourselves, then they should ban all such harmful consumables, and not just sugary drinks. Salt and MSG should probably be considered as well, due to the high levels of hypertension and heart disease we have here.

Me: the harms of secondhand smoke are greatly exaggerated

A: They aren’t. There’s a reason why we have smoke-free zones, and I’d actually much prefer it if the whole country is cigarette-free as well.

A cursory lookup on MOH’s health sites will inform you about the dangers of second-hand smoke, so since this information is by the government, I'm not spreading Fake News: Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Me: It's based on bad science

Secondhand smoke isn’t as bad as we thought.

"Newer, better studies with much larger sample sizes have found little to no correlation between smoking bans and short-term incidence of heart attacks, and certainly nothing remotely close to the 60 percent reduction that was claimed in Helena. The updated science debunks the alarmist fantasies that were used to sell smoking bans to the public, allowing for a more sober analysis suggesting that current restrictions on smoking are extreme from a risk-reduction standpoint."

A: Are you saying MOH's finding is bad science and thus false? That's quite a serious allegation there.

Me: Are you saying MOH is infallible?

A: I'm saying that I trust MOH, an agency with certified doctors and other health professionals and nutritionists, instead of sites with dubious origins.

If you think MOH is spreading Fake News, you are free to report them to the police. I believe we have laws in place for these things. :)

Me: I'm amused that you think slate is a site with dubious origins

Or that the numerous scientific articles they link to, published in peer reviewed journals are dubious

A: I'm similarly amused you think MOH partakes in bad science and publishes false data, and thus is guilty of spreading Fake News. This is a government body, and such allegations are extremely serious.

I guess all the professional expertise in their medical facilities and their research must be wrong then, since some other site disagrees and contradicts MOH's professionally-sourced and scientifically-based findings. :)

Me: You need to learn more about how science works and the interaction between public policy and science.

I'm assuming you also imagine that vaping is more harmful than cigarettes, that Marijuana is harmful and that the death penalty deters crime.

A: You also need to learn more about how to substantiate your points with factual and accurate sources, instead of accusing a government body of spreading lies.

If you think Slate is more accurate as compared to a government agency which employs the scientific method and the rigours of research to formulate their data, then you should seriously re-examine your education.


Nice assumptions, btw. Typical of someone who boasts of online research > hard facts.

Me: Well, clearly you didn't read the article, or put any store in the links to numerous peer reviewed studies even after I pointed them out

Quite amusing that you claim I need to substantiate my points

Your "substantiation" is "gahmen say one, must be correct"

A: Lmao, I didn't say that 'gahment say one, must be correct'. Amusing level of comprehension you have there. I only said that I'd rather trust a professional body which employs rigorous research and hard science to formulate their data, instead of Slate, which likely cherry-picks their opinions to form their opinion piece.

Quite amusing you cannot see this when I quite literally have to spell it out for you. :)

Secondhand smoke isn’t as bad as we thought.
Also headlined as: "We Used Terrible Science to Justify Smoking Bans"

"In the early 2000s, as jurisdictions across the country fought over expanding smoking bans to bars and restaurants, anti-smoking advocates seized on the Helena study and related research showing that secondhand smoke exposure can affect coronary functions to promote fear of secondhand smoke. Groups across the country stated that “even half an hour of secondhand smoke exposure causes heart damage similar to that of habitual smokers.” Not to be outdone, the Association for Nonsmokers in Minnesota wrote in a press release that just 30 seconds of exposure could “make coronary artery function of non-smokers indistinguishable from smokers.” The message to nonsmokers was clear: The briefest exposure to secondhand smoke can kill you.

A decade later, comprehensive smoking bans have proliferated globally. And now that the evidence has had time to accumulate, it’s also become clear that the extravagant promises made by anti-smoking groups—that implementing bans would bring about extraordinary improvements in cardiac health—never materialized. Newer, better studies with much larger sample sizes have found little to no correlation between smoking bans and short-term incidence of heart attacks, and certainly nothing remotely close to the 60 percent reduction that was claimed in Helena. The updated science debunks the alarmist fantasies that were used to sell smoking bans to the public, allowing for a more sober analysis suggesting that current restrictions on smoking are extreme from a risk-reduction standpoint.

By the time the Helena study was published in the British Medical Journal, the authors had lowered the observed reduction in heart attacks from 60 percent to 40 percent; still an impressive figure but a substantial drop from the claim they had prematurely publicized to press worldwide. Immediate responses to the paper from other scientists were harshly critical, noting the small size of the Helena population—about 68,000 residents at the time—and the medical implausibility of achieving such a massive effect in such a short period. It was impossible to know with certainty whether the drop was caused by the ban or was simply due to chance.

Nonetheless, the Helena paper spawned a wave of studies seeking to replicate the finding. Research observing similar reductions followed in places such as Pueblo, Colorado; Bowling Green, Ohio; and Monroe County, Indiana. One characteristic shared by these places was their low populations and correspondingly small sample sizes: The last of these studies covered only 22 heart attacks among nonsmokers over the course of nearly four years.

When studies sampling larger populations finally appeared, the reported declines in heart attacks began to shrink...

A 2008 study covering the entire country of New Zealand—a population smaller than England’s, but bigger than the American towns previously studied—found no significant effects on heart attacks or unstable angina in the year following implementation of a smoking ban; hospitalizations for the former had actually increased.

Contradictory research continued to come in. A clever study led by researchers at RAND Corp. in 2010 tested the possibility that the large reductions identified in small communities were due to chance. They assembled a massive data set that allowed them to essentially replicate studies like those in Helena, Pueblo, and Bowling Green, but on an unprecedented scale. Whereas those studies had compared just one small community to another, the RAND paper compared all possible pairings of communities affected by smoking bans to all possible controls, for a total of more than 15,000 pairings. They stratified results by age in case there were differential effects on the young, working age adults, or the elderly. And in an improvement on most other studies, they also controlled for existing trends in the rate of heart attacks.

The study found no statistically significant decrease in heart attacks among any age group...

A 2012 study of six American states that had instituted smoking bans came to a similar conclusion. So did a 2014 study, which is notable for being co-authored by some of the same researchers who had previously published papers suggesting that the Colorado towns of Pueblo and Greeley had experienced reduced rates of heart attacks after implementing smoking bans. When Colorado enacted a statewide ban, the authors had an opportunity to see if their earlier results could be duplicated across the larger population of nearly 5 million people. No effect appeared. As an additional test, they re-examined the data excluding 11 jurisdictions that had already implemented comprehensive smoking bans: The statewide ban still showed no effect.

In the paper’s admirably honest commentary, the authors reflected on the reasons that earlier studies, including their own, had overstated the impact of smoking bans. The first is that small sample sizes allowed random variances in data to be mistaken for real effects. The second is that most previous studies failed to account for existing downward trends in the rate of heart attacks. And the third is publication bias: Since no one believes that smoking bans increase heart attacks, few would bother submitting or publishing studies that show a positive correlation or null effect. Thus the published record is likely unintentionally biased toward showing a larger effect than truly exists...

Drawing on data from 28 states from 2001–2008, lead author Vivian Ho, an economist at Rice University, compared rates of hospitalization for heart attacks in areas with and without smoking bans.

Following the methodology of previous studies, she and her coauthors found a statistically significant reduction in hospitalizations for heart attacks and congestive heart failure following implementation of a smoking ban (though only among people older than 65). But when they went a step further, adjusting the analysis with county-by-county health data addressing variables such as access to hospitals and increases in cigarette taxes, the effect of the smoking bans disappeared. Ho and her co-authors suggest that modest improvements in cardiac health that were previously credited to smoking bans may actually be caused by differentials in access to medical care and people smoking less when cigarette taxes increase (smoking cigarettes does have a proven negative effect on cardiac health)...

“No clear link between passive smoking and lung cancer,” read a 2013 headline in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, hardly a pro-tobacco publication. That was a report on a cohort study tracking 76,000 women that failed to detect a link between the disease and secondhand smoke. The finding comports with existing literature suggesting that the effect is borderline and concentrated on long-term, high levels of exposure.

Despite the mounting evidence that transient exposure to secondhand smoke is more an annoyance than a mortal threat, smoking bans have become widespread and politically entrenched. According to the latest update from Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, which publishes quarterly reports on anti-smoking laws, more than 80 percent of the American population now lives under smoking bans covering workplaces, restaurants, or bars. An additional 3,400 jurisdictions ban smoking in outdoor areas such as parks, beaches, and stadiums. More than 400 cities and counties restrict smoking while dining outdoors. More than 1,700 college campuses are completely smoke-free. Nearly 600 jurisdictions include e-cigarettes under their smoke-free laws. Some jurisdictions make limited allowance for places such as cigar bars and hookah lounges, while in others these are completely forbidden or limited to businesses grandfathered in before ordinances took effect.

The cost of these policies falls almost entirely on people who smoke, an increasingly put-upon minority of the population. Rarely are their preferences consulted...

Smokers increasingly find their habit viewed as on a par with use of illicit drugs. Smokers also report that judgments against them cut deeper than their outward behavior, extending to their identity as human beings. “Even if you can’t articulate it you probably intuitively feel it in the same way that if you’re black or a woman and you’re being discriminated against,” one subject told his interviewers. “Like even if you can’t articulate it or you certainly can’t prove it or you’d be at the Human Rights Commission, but you kind of know it’s happening.”

To some anti-smoking advocates, that stigmatization is useful if it encourages people to quit. The authors of this paper are skeptical, noting that such stigmatization could instead lead to feelings of powerlessness...

Early arguments for smoking bans at least paid lip service to the idea that restrictions were necessary to protect unwilling bystanders’ health. But as bans have grown ever more intrusive even as the case for expanding them has withered, that justification has been revealed as a polite fiction by which nonsmokers shunted smokers to the fringes of society. It was never just about saving lives...

As Jonathan Swift said in an apt aphorism, “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it.” Too late to help smokers banished from public life.

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. As health journalists take on topics such as outdoor smoking bans, discrimination against smokers in employment or adoption, and the ever-evolving regulation of e-cigarettes, they should consider that however well-intentioned the aims of the tobacco control movement are, its willingness to sacrifice the means of good science to the end of restricting behavior calls for skeptical scrutiny...

To cite just a few recent examples: In Washington, the city council has passed legislation restricting e-cigarettes, which emit vapor, and chewing tobacco, which doesn’t emit anything. In England, health advocates argue for restricting outdoor smoking because children should not so much as see someone lighting up. “Smokers themselves are also contaminated… smokers actually emit toxins,” one Harvard researcher mused to Scientific American in 2009, warning against exposure to invisible “thirdhand smoke” wafting off of smokers’ clothing and hair. Writers at Vox have gone so far as to advocate banning smoking even in private homes. The list could go on endlessly. Is it any wonder smokers feel stigmatized?"
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