Saturday, 10 September 2011

Liquor license group challenges Health Director Wymyslow, Ohio

The Buckeye Liquor Permit Holders' Association issued this press release yesterday. They state that a new Executive Summary Report published by the Ohio Department of Health misrepresents the main study, 'Analysis of the Impact of Ohio's Smokefree Workplace Act', by failing to refer to vital data presented in the report. It was not reported that fewer than 1 per cent of smokers increased their patronage of bars after the smoking ban came in. The fact that venues in the lowest tax bracket were excluded from the study was also left out of the summary report. The group also points to the claim in Ohio Health Department's report that heart attacks dropped drastically (by 26 per cent) following the smoking ban, referring to Michael Siegel, smoking ban advocate of 25 years' standing, who shows that there were more heart attacks after the smoking ban than before it.

The group also questions the appointment of employees of the Public Health and Health Promotion departments of the administration to write an economic study, when their career interests are at stake in the outcome.  The omission of information in the Executive Summary concerning bars specifically is achieved by collating information for the entire hospitality sector, which conceals damage to bars. Leaving out establishments in the low tax bracket enhances the focus on bars and restaurants in areas less affected by the ban (in districts with fewer smokers). (Both these issues are covered in an enlightening 2008 paper by Michael Marlow entitled 'Honestly, who else would fund such research?')

Opponents of Ohio Bans have today gone even further and called for the resignation of the Health Director Dr Theodore Wymyslow, on the grounds that the Executive Summary Report gives misleading and essentially fraudulent information to the press – both broadcast and print media. This report has been released one month before a debate on the constitutionality of the smoking ban is heard in the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio group holds that this is a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of this debate.

The methodology of the Ohio report rings bells. Professor Linda Bauld, a professor in Socio-management recently appointed to Stirling University, published a significant report on the economics of the smoking ban in March: The Impact of Smokefree Legislation in England: Evidence Review. It is curious that the public accepts as impartial and authoritative economic reports about smoking bans that are written by researchers in public health departments, who in general lack insight into the economics of the hospitality industry and are swayed by the requirements of their paymasters.

We should take a leaf from Michael Marlow's paper and remember the 'rhetoric of assent' referred to in Michael Marlow's paper: 'that is an initial readiness to suppose that the other guy or gal is also fairminded and trustworthy and deserves to be heard out'. Unfortunately the influence of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control makes this very difficult, as the FCTC works to resist 'tobacco industry interference' (interpreted as widely as they can) in public policy (Article 5.3). It is hard not to dismiss the insights of the other camp when they are so determined to dismiss any take on the issue that doesn't emanate from public health.

I look forward to an update on Ohio.

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