Saturday, 3 September 2011

Stirling University versus Philip Morris: more links

Yesterday there were yet more stories in the Independent on the tussle between tobacco and the powers that be.

Tobacco giants tell Whitehall to hand over its secret minutes: discusses tobacco companies' search for evidence supporting anti-tobacco legislation. Considering that much recent legislation is manifestly unreasonable, requiring the government to show justification for it seems fair.

If data cannot be safely made public, FOI shouldn't apply: this one is written by Maurice Frankel, director of the UK Campaign for Freedom of Information.  He reckons that disclosure will make the information available to tobacco companies, and this will imperil similar projects in the future. There must be a wider public interest at stake, however, than protecting data from scrutiny by outside observers. (Does Professor Hastings really believe that his insights and work will significantly improve Philip Morris' success in the youth market?) There may be issues on which it is better not to reveal data, but if this represents a dangerous release of data I would suggest FOI isn't a very robust concept.

Reports from the Scottish press include the Scotsman (including a statement from the Information Commission) and the Record, which gives an embarrassingly emotive account of the issues (perhaps Professor Hastings should seek employment with Philip Morris as he seems to have all the insights they need?). We learn that there are 13,500 deaths a year from smoking (no reduction on 2004), and that the academics are quite right to withhold the information.

Finally from Frank Davis' blog, a response to the initial 'Exclusive' on Thursday from Stephen Connor on this issue, which reported how Professor Linda Bauld of Stirling University, also involved in the study, has received abusive communications at home. Can't find much to disagree with here.

Finally: hold the front page! more revelations from Simon Clark at Forest.


Mr A said...

Just some number crunching....

1) If there has been no reduction in tobacco deaths since 2004 doesn't that definitively prove the Pell junk study that the Scottish Parliament is always quoting, as being false? They can't have their cake and eat it ("Lots of deaths from smoking!" / "Deaths from smoking are down due to bans!").

2) If Scotland has a population of 5.2 million and 25% smoke, that means at an annual mortality rate of 13,500 it would take a smoker 96 years of smoking, on average, to be "guaranteed" to be killed by smoking. Alternatively, as most people don't smoke for more than 45 years before dying from old age anyway, it means that statistically, if you smoke for 45 years you still have a 50/50 chance of not dying from smoking. And of course, that's using their own figures of "smoking related death" which as we know is put down on any death certificate where the person who is dead was a smoker and has not been hit by a bus. Considering 25% of the population that dies every year is under 65 (that is both smokers and non-smokers) that doesn't seem too bad to me....

And of course, as I'm no statistician that assumes that everyone who is smoking now smokes for 96 years and no one ever, ever starts in that time period. Considering that, over that 96 years, several million will be smoking (as new people start), then the figure is in reality much less than even 50/50....

Mr A said...

Then again, stats always amaze me. It's like the stats that CRUK throw around about 25% of all cancers being caused by smoking.... when 25% of the population smoke. i.e. there is no statistical difference between smokers and non-smokers.

Or the longevity tables for countries which show heavy-smoking developed nations having longer life expectancies than lower-smoking developed nations.

No one ever seems to comment on these discrepancies. Let alone the "increasing lung cancer and asthma rates" vs the "decreasing smoking / exposure to smoke" facts. Forget about causation, there isn't even correlation. In fact, there's a negative correlation! Yet no-one in power ever seems to notice this.