Just the facts, ma’am!

Kansas Watchdog.org is a pro-smoking web page which I recently checked out for the first time. The specific article of interest is Smoking Ban Advocate Says Some Claims Just Smoke by Paul Soutar, posted on February 20, 2010. It’s a well-prepared article featuring video testimony given during a recent hearing by supporters of a Kansas statewide smoke-free air bill, which reportedly has just received final approval.

MoGASP: Please see comment below from Paul Soutar for correction that KansasWatchdog.org is NOT a pro-smoking blog.

Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips

In the video, Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, Health Director and Kansas State Health Officer appointed early last year, quotes from a study released in September 2009 by the Kansas University Medical Center. He stated: “Communities that pass a strong (smoke-free air) law see their heart attack rate decline by 17% in just the first year.”

Seventeen percent is wrong: the number has since been corrected by the authors, Dr. David Meyers et al, to 8%, which is apparently in the normal range seen in communities without any such laws in effect.

To back up his claim of erroneous testimony, Paul Soutar quotes Dr. Michael Siegel’s criticism in his blog titled Error Disclosed in Meta-Analysis of Smoking Bans’ Effect on Heart Attacks: Will Anti-Smoking Groups Report the Error? published December 16, 2009. The criticisms made by Dr. Siegel appear to be valid, and show why it’s critically important for smoke-free air advocates to ensure that their data is solid.

A report by the Institute of Medicine committee released last October, titled Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Cardiovascular Effects: Making Sense of the Evidence, received widespread coverage and was quoted by some in St. Louis to support Proposition N. I decided against following suit after reading persuasive criticism of the report by Dr. Siegel on his blog, posted October 21, 2009. There is already so much damning evidence against SHS that we absolutely don’t need to use any even remotely questionable data.

Paul Soutar’s blog is followed by a number of comments from pro-smoking activists. One of them, called “Pam,” who writes extensively and has had comments accepted on the mogasp blog, included the following:

THIS study says if you quit smoking you have a 80%-90% chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes. http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/01/04/diabetes.smoking.risks/index.html

I checked out the above link and found a rather different message conveyed by the authors of this study, thanks to what Pam had omitted to quote:
“People who quit smoking are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes after they kick the habit, most likely due to post-quitting weight gain, a new study has found.
Experts caution, however, that the benefits of quitting smoking — including a lower risk of heart attack and lung cancer — far outweigh the risk of developing diabetes, which can be treated with diet, exercise, and medication.
[Emphasis added.]

Just another example of deliberately skewing the data to suit an agenda. I submitted a response which concluded:

What U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop, stated in 1986 still holds true today:

Nonsmokers should be protected from secondhand smoke, and smokers should be helped to quit.

Martin Pion, President, Missouri GASP

http://www.mogasp.wordpress.com

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10 responses to “Just the facts, ma’am!

  1. Thanks for appreciating the quality of the article cited, but I need to make a correction to your assertion that KansasWatchdog.org or the article cited is “pro-smoking.” As you can see on the site’s mission page our efforts are focused on free market and constitutional principles.
    The key issue with the pro-ban testimony presented in the story centers on the flawed testimony and the affront to personal freedom it presents. The public can not make sound choices based on falsehoods, especially ones that restrict or end personal freedoms.
    Some of the flawed “science” highlighted in the story was repeated Thursday in floor debate preceding the Kansas House passing a “comprehensive” smoking ban that exempts state-owned casinos. More hypocrisy.
    Personally, I do not smoke, have never smoked and lost my father to smoking-related diseases. But I also served 12 years in the military defending the freedoms of Americans, many of whom make choices I disagree with.
    As for the claims made in comments. They are just that, comments by readers neither supported nor objected to by KansasWatchdog.org, but worthy of public scrutiny.
    Thanks for adding to the discussion.

    • Thank you for the correction!

      Note: Following my making the corrections early this morning I thought the matter was closed. To my surprise, Paul Soutar made an issue of it in a story he subsequently posted: Easy Labels Inhibit Real Debate, By Paul Soutar On February 26, 2010. I submitted the following reply after reading his story.

      “Just to make clear that yesterday was the first time I had visited your site, and as I recall, it was the result of a link from a pro-smoking source. I was misled into believing it was also pro-smoking by that and all the comments following your post, at least some of which were from pro-smoking activists who regularly send comments to the mogasp blog attacking the evidence that secondhand smoke is harmful to nonsmokers.

      I appreciate your pointing out the mistake in a comment received at 12:20 am this morning, which I immediately accepted for publication and also highlighted it by adding a correction near the beginning of the blog. I alerted you to this in an e-mail at 1:16 am this morning, which you acknowledged at 1:20 am.

      I was surprised when I checked your web site that this had become an issue though.

      The MoGASP blog strives to be scrupulous in the way it handles information, even when it doesn’t help our goal of smoke-free air in public places and the private workplace.

      That was demonstrated when we recently received an award from Dr. Mike Siegel in recognition of that principled stance, as reported in the blog:
      “Missouri GASP Disseminates Results of Tuscany Heart Attack/Smoking Ban Study, Wins $100 Award for Scientific Integrity.” You can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/yb8hbgy

      I must express surprise that this became a talking point after I had immediately made the correction, and did so in a way to draw attention to it.”

  2. Mr. Pion, the IOM Report and the faulty KU meta-analysis trumpeted by the press just before the County vote had a huge effect. I wish the WSJ and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had been as rigorous about this as you now are! Both the electorate and lawmakers have been so ill informed about the benefits of smoking bans, the validity of these laws must be called into question.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203803904574426921442513660.html

    http://interact.stltoday.com/blogzone/the-platform/published-editorials/2009/01/indoor-smoking-bans-prevent-heart-attacks/

    • I disagree with you that the flawed studies you mention were what persuaded the voters to support Prop N by a majority of 2:1. Most people simply want to be able to work or dine or whatever in a smoke-free environment.

  3. I think that the anti-smoking advocates are pushing the secondhand smoke issue way too far. Forcing smokers outside to smoke in public places should be much more than sufficient for these cry babies for their rights, without imposing on the rights that smokers should have. For people who want to live smoke-free, this should be more than sufficient. Yet I firmly believe that most are real hypocrites, who, instead of smoking, have habits like alcohol comsumption. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if C. Everett Koop didn’t mind getting smashed on Mai-Tais while he’s been pushing his communistic agenda all of these years. True, I smoke, but if alcohol went back to prohibition, it wouldn’t hurt me a stroke. Yet, as an American citizen, I wouldn’t want to impose my will on drinkers to the point that our government can’t find a safe way for drinkers to have some of the rights that they should be afforded. What ever to happened to the “land of the free”? I used to be so proud of the way that the state of Missouri tries to protect the liberties of their citizens, and over the last few years, the anti-smoking hypocrites have smashed that to bits, like the other states. What a shame!!!!

    • We ARE talking about secondhand smoke (SHS) pollution, right? It has been identified as a leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. And Dr. Koop was certainly a man of integrity. The first U.S. Surgeon General’s report on SHS, which Dr. Koop released in December 1986, was based on a substantial body of scientific evidence which has only grown larger and more compelling since. It seems you can only fall back on epithets: that’s not a convincing argument.
      N.B. I assume your name is Bryce Snyder, so I’m allowing your comment. If that’s a pseudonym you need to provide your real name, off-list if you wish, for me to consider future comments.

  4. I appreciate the fact that when Pion makes an absurd mistatement, that he corrects it, unlike the pro ban doctors!

    • Thanks! It wasn’t an “absurd” misstatement though. It was a mistake, corrected immediately after I was alerted to it in an e-mail at 12:20 am this morning.

  5. Unfortunately misinformation and labeling in public debate is a very big issue. I pointed out that your article was quickly corrected and fairly dealt with the substance of the debate, unlike many sites which do not correct known errors. I think you should see the post I put up as a positive for your site and the debate in general. Please reread the post and tell me specifically where I am being unfair or continue to criticize your story or site.
    Thanks for the open and honest debate.

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