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Spin doctors: how tobacco control twists research to suit its agenda

Metro this morning reports that:

The smoking ban should be extended to areas outside pubs and bars to curb 'social smoking', according to scientists.

The restriction has led to a decline in the number of people smoking but ildulging socially has risen among young adults.

Social smokers aged between 19 and 25 said they limited where and when they lit up only to 'spiritually' distance themselves from full-time smokers. They added that they usually smoked when they had been drinking, with the two 'going hand in hand'.

Prof Janet Hoek, of the University of Otago in New Xealand, saud: 'Introducing smoke-free outsoors bars could reduce social smoking by removing cue that stimulate this behaviour and changing the environment that facilitates it.'

The story is the result of a "small qualitiative study" published in the journal Tobacco Control, part of the BMJ Group.

Yesterday I was sent the press release (headlined 'Extending smoking ban outside bars could help curb “social smoking”') and when I read it one small but important point stood out. The 'study' is based on interviews with just 13 people, “social smokers, aged between 19 and 25, who were recruited through the online social network Facebook and via posters in cafes, supermarkets, and on community noticeboards.

Thirteen! That must have been one hell of a recruitment campaign.

Needless to say the number of participants has been ignored by Metro and will no doubt be missed by millions of people who will read no further than headlines such as 'Study backs ban on smoking outside bars' (, 'Smokefree areas for outside bars – study' (Sky News Australia), 'Call to ban smoking outside bars' (TVNZ), and so on.

The Daily Telegraph, like some of those other reports, does mention the size of the study but most people won't read past the headline Pub gardens ban 'would help smokers quit'.

Anyway, here's the quote I gave the Telegraph (which they used):

"This study can't be taken seriously: it's based on just 13 people.

"Aside from that, the smoking ban was brought in allegedly to protect bar workers. Banning smoking outdoors would have nothing to do with that.

"I would also query that social smoking, having the odd cigarette, is an unhealthy activity."

And this is the quote from the Forest press release:

"It beggars belief that anyone could draw any conclusions from such a small scale study but the tobacco control industry will spin any research, however modest, to suit its agenda.

"The smoking ban was introduced, allegedly, to protect the health of bar workers. There is no justification for banning smoking outside bars nor is there evidence that the majority of smokers, social or otherwise, would support such a measure."

David Bowden of the Institute of Ideas has also commented here.

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Reader Comments (6)

This is the paper here (1). It is probably in scientific terms an example of "selection bias" whereby the ones who were motivated to join the study were the ones who felt most guilty about smoking. The ones who were quite comfortable did not bother to reply.

The second URL (2) is Sainburys investigation into the UK's 3 million secret smokers who puff once to a handful of times a year. Just over 1 in 3 of us will light up this year.



Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 8:44 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Alastair Campbell presented Panorama last night. He was once a heavy smoker and an alcoholic. He blames the closures of pubs for the increase in problem drinkers.
A ban on smoking in beer gardens will lead to more people drinking at home and increase the number of problem drinkers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 10:29 | Unregistered CommenterChas

All these studies and surveys are a total farce and not worth the paper they're written on.
Since the smoking ban was introduced and then quickly followed by numerous other bans, new rules and regulations and further restrictions, people and especially the young, are just fed up with all these bullshit surveys.
They know that these so called studies are just to keep the memento going to make the headlines and to keep a check on them for Big Brother.
So they lie.
And tell Big Brother what they want to hear just to fit in.
At this stage of the game if I was accosted by a Smoking Survey outfit I'd probably tell them I never smoked in my life just to get them out of my face.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 11:32 | Unregistered Commenterann

The more they extend the bans the more people will stay at home. As a consequence they will tend to drink and smoke more!

I stay home now and although I am not much of a drinker, I most definitely smoke a lot more whilst either watching tv or playing games on my PC - as does my husband! I used to smoke less than 20 a day, now a smoke between 30 and 40 a day.

These tactics WILL NOT stop smokers from smoking - it certainly hasn't so far; IT WILL close more businesses down and increase the amount people smoke and drink. So, bully for the bansturbators as they shoot themselves in the foot, time and time again!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 17:09 | Unregistered CommenterLyn

“ … decline in the number of people smoking but indulging socially has risen …”

Isn’t someone declaring themselves to be a “social smoker” rather like someone saying they are “a little bit pregnant?” If you smoke tobacco – no matter how rarely, in whatever company and whether you buy your own or not – then you’re a smoker. If you don’t smoke tobacco, ever, no matter what the environment or the company you are in, then you’re a non-smoker. You can’t be half and half! Hence, what this little study actually shows (if one wants to draw conclusions from such a tiny number) is that the ban has had at most no effect at all on the number of smokers overall and may even have actually increased it. I bet the ban proponents in their blind faith didn’t foresee that happening!

Methinks that this increasingly-used term of “social smoker” is just a convenient one which people use so that they enjoy the sense of moral superiority of being a non-smoker whilst not actually ever giving up the enjoyment of smoking tobacco!

The article also raises the question as to why all these self-proclaimed “social smokers” feel the need to join the smokers outside. Why is this, when (if we are to believe all that we are told by the ban’s supporters), pubs are now packed to the rafters with jolly, happy, fun-guys-to-be-with non-smokers …

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 19:12 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Looks like there is a concerted effort now to ban smoking in all outside areas.A quote from the North Devon Gazette "The hospital has joined forces with smoke free southwest and Devonstop smoking services". seems it,s designed to bring it into line with other smoke free hospitals but the bit that gets me is "we have decided to adopt a zero tolerance on all smoking on the site BUILDING on the no smoking in enclosed public spaces passed in 2007. First what allows anyone to build upon a law and second who,s NHS is it that someone can call this into practice.

Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 9:15 | Unregistered CommenterEVIL C

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