Woke up to hear BBC news bulletins repeating, over and over again, that the smoking ban introduced in Scotland in 2006 has improved the health of unborn babies.
The news was reported without – to the best of my knowledge – a single dissenting voice which is odd because, if you read the story on the BBC News website, the cracks in the research – by a team led by our old friend Dr Jill Pell – are clearly visible:
Scotland was the first country in the UK to ban smoking in public places, followed by Wales, Northern Ireland and England in 2007.
After the legislation was introduced in Scotland, fewer mothers-to-be smoked - 19% compared with 25% before.
The investigators believe both are linked to the smoking ban, even though these rates started to go down some months before the ban was introduced and smoking incidence started to creep up again shortly after the ban.
BBC reporter Michelle Roberts (who I generally find to be more amenable to a dissenting opinion than most health correspondents) adds:
But while [the investigators] work suggests a link, it is not proof that one thing necessarily causes another. As with all retrospective studies like this, it is impossible to rule out entirely all other factors that might have influenced the finding.
Well said, Michelle. There are very few health reporters today who have the guts to query this type of research. Unfortunately, very few people read past the headline – Smoking ban boost to health of newborns, Smoking ban 'cuts birth problems' – and so the story enters popular mythology.
Chris Snowdon is a far better analyst than me so I suggest you to pop over to his blog to see what he has to say on the matter. (We disagree about the BBC's Michelle Roberts but you can't have everything.)
See: Fewer premature births after smoking ban in Scotland (BBC News) and Scottish smoking ban miracle touches to the unborn (Velvet Glove Iron Fist)