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Wednesday
Mar072012

The smoking ban and unborn children: more spin doctoring

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)

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Reader Comments (5)

Of course, if this Telegraph article (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9127486/Obese-and-smokers-denied-treatment-to-save-money.html) is any indication of things-to-come, then soon there will be no data on smoking and birth rates, because the NHS will simply refuse treatment for overweight pregnant women who smoke(d).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 10:29 | Unregistered CommenterJay

Antismoking concerning pregnancy predates the current wave. Early in the 1900’s it was some church groups (e.g., Methodist Episcopal Church’s Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals) that considered nicotine as a “killer of babies.” The “controversy” was picked up by the New York Times in two stories. In one story it was claimed that 40 babies from a New York maternity hospital “suffered from tobacco heart caused by the cigaret smoking of their mothers.” In the other it was claimed that “sixty percent of all babies born of cigaret-smoking mothers die before they reach the age of two, due primarily to nicotine poisoning.” (quoted in Oaks, 2001, p.53; Journal of the American Medical Association, 1929, p.123) The American Tobacco Trust was viewed by the church board as “conscienceless baby-killers” that by promoting cigarettes to women were directing a “lying murderous campaign.”
From “Rampant Antismoking Signifies Grave Danger”, p.306

The book also has a considerable section on the history of issues relating to smoking and pregnancy/early childhood, p.305-335.

The book is available free to download at
http://www.rampant-antismoking.com

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 12:13 | Unregistered CommenterMag

I was listening to this all night, whilst working - what a load of crap!

Perhaps I am wrong, but I am sure it said that premature births of earlier than 3 weeks were greatly reduced in BOTH smoking and never smoking women. If that is the case, what the hell does smoking or the smoking ban have to do with it?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 12:18 | Unregistered CommenterLyn

There's a caveat to this - which BBC Radio Scotland (to its credit) raised in this morning's report. The health of ALL unborn babies in Scotland has improved - whether the mothers were ex-smokers or had never smoked. So it's a general good news storyj - but spun to demonise smokers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 12:35 | Unregistered CommenterKenno

The research was carried out by Prof Jill Pell who also falsely claimed that there was a big decrease in heart attacks after the ban.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 16:01 | Unregistered CommenterChas

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