Further to my previous post ASH Scotland had mixed views about the smokers' survey that formed the basis of The Pleasure of Smoking report.
Writing on Tobacco Unpacked, the ASH Scotland blog (comments unwelcome), deputy chief executive John Watson commented:
We hear that Forest is paying for a survey with the aim “to find out what smokers really think”.
This is a laudable aim – and chimes with an interest of ours. We don’t know enough about who smokers are, what they are thinking or how they perceive the actions of public health interests (or indeed commercial ones).
In particular there is a need to explore how views and desires vary amongst the 900,000 people in Scotland who smoke tobacco – why do some groups smoke more than others? What services or functions are people seeking from smoking? Why does a consistent majority say that they want to stop?
Snootily he then added:
Sadly this Forest survey will not help us with this.
The Forest survey is being promoted on their website and social media, and punted around other pro-smoking/anti-regulation networks. A message urging participation is being sent to “friends of Forest”.
The people reached by these requests will not represent the general population of “smokers”, but instead the small sub-set of smokers who engage with Forest and/or other anti-regulation interests and who feel motivated to complete a survey distributed by those interests.
To put it another way, a survey sent around to ASH Scotland supporters would likely indicate considerable scepticism about Forest’s claim to speak on behalf of smokers, but we could not simply use this to claim that the whole population thinks this way. A survey of your friends only tells you about your friends.
Now it is perfectly valid to seek the views of this group, and most organisations will want to better understand their supporter base. But as a means of producing results about smokers as a whole, this survey has been rendered completely useless.
The stated aim “To find out what smokers really think” seems to have missed this crucial point. Surely Forest is not intending to use the results of this survey to make claims about smokers as a whole? To allay our concerns, will they state clearly that their survey cannot be taken as representative of the views of all smokers and will not be presented as such?
Well, the report was not only sub-titled 'The views of confirmed smokers' it came with this very clear statement from the researchers, the Centre for Substance Use Research:
The survey we have undertaken was funded by Forest - the UK’s leading smokers’ rights organisation. Specifically, we surveyed a total of 650 smokers who completed an online questionnaire circulated to smokers in contact with the Forest organisation ...
Whilst our research was funded by the Forest they had no role to play in the data we have collected (other than distributing notices of the survey’s existence and website for survey completion and suggesting some possible questions for inclusion on our instrument), nor in the analysis of the material collected or the write-up of these results.
In his introduction to the report Dr Neil McKeganey, director of the CSUR, also wrote:
In this report we outline the results of research that aimed to elicit the views of a group that one might characterize as having a positive orientation towards their smoking [my emphasis]. It might be objected that the views of these smokers are irrelevant to the mainstream commitment to reduce smoking prevalence. However, it could equally be said that no individual or organization dedicated to reducing smoking prevalence should so easily dispense with any interest in the views of that group who have remained somewhat immune to all of the current and recent attempts at discouraging their smoking.
The views of the individuals we have surveyed are of interest not simply because they are rarely conveyed but because they set out so very clearly the challenge faced by those seeking to further reduce smoking prevalence within society. It is only by understanding how smokers view their smoking that agencies oriented to further reducing smoking prevalence are likely to secure that goal. If we are to better understand the views of smokers themselves, including those who are most committed to the activity [my emphasis], it is essential that we enable smokers as platform to describe their own smoking activity in the way that they choose to describe it.
If they, or some of them, find pleasure in their smoking, then whether we are offended by that characterization or not, we do not have the right to disparage their accounts for fear of undermining what may be seen as the consensus of tobacco control.
ASH Scotland published Watson's blog post (The “smokers survey” that can’t tell us anything about “smokers”) on October 25. The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers was published two months later, on December 27.
Not only did ASH Scotland refuse to publish any comments on Watson's post, this taxpayer-funded organisation then chose to ignore the very report whose methodology it had been so keen to criticise prior to its publication.
Frankly I take that as a compliment to the work carried out by the CSUR. After all, if the report didn't stand up to scrutiny can you imagine how ASH Scotland and their fellow travellers would have reacted?
Nevertheless, having written what he did in October, anyone with an ounce of integrity would surely have reviewed the report or, at the very least, acknowledged the complete and utter transparency with which it was researched, funded and published.
Instead, standing on his taxpayer-funded pulpit, pontificating about Forest and, by association, the Centre for Substance Use Research, John Watson is the epitome of the professional tobacco control campaigner.
Rather than acknowledge the report, which contains some insightful truths about confirmed smokers and their habit, Watson and ASH Scotland have chosen to (a) censor comments posted in good faith on the ASH Scotland blog and (b) ignore the very research whose methodology they chose – in advance – to belittle and berate.
This pathetic attitude is typical of most tobacco control campaigners. Anything that departs from the official line about smoking (and smokers) is ignored or struck from the record.
I'm long past being angry or frustrated by this sort of thing. Instead I view the likes of John Watson with complete contempt. If it wasn't for the fact that public money is paying for their salaries I'd laugh them off as a joke.
Instead Watson and his ilk enjoy a good income, courtesy of taxpayers like you and me, and repay us by deliberately censoring, ignoring or belittling the views of anyone who goes off message.
Nice work if you can get it but symptomatic, sadly, of our intellectually and morally bankrupt tobacco control industry.
Dr Neil McKeganey will present the conclusions to The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers, at a special event in London on Wednesday February 22. RSVP email@example.com.