Up In Smoke

When I heard that the CDC was reporting huge drops in heart attack rates from smoking bans, I was immediately suspicious. The cig-grabbers have been caught — many times — faking it. There was the EPA’s landmark study years ago that changed the weights of the input studies. Then there was the Scottish study that cherry-picked certain hospitals in certain months. I hate to prejudge, but these guys have a track record of announcing huge finds only to quietly retract them later.

God damn, do I hate being right all the time:

The largest study of the issue, which used nationwide data instead of looking at cherry-picked communities, found that smoking bans “are not associated with statistically significant short-term declines in mortality or hospital admissions for myocardial infarction or other diseases.” Furthermore, “An analysis simulating smaller studies using subsamples reveals that large short-term increases in myocardial infarction incidence following a workplace ban are as common as the large decreases reported in the published literature.”

That study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in March, suggests that publication bias can explain what the IOM panel describes as the “consistent” results of the studies it considered (meaning that they all found drops in heart attacks, although the magnitude of these decreases varied widely, from 6 percent in Italy to an astonishing 47 percent in Pueblo, Colorado). If a researcher runs the numbers for a particular jurisdiction and finds no impact from a smoking ban, he is not likely to write up that result, especially if he supports smoking bans as part of the effort to reduce tobacco-related disease. Even if he does submit an article describing his findings, it is not likely to be published, not just because of an anti-smoking bias but because negative results are perceived as boring.

The NBER paper was mysteriously excluded from the IOM report, even though the authors say they bent over backward to compensate for publication bias by looking for relevant data that did not appear in medical journals. They also ignored analyses that found no declines in heart attacks following smoking bans in California, Florida, New York, Oregon, England, Wales, and Scotland. The omission of the Scottish data is especially striking because they contradict one of the 11 studies included in the IOM report, showing that a decrease in heart attacks during the first year was exaggerated and in any case disappeared the following year.

I hate to accuse anyone of fraud, but what else do you call this? The anti-smokers have pulled this crap again and again and again. Either they are deliberately canting the results or, as a whole, they are the sloppiest researchers on the planet.

But the bell has been rung. This study — like all the discredited stories before it — will now be cited a justification for every new smoking ban.

(PS – There’s a quote later on from the other Michael Siegel, who I am sometimes mistaken for (in cyberspace, that is, not meatspace). He’s a staunch anti-smoker who constantly attacks the sloppy research used to support his cause. I’m proud to share my name with anyone who bashes his own side’s BS.)

Comments are closed.