Tag Archives: non sequitur

Cheryl Healton lies (a lot!) to try to get NYC to restrict ecigs

by Carl V Phillips

This analysis, of this blog post, might seem a little more brutal than usual.  That is because the author, Cheryl Healton (the former head of the leading anti-tobacco organization, American Legacy Foundation — a fact that is omitted in the introduction of her in the blog in question — and now head of the public health program at NYC), knows the truth.  This is not a case of someone who is too innumerate to not know she is lying, or a useful idiot that is being used by the anti-tobacco extremists.  Healton is one of the puppet masters who manipulates her useful idiots (like New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal), which she is doing in this post.  Notice in particular the many times that she lies by using literally true but highly misleading statements, the mark of someone who knows she is lying but wants to be able to pretend otherwise.

The post appears in the blog of the “NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City”, an obviously misnamed group since they are campaigning not against smoke, but against e-cigarette use.  The thesis is that NYC should go ahead with its proposal to prohibit e-cigarette use anywhere that smoking is prohibited.  It is remarkable how close Healton comes to lying in every single sentence.  The first few about the fact that NYC is about to act on this are true, but most everything that follows is a lie:

Who is the e-cigarette industry?  Increasingly the e-cigarette industry is owned by the tobacco industry, an industry that would not be permitted to exist were it invented tomorrow because it would violate the consumer protection laws of all states and virtually every country in the world.

As I have pointed out, this “would not be allowed to exist” claim is at best pure speculation, and probably wrong.  But apart from that, it refers to a product (cigarettes), not an industry.  If the industry came into being right now selling low-risk products like smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, and NRT (all of which are sold by “the tobacco industry”), it would be allowed to exist.  But, of course, this soup of words is not meant to analyze the actual claim, but to lie about e-cigarettes, suggesting they are some industry plot.  In case the innuendo is lost on the reader, she goes on to lie,

For this reason, a healthy degree of skepticism about the industry’s ultimate goal in buying up e-cigarette manufacturers and creating more “efficient” e-cigarettes should prevail as policy makers establish regulations governing them. It is quite possible that the net effect of e-cigarettes will be to induce greater youth initiation of smoking and reduce the adult cessation rate, but the jury is still out.

I cannot imagine that Healton is stupid enough to actually believe that.  It is impossible to come up with a story to explain why the existence of e-cigarettes (let alone the acquisition of a few companies that she led into that with) could cause smoking at all, let alone to cause a net increase in smoking initiation.  E-cigarettes, like any popular low-risk alternative, will replace smoking initiation, not cause it.

Both youth and adult smoking rates are at their lowest levels in decades, so much is a stake for the health of the public.

Setting aside the fact that the “so” is a non sequitur, is what she is saying is that having almost 20% of the population smoking is such a success that harm reduction should be avoided?  It appears so.

There is also much at stake for the tobacco industry as it seeks to apply its considerable marketing acumen and seemingly endless resources to maximize profit by increasing the number who start smoking by enticing youth worldwide to smoke and by trying to retain current smokers.

Complaining about “endless resources” is pretty funny coming from someone who is at the apex of the billions-per-year tobacco control industry.  But the real question is what this passage has to do with e-cigarettes at all, let alone restricting where you can use them.  It is typical tobacco control misdirection:  “Cigarette manufacturers profit from more people smoking and remaining smokers, and therefore we should restrict where people can use e-cigarettes.”  Huh??!

Who might be hurt by e-cigarettes?  The tobacco products the industry has historically manufactured and promoted as “reduced harm” are not benign products created to meet the broad range of consumer preferences in the United States, rather they are deadly products that when used as directed kill over 400,000 Americans each year and are predicted by the World Health Organization to kill a billion people worldwide this century, 10 fold more than they killed in the 20th century. To put the scope of the current tobacco-related epidemic in perspective, in a few years, global lung cancer deaths will surpass AIDS deaths as the steady march of tobacco industry marketing continues to engulf the world’s poorest nations.

Again, huh??!  Does anyone see any connection between that question and what follows?  (Yes, I realize that the reader might now be questioning my assertion that Healton is too smart to not know she is lying.)  Her allusion to historical products is the usual tobacco control canard about the introduction of “light” cigarettes four decades ago, products where there was no evidence to suggest they would be lower risk.  And yet they were actively endorsed by the public health community, not just the manufacturers.

However, a mistake by everyone a couple of generations ago about what might be lower risk tells us nothing about the present world of products that are known to be lower risk.  It is an utterly absurd and blatant lie to suggest otherwise.

None of what she says in this paragraph is true about the actual reduced harm products that have been introduced by the tobacco industry and by others.  Smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, and other low-risk products do not cause the harms she is citing; cigarettes do.  (Well, cigarettes cause and will cause a lot of harm, though not as much as she claims.  But that is another story).  She seems to be trying to invoke the conjunction lie, that cigarettes plus low-risk alternatives do that much harm (which implies the harm is shared, even though it is basically all caused by cigarettes), but she screws up doing even that.  She actually is claiming that the low-risk products alone cause all the harm from smoking.

Nicotine addiction is in and of itself a gateway to tobacco product use because once addicted many will broaden the products they use and included among these will be the most dangerous products like cigars, cigarettes and hookah.

It is true that people who like to use one tobacco/nicotine product often try other products.  But what she is trying to imply (carefully avoiding actually saying it) is that using e-cigarettes will cause people who would not have otherwise smoked to do so.  There is no reason to believe this would be the case, and certainly no evidence of it occurring.

And it is worth pausing to remember that the title of this post says that NYC should include e-cigarettes in its smoking place restrictions.  I have skipped a few sentences but have not left out anything that addresses that.  There has been nothing yet.  Even if the previous quote were not a lie, it would still only be an argument against letting kids use e-cigarettes, not about forbidding adults from using them at their desks or in bars.

Most tobacco-related deaths are the culmination of substantial suffering and societal cost from heart disease, emphysema or various cancers and are the direct result of nicotine addiction.  Moreover, nicotine addiction is considered by many scientists as the most intractable of all addictions as measured by the percent of ever users who become addicted and the percent who remain addicted until death. Half of lifelong smokers lose their lives to tobacco addiction and among these people nearly half die before retirement age.

A pretty good argument in favor of encouraging e-cigarette use.  The bit about “most intractable” is nonsense, of course.  The reason users have more incentive to quit, say, meth than to quit smoking is the high level of short-term damage it is doing them.  And the “half” is a made-up number that is higher than what the evidence suggests.  Most important is that claims about the “addictiveness” of smoking tells us little about e-cigarettes, given the evidence that e-cigarettes are much easier to quit.

And, once again, this has nothing to do with whether there should be a place ban on e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are a complex product and their availability and the regulatory framework for governing them may have different implications and considerations for youth non-smokers compared to adult smokers. E-cigarette policy could produce sharply differing results by population sub-group.  Data demonstrate that a significant swath of adolescents already are using e-cigarettes. Time will soon tell whether e-cigarettes function as one more point of entry to cigarette, cigar and hookah consumption among those using e-cigarettes initially. One thing is clear however, since cessation efforts have thus far not worked with teens, e-cigarettes will likely not do anything good for kids and may well entice many to start smoking in view of the broad array of sweet, candy flavors and slick e-cigarette marketing already blanketing the internet, mall kiosks, TV and radio, which have to date eluded regulation.

Blatant lies and clueless nonsense.  (Ok, I will admit I am starting to doubt my previous assertion that Healton really understands what she is saying.)  Skipping past the distractions that the first few sentences comprise, we have the lie that many adolescents are using e-cigarettes, a repeat of the lie that there is any reason they would cause smoking, the lie that because other cessation efforts do not work for kids that harm reduction will not work for them (it might be true, but probably is not, and it is nothing more than speculation asserted as fact), and of course the usual canard about marketing.  Once again, the biggest lie here is that this has anything to do with restricting where adults can use e-cigarettes, or anything else about adult use.

Whether e-cigarettes will offer an incremental boost to cessation rates nationally also remains to be seen.

No, it doesn’t.  Close to every e-cigarette user is either a former smoker or a current smoker who has replaced some smoking with e-cigarettes and could be persuaded to complete the transition.  Many of those who quit smoking report that they had not been able to succeed at cessation until they tried e-cigarettes, and only then did they quit.  Therefore e-cigarettes have increased cessation.  This is not really a difficult concept to understand.  (She goes on in that paragraph to lie about what the research shows, but I will stop at debunking her thesis claim.)

This is the epitome of the ANTZ tactic of declaring every negative they can concoct to be a real concern, even if there is zero evidence and even if the evidence clearly shows it is a non-issue, while denying every positive by pretending that the evidence does not exist.

We should also remain open to another highly plausible effect of e-cigarettes-that they will function in the same manner “light” cigarettes did when they were introduced in the 70′s, promoted by the tobacco industry as a step smokers could take to feel safer without actually quitting smoking. As many subsequent studies showed, in fact they were not safer and millions who would have quit had they not been introduced failed to do so costing innumerable lives.

And (setting aside the lies about “light” cigarettes themselves) there is that lie about the situations being similar again.  The obvious difference is that e-cigarette users are “actually quitting smoking”, unlike light cigarette users, and they are using a product that genuinely is low risk.  What does a public health failure of the 1970s have to do with e-cigarettes?  Absolutely nothing.  It is basically the same as saying leeches turned out to be harmful rather than helpful in treating infectious diseases, and therefore we should avoid antibiotics.

Do we really want everyone vaping where they once could smoke?  

Oh, look, she is finally addressing the question she claims to be addressing.

The proposed extension of the SFAA to e-cigarettes, which will be voted on tomorrow, also will reduce the “walking billboard” effect of thousands of New Yorkers once again lighting up in bars, subways, parks, office buildings and restaurants throughout the city. But banning e-cigarettes in some locations solely for this reason is un-American in a country that prides itself on maximizing the freedom of its adult citizens to choose to engage in a range of risky and frisky behaviors. 

Interesting.  It is not a very risky behavior, of course, but it is nice to see that New York is still part of America.

The “billboard” claim is utter nonsense, of course.  How is someone vaping in their office, rather than outside the front door, a billboard?  E-cigarettes could still be restricted on the subway and restaurants could make their own choices about what is best for their patrons and vibe.  The proposed ban would eliminate all discretion, reasonableness and common sense, going beyond a few specific restrictions that some might argue are reasonable and imposing rules that are clearly absurd and harmful.

Take a step back and see what she is doing with all of this.  She is appealing to people who are worried about kids using e-cigarettes and do not like people vaping on the subway, and trying to trick them into supporting a rule that bars cannot choose to allow their patrons to vape.  If she actually cared about kids and subways, she would propose something that affects kids (this rule would not) and would endorse a rule that just applies to the subways (which could probably be done by administrative fiat).  Notice she never once offers any reason why banning vaping in bars, private offices, and many outdoor spaces would do any good for anyone, and indeed tries to hide the fact that this regulation would impose such restrictions.  Classic tobacco control bait-and-switch.

It should be noted, however, that while we in general embrace this ethos, when it comes to public drinking we often do not. We do not embrace wandering down the street drinking a cocktail, hopping into the elevator rum and coke [sic] in hand or whipping out a flask of whiskey on a plane.

Ok, so no vaping on elevators and planes.  I suspect that even most dedicated vapers would not find those to be terribly unreasonable restrictions.  As for walking down that street, the street would be one of the few places vaping was still allowed under the restrictions.  The anti-THR people cannot even keep their own stories straight.

Do we know enough to allow vaping in public spaces?  So what are the real risks of public vaping? Is it as its promoters would like us to believe a benign, reduced harm practice that is at worst a passing fancy?

Um, no.  Its promoters think it is here to stay.  Also, the ban is mostly about private spaces, not public spaces.

Or is it a potentially toxic practice that places those in its immediate vicinity at risk. The answer is we do not completely know yet, although already studies have shown elevated nicotine levels among those exposed to secondhand vaping, and this in and of itself is ominous. Not definitively measured as yet among second hand vapers [sic] are the myriad other toxic substances which are contained in e-cigarettes. 

Cute, huh, that use of “completely” and “definitively”.  Of course we know, from ample evidence, with a very high degree of certainty that the risk to bystanders is zero or utterly trivial.   But we never know anything completely or definitively.  Someone can always use weasel words like that to intentionally trick the reader into thinking she made a statement about what we really know, rather than merely a statement about the fact that there is never proof or complete information in the real world.

And if anyone is aware of any study that shows elevated nicotine levels from people exposed to “secondhand vapor”, I would be quite interested in hearing about it.

Under these circumstances, the prudent course is to extend the SFAA to encompass e-cigarettes until, if ever, sufficient evidence exists demonstrating their safety.

Right.  And what might that be?  Oh, you say, no evidence would ever be sufficient for that.  Thought so.

And why exactly would this be prudent?  I do not think that word means what she thinks that word means.  Is it prudent to restrict a very personal freedom when there appears to be no reason to do so, just because such a reason might be found later?  (Sounds like an argument for banning, say, the building of mosques in America — there are many who would make the same “we just don’t know if this will hurt the children” arguments about that.)  Is it prudent to ensure that cigarettes remain as attractive as possible as compared to low-risk alternatives?

The only conceivable downside of not extending the SFAA to e-cigarette use is the loss of any incremental harm reduction for smokers associated with being permitted to smoke e-cigarettes in locations where smoking is now banned.

TrANTZlation:  The harm it would inflict on those not able to vape at their desk, in bars, etc. is of absolutely no consequence.  We are tobacco control.  We don’t actually care if tobacco users suffer.  In fact, we prefer it.

And, of course, making e-cigarette use less attractive creates the public health harm of encouraging smokers to keep smoking.

It is highly unlikely that such a benefit, if it in fact exists, would outweigh the harms to youth, to non-smokers exposed to vaping nicotine laden vapors and potentially other toxins, and to recovering smokers who now stay quit in part because smoking has become less ubiquitous than it was 50 years ago when the Surgeon General released the first report on Smoking and Health.

Huh?  It is highly unlikely?  Care to quantify?  I would love to hear about the harms to youth from people vaping at their desks.  What harms are caused by (barely) “nicotine laden vapors”?  What possible impact is there on “recovering smokers”?

Sadly e-cigarettes may lead to four negative outcomes: the initiation of more youth to nicotine dependence and subsequent conventional smoking; the use of e-cigarettes by current cigarette smokers who would otherwise have quit but instead use both conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes in combination and therefore delay quitting or never quit and; the relapse to smoking by those who have already quit, first to smoking “benign” e-cigarettes and then to conventional cigarettes; and the exposure of people to e-cigarettes’ emissions unknown risks.

And how does all of this other than the last bit (a lie that has already been addressed) relate to the question at hand?

Who loses, if anyone, by extending the SFAA to e-cigarette use? Virtually no one loses. Vapers can still smoke everywhere current smokers now do. Let’s do what NYC has become known for and enact a policy that saves lives, not costs them.

Just in case the above trANTZlated passage was not clear enough, here she comes right out and says that the hardships suffered by vapers as a result of the rule do not matter.   Smoking place restrictions are designed to make smokers less happy — tobacco control advocates generally admit that these days — so obviously imposing the same restrictions on vapers will make them less happy too.  I wonder if it is a Freudian slip when she says that “vapers can still smoke” — because that is exactly what will happen:  Some would-be vapers, upon having to go out to the smoking areas anyway, will indeed smoke.  As a result, some of them will die from smoking and their blood will be on the hands of liars like Healton.

Sunday Science Lesson: mistaking necessity for virtue in study design

by Carl V Phillips

Yes, I have written versions of this before, but I never tire of the topic, mostly because of how much damage the errors do to science and health policy.  I get reminded of it every time I travel through a European or European-influenced airport.

Most scientific knowledge (which is just a fancy way of saying “knowledge” — I am just coopting the phrase from those who try to imply that the adjective is meaningful) comes from easy observations — e.g., “there are a lot more women than men in this population” requires only looking around.  Sometimes a bit of knowledge of interest gets a bit more complicated and we need to actively use measurement instruments — e.g., “this is heavy” is easy, but “this has a mass of 44.21 kg” requires careful methods and a good scale.  Finally, something that we want to know might be completely beyond our ability to assess without complicated methods — e.g., “does a lifetime of exposure to E double the risk of disease D” requires a complicated statistical analysis of thousands of people.  The point here is that just because those methods are necessary for the latter does not mean they are necessary — or even useful! — for easier observations.

To elaborate on the concept, I will start with my favorite analogy to it:  Airports/stations need to communicate to thousands of people when their plane/train/bus leaves and where to board it, and until we all have reliable connectivity in our pockets (good realtime phone apps personalize our information and can make this all moot), this will continue to be provided using overhead displays.  These were originally written and updated by hand, and then replaced by some amazing and clever mechanical devices, and are now video monitors.  But fundamentally nothing has changed, and that is the problem, because airports are not train stations, or more particularly, flights are not train trips.

Consider what you naturally know and can easily remember when you arrive at an airport or train station.  Most obvious to you, you know your identity, which is sufficient to find your vessel (using the phone app, though it has always been sufficient to visit the check-in desk), but we still need displays which are quick to access, instantly updated, and always available.  To make the displays usable you need to know something other than your identity.  You surely know where you are going and approximately when you are leaving, and this is all you need to identify your flight.  There are seldom multiple departures from one airport to a particular other airport at close to the same time (particularly since you also easily remember which airline you are flying).  This does not work so well for trains, however, because it can be that almost half the trains leaving a station make a particular stop because every train going a particular direction passes that station and stops.

This also means there is a difference in what can be communicated via the monitors, because planes land in just one place, whereas the same train stops several or dozens of places and not all can be listed.  Thus, train stations are forced to have their passengers to drill down further and make an effort to remember something that is not quite so intuitive: the exact minute of the scheduled departure time, which is how they identify the vessels (usually along with one target destination, either the end of the line or the most major station on the way, which is intuitive to remember).

You probably see where I am going with this:  American airports and those following their style display departing flights based where they are going, alphabetically by city.  This a great system since everyone knows where they are going and is so skilled at searching by alphabetical order that they can quickly glance to the right range of the list to find the city name.  European-style airports have been designed by people who seem to think they are train stations, and list flights by the minute of departure.  This is a bad system because it requires passengers to make the extra effort to remember or check the exact minute of departure, and to step through a list of ordered numbers with varying gaps, which is much harder than alphabetical order because you cannot use instant intuition like “I am going to Philadelphia, so I will start direct my glance to 3/4 of the way through the list”.

Like a complicated cohort study or clinical trial, the train-style listing is a cost necessity under particular conditions.  But such necessity is not a virtue of the method.  “It is needed at train stations, so it is the best we can do there” clearly does not imply “it is always best.”  Similarly, “we cannot figure out whether this exposure causes a .001 chance of that disease without a huge systematic study and a lot of statistic analysis” does not mean “we cannot figure out that e-cigarettes help people quit smoking without such a study”.  Even more absurd is the “reasoning” that leads to: “we cannot figure out which medical treatment works better without a clinical trial” and therefore “we cannot figure out if people like e-cigarettes without a clinical trial”.

Needless to say, the latter statement in each sentence is obviously false, and the proposed equivalences are moronic.  Just because the extra complication and effort is needed to ask a hard quantification does not mean that it is needed for an obvious qualitative conclusion.  Anyone who actually understands science at the grade-school level realizes that different research is needed to answer different questions.  It makes a bit more sense to use a clinical trial to try to understand adoption of THR than it does to use a particle accelerator to do it, but not a lot more.

Yet, of course, it is just such innumeracy that appears in the public discourse.  Just as habit leads many people to ignore common sense and insist that train-style displays at airports make sense, “public health” indoctrination also eliminates the common-sense level science that is taught in grade school.  It is reassuring to note that the claims about a particular type of study always being best, or even merely always being needed, are not made by actual scientists.  They always come from political activists or medics, and occasionally from incompetent epidemiologists (not actually a redundant phrase — just close to it).

I think this analysis also extends into dealing with thought-free analogies in regulation, such as “we do X with cigarette regulation and therefore should do it with products that are different in almost every way other than being tobacco” or “we require X for medicines that serve only to eliminate a disease, and therefore should require it for products that people use for enjoyment.”  I will leave that extension as an exercise.

Kelvin Choi is a liar

by Carl V Phillips

A new ANTZ on the scene seems to be aspiring to be the new Ellen Hahn.  I supposed it is possible, given that he is at University of Minnesota that he aspires to the be the new Stephen Hecht, but that might be a stretch since Hecht seems to do somewhat useful bench science, and then just lies about the health and political implications.  Choi, by contrast, seems to be fully ensconced in the “public health” junk science paradigm.  Consider this recent abstract:

Objectives. We assessed the characteristics associated with the awareness, perceptions, and use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (e-cigarettes) among young adults. Methods. We collected data in 2010-2011 from a cohort of 2624 US Midwestern adults aged 20 to 28 years. We assessed awareness and use of e-cigarettes, perceptions of them as a smoking cessation aid, and beliefs about their harmfulness and addictiveness relative to cigarettes and estimated their associations with demographic characteristics, smoking status, and peer smoking. Results. Overall, 69.9% of respondents were aware of e-cigarettes, 7.0% had ever used e-cigarettes, and 1.2% had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. Men, current and former smokers, and participants who had at least 1 close friend who smoked were more likely to be aware of and to have used e-cigarettes. Among those who were aware of e-cigarettes, 44.5% agreed e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking, 52.8% agreed e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes, and 26.3% agreed e-cigarettes are less addictive than cigarettes. Conclusions. Health communication interventions to provide correct information about e-cigarettes and regulation of e-cigarette marketing may be effective in reducing young adults’ experimentation with e-cigarettes. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print January 17, 2013: e1-e6. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.300947).

Let’s set aside obvious problems, like the limited value for anything other than historical tracking of an awareness survey about e-cigarettes from 2010, or describing 20-something-year-olds as “experimenting”, as if they are children.  (Many of those crazy kids are also experimenting with buying houses, military service, and parenthood.)  Consider the core conclusion.  How can a simple cross-sectional survey of awareness and belief tell us anything about the effects of communication and regulatory interventions?  If you said, “I have no idea”, you nailed it.  It is a complete lie that the conclusion follows from the research.

And, of course, there is the little matter of which bits of information he wants to correct.  Does he want to help the 55.5% who do not realize that e-cigarettes help smokers quit?  Or is it the 47.2% who do not realize they are lower risk than smoking?  As you might guess, it is the ones who actually know the truth that he wants to “correct”.

(Note:  I trust my regular readers will recognize as subtle ridicule my use of three significant figures in reporting those numbers.  As anyone who understands sampling — and anyone familiar with my writing — knows that reporting that level of unwarranted precision is a bit of junk science in itself.)

There is some potential usefulness in the actual survey in terms of helping us learn about the rate of at which accurate knowledge of e-cigarettes and THR has spread.  However, what has no apparent usefulness are Choi’s thoughts and opinions, as evidenced by this interview.

I will skip past his first answer, a remarkably amateurish description of what e-cigarettes are, something that could be corrected by basically anyone who is familiar with the topic.  (But go ahead and read the whole interview if you are inclined to find unintentional comedy in ANTZ rantings — it is a good one for that.)  I skip that because it gets far worse:

There are a variety of reasons why e-cigarettes are unhealthy. First, they contain nicotine, which is a known addictive chemical. A recent study conducted by Vansickel and Eissenberg found that experienced e-cigarette users can obtain a significant amount of nicotine through e-cigarettes, which may be comparable to smoking cigarettes.

E-cigarettes deliver nicotine?  Who knew?  Glad we had that study (by the guy who originally claimed just the opposite and never admitted his error — but that is another story).  And the reason that they are unhealthy is that this chemical is addictive (whatever the heck that means), not because it is harmful.  Choi might want to ask for a tuition refund from whoever claims to have taught him about health.

Second, previous chemical analyses of the e-cigarette nicotine liquid found that some samples contain tobacco-specific cancer-causing agents and anti-freeze.

Yawn.  Yes, this PhD “researcher” cannot do any better than some random county public health nurse, citing the propaganda (rather than the actual scientific results) from the FDA.  Another tuition refund, please.  Oh, but wait.  Maybe that nurse could do better.  She probably would not claim that e-cigarettes actually “contain…anti-freeze” [sic], but merely “an ingredient found in antifreeze”.  The latter form of this is an example of lying with literal truths, of course, as previously discussed in this blog (did you know that breast milk contains an ingredient found in antifreeze?!! we should stop nursing babies immediately!).  Apparently Hahn Junior does not even realize that he is reciting propaganda meant to confuse people — he is among the genuinely confused.

Third, with the product being promoted as a cigarette alternative at places where smoking is not allowed, smokers may use these products to sustain their nicotine addiction, and may therefore be less likely to quit smoking

And another “problem” that is not an actual health risk from e-cigarettes.  That “where smoking is not allowed” pseudo-argument deserves a post or two of its own, which I will do that soon.  So today I will politely refrain from pointing out how utterly moronic it is.

And that is all he offers.  Not even a single claim of health risk.  Apparently he wants to keep people from “experimenting” with e-cigarettes because they… …um… cause no health risk at all.

Oh, but it gets dumber.  So much dumber.

I think the perception of e-cigarettes as cessation aids is of the greatest concern. First, this perception may drive young adults to use e-cigarettes when trying to quit smoking instead of proven-effective cessation treatments. To date, no studies have shown that e-cigarettes are more effective than proven-effective cessation treatments such as nicotine replacement therapy and counseling. Therefore, e-cigarettes may hinder young adult smokers from quitting smoking.

E-cigarettes are (correctly) perceived as being useful for quitting smoking?  Well, that is a dire concern indeed.  As for the claim they are not shown to be more effective than other methods that are “proven” to help a mid-single-digit percentage of smokers quit (to charitably take a best-case figure from the biased research on the topic), so what?  Even setting aside the fact that he is baldly lying about that — the evidence strongly supports the claim that e-cigarettes are more effective — how exactly do they prevent someone who wants to quit smoking from trying those other methods if the e-cigarettes do not work?

Anyone with a basic understanding about smokers and quitting — even at the casual layperson level of knowing actual humans who smoke or smoked — understands that most people who are interested in quitting try multiple methods.  How exactly can one method, even if he genuinely believes it is of no value at all, interfere with the others?  Does he really think that smokers are so dumb as to say “well, I wanted to quit and tried an e-cigarette, but it did not work for me, so I will just keep smoking because I have never heard of any other method I might try.”  Gee, if only there were some way to inform smokers that the powers-that-be think they should try NRT and counseling.  Someone should really get on that.

And if Choi really believes that introducing a new method of quitting will actually prevent the use of other options, does he rail against the introduction of new NRT products or counseling methods because they will keep people from trying the existing methods he thinks are actually “proven”?  I didn’t think so.

In short, either he has not even given enough thought to this topic to be considered even a generally aware layperson, and so is grossly lying about his expertise, or he is just making up lies because he wants a ride on the ANTZ gravy train.

Is there more?  Oh, yes, there is more.  It will have to wait until the next post.

Policy recommendations as lies

posted by Carl V Phillips

Finishing up the series on Stephen Hecht’s latest alleged research, we focus on his policy recommendations.  How can someone’s recommendation be a lie, you might well ask.  When it is presented as if it follows from particular research, but it does not actually follow.

The juxtaposition of a scientific analysis and a policy recommendation clearly is meant to imply that the analysis is sufficient to justify the recommendation, and indeed that is often stated explicitly.  This is false even for honest recommendations in epidemiology research reports, and even more so for toxicology reports that are pretended to be epidemiology because a policy recommendation needs to be based on the full body of evidence about the effects of the exposure, as well as an analysis of the other costs and benefits of the policy.  Such information is not present in a report about one study’s results, and is seldom even asserted or referred to.

This means that most, indeed almost all, policy recommendations that appear in health science are lies, so there is nothing unusual about the THR context.  But such lies are less harmful in contexts where only scientists are reading the papers and decision-making filters through a reasonably expert process.  No one is going to react to some off-the-wall tacked-on recommendation about workplace safety or how best to deploy a screening test, and indeed, scientific readers typically just scan past those sentences like they would an ad.  But in contexts where people alter their behavior based on bad recommendations, and the science is really about politics, then such lies matter.

A recommendation might follow from the research if it is very modest and general (e.g., “this suggests we should reduce the exposure to the extent that it is easy” rather than “should be avoided completely [at all costs]” or “should be reduced to 10 ppb”) and appropriately contingent (“if the entire body of research on this topic comes to the same conclusion as this study”).  Those of you who ever look at these research reports will know that such modest phrasing is almost never used.  Instead, there is the bald lie, “these results show that we should….”

Hecht’s version of the bald lie in this case is:

“Obviously, we need to decrease the levels of this material in all smokeless tobacco products — or eliminate it altogether.”

Yeah, obviously.  The only thing that is obvious is that this conclusion does not follow from the observation that this chemical is bad for rats in large doses.  Sugar, therapeutic drugs, and cars also cause serious health problems in rats in large doses, so obviously we need to decrease them or eliminate them all together.  Since the relevant smokeless tobacco products do not actually cause measurable rates of cancer, the need to change them to reduce some apparently non-cancer-causing carcinogen seems rather less than obvious.

Hecht adds that removing (S)-NNN from these products is feasible. In fact, some products on store shelves today have reduced levels of the carcinogen.

Credit is due for these two sentences at least, a huge improvement over most “public health” activist science which does not even acknowledge that the feasibility of a recommendation matters.  Still, this is presented as an aside rather than a core part of the policy recommendation, and it is obviously not enough information (e.g., we do not know whether further reductions might be highly costly).

Still, if he were “these products are already very low risk, but all else equal, there might be some health benefit from reducing this chemical”, there is nothing wrong with that.  But rather than telling the truth about the low risk, he is instead communicating the lie “these products might be acceptable if changes were made, but they are horribly dangerous now.”  As for “all else equal”:

Hecht explained that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has the authority to regulate tobacco products, but no regulations on the levels of specific carcinogens exist yet. “My suggestion is that levels of (S)-NNN in smokeless tobacco be decreased to below 10 parts per billion. That would make it more consistent with the levels of nitrosamines in food products,” he said. (S)-NNN also is in cigarettes and other smoked tobacco items, and he suggested that the substance be regulated in these products, as well.

Ah, there it is.  Someone not familiar with Hecht and his co-conspirators would have no idea of the subtext here, which just trying impose any rule they can rationalize on THR products (and on cigarettes).  There is absolutely nothing in his research that justifies this 10 ppb threshold, or any other specific threshold.  How could giving a megadose to rats possibly inform us about what the exact right level is?  But the goal here is just to require something that is difficult because it is difficult not because it is useful.  Then they can complain when it does not happen (“we think harm reduction is a fine idea in principle, but the products have not met the necessary conditions that we arbitrarily imposed”).  Better still (in their minds), complying might punish the consumers of the product by increasing its price or lowering its quality.

Hecht, of course, did not acknowledge his activist views in the press release — a lie of omission in itself.  A non-expert in the politics of the area would not recognize the mention of the FDA as being a statement about a particular anti-THR activist strategy, though its inclusion was obviously irrelevant to the reporting of the science.  It is a classic example of dog whistle politics, designed to signal his goal to his co-conspirators while hiding it from the vast majority of readers who would not approve of it.

A final aside on this thread:  Many people consider it acceptable to inflict pain and death on non-human animals in pursuit of knowledge that can improve the health and medical treatment of people.  There is a spectrum of a beliefs about the necessary balance of suffering to justify potential knowledge gain.  But only an extreme tail of that distribution — basically those who feel no compassion toward animals at all — would support Hecht inflicting suffering on animals in pursuit of a political hobby project which offers no conceivable benefit.  He is basically hurting animals to look for carcinogens which are not causing cancer.  A little education can save people from succumbing to his lies, but it cannot help the animals he tortures to produce his propaganda.

So, what is the point of Hecht’s latest press release?

posted by Carl V Phillips

I have been asked two very good questions about this topic:  (1) Is it really fair to treat Hecht as if his new claims reflect the same type of serial anti-THR lying found in Ellen Hahn?  (2) What exactly was the research that Hecht was touting in this press release?  The two questions are closely related, and one of them can be answered.

“This is the first example of a strong oral cavity carcinogen that’s in smokeless tobacco,” said Stephen Hecht, Ph.D., who led the study. “Our results are very important in regard to the growing use of smokeless tobacco in the world, especially among younger people who think it is a safer form of tobacco than cigarettes. We now have the identity of the only known strong oral carcinogen in these products.”

The answer to (1) is right there, in “…who think it is a safer form of tobacco than cigarettes.”  Out-of-control activists like Hahn might actually know very little about the relevant science they claim to be expert about, but Hecht has been at the center of anti-tobacco politics and research for many years.  There is no possibility he has failed to learn that smokeless tobacco is indisputably a safer form of tobacco than cigarettes.  Even in the unlikely event that he believes everything else he claims, the much lower risk of smokeless would still be obvious to him.  Perhaps his lies about the epidemiology, analyzed yesterday, could be seen as merely trying to puff up the perceived importance of his unimportant research rather than primarily being an active anti-THR effort.  But that “…who think…” lie is clear and obvious evidence of anti-THR activism disguised as science, which perfectly represents Hecht’s behavior over the years.

Notice also the “first” wording.  This is clearly meant to imply something like, “up until now, we were not really worried about smokeless tobacco causing oral cancer, but now we should look into it.”  The thing is, Hecht has been claiming that smokeless tobacco causes oral cancer for over a decade, claiming that the nitrosamines he has repeatedly reported on (particularly the chemicals known as NNN and NNK) were sufficient proof of that.  He has reported lab studies of basically the same thing, over and over and over again, and whatever the study result, his conclusions remained based on his politics.  His studies never changed the fact that the actual health science shows no measurable risk of cancer.  But that evidence never stopped Hecht from claiming that each of his non-new results provided new evidence that smokeless tobacco causes a high risk of cancer.

So what did he do this time?  It is very difficult to figure out because all we have is the press release.  Issuing a press release without making a working paper available is anti-scientific behavior in itself; even if everything presented were true, we are being asked to accept someone’s asserted conclusions without knowing their basis for those conclusions.  Some commentators focus on the lack of “peer review” in press releases, but this is really a red herring (peer review in health science is almost worthless — a topic for another day).  The real problem is the lack of information that would allow a reader to assess what was done and whether the methods and the conclusions seem reasonable.  All we actually know from the press release is that Hecht subjected rats to a mega-dose of a nitrosamine called (S)-NNN, presumably in a way that does not closely resemble smokeless tobacco use, though we do not know.  Some of the rats got cancer.

That is all we know.  We do not know what Hecht meant when he called this the first identification of a strong oral carcinogen in smokeless tobacco.  Is he admitting that his claims over the last decade about the other chemicals were lies?  Or are we supposed to conclude that “strong” has some subtle meaning, such that his previous claims were based on “non-strong” carcinogens and so he was not lying then about all of his claims then, but this is somehow different so he is not lying now about “first”?

Also we do not know how many trials Hecht ran, with how many different animals, with how many different chemicals administered in different doses and different ways, before he found a single result that made for good propaganda.  Actually, chances are we will never know that, even when this ends up in a journal.  When I said that toxicology was not inherently junk science, I glossed over the fact that this “hunt the carcinogen” branch of toxicology seems to have as its primary methodology, “keep doing ever-so-slightly different things until random error produces an outlier result for one trial, and then report on that result as if it were the only experiment that was done.”  That approach definitely qualifies as junk science.

The reader is not even told what (S)-NNN is, or how it differs from the NNN Hecht has been over-concluding about for years.  I could not easily find anything about it (e.g., it is not even clear whether this research represents Hecht discovering the chemical), though I am not a chemist so I might be missing something that the experts in that field could figure out.  But you know who are not experts in this entire area of chemistry?  Approximately everyone who reads the press release and the pseudo-news stories that resulted from it, who can thus be easily tricked by Hecht’s assertions.  All they came away “learning” were that Hecht and his ilk were not too worried about smokeless tobacco causing oral cancer last month, but based on this exciting new breakthrough, we should immediately take action.  More on that last aspect of the lies in the next post.

“Many people believe…. But….”

posted by Carl V Phillips

This is not how I was planning to start this series, but in honor(?) of Lance Armstrong and his very bad week, I thought I would offer a bit of good news.  It turns out that Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG charity, once thick with anti-THR lies, cleaned them up over the last few years.  Today I noticed that this had apparently been reduced to only one paragraph in one document at their website:

Many people believe that the use of snuff and other forms of smokeless tobacco is safer than smoking. However, potent human carcinogens (N-nitrosamines) are also present in high concentrations in smokeless tobacco. These carcinogens have been clearly linked to cancers of the lung, esophagus, liver, pancreas, bladder, cervix, nasal and oral cavities. There simply is no safe way to use tobacco products.

Since the goal here is to address only one lie per day, consider just the first sentence, as juxtaposed against the rest (the whole paragraph is included because the sin here is of omission).  This is one of the original classic anti-THR lies which I documented as being common a decade ago in my 2004 study, “You might as well smoke”.

Notice the game, a simple method of lying via the use of a non sequitur, without actually making the false statement that is being communicated.  The message they are intentionally sending, and that most people will read, is “many people believe…, however that is not true”.  But anyone with any knowledge at all knows that this statement about what people “believe” (which is used as a term of ridicule in this case) is true beyond any hint of doubt, so they avoid actually saying “but that is not true”.

Instead they make some claims about lack of perfect safety (which are themselves lies, but those are a topic for another day; they could have stuck to honest statements and still used this tactic, though, so that is not relevant today).  Almost every reader will interpret these statements as meaning that the “belief” in the topic sentence is false, especially with the “however”.

If they had actually said “but this belief is false”, then we might conclude that they were clueless about the science.  The fact that they avoided that false statement is what clearly shows that they were lying — intentionally communicating something they know to be false, even without making the literally false statement.

Ironically, that first claim, that most people believe, is a literally false statement for many populations, but that unimportant technical falsehood is not actually one of the several anti-THR lies in the paragraph.