Tag Archives: NYTimes

New York Times makes clear that they object to Joe Nocera’s honesty

by Carl V Phillips

Today, the New York Times Editorial Board, in an apparent backlash against their excellent columnist (one of the two), Joe Nocera, exercising his autonomy to write something honest about e-cigarettes, published both an anti-ecig screed by two leading liars and a general anti-THR screed of their own (mostly about e-cigarettes, though the headline was about smokeless tobacco). Needless to say, both are thick with lies. Honestly, they are pretty boring, but for the record, I thought I should call out a few points. Continue reading

FDA thinks antifreeze is ok — for kids’ medicine (and other accidentally useful observations in the NYTimes)

by Carl V Phillips

The New York Times is a reliable mouthpiece for various powerful political factions but, frustratingly, is also a great source of information. As a result, we are forced to read it much the way that Soviet citizens learned to read Pravda — the information is there, but you have to learn how to read between the lines. A clever reader (h/t Gil Ross) spotted the NYT pointing out that FDA was blatantly hypocritical when they hyped the claim that “e-cigarettes contained antifreeze” during their attempt to ban them in 2009 (and — even worse — keep reporting that lie).

Background: In 2009, in an attempt to smear the e-cigarette companies that were suing them for illegally seizing products, FDA conducted studies of some of their liquids. They discovered a trivial contamination with diethylene glycol (DEG), in one unit, at a level that Burstyn has pointed out posed no concern. They tried to fool the public into believing this was a substantial hazard. Continue reading

New York Times Editorial Board lies about smokeless tobacco labeling

by Carl V Phillips

The New York Times Editorial Board has come out against allowing the “warning” label changes that Swedish Match requested in their MRTP application. They probably did not set out to actively mislead their readers like, say, ANTZ “researchers” do. But when they summoned up all their expertise and experience as, um, reporters on politics and current events, somehow they got this bit of scientific analysis wrong. Shocking. Their lies appear to be the “claim to be expert on something you do not actually understand” type, though I suppose we cannot rule out that they were intentionally trying to mislead. This is combined with them clearly not having a clue about who to believe in this arena. (Hint: The industry tends to be almost impeccably honest and maximally knowledgeable when it comes to the science. Regulators fail on both those counts. And the vast majority of academic “researchers” in this area do not even try to be either honest or knowledgeable.) Continue reading

New York Times goes “more at 11:00” with story on ecigs and poisoning

by Carl V Phillips

Apparently the nation’s Paper of Record (*cough*) has decided that going tabloid is a better business model.  Or perhaps even better is to go full local-television-news, with its cut-ins during prime-time programming:  “Six common household items that are planning to kill you tomorrow. We’ll tell you which ones tonight at 11:00.”

The story is part of what they are now calling their series about e-cigarettes, which has seen about story per week for a month — see in particular my analysis of this one.  Hey, better late than never getting to one of the major stories of 2012.  Maybe it took until now for the powers that be to tell them how they were supposed to be spinning it.

The story by Matt Richtel has the tabloid headline “Selling a Poison by the Barrel: Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes”.  The first sentence reads, “this article is intended to be a silly sensationalistic hatchet job, dictated to us by the tobacco control industry.” Continue reading

Jane Brody turns up the NYT’s lies about THR, e-cigarettes, etc.

by Carl V Phillips

The New York Times has some good health science reporters, but their best known health writer, Jane Brody, has been a reliable embarrassment for that newspaper for decades (and it takes a lot to embarrass the newspaper that led the drumbeat to start the disastrous war with Iraq, repeating and even embellished the claims about WMDs).  It might not be fair to blame the newspaper itself for one writer who seems to have managed to learn nothing of the science she has written about forever, but for the fact that the paper has been editorializing against THR also.  So blame for the lies should go to both the author and the editors.

The first of her two-part series on tobacco product use is no worse than typical Brody standards.  It focuses on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Surgeon General report on smoking, and the burst of associated activity.  It is typical naive transcription of the standard claims, many of which are exaggerations of the risks from smoking or are otherwise not quite right, but are mostly not too harmful.  It is specifically remarkable that someone who is supposedly an expert would declare that her husband’s cancer death — 15 years after he quit smoking — was definitely caused by smoking.  (Yes, it is certainly quite possible it was caused by the smoking, but that long after cessation, there is a good chance it was not, as anyone who understood the science would know.)

It is tiresome to read the naive and self-serving claims of the tobacco control industry repeated once again (hey, we can’t expect a reporter to bother to check whether there is any real basis for what she is being told, can we? reporters are far too busy to do that).  But most of them do relatively little damage to the world.  That is, until they spill over into denigrating proven-effective smoking cessation methods in favor of the self-serving failed approaches of the TCI, which is where Brody goes in her second post.

She claims:

[CDC Director] Frieden and public health specialists everywhere are seeking better ways to help the 44 million Americans who still smoke to quit and to keep young people from getting hooked on cigarettes.

And she might actually be naive enough to believe that claim.  As I said, she is known for having a remarkably poor understanding of what she presumes to write about.

The reality, of course, is that “public health” people are the active opponents of the better ways that are emerging.  The only proven method of substantially further reducing smoking is THR.  But instead of embracing it, “public health” continues to come up with even more absurd and socially burdensome interventions that accomplish approximately nothing.

Brody’s litany of claims about the wonderful effectiveness of the ruling class’s anti-smoking methods is so antiquated it appears to be a joke.  She spends a quarter of the post on WHO’s 2008 pabulum regulatory guidelines and even mentions, as if were news, a year-old proposed tax increase.  Strangely, she apparently did not read her own first post, which laments how all interventions to date have proven inadequate.  Logical consistency has no place in tobacco control or, apparently, NYT reporting.

Before getting to the part that matters most, it is worth calling out this:

“A higher cigarette tax is not a regressive tax, because it would help poor people even more than the well-to-do,” Dr. Frieden noted.

Frieden and Brody should both take a minute and look up what “regressive tax” means.  But even aside from this being a bald lie,  just pause and think about the mindset behind it.  The ruling class has decided that imposing a huge punishment on poor people helps them.  After all, if the savages are not beaten, they will continue to sin.  The only thing missing is “qu’ils mangent de la brioche.”

Brody’s actively damaging lies start after that, as she concludes her discussion of how not enough has been done to reduce smoking with an attack on the one recent innovation that has dramatically increased cessation:

Electronic cigarettes are being promoted by some as a way to resist the real thing. E-cigarettes, invented in 2003 by a Chinese pharmacist, contain liquid nicotine that is heated to produce a vapor, not smoke. More than 200 brands are now on the market; they combine nicotine with flavorings like chocolate and tobacco.

Setting aside the first common misconception (e-cigarettes were invented at least as long ago as the 1960s and the current form was invented by an American in the 1990s), how clueless do you have to be to say they contain “liquid nicotine” (rather than a very diluted nicotine solution) and that there are only 200 brands?  Ok, so far it is just illiterate, but not harmful.

But their contents are not regulated, and their long-term safety has not been established. In one study, 30 percent were found to produce known carcinogens.

Not regulated — just like the vast majority of the (largely useless) cessation methods she recommends in her post.  Not established — as opposed to the wonderful long-term safety of the approach her husband used, which was to repeatedly fail in his attempts to quit smoking until (according to her) smoking finally killed him.  Seriously, is she even reading her own prose?  And don’t even get me started on the NYT’s supposed expert health reporter falling for the “produce known carcinogens” silliness (hey guess what, Jane, 100% of humans tested produce known carcinogens).

Dr. Frieden said that while e-cigarettes “have the potential to help some people quit,” the method would backfire “if it gets kids to start smoking, gets smokers who would have quit to continue to smoke, gets ex-smokers to go back to smoking, or re-glamorizes smoking.”

Yes, and it would also backfire if it caused a resurgence of smallpox, triggered a nuclear war, or was a prelude to an invasion by space aliens (as I have speculated it might be — have you seen some of those mods?).  Too bad we do not have an institution in society whose job it is to ask questions of government flacks, like “so, is there any reason to believe that is a real risk?”

Nearly two million children in American middle and high schools have already used e-cigarettes, Dr. Frieden said.

And, of course, that was a lie.  But, hey, it is not up to the transcriptionist to check the accuracy of what she is writing.

In an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last year, Dr. Matthew B. Stanbrook, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, suggested that fruit-flavored e-cigarettes and endorsements by movie stars could lure teens who would not otherwise smoke into acquiring a nicotine habit.

Well then, a random medic speculated about this.  And demonstrated his expertise by being able to write it down.  Must be true.

A survey in 2011 of 75,643 South Korean youths…

A minor aside, but anyone who does not even know how to round numbers to leave out irrelevant detail should not be reporting about science.  Nor should anyone innumerate enough to quote Stanton Glantz as if he had even half a clue about science.

…in grades 7 through 12 by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, revealed that four of five e-cigarette users also smoked tobacco. It could happen here: Stanton A. Glantz, the study’s senior author and a professor of medicine at the university, described e-cigarettes as “a new route to nicotine addiction for kids.”

That is the note she ends on:  most teens who even tried e-cigarettes were already smokers, and therefore we better put a stop to it.

Ms. Brody, I suggest you go back and read your own posts, and then ask yourself:  Who is it that is dooming millions of people to keep smoking, as your husband did?  Could it perhaps be those who are lying about the benefits of switching to a low-risk alternative, a group that now includes you?

Glantz et al. lie and the NYTimes is gullible enough to believe it

by Carl V Phillips

In what Dick Puddlecote called “A New Low for Tobacco Control” (perhaps an overstatement given that is an incredibly high — or perhaps call it low — bar that is nearly impossible to achieve, but I see his point), Stanton Glantz and a few others told the New York Times that the reduction in the US smoking rate is due to such factors as removing smoking from movies and has nothing at all to do with THR.  Since the headline and the topic of the story were “Why Smoking Rates Are at New Lows”, you might expect that the reporter would have learned something and talked to people who do not lie about THR.  Of course, if you thought about it a little more, you would amend that to “the NYT reporter should have learned something about the topic and talked to real honest experts, but unsurprisingly, did not”.

The first thing to note is that about 90% of the time when news outlets with the biases of the Times (and by that I do not refer to usual erroneous claim that they are “liberal” in the political spectrum, but rather that the corporate media act as uncritical transcriptionists for what government and allied actors want the people to believe) report a reduction in smoking, they are just making a big deal about a statistical blip.  There are many surveys that estimate smoking prevalence, and so in most any quarter it is possible to report on the “exciting new reduction in smoking” based on one of them.  It is also possible to report quarterly on the “exciting new increase in smoking” when the statistical blips go upward — but, of course, no one does that.

That said, there is every reason to believe that there is real downward move in prevalence because of the growing popularity of e-cigarettes.  Since almost all e-cigarette use is as a substitute for smoking, it is not hard to do the math.  It is also worth noting that the very modest downward trend in smoking in the US for the decade or so before e-cigarettes started to become popular matched almost perfectly the increase in the use of smokeless tobacco (which remains more common than e-cigarette use).

In other words, it is very plausible to claim that basically all of the reduction in US smoking rates in this century is due to THR.  Certainly if those of us who support THR were as innumerate and unethical  as the tobacco control industry (TCI), we would be insisting that this was a definitive fact.  This would be too bold a claim, but it is actually much better supported than the usual TCI claims, including most everything that appears in this article.  As good scientists and ethical people, we can claim that THR might explain all of the reduction this century, and that it almost certainly did cause a large fraction of it.

With any legitimate conclusion based on statistics it helps to have a worldly story that is observable in the data, not just hand-waving stories about what a number represents (and only wild guesses about whether the data is accurate).  For the most recent figures (as opposed to the statistical errors that created trumped-up claims for the previous decade), there is a very good reason to believe the decrease is real because we can see exactly what is happening:  Many smokers are switching to e-cigarettes, and very rapidly.

So what do Glantz and the other “experts” that the NYT talked to attribute the decrease to?  Hand-waving stories, of course.

As proof that the NYT reporter, Sophie Egan, was just acting as an unquestioning transcriptionist, note the mention of the claim that “researchers” say that seeing smoking in movies is a major cause of smoking, and thus Glantz’s campaign to reduce such images somehow has something to do with the reduction.  Of course, it does not appear that anyone other than Glantz and his beholden useful idiots actually believes that, and even hard-core TCI people have pointed out that it is nutty.

On the reality-based side, higher taxes are identified as a barrier to smoking.  Of course, in some places they are also a barrier to THR, but I am sure nuances like that are well above the understanding of the author or interviewees.  Also, given that this is an article about a prevalence statistic, it would have been nice to see (but obviously way too much to expect, given the limited sophistication of those involved) some mention of the concern that use of the black market created by those taxes may increase measurement error on the surveys (i.e., it is plausible that people who buy contraband will wisely choose not to admit that when the government asks, though we do not know).

Someone other than Glantz reported the plausible claim that smoking place limitations result in the reduction in the number of cigarettes smoked by smokers.  The obvious point that this does not actually relate to the thesis of the article — about prevalence being down — seems to elude Egan.  But though a tangential point, it does seem to be real and the reduction is better for smokers’ health.  Funny, though, that there is no mention that Glantz is the one leading the charge to deny that reducing smoking is good for your health.  This does not mean that the restrictions are better for smokers’ overall welfare, in contrast with THR.  Of course, to Glantz, their suffering is a good thing, which in the article he notes with, “It also creates environments that make it easier for people to quit smoking.”  Yeah, that’s it — easier.  As in “the beatings will continue until morale improves, because beatings make it easier for you to decide you had better obey.”

But the most important lie in this article (again, reported by Egan in her role as an unthinking transcriptionist) can be found here:

“The fact that we’re below this theoretical sound barrier of 20 percent is important,” says Stanton A. Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and director of the university’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. “This data shows that the whole premise that there is this hard-core group, where no matter what you do you can’t get them to quit, is just not true.”

That “20%” claim sounds rather like the observation I have been pushing for a decade.  But, if that is what Glantz is invoking, he (unsurprisingly) does not seem to understand it.  What I have been claiming (and what one of my colleagues wanted to label “Phillips’s Law”, but since I am really averse to naming transitory social science observations “laws”, I vetoed that) is that once smoking becomes popular in a population, it is nearly impossible to reduce it below 20% of the population except as a result of product substitution — i.e., THR.  That is, a huge body of data strongly suggests that roughly 20% of the population gets such great benefits from smoking that they will continue to choose to do it even though it is very expensive (in terms of both health and taxes) and highly vilified — unless they discover a substitute that allows them to keep most of the benefits without the health costs.  (Note that this observation refers to natural populations, and not highly unusual or self-selected subsets (e.g., Manhattan residents, university professors) or people whose liberties are seriously constrained (e.g., people living in psychiatric clinics, prisons, or submarines).)

[I should point out that I have no idea if this is what Glantz is actually referring to.  Perhaps the TCI people, in their secret cabals, have their own notion of a “barrier of 20%”.  But if so, their version presumably does not recognize that THR (and only THR) offers that promise of blowing past the “barrier” — perhaps they do not like that it does so without coercion.   If so, their version is simply wrong and has been clearly wrong ever since snus became dominant in Sweden.  TCI people like to pretend that Sweden does not exist, but I have been there so I am pretty sure it really does.]

So, when quoting my observation correctly, the US statistics tend to confirm it, not contradict it.  Smoking prevalence perhaps edged below 20% in the 2000s (depending on which statistics you believe — it might be considerably higher), but substitution of smokeless tobacco accounted for more than the gap between the prevalence rate and 20%.  And thanks to e-cigarettes, it might have dropped another percentage point since then.  The whole point of the 20% observation is not that it is impossible to torture a population into reducing tobacco use below 20% if you get draconian enough, but that it is easy to get well below 20% if THR becomes popular.

People like Glantz and the NYT editors are dead-enders, fiercely fighting an already-lost war against THR.  By fighting on, they continue to kill people (the war is metaphorical, but the killing is literal) even though there is clearly no chance they will achieve their dream of a tobacco-free world.  Indeed, there is no evidence that they have accomplished anything positive in the USA and similar populations for many years.  All of the gains they claim credit for seem to be best explained by the growing success of THR.