We like to think that the scientific community doesn't lie. We like to believe that there are standards for research that adhere to basic principles of accuracy and, to the extent humanly possible, eliminate political or personal bias from the outcomes. We want to be confident that any public policy based on scientific studies is the result of examining the scientific truths. As an individual, you may disagree with the findings, and you may choose to find ways to disobey those public policies, but you want to do so in full knowledge that you are assuming risks that have been accurately and truthfully documented.
In October, the Institute of Medicine released a study that the rate of heart attacks in cities which had imposed smoking bans dropped by more than 17 percent in the year following their passage. We knew those facts were going to be used in the debate over future smoking bans. Sure enough, nearly every story about the consideration of new smoking bans in the last three months has cited that report and argued that the study proves why bans are a good thing.
Guess what? The study was wrong.
The original IOM analysis examined 11 studies that examined health issues and smoking bans, specially looking for hospital admissions from heart attacks. But one set of results was inputted wrong, and when the error was discovered after publication, the results were recalculated and they only showed an eight percent decline in heart attacks. Well, across the United States, even in cities without smoking bans, heart attack admissions have been declining on average between five and 10 percent annually for years, even up to 25 percent in Nebraska and 12.4 percent in South Carolina in 2004, states without smoking bans at the time.
In other words, there is no way to scientifically link the supposed drop in heart attacks solely to smoking bans. Of course, the news media picked up on the original report. Literally hundreds of stories and broadcasts reported the findings. Have they corrected those stories with the new results? No. The Center for Public Accountability in Tobacco Control, a strong anti-smoking group that argues nonetheless for sticking to the facts about the ill effects of smoking, did report the error. But not one major news organization has. So, today, more than two months after the error in the original analysis came to light, stories about smoking bans continue to leave the impression that they prevent heart attacks.
No one will listen to us. We are a cigar magazine. But we must publicize this travesty. Maybe someone will listen. We have always acknowledged the inherent risks in tobacco use, but we believe that is a personal choice. And we still want to know that those risks are based on scientific evidence, not on some erroneous piece of research that caters to a preconceived bias.
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