Public Health has a Tobacco Problem

Image taken from page 855 of '[A series of original Portraits and Caricature Etchings by ... J. Kay; ... with biographical sketches and illustrative anecdotes. [Edited by H. P.]]'The widely circulating media reports that compare bacon to tobacco in terms of its capacity to cause cancer reveals the “tobacco problem” with public health communication.

By “tobacco problem” I don’t mean that researchers or communicators are on the take from “Big Tobacco” or that they have got the facts wrong about its association with cancer. The tobacco problem is that the success of tobacco control has produced a conceptual and political myopia. Or what I call a “tobacco control style of thought”.

Ian Hacking describes a “style of thought” as a particular way of seeing the world or problem that allows some ideas to be thinkable and actionable, while rendering other ideas as unthinkable. The success in linking smoking with cancer and the implementation of controls to regulate its use have contributed to a tobacco control style of thought.

The effect is that all public health issues are shoe-horned to fit the tobacco control model.

Eating bacon and red meat, drinking soda or frequenting fast-food restaurants, or sitting in a chair for too long are all equated with smoking. Why? Because saying bacon is like tobacco means that the problem and corresponding solution is well understood by the public and policy-makers.

Except it isn’t. All of these activities are extremely different from smoking. Eating bacon is not the same as smoking cigarettes. Everyone outside the tobacco control style of thought can see this.

The Australian Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said it is a “farce to compare sausages with cigarettes“. Does Barnaby have financial and political interests in saying that? Yes. Is he wrong in saying that? No.

Sure, saying “bacon causes cancer” generates headlines, but it also distracts from focusing on the actual research on the health effects of processed meats. Public health Image taken from page 277 of 'Lilliput Lyrics ... Edited by R. Brimley Johnson. Illustrated by Chas. Robinson'communicators and researchers need to break out of the tobacco control style of thought that makes bacon or soda look like tobacco.

Public health is currently in a battle with libertarians who cry “Nanny” every time they are told that an activity or behaviour should be regulated. However, in equating activities like eating processed meat or sitting at a desk with smoking, public health communicators give the appearance of legitimacy to the “Nanny State” cry. This does real damage to the credibility of public health research and erodes public understanding of risk factors and epidemiology.

Like the boy who cried wolf, if public health communicators continue to compare everything to smoking, soon people will stop listening.

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12 Comments

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  1. We already have stopped listening. It is wrong for someone to care more about my health than I do. I am an adult. I want dispassionate facts and then to be left to make my own decision. It really is that simple.

  2. “Like the boy who cried wolf, if public health communicators continue to compare everything to smoking, soon people will stop listening.”

    I have stopped listening. Whenever someone tries to “help” me by telling me how something else I enjoy is bad for my health, I now just want to punch them. The public health industry needs to stop trying to control our lifestyles and go back to (figuratively, one hopes) taking the handles off cholera-infested pumps. That’s the only way it’s going to regain any legitimacy with the people it’s supposed to serve – the public. Public health is there to protect us from things we can’t protect ourselves from, not to bully and tax us into living our lives according to some holistic vegan ideal. I didn’t ask for that, I don’t want it and I’m not going to accept it any more.

  3. Risk losing credibility? Public health has already LOST ALL CREDIBILITY.

    About the best thing they could do right now is stop talking to the media at all till they have worked out how to apologise to the public for their behaviour towards smokers and how they can attone for tobacco control’s crimes against humanity.

  4. What is hilarious to me, now that the WHO has come out against bacon, trying to nanny nonsmokers along with the rest of us, is all the 378 comments but two or three on that article sounded just like vapers objecting to the WHO’s fact-free pronouncements on an equally passionate scale. (WHO also used, as usual, the weasel word ‘probably’ harmful.)
    Full disclosure: I like bacon, too. But I was right the fatties are now in their depraved and scolding sights, and the reaction to something NONSMOKERS love passionately was identical to how vapers respond to equally imaginary panic.
    I think once bacon lovers become galvanized we might just win this fight for reality-based legislation.

  5. Public Health does not have a tobacco problem. It has a problem period. Too many alleged do-gooders that pretend to care for our health while making bundles of money through our taxes and Big Pharma grants in the process. Get out of our lives and get out of them NOW! Our health and our kids’ health is our responsibility with the advice of our doctors that we should be free to take or leave as we please. Unless there is proven abuse of vulnerable people that can’t defend themselves like children, elderly and mentally challenged people, go away and stay away. Public healthists make a living creating fears and sustaining them. The nocebo effect is doing more harm to our health and our economies than any tobacco or food and whatever is on the agenda du jour may or may not be causing.

  6. IARC are not risk communicators. They review the evidence and update the classification of carcinogens. The news media do the rest, assuming IARC’s action means ‘WHO says don’t eat bacon’. That’s their interpretation.

    • They hide behind press releases that indeed the media picks up without questionning. Their pet reporters just do the dirty work for them against advertizing money for their respective employers. Just try to get an article or a study published on the exaggerations and outright lies about second hand smoke studies that the WHO has produced and see how well you do. You will be labeled a Big Tobacco shill before you even get through the first clerk who receives your letter. Spreading fear to the public is what they do best whether they decide on policy or not. And the public just buys it because they have no idea that epidemiology not only does not prove causation, but has become nothing but a political tool to socially engineer people.

      • Do you realise how crazy you sound? And that’s despite the fact I make exactly the same criticism of the tobacco control approach to public health advocacy.

      • Press releases blamed for exaggerated health news

        WEDNESDAY, Dec. 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Exaggerated news reports about health research often can be traced back to press releases issued by universities, a new British study suggests.

        Improving the accuracy of these news releases could greatly reduce the amount of misleading health news, the researchers said in their Dec. 9 report in the BMJ.

        The blame “lies mainly with the increasing culture of university competition and self-promotion, interacting with the increasing pressures on journalists to do more with less time,” Petroc Sumner and Chris Chambers, both of Cardiff University in Wales, wrote in a journal news release.

        They analyzed 462 news releases on health-related research issued by 20 leading universities in the United Kingdom in 2011 and compared them to the studies they described and to 668 national news stories about the studies.

        Compared to the actual studies, 40 percent of the releases contained exaggerated advice, one-third contained exaggerated causal claims, and 36 percent contained exaggerated inferences about how animal research applied to people.

        If press releases exaggerated the research, it was more likely that news stories would do the same — 58 percent for advice, 81 percent for causal claims, and 86 percent for inference to humans, the researchers found. When press releases did not exaggerate, rates of exaggeration in news stories were 17 percent, 18 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

        However, hyperbole in press releases did not increase the chances that the research would make the news.

        Journalists and media outlets are often blamed for stories being sensationalized or alarmist, but these findings show that these faults “are already present in the text of the press releases produced by academics and their establishments,” the researchers said in a journal news release.

        Reducing exaggeration in press releases could improve the accuracy of health news, with potential benefits for public health, the researchers concluded.

        One approach would be to make academic researchers accountable for news releases about their work, Ben Goldacre, research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, wrote in an accompanying journal editorial.

        http://www.fox54.com/story/27594148/press-releases-blamed-for-exaggerated-health-news

      • Compared to the actual studies, 40 percent of the releases contained exaggerated advice, one-third contained exaggerated causal claims, and 36 percent contained exaggerated inferences about how animal research applied to people.

        If press releases exaggerated the research, it was more likely that news stories would do the same — 58 percent for advice, 81 percent for causal claims, and 86 percent for inference to humans, the researchers found. When press releases did not exaggerate, rates of exaggeration in news stories were 17 percent, 18 percent and 10 percent, respectively

  7. OSHA also took on the passive smoking fraud and this is what came of it:

    Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: Third Edition

    This sorta says it all

    These limits generally are based on assessments of health risk and calculations of concentrations that are associated with what the regulators believe to be negligibly small risks. The calculations are made after first identifying the total dose of a chemical that is safe (poses a negligible risk) and then determining the concentration of that chemical in the medium of concern that should not be exceeded if exposed individuals (typically those at the high end of media contact) are not to incur a dose greater than the safe one.

    So OSHA standards are what is the guideline for what is acceptable ”SAFE LEVELS”

    OSHA SAFE LEVELS

    All this is in a small sealed room 9×20 and must occur in ONE HOUR.

    For Benzo[a]pyrene, 222,000 cigarettes.

    “For Acetone, 118,000 cigarettes.

    “Toluene would require 50,000 packs of simultaneously smoldering cigarettes.

    Acetaldehyde or Hydrazine, more than 14,000 smokers would need to light up.

    “For Hydroquinone, “only” 1250 cigarettes.

    For arsenic 2 million 500,000 smokers at one time.

    The same number of cigarettes required for the other so called chemicals in shs/ets will have the same outcomes.

    So, OSHA finally makes a statement on shs/ets :

    Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)…It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded.” -Letter From Greg Watchman, Acting Sec’y, OSHA.

    Why are their any smoking bans at all they have absolutely no validity to the courts or to science!

    Funnier even your bodys own blood contains over 4000 chemicals most of which are the same as whats in tobacco smoke derived from the natural air all the non smokers breathe daily or the food they eat. You see every chemical in tobacco is natural to the air and in foods including the nicotine.

  8. How much money do they charge the pharmaceutical companies when someone has ill effects from drugs for smokers or anything else really??? How many court cases have they had against the big Pharma, the big drug companies?? Some side effects from Champix/Chantix used to help smokers quit including violent tendencies and suicidal thoughts, how many lawsuits?? Why are drug companies allowed to list the side effects and then it is up to the patient to choose and they are off the hook, but force tobacco companies to get rid of their trademarks and intellectual property rights, force smokers out of bars and close bars and restaurants down because of the bans and exorbitantly tax people who smoke cigarettes??? Also people say, oh we are not telling you not to smoke, just not anywhere in the country. Idiots. Follow the money and the WHO regulations for the world, every country.

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