The anti-smoking lobby are much like the carbon tax crowd – they’ll say anything any time to support their cause.
Here is Simon Chapman in The Drum today:
A tobacco-loving English blogger noticed that in the 12-17 year age group (the principal target of plain packaging legislation) the percentage of daily smokers actually rose from 2.5 per cent to 3.4 per cent.
The jubilant blogger took the trouble to construct a bold graph that emphasised this massive uplift. But he failed to tell his readers that for five of 10 data cells that made up the figures, the standard error was more than 50 per cent (“too unreliable for general use”) and another two cells with lower standard errors “should be used with caution”).
Now as it turns out I have an op-ed under review on this and other related issues. While I am normally reluctant to preview stuff – I thought I should respond to that piece of silliness straight away.
Last week Becky Freeman wrote, “The number of 12- to 17-year-olds who have never smoked held steady at a near universal 95%.” That figure, 94.7% was identical to the 2010 figure, but very slightly down on 2007’s 95%. The big picture is this: basically 5% of individuals aged 12 – 17 experiment with tobacco. Notwithstanding anything the health lobby has done since 2007 that figure remains unchanged.
But it gets worse – the proportion of ex-smokers in that age group has collapsed since 2010. In that year the proportion of ex-smokers aged 12 – 17 was 1.6% – in 2013 it had fallen to 0.3%. Those young individuals who had taken up smoking had not given up. We’re told that the decline from 1.6% to 0.3% is statistically significant, but that the 0.3% is not statistically significantly different from zero. So statistically nobody who started smoking in that age group has given up.
In 2013 the proportion of occasional smokers aged 12 – 17 is also not statistically significantly different from zero. The picture that emerges is that the 5% of young smokers aged 12 – 17 who took up the habit over the 2010 – 2013 period are still smoking.
Nothing at all to be crowing about.
Update: Dick Puddlecote weighs in too:
The institute’s table saying it was at 3.4% with no qualifiers – along with everywhere else in the excel tables where it was similarly cited absent of any asterisk – indicates they were comfortable that the percentage was reliable and, as such, statistically valid.
Or, in the AIHW’s own words, “considered sufficiently reliable for most purposes”.
It is understandable that the tobacco control industry is finding this so unsettling, because every campaign in every country has focussed solely on glitzy packs and how they apparently attract children. Yet last week’s dramatic claims of heroic achievement were conspicuously absent of any discussion of this pretty vital piece of information. Do you think they may have been hoping that no-one would notice?
In reality, this is the only statistic which is relevant in the plain packs debate when it comes to prevalence. Has plain packaging been successful in stopping kids from smoking, or not? It’s that simple.
Sadly for Chapman and his fellow tax-spongers, the AIHW survey shows that there has most certainly not been a reduction, and that it’s more than arguable that plain packaging has actually made things worse.