Tobacco Control replication crisis

Last year the Victorian government modified the state Freedom of Information laws to exempt the Victorian Cancer Council. This was in response to a perfectly legitimate request for underlying survey data that researchers at the Victorian Cancer Council had collected and had been funded by the Australian federal government (through the Department of Health and Aging).

The matter is currently before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal:

Cancer Council Victoria’s reputation as a research body would be “significantly damaged” if it was forced to hand over confidential survey information on plain-packaged cigarettes to a big tobacco company, a Melbourne court has been told.

British American Tobacco is appealing the Freedom of Information (FOI) commissioner’s decision to knock back an application by the company to access a range of data, including the attitudes of school students towards smoking.

I don’t doubt that their reputation may suffer if the underlying data are placed in the public domain. Perhaps not for the reasons they claim.

Ashton de Silva and I have spent the last few weeks analysing some other data and papers published by researchers at the Victorian Cancer Council and our working paper has been posted at SSRN.

The abstract:

It appears to be common knowledge that the Australian tobacco plain packaging policy has been successful in meeting its stated policy goals. In this paper we investigate the evidence of tobacco plain packaging policy success as published in a 2015 special issue of Tobacco Control that relied on data drawn from the Australian National Plain Packaging Survey. We find that the three key papers demonstrating the efficacy of the plain packaging policy introduced into Australia in 2012 suffer from inconsistencies and methodological differences. The result are not consistent across the three papers and are not robust to small changes in method choice. In particular we find that model fit is invariably poor. We conclude that contrary to the stated claims of the authors of those papers, and the public health lobby in general, that the evidence is not consistent with the stated aims of the plain packaging policy.

From the conclusion:

The facts are as follows: The Australian plain packaging policy has failed to meet its stated objectives. The research project commissioned to establish whether the policy had met its stated objectives fails on a number of criteria including independence, transparency, replication and rigour. We submit that the peer review process failed to adequately examine the rigour of the results and that the government process designed to provide an overview of the entire exercise failed to indicate that there was no credible evidence to suggest that the policy has worked.

As we initially indicated, the failure of a government policy cannot be an academic spat. Increased government control over business, and the assault on intellectual property have real consequences and these consequences should be minimised to those situations that actually and unambiguously deliver a positive benefit.

The fact that the Victorian Cancer Council is refusing to release the underlying data in other federally funded research tells you all you need to know about the rigour and applicability of the studies published from those surveys.

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15 Responses to Tobacco Control replication crisis

  1. Siltstone

    Cancer Council Victoria’s reputation as a research body would be “significantly damaged” if it was forced to hand over confidential survey information on plain-packaged cigarettes to a big tobacco company, [and the tapayers who fund CCV] a Melbourne court has been told.

    You don’t see such a confession of gross incompetence every day! Go get ’em Sinc.

  2. Richard H

    Our betters in Spring Street announced today that they are banning e-cigarettes from being used in places where food is served. Also selling e-cigarettes to children will be banned, even if the e-cigs are nicotine-free.

    “Our tough new laws will protect young kids from the risks of e-cigarettes and help de-normalise smoking,” says Nanny Hennessy, Victoria’s Minister for Health. Nanny didn’t mention what the risks to “young kids” are, but as she knows best obviously no explanation is necessary.

  3. kc

    The whole “youth smoking” issue is such a con. Big tobacco love funding youth anti-smoking programs, because they work. Just like: big alcohol is happy to fund anti binge drinking programs, because they also work. Just not in the way the thought police expect. These industries are so far ahead of the curve in terms of youth culture and government programs that they are more than happy to pay their way, They are more than happy to lecture youths about the evils of smokes and too much booze, because they realised many years ago that the best and most effective way to get an Australian teenager to do something, is tell them not to. Tell an 18 year old, you can’t do that and they are almost certain to do it. Have an authority figure tell them not to, and they will. It works with smokes, booze & drugs. It works with reckless behaviour, anti-social street violence and respect for the coppers. Just think of something you actually do want a kid to do, then tell them not to. If you really wants kids to give up smoking, focus on telling them it makes them stink and they will get less sex. Fixed. It is a high level secret strategy of big tobacco and big booze to fund these anti programs for youth because it is, in fact, good for business, they know it and just play the game while regulators are so blissfully stupid.

  4. Rabz

    Cancer Council Victoria’s reputation as a research body would be “significantly damaged” if it was forced to hand over confidential survey information on plain-packaged cigarettes to a big tobacco company, a Melbourne court has been told.

    As noted by Siltstone above, that admission is pure gold.

    Mind you, they never had a “reputation” as a ”research body” in the first place.

  5. Some History

    I don’t doubt that their reputation may suffer if the underlying data are placed in the public domain. Perhaps not for the reasons they claim.

    Regarding tobacco, the VCC is a prohibitionist group. It’s ideologically compromised. That’s strong vested interest. Prohibitionists, in addition to incessant cricket-chirping-annoying moralizing, are notorious pathological liars for the “cause”: The [crooked] end justifies the [crooked] means.

    It’s very doubtful that the “reputation” of the VCC will be damaged according to their reasons, e.g., anonymity of research participants will be compromised. Their “research” is agenda-driven trash. It’s pretty much par-for-the-course when it comes to Public Health tobacco-use “research”. It therefore simply solidifies the VCC’s abysmal reputation as a crooked organization run by terribly overpaid, sanctimonious twonks.

  6. C.L.

    Last year the Victorian government modified the state Freedom of Information laws to exempt the Victorian Cancer Council.

    Just wow.

  7. Some History

    A short study on smoking bans and fines.

    Consider smoking bans in cars with children. In all(?) Australian states it is a criminal offense to smoke in a car carrying children under 16.

    Such bans were introduced in Australia without the slightest resistance. It can’t be a health issue because there are no studies that have assessed a health issue in the “car” context. Such research would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, because we’re dealing with short bursts of exposure, i.e., “dose X duration”. So anyone claiming that these bans are to “improve health” is lying because a health detriment has not been demonstrated.

    Further, if The Children™ were in such “grave danger” from short bursts of smoke in cars, then why wasn’t it the first ban enacted, why has it taken so long – decades – to get to this “urgent” issue? We’ve had years of bans occurring in other places but it’s only in the last few years that the “children in cars” issue has arisen. It’s not a health issue for children. It’s the Godber Blueprint in motion. It’s social engineering; it’s part of the vulgar “denormalization” of smoking/smokers campaign. It’s the latest step in the step-by-step banning of smoking in essentially all the places that people typically smoke, i.e., de facto prohibition. Having succeeded with indoor smoking bans and, in some places, outdoor smoking bans, the antismoking zealots/fanatics are targeting some of the remaining places that people smoke masqueraded as a “children’s health” issue. It also further reinforces in children’s minds that smoking is “terrible” and that if mommy and daddy smoke, especially in the car, their “terrible” behaviour/addiction needs to be brought into line by the State.

    Puddlecote has covered the baseless, inflammatory trash peddled by prohibitionists to get these car smoking bans passed:
    http://dickpuddlecote.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/drafting-smoking-in-cars-consultation.html

    Then we have this:

    A new study is urging lawmakers not to let science get in the way of sound policy when it comes to laws on children’s exposure to secondhand smoke in cars.
    http://www.montrealgazette.com/health/Science%20shouldn%20stand%20sound%20smoking%20policy%20study/4086184/story.html

    The prohibitionists acknowledge there is no science of harm underlying these bans even though they’ve attempted to give that impression. But, why worry about a scientific basis. Ban smoking in cars with children anyway. Understandably, the prohibitionists don’t want to stop there. They’re already floating “if smoking is banned for cars carrying children, why not ban smoking in cars altogether”.

  8. Some History

    (cont’d)

    The part that I want to highlight is the fine for infringement of this baseless smoking ban. Fines around Australia vary from the mid-$100 (Tasmania) to mid-$200.

    Consider another step in the Godber Blueprint – smoking bans in outdoor dining areas. Victoria recently legislated such a ban coming into effect in mid-2017. There is no evidence that exposure to quickly diluting wisps of smoke outdoors is a health hazard to nonsmokers.

    The interesting part is the fine for infringing this absurd law – $758.
    The government announced last year that smoking would be banned in outdoor venues where food is served from August 2017, with on-the-spot fines and a maximum penalty of $758 for people who break the law.
    http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/calls-for-total-smoking-bans-in-outdoor-areas-of-pubs-cafes-20160404-gny7qx.html

    How do you get $758 as a fine for smoking outdoors? Even the wonky law regarding The Children™ inside a car only attracts a $250 fine for infringement. $758 is in the range of serious driving offenses. These lawmakers, egged on by nut case prohibitionists, are INSANE.

  9. Jessie

    confidential survey information
    anonymity of research participants will be compromised

    There is NO requirement for a person diagnosed with cancer (now titled ‘research participants’) to choose to participate.
    Perhaps with a ‘survey’ but if a patient refuses ‘a survey’ it is likely the researcher goes to their health files to glean the information written.

    To my knowledge each state/territory is mandatorily required to report cancer. eg

    The Registry continued until it was incorporated into the current population-based Registry in 1982 following an amendment to the Cancer Act 1958 (Vic), which mandated the notification of cancer. From 1 October 2015, the mandatory notification of cancer screenings, diagnoses and other related information is dealt with under the Improving Cancer Outcomes Act 2014 (Vic).


    Cancer Australia 2006

    and their ‘reporting and grants’

  10. Mayan

    Spotted a snippet in the paper this morning about more restrictions on e-cigarettes by the Democratic People’s Republic of Victoria.

    That slogan they used to have on their number plates, ‘Victoria: on the move”, should have caused people to ask “to where?”

  11. H B Bear

    Victoriastan seeks to legislate it’s way back to the Dark Ages.

    Listen to Nanny you pesky Victoriastanis.

  12. Some History

    Most countries, including Australia, have signed and ratified the WHO “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” (FCTC). It’s the FCTC that prescribes “plain packaging”.

    Article 13 of the FCTC

    16. Plain packaging.
    “The effect of advertising or promotion on packaging can be eliminated by requiring plain packaging: black and white or two contrasting colours, as prescribed by national authorities: nothing other than a brand name and/or manufacturer’s name, contact details and the quantity of the product in the packaging, without any logos or other features apart from health warnings, tax stamps and other government mandated information or markings: prescribed font style and size: and standardized shape, size and materials.
    There should be no advertising or promotion inside or attached to the package or on individual cigarettes or other tobacco products”

    http://www.who.int/fctc/guidelines/article_13.pdf

    While “plain packaging” is prescribed by the FCTC, it’s only Australia, and now a handful of English-speaking nations following suit, that have instituted PP. Why Australia? Australia has become a land of sheeple….. of neurotics and shallow “health” bigots. You could make up anything about the “detrimental effects” of tobacco smoke and most Aussies will not only believe it but enthusiastically believe and parrot it. The basic elements of the FCTC have been implemented in Australia without the slightest resistance. And, so, Australia has been given extra-curricula activities by the WHO such as PP and eye-watering extortionate taxes on tobacco. All it requires is greedy, useful-idiot politicians, of which Australia has many, to do the bidding of the unelected, unaccountable WHO.

    Just look at the extortionate taxes on tobacco. Going into the 2013 election, Labor adopted the policy of a 12.5% increase in tobacco excise for each of 4 years (2013-2016). After initial criticism, the Liberals adopted the very same policy, no variation whatsoever. Going into the 2016 election, Labor has again adopted the very same policy as 2013 – another 4 years of 12.5% hikes in tobacco excise (2017-2020). And, again, after initial criticism, the Libs have fallen into line, adopting the very same policy. There are no variations to distinguish the political parties. They adopt the exact same policy. The strings of our useful-idiot politicians are being pulled by outsiders, i.e., the WHO.

  13. .

    Pfft. Rod and Todd Flanders as Chapman and Alpers? What’s not to like you rubes?

  14. Jessie

    Some History …phffft…
    The strings of our useful-idiot politicians are being pulled by outsiders, i.e., the WHO
    …………….. and those philanthropists and entrepreneurs R+L supporting independent think tanks and their fellows seeking to influence policy, legislation and expenditure to maintain the hell-holes etc etc etc

    One cigarette goes for $2.00+ on a weekend in these faux communities. Let alone the costs for marijuana or ice. Reduced price vegetables/fruit subsidised and flown in for sale to improve health? Ha…. I note Hunter’s academic papers do not list the PBS (or not) drugs prescribed for the ever-emerging documented violent and psychotic peoples he visits at times and administers to over his 20-25 year career.

    Look at this lengthy list of million $ projects ticked off by NHMRC and/or ARC, for a small example, on social investment in applied [social] research on tobacco, alcohol and so on. And The WE Australian’s dribble on the Aurukun population and purported history by the academic Ernest Hunter. Another dribbler on tax-payer teat.

    Cairns Institute (not University)

    ATSI Information and Teaching and… Research

    Research is the key to finding answers to our questions about cancer – what causes cell damage, why cells turn cancerous, how cancer grows and spreads and how we can most effectively attack it.
    State and territory Cancer Councils, which comprise the member bodies of Cancer Council Australia, are the major non-government sponsors of cancer research and related activities in Australia. Cancer Councils fund and conduct research that is based on scientific merit and competitive, peer-reviewed assessment to ensure the most judicious use of community fundraising, donations, bequests and merchandise sales.

    In 2015, research grants through Cancer Councils totalled more than $70.5 million. Cancer Councils directly funded $48.1 million, with a further $22.4 million contributed by our research funding partners.

    As well as research grants, a number of state and territory Cancer Councils operate epidemiological and behavioural research units that undertake research aimed at improving cancer prevention and detection.

    Cancer Council
    (noting the header with ‘scientists at a microscope)

    *bold

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