Kick the habit with wacky wave energy

April 8th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science | 60 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday April 8, 2006
The Guardian

I often get hassled for writing about bad science in the media, and in products, and in alternative therapies, but leaving the mainstream big pharmaceutical companies alone. Clearly the main reason for this is that I am on a large honorary retainer from a shady organisation representing the major global biotech firms, and have been told in no uncertain terms by senior figures in medicine and science that I’ll never work in this town again if I attack any of the major financial players.

In fact that’s not true, and as if by magic my first ever boss in medicine, a professor of medicine, has sent in an excellent bad science candidate from a major study on a significant new drug, because science is all about reading the full paper, and being critical of the evidence, and that’s what medics and scientists do all the time.

The problem is, I’m still feeling slightly guilty about last week’s column. There’s rarely an excuse for forcing anyone to cope with concepts like statistical significance, clustered samples, and Bonferroni’s correction for multiple comparisons on a Saturday morning over breakfast.

And as I browse through the week’s bad science emails, there are so many easy ways out. I could attack something obvious and easy like the Bio-G Chip Card (R), designed by scientists to neutralise the tobacco wave energy patterns in your fags, now available in the UK for only 35 quid. “Look and Feel Better, Improve your Health and Lifestyle, Raise Your Self-Esteem, Start Saving Money in only 10 minutes!” they say. “Nicotine, the main reason for this addiction, will be eliminated from your body and you will become free from this nasty habit! Forever!” I’m honestly trying to ignore it, but it’s a chip that you put in your fag packet, and chips are science, as everyone knows. They have something to do with energy and waves.

“With its wave energy the disc is acting on tobacco thus changing its burning pattern, which results in a reduced CO and increased CO2 production. The Bio-G Chip Card (R) is to be inserted either between the cellophane and the cardboard box or into the pack itself.” It can treat “up to 100,000 cigarettes” and “the full neutralisation effect is achieved in approx 10 min”. And that’s full neutralisation, like on Star Trek. “With the Bio-G Chip Card (R), the smoke itself becomes harmless, both for the smokers themselves, and for the individuals in their surroundings inhaling it.” It’s even good for the kids: “Non-smokers are no longer disturbed by the smell of smoke or butts, and remember, they are mostly children.” But the greatest breakthrough is for addicts. “The existing nicotine will be eliminated from the body, and the new one will not enter the blood. In that very period the addiction disappears completely.”

The problem is, I’d feel then like I was participating in the creation of the myth that science is only interesting if it’s wacky, when really I’d rather say something about Channel 4’s Hypnosurgery Live event next week. So you see my problem.

In fact, you’d better hope the hypnosurgery is worth writing about, or that Dr Gillian McKeith PhD says something unusually foolish; because otherwise I have a very worthy, nerdy story about a mainstream academic article, which generalises into a largely untold story about how proper medical research can be distorted by financial interests in a subtle and ingenious way that can only be caught with careful statistical observation.

It will involve funnel plots, meta-analyses, corrections for multiple comparisons and the concept of trial registration, and if it makes you angry you will probably also have to explain these concepts in a stern letter to your MP. It’s in the hands of the hypnotist.

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60 Responses

  1. hairnet said,

    April 8, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    On a recent trip on the Stansted Express I was idly reading their free magazine. Inside was an article about how sarah jessica parker avoids jetlag, which essentially involved wearing a samll white plastic pendant around her neck. The article explains this thing is to help ward off bad electromagnetic waves. God knows how much it costs but good luck to anyone buying one.
    THe point being, why do advertisers like the concept of waves so much? Is it simply an association with a wacky druglike spiritualist drawing?

  2. hairnet said,

    April 8, 2006 at 12:08 pm

    ben, go with the statistics, if not you risk further stigmatising an important subject.

  3. pv said,

    April 8, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    Which are the good waves and which are the bad ones? Does it say?

  4. hairnet said,

    April 8, 2006 at 12:43 pm

    not exactly, i lost the page. The bad ones are ones which cause jetlag!!
    sounded more like witchcraft than anything else

  5. Steve Fraser said,

    April 8, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    So what’s the study you’re sitting on, Ben?
    Sincronet Media in County Cork are the distributors of this miracle card- anyone got a trading standards contact in Eire?

  6. raygirvan said,

    April 8, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    Trading Standards

    Out of interest, the Advertising Standards Authority have already upheld a complaint about this type of product – see Adriana, 22 February 2006.

  7. raygirvan said,

    April 8, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    Addendum: the BioG Chip Card tracks down to a company in Zagreb, Croatia: see Bioproizvodi (A HREF=””>English version).

  8. Tessa K said,

    April 8, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    Fantastic. Now I can carry on smoking without any health risks. I’m sure my brother will now be more than happy for me to blow smoke all over his little kiddies. In fact, I think I’ll get them started on the Silk Cut themselves. Hey kids, you too can look cool in the playground.

  9. BSM said,

    April 8, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    “THe point being, why do advertisers like the concept of waves so much?”

    I think it’s because every woo science proponent loves to invoke Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, even if only tangentially. So “waves” , just like “energy”, tickle their G-spot in a very special way, which makes them feel like grown up scientists talking in a grown up scientificke way. They also like the notion that relativity and quantum mechanics are like such a challenge, right, to conventional thinking, yeah, that, like, anything that touches impinges upon them, right, must be a real challenge to the conventional scientific mind, yeah. It’s like the energy in crystals, yeah?

    And now we have “Chips”, so to we can add “digital” to “energy” and “waves” as woo fetish objects.


    (BSM wishes to make it clear that he has been drinking quite heavily today).

  10. Kimpatsu said,

    April 8, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Ben, it would make thngs easier if those links you post were actually hyperlinks. Then, instead of cut-and-pasting, we could just use the mouse to click…

  11. AJH said,

    April 8, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    Listen, the BioG Chip Card is such patent crap that we shouldn’t waste our energy on it, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel…. the right-side scrolling text claims reductions of 16% and 21% while the flash claims the “smoke itself becomes harmless” – therefore the site contradicts itself before you start to analyse the claims.
    The “awards” include a scan of their “Certificate of Participation” in a British inventors exhibition. I could get one for a piece of wet string, it means nothing.
    And don’t get me started on the translations……

  12. Ben Goldacre said,

    April 8, 2006 at 7:44 pm

    damn right it’s shooting fish in a barrel, largely because i couldn’t get the other column finished in time. er, light relief at least…

    anyway, more interestingly, i think the attraction in pseudoscience for things involving the word “wave” is partly down to the quantum thing, but also partly down to the fact that “energy” and “wave” are things you’ve heard of from school science. in fact, it’s interesting how so much of the woo stuff we debunk here involves basic school science like magnets, oxygen, water, and so on in their explanatory memes.

    i think there are 3 possible explanations:

    a) it’s just an amazing coincidence that the science behind these products always seems to be derived from school science rather than advanced and impenetrable digital technology or pharmacology, or

    b) the woo explanations are marketing devices and the ones that survive better are one’s that are easily memorable and have the illusion of being understandable to the lay consumer, or

    c) this guff is all made up by people who only did science up to the age of about 16…

  13. tomh said,

    April 8, 2006 at 11:40 pm

    Its probably mainly

    c) this guff is all made up by people who only did science up to the age of about 16…

    although I can’t help thinking its also got somthing todowith the fact that waves (or magents) seem so desepfordly simple, eg waves on a beach (or magnets on your tou train set). Yet when you go to school you get told that they have wavelengs periods, amplitueds etc (or field lines/ quantum spin + magnetic domains in the case of magnets 😉

    Still, all you remember from your GCSE science lesson’s is that there seems to be more to them than you know. Therefore when someone in authority (or just a bowowed white coat) tells you that, yes you are right there is more to it, they can cure your smoking habbit/ sleep pattens / help you to lose weight in 5 minuets / etc. You are more likly to believe them as you know that you dont fully understand it yourself.

  14. AitchJay said,

    April 9, 2006 at 12:43 am

    Here’s another –

    The appropriately named Humbler Acts (I’m not joking) can help you quit using the power of dreams and the seven centres..

    Yes, really

  15. Pedantica said,

    April 9, 2006 at 7:51 am

    There is clearly a big market for things which help you give up smoking. Given that addiction appears to have a significant psychological component this is one area where you would expect some products to work even if their only effect is confidence boosting. If ever there was a legitimate market for woo, this is it.

    However I’m slightly worried that the way such products might succeed, if indeed any do, is not through increasing the probability that you will give up if you do use the product, but by reducing the probability that you will give up if you do not. Advertisments for such products often seem to me to reinforce the view that it is hard to give up smoking and you’re likely to fail if you don’t buy something to help you.

    Perhaps this is true for some people. But I also think there is a danger in mythologising the difficulty of giving up smoking. It wasn’t difficult for me. I was on 40 a day when I gave up. I went from 40 a day one day to none the next and frankly, aside from a week or two of feeling fairly awful, I found it easy.

    Of course the product in the original article appears to claim something extra as well: rendering cigarette smoke safe at the same time as breaking your addiction to nicotine. Why do both? There’s no need to eliminate a healthy activity.

  16. stever said,

    April 9, 2006 at 12:10 pm

  17. stever said,

    April 9, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    drat – cant post pics here for some reason

  18. pv said,

    April 9, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    Very well put Pedantica. I gave up while smoking 30 a day and it wasn’t so difficult for me either. I didn’t cut down gradually. I just stopped. The hardest part was actually making the decision! Now I would say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
    I have always thought these aids to giving up smoking (nicotine patches, chewing gum and the like) aren’t actually intended to succeed. The advertising puts pressure on the smoker by emphasising how difficult it would be to give up without product X or Y, rather than emphasising the unequivocal benefits of giving up. Like alternative medicine it is designed to prey on the gullible and mekes big profits in the process. In the event of failure it will always be the fault of the consumer for not following the instructions to the letter (like “don’t smoke!”) and more sales will inevitably result.
    As for the neutralisation of tobacco smoke, does anyone know if the Bio-G Chip Card is a product of the tobacco industry?

  19. raygirvan said,

    April 9, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    does anyone know if the Bio-G Chip Card is a product of the tobacco industry?

    I don’t think so. I don’t read much Serbo-Croat, but can glean from the makers’ website, Bioproizvodi, that it’s supposed to be a generic device also claimed to neutralise EM radiation from mobile phones, monitors, etc.

  20. Woolly-Bully said,

    April 9, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    this is great, my first post and you’re talking about an area in which I can claim a little professional expertise… must be fate…

    dear pv and pedantica, you are I think being unnecessarily (and rather unscientifically) cynical in your view of stop-smoking “products”, based merely on your own experience of giving up. I have worked as an NHS Smoking-Cessation counsellor for many years, and am able to (rather unsensationally) confirm that while a small proportion of abstainees like yourselves are able to give up without any fuss (you lucky, lucky people), the remainder face a much harder battle with their addiction.

    People smoke for a variety of reasons, only one of which is physical addiction. For example, one category is hand-mouth stimulation. If that’s your main thing, it’s not too hard to switch to a less harmful source. But if you’re physically addicted, it’s not so simple – because there’s no substitute for nicotine.

    So for you to claim that because you found giving up easy, therefore the manufacturers of nicotine patches are cynical exploiters of the gullible, is, I would suggest, a step too far, and rather unsympathetic to the vast majority of smokers who struggle with the realities of addiction.

    The fact is, a lot of smokers do find it easier to use patches to seperate the physical reasons for smoking from the social or psychological reasons. They tackle the latter first, then gradually reduce the nicotine input via the patches, over a period of time. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it definitely works for some.

    And it’s scientific…

  21. Tessa K said,

    April 9, 2006 at 8:56 pm

    Shooting fish in a barrel indeed, except that someone is obviously buying this crap.

    Anything that has an apparently ‘invisible’ effect can be used for woo purposes. Magnets making iron filings move around is pretty magical when you are a kiddy and that sense of wonder often stays with us. In some cases, it gets twisted into believing that if something has one power we don’t really understand, it must have others.

    Crystals really do have properties (the stuff they do in watches, for example). Some shaped crystals can be used as a prism to split light up into its seven colours and that can seem pretty magical. So it’s not a great leap to add on some woo capacities too.

  22. RS said,

    April 9, 2006 at 9:10 pm

    Nicotine replacement therapy is actually one of the most cost effective medical interventions we have.

  23. pv said,

    April 9, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    Woolly-Bully, I’m sure you’re right. But one gets so used to the exploitation of people’s addictions, problems and weaknesses that it becomes difficult to believe that those flogging magical cures are actually trying to help sometimes. And my point, and I think Pedantica’s, is that the marketing of these products does tend to emphasise the difficulty of quitting smoking as opposed to the benefits (with or without said product). Profit before altruism.
    I smoked 30 day for 20 years and I’d say I was fairly addicted. I noticed it when I hadn’t had a cigarette. But it was making me ill and very unfit. One day I just set myself the task (a challenge if you like) to stop, and I didn’t tell anyone; although I did ask the advice of some ex-smokers how they coped during the first few weeks after they’d stopped smoking, which was enlightening and extremely helpful. My father gave up at age 75, having smoked heavily since he was 12 years old and having said on countless occasions that it was too difficult and, anyway, he was too old to change. My mother gave up when she was 50, having smoked for more than 30 years. Personally I know many more men who have successfully stopped smoking than women. I know more women who have tried unsuccessfully to stop.
    There are lots of reasons smokers might find it very difficult to stop, but they don’t need to have the idea or possibility of difficulty constantly rammed in their faces. It’s unhelpful except insofar as making a profit is concerned.

  24. Aspiring Pedant said,

    April 10, 2006 at 9:13 am

    Tessa K –

    “Crystals really do have properties (the stuff they do in watches, for example). Some shaped crystals can be used as a prism to split light up into its seven colours and that can seem pretty magical. So it’s not a great leap to add on some woo capacities too”

    Crystals are traditionally used for wooing purposes – I believe a certain crystalline form of carbon is particularly effective.


    Is there any chance someone could correct the message “You must bee (sic) logged in to post a comment.”?

  25. Delster said,

    April 10, 2006 at 10:01 am

    well everybody knows that crystalline carbon is a girls best friend….

    Re cynical marketing of stop smoking products such as patches & gum. I think this is more a case of a spotted oportunity on the part of the manufacturers. If someone is physically addicted to the nicotine aspect of smoking then yes these coupld possibly be used as an aid.

    If as Woolly-Bully said it’s hand/mouth stimulation then they won’t help in any major way, under this circumstance it is more of a physical habit rather than an addiction. it’s a bit like someone who curls their hair with a finger while thinking, half the time they are not aware they are doing it.

  26. ogie16 said,

    April 10, 2006 at 10:58 am

    Nicotine could be one of the most useful drugs known to mankind, but unfortunately it is highly addictive, which pretty much blocks off that avenue. As for NRT, realistically they have a success rate in the real world of less than 20%. Amazingly, 35% of smokers try to quit at least once a year, but only 6% of these are actually successful in maintaining abstainence. Clearly, the addictive properties of nicotine are far too strong for modern science.

    I’m am not a smoker, the only thing I have ever given up is biting my nails, but a strong will and willpower are the most important things required to give up anything, especially smoking. IN a way, the ability of pharmaceutical companies to “guilt” people into thinking that they should give up smoking, when they don’t really want to is a cause of the depressingly low success rates for smoking cessation. Basically they are guliting people into donating them money via propaganda, but we all know that already. It just demonstrates human nature, we will always spend our money on something, businesses just compete with each other to try and get us to spend it on them.

  27. Kate said,

    April 10, 2006 at 11:55 am

    This is a really interesting discussion.

    I’ve given up smoking three times – once for four months, once for two years and currently I’ve given up since January. The first time I quit, I went cold turkey. The next two times I’ve used nicotine patches, and they do help to be able to break the psychological addiction before you get rid of the physical one. In the first few weeks, I could sit in a smoky pub and not desperately crave a cigarette, whereas that would have been very hard without the patches.

    I agree that I’m not sure that the “giving up smoking is harder than kicking heroin”-type quotes you often hear really help. It means you expect quitting to be awful, and it could predispose people to failure, as some people will either use it as an excuse to start smoking again because it’s too hard, or some people will just not try at all in the first place.

    I have to agree with ogie16 too that I’m sure the reason a lot of people fail to quit is that they don’t really want to give up smoking. I would come under regular pressure from friends and family to quit, try to stop, fail and then feel even worse. I suspect this was because I didn’t actually want to stop smoking, but I felt I ought to.

    And speaking of feeling you ought to quit on a societal level… I don’t want to criticise the anti-smoking ads around at the moment if they actually work, but I wonder how successful they are? They are extremely emotionally manipulative, and as an ex-smoker, I still find them distressing. I prefer the positive message from the Stop Smoking Clinic ads, which make me feel happy to have quit, rather than terrified that I’ve done myself permanent damage.

    The times I have successfully given up were when I actually thought to myself “I am utterly sick of smoking and I don’t want to do it any more”. Giving up because of someone else has never worked for me – it’s just meant I’ve ended up disappointing myself and them, when I could have predicted I’d fail.

  28. Delster said,

    April 10, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    there has been a rise in the number of people over here (Eire) giving up smoking since they bought in the smoking ban in enclosed public spaces, this includes Pubs, restaurants and place of work. Other benefits are you can go for a pint and not come back smelling like an ashtray!

  29. Kate said,

    April 10, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    I admit I’m looking forward to the smoking ban in England now I can feel smug about having quit. I hate the smell of stale smoke, so I never used to smoke inside my house anyway – which means I don’t think it’s such a problem for people to have to stand outside if they want to smoke.

  30. Delster said,

    April 10, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    I’m a non smoker and the ban was a godsend (sorry…. Anthropomorphic deification send) for me.

    before the ban i was with a friend (smoker) in the pub and watched them light up. after a couple of puffs they put the fag on side of ashtray, took a drink and lit another…. totally forgetting about the one he already had. It was more habit than anything else.

  31. Jellytussle said,

    April 10, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    Ok, looking for an easy target, ostensibly respectible medicine, with some easy stats discussion?
    Try any of the private firms that offer multiple screening blood tests for a variety of conditions. Often advertise in the colour supplements, glossies. Generally FBC, U&Es, LFTs, Bone, TFTs, plus a variety of tumour markers such as PSA, Ca125, CEA, possibly some endocrine and allergy tests etc etc.
    Generally targeted at healthy people.

    Quite apart from the fact that most of these tests are not validated as screening tools in a healthy population (lack of specificity and or sensitivity), Wilson’s criteria for screening are simply ignored ( for a useful summary)
    The companies appeal to the latent insecurity eg “Wouldn’t you like to know that you are healthy and don’t have cancer?”

    There is also an interesting statistical issue related to multiple blood tests on an individual. The normal ranges for blood tests are generally based on a normal population distribution. So, in a normal population, 2.5% at either end of the bell curve will naturally fall outside the “normal” range ( the precise figure depends where the threshold is set.) That is 5% of the population. Do more than 20 different tests on an individual, and there is a good chance that one of them will come back abnormal (I am sure the stats is a little bit more complex than this – someone please correct me.)
    An abnormal test is of course a good excuse for further examination, testing etc. These guys are onto a winner.

    A quick search found the following two, but there are far more egregious offenders out there:

  32. DrSteve said,

    April 10, 2006 at 7:56 pm

    Here’s a question.

    I am currently a visiting researcher in the US and the interesting thing here is the difference in how the average person views the prevention of bad lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking, bad eating, lack of physical activity). In the US there appears to be a blind faith that technology will always supply an answer that requires very little effort on the part of the individual. Pop a pill, use a machine, eat a magic supplement. My current TV favouritie is the pill you can take which will netralise stress cortisol and thus prevent abdominal weight gain…a close second is Chuck Norris’ all in one exerciser that will give a body of Herculean stature. Why worry about risky behaviour when there is a sure to be a techno-answer somewhere down the line. Manufacturers capitalise on this, using flummery and pseudo-science to dress up what amounts to snake-oil to a public that wants to believe in a quick and easy fix.

    I fear that similar attitudes are becoming increasingly prevalent in the UK. Any thoughts?


  33. Ben Goldacre said,

    April 10, 2006 at 8:20 pm

    i would say it’s partly the desire for a quick fix, but also, to give people some credit, the desire for a believable lie. we know a pill won’t help us lose weight whilst eating lard, but if someone can tell us a plausible story about how one might, then we can use that to assuage our conscience and get down with the doughnuts.

  34. Woolly said,

    April 10, 2006 at 9:02 pm

    I think you’re all correct that doing things because we think we should do them, is less effective than doing them because we want to do them. So guilt-tripping is generally an ineffective way of getting someone to do something.

    The problem is that it’s very rare that all of an individual wants to do one particular thing; different parts of us want different things, we’re pulling in different directions, and the outcome is therefore unpredictable.

    So, Ogie, will-power is a concept that we don’t use in smoking cessation, not because it’s difficult to define, but because nobody knows how to increase it. So if you think it’s all about having enough will-power, and then you fail in your attempt, then you’re stuck – you can’t go to the will-power shop and get some more.

    I think about motivation as a set of scales in our heads; all the reasons for smoking on one side, against smoking on the other. Whichever side carries more weight, that’s what we end up doing.

    So the initial counselling sessions work out what the balance is, and see if it can be altered before the cessation attempt. If the socio-psychological reasons for smoking can be met elsewhere, this alters the balance and increases the chances of success.

    As I mentioned before, one system defines 7 categories of reasons for smoking (Psychological Image, Hand-Mouth Activity, Indulgence/Reward, Sedation, Stimulation, Habit, and Addiction). Only the last one has anything to do with nicotine.

    Does this relate to your question, Steve ? Addicts have given their power away; addict-type thinking would therefore lead them look for another external power source to save them, instead of reclaiming their power for themselves, which is the long-term solution, (and what I’m trying to achieve as a therapist).

  35. Jellytussle said,

    April 10, 2006 at 9:48 pm

    “In the US there appears to be a blind faith that technology will always supply an answer that requires very little effort on the part of the individual.”

    Analagous to the public perception (in the UK as well) on the effectiveness of CPR in the event of cardiac arrest. Nice survey a few years ago (BMJ I think) on CPR success rates in TV medical dramas, which were wildly out of keeping with reality.

  36. C said,

    April 10, 2006 at 10:16 pm

    Those of you working on a unified field theory of swindling might also find this chip of interest, which improves music:

    commentary at

  37. WaveyDavey said,

    April 11, 2006 at 8:13 am

    Thats just … just … *awesome*. I’ve never read such a stunningly thorough, in-depth work of bullsh*t before. Its scope is breathtaking – from quantum dots to a leaky box. I am gobsmacked.

  38. Delster said,

    April 11, 2006 at 9:01 am

    hmmm…. i think that was one of the items that came up while we were doing over audio systems power leads a month or 2 back

  39. PJA said,

    April 11, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    Replying to BSM (post 9), sorry to skip in.

    Basically, I think the use of terms like energy and wave is also to do wih being “artfully vague”. The tighter you pin a concept down, the more likely it is that someone will have good argument against it. If you are vague, then someone is more likely to recognise the concept from a feeling or an interpretation that they themselves have, and go along with it.

    It’s all inthe works of Milton Erickson, and of course is something advertisers and Politicians know very well!

  40. Delster said,

    April 11, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    WaveyDavey…. if you think that one is bad then you should check out the little clocks…. improve the sound quality just by being in the same room as the sound system… don’t even have to be placed near it…..

  41. hatter said,

    April 11, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    I found giving up nicotine was really easy. The active duration of nicotine is short and the withdrawal relatively minor. Giving up smoking is somewhat more difficult. Lighting up and puffing away is simply a habit. Has anyone tested how easy it is to quit pure nicotine rather than the smoking habit? I mean tests on humans, not pointless tests on rats, mice or any other animals.

    Ogie16 if that 6% rate is correct then it is in line with that of other drugs. About 5% is the number of people, who say they want to quit whatever is their drug of choice, who actually do want to quit. The rest haven’t really decided to quit yet. Abstinence is however part of the problem. For many users cutting down, not quitting is the solution.

    If nicotine is an effective and useful drug then its addictiveness is irrelevant. We should never allow something as arbitrary and unimportant as addiction to get in the way. Our society is far too obsessed with the crazy idea that being physically addicted to something is inherently bad, rather than being merely inconvenient and costing a little money.

    Have nicotine patches been double-blind tested? How effective are they versus placebo?

    It is a myth that heroin is particularly hard to quit. Heroin is not really different to other recreational drugs, alcohol included, when a person actually wants to stop they can and do.

    Those anti-smoking ads are probably largely a waste of time. It is probably like other recreatinal drugs, those that get scared off aren’t really interested to start. At best the campaigns re-inforce their decision rather than sway them.

    Delster time will tell if those quitting subsequent to the ban will stick with it. While I’d prefer not to end up smelling of cigarette smoke and I don’t know why smokers are moaning so much about having to go outside from time to time to get their fix, I am not convinced that secondhand smoke is a major threat. Better venitlation may have been a better solution for everyone. I’ve spent the night inside well-ventilated venues packed with smokers and have not come home smelling of cigarette smoke.

    DrSteve why worry about risky behaviour at all? Are we telling rock climbers to give up because it can get them killed? Society in general has a rather warped attitude to risky behaviour. It is each person’s choice the risks they wish to engage and those they wish to avoid. I agree though that doing something risky because you expect a quick fix once you’re broken is rather stupid. The US is rather backward because they are perhaps the most crazed in the failed war on drugs, yet they have a constant bombardment of TV advertising telling you about the latest miracle drug to make you happy.

  42. hatter said,

    April 11, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    “I believe a certain crystalline form of carbon is particularly effective”

    Now there’s an effective marketing campaign. They have managed to make love and a semi-precious rock synonymous. Very clever and it has made them rich.

  43. AJH said,

    April 11, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    34: Oh my God. That machinadynamica website could keep Ben going for months! Thanks for the most entertaining pile of old toss I’ve read in years! Here’s an extract – actually one of their alleged customer reviews – that is hard to beat…..

    “OOOOOOOOh, My! – This is really dramatic! Ok, I will let it freeflow without thinking too much about what I am trying to say….. here goes nothing. What I feel is a realignment of the Sonics within the Space that the musical envelope is trying to occupy in my room. I hear more of everything, but somehow differently. More Space!! – and it seems there is a lingering of the notes that fade into the space – a deep, ambient hall or recording space in the field I never knew existed in all of my familiar recordings. Bass extension is outrageous! — now I see what I’ve been missing. One caveat might actually be a blessing: the body of information is wider, deeper and taller – simply “more of it,” and this has me turning the volume down a shade from my normal level — more dynamic range? …Oh, yeah — these clocks are staying in the system!” – Brent, Sept 2005 ”

    You jut can’t make it up.

  44. AJH said,

    April 11, 2006 at 8:01 pm

    Sorry, that was for something called the “clever little clock” which looks like a £5 digital clock with an orange sticker partly obscuring the display, however it improves your hifi by just being in the same room. $199 or $298 for 2. Yes, really.

  45. AJH said,

    April 11, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    Sorry, last post on the clever little clock: They sell it with this paragraph:

    “The Clever Little Clock is a small, battery-powered alarm clock that has been extensively modified using a number of highly-specialized techniques. The Clever Little Clock does not plug into the wall and has no direct or indirect influence on the audio signal — not on house wiring, audio components, cables, interconnects, power cords or acoustic waves. Yet the Clock has a pronounced affect on the sound produced by all digital and analog playback systems.”

    Ah I love the smell of snake-oil in the morning!

  46. Stu said,

    April 11, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    Kate said (ages ago): “I agree that I’m not sure that the “giving up smoking is harder than kicking heroin”-type quotes you often hear really help. It means you expect quitting to be awful, and it could predispose people to failure, as some people will either use it as an excuse to start smoking again because it’s too hard, or some people will just not try at all in the first place.”

    Too right. And it’s a message reinforced by the NHS whenever it prescribes nicotine patches/gum.
    Harry Hill nailed it: [while rubbing stomach] “Heroin, eh – very moreish isn’t it?”

  47. Kate said,

    April 12, 2006 at 11:56 am

    Delster – on the other hand, smokers do pay a huge amount of tax on cigarettes (I’m not saying this is a bad thing!), a proportion of which also goes to fund the NHS.

    I personally don’t like the idea of basing policy on judging people’s behaviour by the amount of money the state then has to spend on them, particular if the behaviour is legal in the first place. Obese people are more likely to have health problems than people of a “normal” weight – you could say that was self-inflicted. Keeping people in prison for life is hugely expensive and arguably the life prison term is self-inflicted – should we then reintroduce capital punishment?

    I’m coming up with extreme examples, I know. :) Of course, if it’s just a personal objection (rather than you think the state should somehow do something about it – e.g. not fund healthcare for smoking-related illnesses), then I have no issue with it! And that’s my own personal opinion…

  48. Delster said,

    April 12, 2006 at 2:03 pm


    don’t disagree with you on that one, they do indeed pay a lot of tax into the system and some of it does go to the NHS.

    As for basing policy on it, the way i see the smoking ban is that over half of the adult population don’t smoke so why should a minority (all be it a large one) cause discomfort to the majority? If i’m in a smokey room i find my eyes feel the effect, i dislike the smell and i end up going home smelling of smoke.

    So instead of all this i don’t think it’s particularly unfair for those who do wish to smoke to have to go outside or into special areas.

    An additional benefit to this would be a good chance of people who already smoke stopping and maybe even kids not taking it up in the first place.

    Yes Obese people do tend to have health problems and yes in the majority of cases it is down to the individual. If you believe the charts i’m actually obese myself, having said that the last time i was the correct weight i’d not eaten for 3 weeks, been flat on my back and lost a huge amount of my muscle mass, i also looked like a victim of a concentration camp. I exercise and am in fairly good health so personally i think the charts are a little out in their ranges…. after all someone who’s barrel chested will weight more than someone who’s not for the same height but may well be in a much better physical condition.

    As for the capital punishment side i’m actually in favour of it for certain things. Look at all the people who have been killed by a person who is all ready a convicted criminal with a violent nature, some of them even while on parole or early release. By refusing to take the life of the person who killed once we have effectivly taken the life of the second person they have killed.

    again thats just my opinion :-)

  49. Bob O'H said,

    April 12, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    “Yes, we ladies are simple creatures. we like the shiny things.”

    There, I always knew we men were the discerning sex. We like only shiny things if they have moveable bits, and that we can take apart.


  50. RW said,

    April 12, 2006 at 7:49 pm

    Damn smokers! But why stop there? Only good and virtuous boys and girls should get pubicly funded healthcare. Bad boys and girls who drink and smoke and eat too much need to be punished! And I’m sure there are more naughty people out there who are undeserving of our nation’s money so we’ll ban them also. It’s that simple!

  51. Woolly said,

    April 12, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    1. “About 5% is the number of people, who say they want to quit whatever is their drug of choice, who actually do want to quit. The rest haven’t really decided to quit yet.”

    Excuse me, Hatter, but where does this 5% figure come from ? I’d like to know how a researcher concludes that despite their protestations to the contrary, someone “actually” doesn’t want to give up ? Because they failed to do so ? That would be circular reasoning, wouldn’t it ?

    My point is that people are more complicated than “Want something”, or “Don’t want something”.
    People tend to be split 80-20, or 70-30, or even worse 50-50… which makes behavioral change difficult and unpredictable. It’s not about what people “really” want”, it’s about the balance of motivating factors.

    2. Delster, consider this hypothetical situation. A murderer serves his sentence, repents and re-trains as a doctor, goes on to save 250 lives through his skill and dedication. So if you’d killed him in prison, wouldn’t you have “effectively taken the lives” of those 250 people ?

    A civilised society allows people the oportunity to redeem themselves.

    Not to mention the fact that the “convicted murderer” might have been wrongly convicted in the first place. Does happen, you know.


    PS Nicotine patches don’t have to prescribed. No-one in the NHS is “pushing” patches. They just work for some people, that’s all.

    There seems to be lot of mistrust of the NHS out there. Are we the baddies now ?

  52. Delster said,

    April 13, 2006 at 11:15 am

    Hi Woolly,

    very aware of the problems with capital punishment.

    Anybody got figures on number of murderers who then go do something life saving v number who reoffend in some way? I very much doubt that the comparison would be on the side of good.

    And also aware of the problems with wrongfull convictions, having said that with modern forensics the chances of wrongfull convictions are much reduced.

    I think you’d be closer to say that what “this” civilised society does is allow them to reoffend or redeem. Of course the majority really do neither, they just return to an average state neither saving nor taking lives.

    I’m not great at presenting arguments like this in writing but i will dig out comments from someone who was and either post them or send them on as we’ve kind of strayed from the subject a bit.

    As for the NHS being the baddies…. i waited 18 months to have an arthroscopy on my knee so that they could diagnose exactly what the physiotherapists had been telling them was wrong…. apparently i had the perfect exacple of this specific injury as they kept showing my knee to every student who came through the place.

    Then after diagnosing what had already been diagnosed they then said 18 months for the actual operation to fix it…. i’m still waiting after 5 years and will probably have to go throught the whole process again as i’ve been out the country for 2 years.

    the main problem with the NHS is the amount of paper pushing that takes place, i don’t have the exact figures but a hell of a lot is spent on admin rather than treatment. I know you need a certain degree of administration but the various people i know who work in the NHS say it’s getting worse all the time.

  53. Kate said,

    April 13, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    Hi Delster,

    I always used to smoke outside, so I don’t see why other people can’t do that – I always hated coming home stinking of smoke, even when I was a smoker. If pubs want to be welcoming to smokers, they can put up some kind of roofing outside to keep the rain off and provide a heater (she says tolerantly). I’d rather people went outside than areas were smoking or non-smoking inside – in a mixed group of smokers and non-smokers, someone is always going to end up losing out, either by having to sit in a smoky room or by craving a cigarette and not being able to have one. I would have actually welcomed it as a smoker, when it wouldn’t have been weird to say “I’m just going outside for a cigarette”, rather than weighing up whether lighting a cigarette and potentially annoying my friends was more urgent than not having a cigarette all evening and wanting to chew my own hand off.

    In any place other than pubs and restaurants, there aren’t segregated areas and this already happens. No one smokes actually in their office any more, after all – they either have to go outside or into smoking rooms. (Not that I’ve ever seen one of these mythical places anywhere I’ve worked – in my current office, smokers have to go out to a kind of bus shelter in the woods behind the bikesheds. It’s like being back at school.)

    I don’t agree with capital punishment full stop, so I guess I would never agree with it. However, I suppose what I was trying to say is that I don’t agree with policy decisions being taken on the cost to the state, rather than the morality of the situation.

    Don’t know how to fix the NHS or whether even to believe it’s broken. It’s been a political football for as long as I can remember. My own experience with the NHS has been generally positive – I had 4-month wait for an appointment for a scan, but as soon as that was done, it all moved really fast.

    (I’m really enjoying this discussion, by the way – it’s making me think!)

  54. BorisTheChemist said,

    April 13, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    There are better battlegrounds for the capital punishment debate than the rehabilitation of offenders anyway – for instance, any justice system can never be 100% correct so that means that a proportion of innocent individuals will be killed by a state that operates the death penalty – the state and the justice system it operates is then a murderer so how can sit in judgement over others?

  55. Delster said,

    April 13, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    Kate – glad it’s making you think…. thats a skill that seems to be dying out :-) I have seen a smoking room in a place before but they are rare. If you walk past a pub over here (Eire) now of an evening all the smokers are huddled outside getting their fix…. some places with the space have put up awnings etc for them…. even with heaters!

    I know several nurses and others within the NHS and they continually complain about the seemingly ever increasing paperwork.

    Your right when you say capital punishment should never be a cost driven decision. My argument is puely from the point of protecting other people once they come out of prison again.

    Boris, we kind of touched on that a couple of messages back. yes no justice system is 100% infallable but with modern methods things are much better than when we did used to have the death penalty so the problem, while not totally cured, would be reduced. At the end of the day the question that has to be asked is is it better to mistakenly kill one innocent than to have murderers reoffending X number of times.

    It’s a very tricky moral question, to which i don;t have the perfect answer. maybe cut and dried cases would be given the death penalty while others where they are still convicted but with enought uncertainties to cast a slight doubt then incarceration might be the answer…… wiser heads than mine would have to establish the criteria.

  56. guthrie said,

    April 14, 2006 at 10:16 am

    And how many murderers actually re-offend when they are 20 years older? Not many, I woudl bet.
    By the time they kill people, in many cases the criminal has been involved in much pettier crime for ages. The key is intervention before they become a muderer.
    (this of course does not include those who murder suddenly on a whim, or for money like in Agatha Christie books or suchlike.)

    As for the NHS- you should take it back under public ownership and stop messing about privatising it piecemeal. That way you would get rid of a lot of the paperwork involved in costing things out, keeping track of things etc etc.

  57. Delster said,

    April 14, 2006 at 12:39 pm


    there have been quite a few cases where violent offenders have been released and committed murder. Off hand i don;t know if they were alreay murderers or lesser forms of violent offences but 20 years? most of them serve no where near that.

    NHS, i think it should be sort of privatised. Pay tax for it as normal and give it to a company to run as the NHS does. You can bet they will cut out the paperwork and make it run like a business which is what should be done.

    Same thing happened when BT was privatised (i worked for them at the time) lead times for installations dropped rtight down and service improved greatly. I think it might well work for the NHS as well.

  58. Andy said,

    April 14, 2006 at 9:38 pm

    FYI Re comment 10.
    If you run Firefox then the Linkification extension will do this for you automatically. A very handy little add on.

  59. Roger Macy said,

    April 16, 2006 at 8:21 pm

    pv said, way back at post 23, “I did ask the advice of some ex-smokers how they coped during the first few weeks after they’d stopped smoking, which was enlightening and extremely helpful.”
    Thirty years ago, after twenty years’ heavy smoking, and another failed attempt at giving up, an acquaintance said ‘I bet you tried to give up at the end of a packet?’ ‘Well, sure.’ Her advice was: ‘Social smokers can give up at the end of a packet. True addicts can only give up with an assured supply.’ This, I accept, might have been even smarter grandmother-psychology than it appeared – it gave me a reason to believe again that my willpower was not simply inadequate.
    But my question is: what happened to the graded filters that worked for me ? Not only did they separate the hand-habit from the nicotine use, they had a hidden ruse. You had to explain to everyone, over two months, why you were using these dumb filters. That meant telling everyone the day you were going to give up. Nicotine patches aren’t so smart and require the NHS to supply the nicotine FOC for x months, whereas I had to keep paying for my fags through the nose.

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