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June 30th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 65 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday June 30, 2007
The Guardian

We live in troubled times, where scientific research – at least in popular forums like newspapers – is only ever critiqued by ad hominem attacks on the person who did it. Evidence showing that MMR is safe was rubbished, because some researchers once accepted a drug company pen; and similarly, when the MMR scare died in the popular imagination, it wasn’t because of the evidence, but because Andrew Wakefield was shown to have personally profited from legal cases and applied for potentially lucrative patents for the alternatives to MMR. It would have been less complicated if everyone had just looked at the data.

But how bad would someone have to be for you to completely disregard the findings from their research, simply on the grounds of who they were? An adulterer? A recipient of private consulting fees? How about a cold-blooded racist, homophobic mass murderer?

This Sunday a smoking ban comes into force. In 1950 Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill published a preliminary “case-control study” – where you gather cases of lung cancer, and find similar people who don’t have the disease, and compare the lifestyle risk factors between the groups – which showed a strong relationship with smoking. The British Doctors Study in 1954, looking at 40,000 people, confirmed the finding.

You wouldn’t know it, but the Nazis beat them to it. The Germans had identified a rise in lung cancer as early as the 1920s, but they had suggested – quite reasonably – that it might be related to exposure to poison gas in the great war. In the UK, Doll and Bradford Hill were wondering if it might be related to tarmac, or petrol. Then, during the 1930s, identifying toxic threats in the environment became an important feature of the Nazi project to build a master race through “racial hygiene”.

In 1943 two researchers, Schairer and Schöniger, published their own case-control study in the journal Zeitschuft für Krebsforschung, demonstrating a relationship between smoking and lung cancer almost a decade before any researchers elsewhere. It wasn’t mentioned in the classic Doll and Bradford Hill paper of 1950, and if you check in the Science Citation Index, the paper was referred to only four times in the 1960s, once in the 1970s, and then not again until 1988. In fact, it was forgotten.

It’s not hard to understand why: Nazi scientific and medical research was so bound up in the horrors of cold-blooded mass murder, and the strange puritanical ideologies of nazism, that it was almost universally disregarded, and with good reason. Doctors had been active participants in the Nazi project, and joined Hitler’s National Socialist party in greater numbers than any other profession (45% were party members, compared with 20% of teachers).

Figures on the smoking project included racial theorists, but also researchers interested in the heritability of frailties created by tobacco, and the question of whether men could be rendered degenerate by their environment. Research on smoking was directed by Karl Astel, who helped to organise the “euthanasia” operation that murdered 200,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and assisted in the “final solution of the Jewish question” as head of the office of racial affairs.

Earlier this year this paper ran a rather dismal news story in which criticism was made of Sir Richard Doll, suggesting that his impartiality was somehow affected simply because he had occasionally accepted finance from industry. But medical statisticians like Doll save lives on a scale that is incomprehensible to most people, on a scale in the millions, the polar opposite of the anecdotes the media love. What would it take for me to doubt Doll’s data? The man was a hero. If you showed me he was a cold-blooded racist homophobic mass murderer, I’d still read his papers carefully.

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65 Responses

  1. jonecc said,

    June 30, 2007 at 12:53 am

    I don’t see any grounds for disputing research carried out by anyone purely on the grounds that they’re a bad person, even if they’re actually quite evil. The only relevance personal character has to research is if it implies that the research itself may be fraudulent, or in some way compromised. Of course, with any research carried out for a murderous dictator you would have to suspect exactly that.

  2. jackpt said,

    June 30, 2007 at 12:58 am

    A very thought provoking article.

  3. sven said,

    June 30, 2007 at 8:00 am

    jonecc: “The only relevance personal character has to research is if it implies that the research itself may be fraudulent, or in some way compromised.”

    I would add: or just biased. Rejecting someone’s work because of their character is wrong, but data is not produced in a vacuum. It is important to know someone’s background and ties when they can influence the outcome and conclusion of research. Otherwise, what’s the point of “independent research” and the disclaimers of “competing financial interests”?

  4. jodyaberdein said,

    June 30, 2007 at 10:03 am

    One is reminded of the recent discussion regarding ‘ANCA associated granulomatous vascculitis’, nee Wegener’s granulomatosis. This provides a thought provoking story of how a researcher’s probably bad activities can infact lead to some beneficial outcome. Perhaps Wegener would have trouble with my prescription of powerful immunosupressants to people with ‘his’ disease as I do it regardless of their ethnicity, religion, sexual preference etc., but none the less it was he who first identified the disease. One wonders when it would next have been characterised in an alternate history where his findings had been more avidly censored due to increased knowledge of his nazi involvement. You need am athens password to get this article unfortunately:

    Rheumatology 2006, 45:1303

  5. triangular.bread said,

    June 30, 2007 at 10:41 am

    Re no 3

    I know smoking is bad for me. I smoke. Why? Because I enjoy it. I’ve done the cost-benefit analysis and have elected to smoke.

    There’s a serious reason why the smoking ban (which we’ve endured in Scotland for a while now) is wrong: it’s an attack on liberty, the right of adults to make decisions for themselves, even bad ones. You don’t like smoke or smokers? Fine – don’t go where they go.

    If there were a real demand for smoke-free bars, they’d already exist; that they don’t exist except through the state extending its reach surely tells you something. (Actually, before the smoking ban came into effect, there was a smoke-free pub that I know of in Glasgow, called the Phoenix. I thought it a dull place, full of dull people; but if a smoke-free atmosphere was what you wanted, here was a place willing to cater to that need.)

    As Isaiah Berlin said: ‘Everything is what it is: liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.’ That’s something that puritans consistently fail to understand

  6. Nanobot said,

    June 30, 2007 at 11:14 am

    I think that once you get your research out there then it becomes independent of you. You may be based, evil, whatever, but your work still needs to be investigated to see if it is biased, evil or whatever itself.

    Good article.

  7. Littleshim said,

    June 30, 2007 at 11:53 am

    I appreciate your point about liberties, but I can’t completely agree with your conclusion. I would argue that liberties (like research) do not exist in a vacuum – there is a responsibility to exercise them with respect for others. That’s why, for example, your liberty to play death metal at deafening volumes is limited by noise controls: you can destroy your own eardrums if you want, but you can only do it so long as you aren’t making a nuisance of yourself to others. And other liberties don’t exist at all because they would automatically harm others.

    So far as people smoking by themselves is concerned, your point stands. But once you bring it out in public it’s a different issue. Leaving aside passive smoking, if you smoke in a public place then other people have to put up with the smell, which also permeates clothes, hair etc. and can leave them smelling for days. It’s a lot more long-lasting than most other smells seem to be. I would argue that smokers don’t have the right to decide that other people should smell, any more than Death Metal fans have the right to play deafening music in the same situation and wreck people’s eardrums. If someone wandered round with a censer wafting powerful incense everywhere, people would probably get pretty narked, but it’s not that different.

    Of course, pubs aren’t the only places where this works; railway stations, cafés or staffrooms can be just as bad, and there you might have no choice at all whether to go in. Heck, you find streets full of people smoking. Given that people choose to go in pubs they’re probably one of the last places that needs this rule.

    Declaration of interest: I’m particularly sensitive to smoke, and walking behind someone with a fag is enough to make me feel physically sick. Doesn’t invalidate my reasoning.

  8. RS said,

    June 30, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    There is a quite significant body of opinion that holds that you cannot ‘benefit’ from Nazi era science (much of which was admittedly crap) because of its provenance. Bonkers, but a point of view not to be ignored because it is quite widespread.

  9. factician said,

    June 30, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    The only ethical consideration to be made when looking at someone’s data is, “Are they honest?”. Dishonesty in the context of science is thankfully rather rare, likely because it’s so easy to get caught.

  10. triangular.bread said,

    June 30, 2007 at 2:04 pm


    Please let me clarify: I don’t seek to compel people to inhale my smoke (unless they want to – the world is full of bizarre desires). I’m all in favour of measures to minimise the impact smokers have on those who don’t smoke in pubs – separate, sealed, air-conditioned sections for smokers, for instance, or a ban in venues below a certain cubic volume.

    If people don’t like smoky atmospheres, then let them go elsewhere. No attack on my liberty; they’re at liberty to go to other places. No is compelled to go into certain pubs.

    I appreciate your point about the imperfection of markets. My reply is in three parts.

    First, as I pointed out, in Glasgow there was at least one place pre-ban that sought to attract business through this very issue. The market was providing alternatives. If those alternatives had been genuinely attractive, there would have been more demand for them, and so more places willing to cater for them.

    Second, bar trade has fallen off in Scotland. Some places have gone out of business. Far from hordes of non-smokers flooding into de-smoked bars, it seems the sort of people who want the ban are not the sort of people who want to go to pubs anyway. They have revealed their preferences, and smoke-free bars weren’t high on their list.

    Third, the ban has had unintended consequences – people are said to be smoking more at home, inflicting more smoke on those least able to get out of the way: their children. Oh, and that smoke-free bar? It shut too. The sledgehammer of legislation has again shown itself to be an unsubtle instrument.

    One last thing: bars and restaurants are not public spaces: if you doubt me, try taking a picnic of your own food and drink into them.


    I appreciate your remarks about externalities. But when my neighbour decides to play music at disturbing volumes, I am inconvenienced greatly, mainly because I have only one home and only one bed (at least until my lottery ticket comes up) – I cannot choose to go elsewhere until the noise is gone. I agree that pubs are perhaps the last place to need this legislation, as no-one is compelled to visit them.



  11. SciencePunk said,

    June 30, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    Interesting that the Nazi research on smoking was so easily forgotten when their research on rocket building and other areas of military interest were gladly embraced.

    Err, I may have answered my own quesiton there.

  12. Bryan Kitts said,

    June 30, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Many who feel it’s unethical to benefit from Nazi research are referring to the experiments that used unwilling POWs, Jews etc. with no regard for human life (e.g freezing water experiments). There are reasonable arguments on both sides, but I don’t think calling people “bonkers” is one of them.

  13. DaveF said,

    June 30, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    No 10:
    “If someone wandered round with a censer wafting powerful incense everywhere, people would probably get pretty narked, but it’s not that different.”

    But people do wander round wearing strong scent that they impose on everyone around them. I personally find it nauseating, and some people, like my sister, have a strong allergic reaction to it. A ban on wearing scent in public places would seem to be the next logical development, and one I’d applaud (I quite like the smell of cigarette smoke – I speak as an (I hope) ex- but sometimes aggressively passive smoker).

  14. Oldfart said,

    June 30, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    Well, I know I’m gonna get flamed for this. I was born in November of 1941. My mother, a wild child of her time, drank, smoked and partied. She continued to do so after she married my father and they had two more children. In fact, she smoked up until her death at age 78. During the time I grew up smoking was everywhere. You could smoke at work, in bars, in family restaurants, on trains, in elevators, on airplanes… on. You could NOT smoke in theaters or on subways. But people did anyway. Trains eventually had smoking cars and, if your parents smoked, you were in the smoking car. Just recently I read a study of a connection between second-hand smoking and Autism and ASD. We all know that there is a supposed ADHD, Autism, ASD “epidemic” going on. So – where was this epidemic in my youth? Where was the epidemic of second-hand smoke induced asthma and cancer? Is the current generation weaker than us? Inbred? Downbred? Are cigarettes different now? (We had no filters then.) Do people smoke differently? Why did we (my cohort) not have an epidemic of fetal-alcohol syndrome?

    In my estimation there is something wrong with these studies. You cannot dodge these admittedly anecdotal “facts” by saying that these conditions had not been identified in those days. If second-hand smoke and alcohol really have these dangerous side effects, the victims would have shown up in hospitals anyway and archaeological “digs” could turn up lists of symptoms that match the current diseases at the current rates. Since there was little or no control of smoking in those days, the epidemic should have been overwhelming. But it wasn’t. Why?
    The rate of fetal-alcohol syndrome should have been the same. Was it?

    Don’t get me wrong. I quit smoking four years ago and have no doubt that smoking does terrible things to your lungs and heart and ….. I’m just bemused by studies that show that parts per million (billion?) of second-hand smoke do INSTANT damage to children and other non-smokers and wonder where all that damage was back in the 40’s and 50’s and 60’s.

  15. JohnD said,

    June 30, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    An aside, to Ben, and others.

    Why use the latinate, legalese term “Ad homiminem”? Okay, it encapsulates an attack on personal rather than logical or data grounds. But the term “personal attack” or “personal abuse” may do as well, and benefit from being in English, instead of being a pseudo-learned phrase.

    Maybe it’s only me that it irritates. I’ll get my coat.


  16. triangular.bread said,

    June 30, 2007 at 6:34 pm


    last time I Looked, no-one was chained to the pumps behind the bar. You don’t want to work in a smoky atmosphere? Then don’t take a job in one.

    I don’t want to hijack this thread (although perhaps this discussion has gone so far that we can’t turn back).

    I have an immaculate blog, and maybe we could all head over there to expatiate on the subject, if anyone feels we’re imposing on them here.



  17. raygirvan said,

    June 30, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    Where was the epidemic of second-hand smoke induced asthma and cancer? … If second-hand smoke and alcohol really have these dangerous side effects, the victims would have shown up in hospitals anyway

    Dunno about the alcohol, but it’s likely that the smoking-related ones did, but the stats just got buried in those for the endemic “British Disease” of chronic bronchitis and emphysema (now grouped as COPD). It would have been hard to separate out the causes because of the correlation between smoking and social class (ie working class people both smoked more, and lived and worked in districts where the other risk factor, air pollution, applied).

  18. Moganero said,

    June 30, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    “framing”? Wossat?

  19. Kurmudge said,

    June 30, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    Well, there is no question that all public venues should be required to post huge signs outside that state in red with the poison skull and crossbones that it is a smoking site. And gas masks should be provided for employees of such places. Smoking should be banned in stadia, public buildings, office buildings, etc.

    But the broad attempts to rule against smoking on private property, at the same time as tobacco is not only permitted by law but taxed like crazy, are ridiculous.

    I say that as one who has never even tried to smoke, and who has asthma and pulmonary allergies that at time interfere with my distance running.

    There is no good study showing effects from second-hand smoke on non-smokers in proximity. The much ballyhooed Harvard Center for Risk Analysis study did not control for whether second-hand smoke recipients were smokers themselves; when those persons were extracted, there was no statistically significant correlation with higher disease rates.

    The best medical evidence suggests that the damage from smoking occurs from direct inhalation of concentrated, hot, tar-filled smoke. That doesn’t happen to people in proximity- but the experience of being next to a person smoking is quite unpleasant, especially for thos like me who have respiratrory issues.

    My suggestion is that the smoking banners lay off the nazi-like nanny-state tactics, and instead pass a tort law giving a non-smoker a strict liability claim against anyone who smokes near her or him except in places where there is a big red danger sign with the smoking skull and crossbones. A few easy lawsuits like that and the smokers will be ready to pay money to get into a room where they can smoke in peace and leave the rest of us alone. But leave the nanny-state regulators out of it.

  20. bbb said,

    June 30, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    ad hominem is a not merely a latinate legalese term, it is a proper name for a type of logical fallacy. There are many types of logical fallacy which have latin names. This probably does come from the legal profession, however they are kind of useful in that it “announces” that you’re using a phrase as descriptive of a logical fallacy. “personal attack” sounds like you’re merely criticising the attacker for being nasty, rather than for actually committing a logical fallacy. It might be possible to come up with English names for these which are clearly not normal English, for example “Attack the man”. But look up Ad Hominem etc. on google and you’ll quickly find precise definitions of the fallacy.

    PS I fully support the smoking ban. For me it is nothing to do with health, it is simply antisocial – it is like dropping litter or urinating in public, both of which are illegal. Banning it in pseudo-public places such as pubs is necessary due to the addictive nature of smoking: cigarette addicts will always whinge if you want to go to a non-smoking pub, to the extent of refusing to go at all, so they will win. We need the law backing us up.

  21. stever said,

    June 30, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    kurmudge. secondary smoking harm, real or imagined, isnt the point (even it has been the argument used). The public health benefits that are undeniable are from less smoking and increased quitting.

    public health responses of proven effectiveness to the single biggest preventable cause of death, supported by a majority of the population hardly fits the bill of ‘nazi like nanny state’.

  22. Gimpy said,

    June 30, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    stever its not just about the smoker. Passive smoking exacerbates asthma in sufferers and is a contributor to childhood asthma. Asthma may not kill but it’s not particularly pleasant and to an extent avoidable.

  23. jodyaberdein said,

    June 30, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    I’m not sure where ad hominem comes from originally, but I first picked it up from reading Schopenhauer’s ‘the Art of Controversy’, freely available from Project Gutenberg and a must-read for anyone who ventures into the blogosphere. Find here also 29 or so other ways to seemingly win an argument even though you are actually wrong.

  24. Dr Aust said,

    June 30, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    The most celebrated examples of “Should data be used even if it was obtained by bad people, and in ways that were inhumane and unethical” were also Nazi-related.

    The examples most often brought up are information about human survival in poison gas attacks, or the experiments on freezing water hypothermia and the best way to re-warm / revive. These experiments would clearly be impossible to repeat in any ethical way.

    There has been an extended debate over the years, especially in the Bioethics journals, about if, and how, this information should be used and cited – but it has been used and cited. For a summary (not sure how reliable) of this issue see:

    A couple of other refs (not read them myself):

    Post SG. “The echo of Nuremberg: Nazi data and ethics.” J Med Ethics. 1991 Mar;17(1):42-4. PMID: 11653171.

    Sun M. “EPA bars use of Nazi data.” Science. 1988 Apr 1;240(4848):21. PMID: 3353706.

    So I suspect the reason the Nazi era work on smoking and cancer was not cited was as much that no-one was interested at the time – epidemiology being less than big news in those pre-Doll and Hill days – as the Nazi associations. And then later, once Doll and Bradford Hill had published the 1950 study, there was no need to cite anything else.

  25. Andrew Clegg said,

    July 1, 2007 at 2:54 am

    (And if there is a similar internet law about posting so late at night that one can’t spell one’s own name, please let me know what it’s called.)

  26. Suw said,

    July 1, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    The whole ‘if you don’t like it, you can go elsewhere’ argument really doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s as lazy and flimsy an argument as the ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ argument about surveillance.

    In any society, there is a balance of rights between individuals – “your rights end where my rights begin”. To think that the rights of smokers outweight the rights of non-smokers is arrogant to say the least.

    Equally, the ‘nanny state’ accusation is, for once, off the mark. There is absolutely no doubt that this government has over-legislated, and some of that legislation has been really bad for your _real_ human rights, such as the right to life free from mass surveillance or freedom to associate. I founded the Open Rights Group in order to address some of these issues. However, the concept of ‘nanny state-ism’ should be confined to genuinely useless meddling with people’s private lives, not issues where there is a genuine public health aspect.

    I totally agree with Stever that getting more people to quit is the more important aspect, but passive smoking had demonstrable negative impacts on asthmatics at the very least.

  27. triangular.bread said,

    July 1, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    Stever 25:
    The argument, that non-smokers can go somewhere else is weak. That is an even greater infringement on their liberties. Similarly, staff in smoking establishments dont have the option.
    So it’s a greater infringement of liberty to allow adults the chance to exercise choice than to employ the mighty engines of the state to remove choice entirely? You’re going to have to elaborate your argument, because I think it doesn’t add up.

    bbb 27:
    You need the weight of the law to help you convince ‘whingers’ (whom I take to be your friends) to come to smokeless pubs with you? You don’t need legislation; you need friends whose company you enjoy.

    Andrew Clegg 34:
    If adults want to blow asbestos dust in each other’s faces consensually, that’s up to them. I wouldn’t elect to have asbestos dust blown in my face. I can’t imagine sitting in a pub with the crossword and thinking, I really want some asbestos dust blown in my face right now. If you think you could compel me to come to a place where I would have to inhale your asbestos dust, then you fundamentally misunderstand the nature of liberty and of choice. If a pub had a sign outside saying ‘asbestos dust blowing permitted here’ I would know to take my custom elsewhere.

    Suw 36:
    The whole ‘if you don’t like it, you can go elsewhere’ argument really doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s as lazy and flimsy an argument as the ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ argument about surveillance.
    Simply asserting it to be ‘lazy and flimsy’ doesn’t make it so. Again, I’ll ask for elaboration of the argument. Your analogy is also incoherent: bans on smoking and increases in surveillance are both instances of the state extending its jurisdiction. You rightly deplore the state wanting to watch us all the time; I think the smoking ban is part of the same panopticon mentality.
    In any society, there is a balance of rights between individuals – “your rights end where my rights begin”. To think that the rights of smokers outweight the rights of non-smokers is arrogant to say the least.
    I have never said that the rights of smokers outweigh those of non-smokers. Quite the opposite; I say that the rights of smokers and non-smokers are equal. Prohibiting smoking doesn’t improve the rights of non-smokers. It increases the power of the state in a way that should concern all who care about liberty and rights.

    Apologies for the long reply, but I think that someone has to keep banging the drum for liberty. Will you be so acquiescent when government introduces legislation requiring licensees to breathalyse you every time you go to the bar and to refuse to serve you if you’ve drunk more than the government approved daily limit, all for our own well-being, of course? Or asks you to show a work card at the bar, and refuse to serve you if you’re working in less than 12 hours?

    (Apologies if my attempt to italicise the comments I quote is unsuccessful.)

  28. triangular.bread said,

    July 1, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    well, I started it, but I couldn’t finish it

  29. Nanobot said,

    July 1, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    “If adults want to blow asbestos dust in each other’s faces consensually, that’s up to them.”

    In a place of work (which a pub is)? I’m afraid not.

    This is a key point (not the issue of consent), a pub is not a private place like your home (in which you may still smoke), people work there.

    Do you think that it is reasonable to ask an employee, most likely on near-minimum wage, to be exposed to a dangerous cocktail of chemicals and particulates for the duration of their shift purely so that you can enjoy a cigarette with your beer?

    Really a ban in pubs was probably inevitable due to the fact that it would clearly be only a matter of time before a test case is won by an employee against an employer for the effects of second-hand smoke given the fact that research really strongly favours the conclusion that second-hand smoke is bad for health and so employers don’t really have ignorance as an excuse anymore.

    Of course in other enclosed public spaces that are not workplaces then your consenting adults argument becomes relevant again. I think it would be fine to smoke as long as you sought consent and obtained it from everyone in the bus shelter (well, I certainly don’t assume that I am going to be exposed to smoke in a bus shelter). Are smokers going to do that? Of course not they never have before when I’ve been in such places (in fact, if I suggest they stop smoking, most react rather aggresively suggesting that it is I who should be waiting for the bus in the rain not them if I don’t want to breath in their smoke) – hence the total ban.

  30. Robert Carnegie said,

    July 1, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    35: if this doesn’t exist then I propose we name it “Amdrew’s Pricniple”.

  31. triangular.bread said,

    July 1, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    Nanobot 41:

    As I said before, no one is chained to the pumps in a bar. If someone doesn’t want to work in a smoky atmosphere, then they should take a job elsewhere.

    If it’s their lifelong dream to work in a pub that’s smoke-free, then they are at liberty to put their money where their dreams are and open up an establishment where smoking is not permitted. If there were such huge numbers of people on both sides of the bar yearning for a smokeless environment these places would already exist. That they don’t is not a good reason to extend the purview of the state.

    No one is contesting that smoking is bad for you, btw. So I’d suggest that everyone who enters a place where smoking is permitted knows the risks and accepts them. It seems to me you’d curtail liberty because you think you know better than adults what they should do.

    Incidentally, I’d favour a ban on places like bus shelters because those awaiting the bus have nowhere else to do so. Smokers in such places compel others to breathe their smoke – exactly the kind of thing I’m against.

    Robert Carnegie 43:

    I was trying to convey the idea of a government enforced maximum, set by central authority and enforced without discrimination. When a barkeeper decides someone has had enough, that’s quite a different thing. Of course, the law has no place here either. Places that serve drunk people would get a reputation as such; drinkers could decide for themselves whether they wanted to go to a place notorious for drunkenness. It seems to me that many people have yet to grasp Isaiah Berlin’s famous point: liberty is liberty, not some commissar’s gift for good behaviour.

  32. kim said,

    July 1, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Have never much understood the argument “If bartenders don’t like being in a smoky atmosphere, they can work somewhere else”. It’s a bit like saying, “If footballers don’t like having racist abuse shouted at them, they shouldn’t be footballers” or “If teachers don’t like chairs being thrown around the classroom, they shouldn’t be teachers”. etc etc. Surely all jobs should have some basic rights attached to them?

  33. Primogenitor said,

    July 1, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Just to throw my 2 cents into the “choice and smoking” discussion:

    I think it is important to remember that there is not an infinite supply of equal choices. If a village is only big enough to support one pub, then both pro-smokers and anti-smokers must either use the same establishment, or go on a long trip to another location (which may be of a different style, clientèle, etc). This applies to both staff and customers, and the cost/benefit estimations they have to make for every action they do (to work there or not, to smoke or not, to meet friends there or not, etc).

    To take the argument further, with tongue firmly in cheek, those who oppose the smoking ban have a choice too; leave the country :p Or in a less extreme solution, vote for an anti-ban MP (or stand yourself), or simply don’t go in pubs (hence the possible down-turn in business).

    As for the “right being equal” point, that may be true but it only takes 1 smoker to upset 100 non-smokers, but how many non-smokers does it take for a smoker to be offended?

  34. germslayer said,

    July 1, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Gimpy said,
    Asthma may not kill but it’s not particularly pleasant and to an extent avoidable.

    Sorry to be pedantic but 1500 deaths per annum says it does…

  35. stuartf said,

    July 2, 2007 at 12:25 am

    As usual a thought provoking column, but I worry that you make a valid point in an invalid way: I agree that papers should be judged on the data, not the author, but invoking the Nazi party is always fraught with hazard. Free from any normal morality, Nazi scientists were able to advance the study of human tolerance for harsh conditions more in 10 years that in the previous 100. Their documented exeriments ( make singular advances on human survival at the extremes of high altitude and low teperature. Yet we must disregard these results, we must not use them, for that would give a tacit approval to the methods they used to obtain them, and as Bronowski argued so passionately, the Nai party was the opposite of science, in so many ways.

  36. ctc5 said,

    July 2, 2007 at 2:54 am

    Whilst I see where you are coming from stuartf (post 50), surely if some good can be salvaged from the horrors the Nazis perpetrated, and as long as certain ethical guidelines are followed (the ones discussed here seem agreeable to me) then data that can’t be found from more ethical sources should be used?

  37. Andrew Clegg said,

    July 2, 2007 at 8:56 am

    Primogenitor: As for the “right being equal” point, that may be true but it only takes 1 smoker to upset 100 non-smokers, but how many non-smokers does it take for a smoker to be offended?

    Thanks for pointing out this asymmetry — one thing that gets forgotten in the “smokers’ rights vs non-smokers’ rights” debate is that passive non-smoking never made anyone ill (or even just smelly).

    God, I sund like such a rabid non-smoker these days, even despite the occasional indulgence.

    Robert C. — “Amdrew’s Pricniple” — ouch :-)


  38. ceec said,

    July 2, 2007 at 9:24 am

    Another aspect of the smoking ban which has been (as far as I can tell) completely unreported is the disproportionate impact on smoking-orientated places like shisha bars, where alcohol is not served.

    It’s questionable whether smoking without drinking is really so very bad for anyone. From a public health viewpoint, smokers who don’t drink are probably dream clients: unlikely to fall over/fight etc. so needing less medical assistance in youth (and causing less drunken damage to others), then dropping dead age 55 or so, avoiding pricey nursing home care.

    Apparently, the fact that smoking patterns differ in different social groups is seen as a positive aspect of the ban – i.e. the working classes etc. will be the most affected, but that’s a good thing because they need to give up.

  39. Dubby said,

    July 2, 2007 at 11:56 am

    Andrew, (#34)

    Sorry, you’re wrong! You do need to mention Goodwins Law.

    I’ve just asked five reasonably educated people about it.

    You’re batting 0/6.

    Regards, Dubby

  40. Norbury said,

    July 2, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    I went to the pub on Saturday, the last night of smoking. It was an ex-colleague’s retirement do. I wish it had been held on the Sunday so I didn’t go home stinking of smoke! I don’t go to the pub as often as I used to, but I can say that I used to go to the pub a lot and smoke whilst there. If I was 20 again now I would still be going to the pub a lot to see my mates but I wouldn’t be smoking anything like as much as I did back then, because the link between drinking and smoking has now been broken. How many young people will that apply to? I suspect a lot of people will stop getting so addicted to smoking because that link is now gone (at least indoors).

    And I’m now looking forward to the occasional trips to the pub not being so smelly, it won’t change how frequently I go though.

  41. superburger said,

    July 2, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    it is odd how the countries with the pereceptions of having a hard smoking culture have been the first to ban smoking.

    Italy, Spain, Scotland, Ireland (both ends) – you thought of bars/cafes/eating places in those countries as being smoky dens, but they all banned smoking well before england.

    funny that.

    btw i was on a beach in california, and the beach-cops rode their 2stroke quads for half a mile across a beach to ticket someone having a smoke. The smoking wasn’t bothering me, but the fumes from the quad engine can’t be good for anyone……

  42. Grathuln said,

    July 2, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    The you can always go somewhere else arguement is a bit weak, but only because there really wasn’t any where to go before the smoking ban. I wanted a compromise that would make more places non smoking so people had the choice; smoking places would be licensed and restricted to initially 50% within an area. Over time market forces would determine how many places remained non smoking.

    It is interesting to note that the actual legislation allows “the appropriate national authority” to exempt premises from being smoke free. This means the act contains a mechanism that could be used to, say, set up smoking clubs. If enough industry people create enough noise maybe we shall see a small number of smoking clubs being set up and then we shall see how popular they are. I suggest that rather than blogging people read the act, then go lobbying.

  43. ceec said,

    July 2, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    58 Raygirvan

    I know – wasn’t being entirely serious. Point was more that there are lots of nasty things in the world and banning is rather a clumsy way to go about making things better. Standing up to the tobacco industry, for instance, might be worth trying.

  44. superburger said,

    July 2, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    “Standing up to the tobacco industry, for instance, might be worth trying.”

    prohibition doesn’t seem to work with any drug. And the tobacco companies have lot more legal resources at their disposal than a drug dealer.

    if adults want to smoke cigarettes then that is their business. Same as if they want to smoke crack, in a certain light.

    that doesn’t give them the right to affect others health by their actions – which is pretty much the reason for smoking bans.

    We could make tobacco a class A drug, but like all other drugs, people would still make their own decisions.

    isn’t it better to continue educating people about the risks, tax it and control the supply and give people all the help needed to quit?

    as for nazi research, at a slight tangent, i think the profits from sales of Mein Kampf are held in trust, supposedly to benefit jewish charities, but because the money comses via such a dubiious source they refuse to spend it, so it’s just gathered interest for 60 years….

  45. outeast said,

    July 3, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Personally, I think the idea of a total ban is crap (agreeing with Triangular Bread in most respects here) but that the concept of licensing premises for smoking makes perfect sense. Clearly market forces alone have not been adequate in leading to smoke-free alcohol-selling venues, but creating an artificial forcing through paid-for licences for smoking venues (with other conditions, such as adequate signage and the total exclusion of children) would probably be enough. I’m generally in favour of state intervention through economic forcings rather than blanket bans anyway…

    Second, there’s been speculation as to the existence of a drinking-smoking link here (including claims such as ‘the link has been broken’). I recall reading about research demonstrating that the link is real (as in physiological): alcohol enhances the effects of smoking, and smoking suppresses the effects of alcohol (thus facilitating increased consumption, or at least lessening drunkenness). When combinesd wirth the cultural connections, this may help explain why smoke-free pubs have so rarely arisen… I can’t find the research now (hell, you try searching PubMed with ‘alcohol’ and ‘smoking’ as your only known terms!) but I saw it somewhere on the ScienceBlogs site…

    Finally, I love the ‘Amdrew Pricniple’! Let’s try to popularise it eh?

  46. jodyaberdein said,

    July 3, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    Just a quick one. How do people, particularly those taking what might be called a ‘libertarian’ stance, think the notion freedom of choice stands up to the notion of addiction? I’ve not heard a satisfactory interpretation of these seemingly incompatible behaviours, unless we are defending the freedom to take that first puff behind the bike sheds?

  47. ceec said,

    July 3, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Re. 65 jodyaberdein
    lots of things are bad for you. I suppose it’s just a matter of taste how much government should intervene.

    Re. 52 Superburger
    nobody mentioned prohibition. I was just talking about standing up to the global corruption, backhanders, etc. that seem to be part and parcel of flogging tobacco. Or, you could ban companies from using branding, or any form of marketing etc. etc. as an immediate and simple measure.

    Come to think of it, prohibition might work for tobacco because it’s such a rubbish drug. At least caffeine unlikely to send you to early grave and the others get you high.

    And that brings us neatly to the dodgy research done by tobacco companies – a source of info that really is hard to trust.

  48. jodyaberdein said,

    July 3, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    Re 66: ceec

    Indeed many things we do are bad for us, and some bad for us in one way but good in another. Hence the libertarian stance that only the individual can decided for themselves via some internal calculus. My question is how this internal maximization works out when it concerns an addictive behaviour such as smoking.

  49. NuttyBat said,

    July 4, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Good grief! I’ve not had time to analyse and investigate all of the arguments made and data presented in these comments.

    However, from looking at all of the flag waving and vitriol between comment posters on the Guardian website it does seem to me that Ben Goldacre’s concerns about analysing the scientist rather than the data are justified.

    My one addition to the discussion of the smoking ban is not based in science, so can be easily dismissed as a personal opinion. Not eveyone has the luxury of choosing where they work, be it due to social circumstances (such as hours available to work), education, or location. Should such people be subjected to working in a smokey environment – and potential risks to health – until more evidence on the effects or non-effects of passive smoking becomes available?

  50. triangular.bread said,

    July 5, 2007 at 12:40 am

    I’ve not been able to access this site for some days and so haven’t been able to keep up with the discussion.

    But it occurred to me that all the objections to smoking in pubs (or indeed offices and other workplaces) were not arguments for a total ban but arguments for the provision of separate spaces for smokers. There are some practical objections – places too small to create adequate separate space; those few cases in villages etc where there is only one pub and it’s too small to carve out a smoking room – but I think they could have been hammered out and that would have been a workable compromise.

    That, of course, would have extended choice, not diminished it, and should, in theory, have kept everyone happy. No non-smokers would need to be inconvenienced; the police wouldn’t be having to police it; clipes and martinets would have had to find something else to frot about; children wouldn’t have to endure more smoke at home because their parents were no longer going out; and so on and on.

    I’m genuinely interested to hear what other commenters think of this idea; what objections they might raise; and why a total ban on smoking pubs is thought necessary.

  51. jodyaberdein said,

    July 5, 2007 at 6:24 am

    OK perhaps I’m not making my self clear, or at least those adopting a freedom of choice stance seem to be remaining quiet over the addiction issue.

    You could formulate an argument as follows:

    Many smokers are addicted to smoking i.e. they suffer withdrawal symptoms upon cessation, they exhibit tolerence, smoking is prioritised as an activity, they allow damage to occur to themselves and others in order to continue smoking, and continue smoking despite this damage being in some cases patently obvious.

    It is difficult to make a rational choice about a behaviour to which you are addicted, as you are both coerced by your own withdrawal symptoms and you have an inappropriate discounting of the costs of that behaviour.

    If the goverment were to legislate to provide smoking areas this could be interpreted as collusion with this destructive behaviour, which may earn them a pretty penny more but would be difficult to defend ethically.

    That should get the ball rolling.

  52. quark said,

    July 5, 2007 at 10:18 am


    In my experience smoking areas don’t work. A restaurant critic once wrote that “having a smoking area in a restaurant is like having pissing a area in a swimming pool” (or similar). Not only does smoke not stay in one place, but I’ve also had to argue with smokers who simply ignored the non-smoking signs.

    This is not about prohibition – you may smoke as much as your like in your own home or outside.

  53. triangular.bread said,

    July 5, 2007 at 11:32 am

    gee, a restaurant critic said it? That’s settled it, then.

    So you think it impossible to make adequate facilities for smokers and non-smokers in the same venue? Well, I think it is possible – no matter what Matthew Norman might have said.

    Here’s an idea: rather than ban smoking in alll pubs, ban smoking in 1/2 of them, chosen by lottery. That way everyone could be happy, no? A blanket ban says that giving non-smokers a chance to enjoy refreshment in pubs is not the real reason for the ban; rather, some bansturbators hate the idea of smoking. It’ll be the street next, then in cars, then at home. Just watch.

    Smeone mentioned powers reserved to local authority discretion. Well, no such powers have been reserved in Scorland AFAIK – and in Glasgow, believe me, we’d know all about it. Very few exemptions have been permitted (prisons, oil rigs and, interestingly enough, the palace of Westminster).

    Anyway, I’m going to carry on smoking, not only because i enjoy it but also because it annoys all the right people – the dominies, the puritans and the nosy parkers most of all.

  54. stever said,

    July 5, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Why Transform supports the smoking ban:

    a couple of reasons why i am slightly rueful about the ban:

    1. now you can smell all the stale beer in the carpets, and old men farting.

    2. we wont ever be able to have dutch style coffee shops

    triangukar bread – that last comment of yours in teetering into troll territory.

    your not banging the liberty drum. The legistlation is. if you want to smoke you can, just not in other peoples faces. nd if you want to consume nicotine you can wherever you like, just not cigarettes.

  55. triangular.bread said,

    July 5, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    how is liberty served by restricting adult choice like this? How is liberty served by making smoking in pubs a police matter, rather than one of manners or private discretion of a licensee?

  56. stever said,

    July 5, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    Its just not that clear (silk) cut.

    The liberty of the pub staff, and of non smokers to be in a smoke free environment should be prioritised because:

    – non smokers do not have the same options (smokers can go to a non smoking pub and not smoke, non smokers cannot go to a smoking pub and avoid smoke)

    – non smokers are not imposing their antisocial drug use on others

    Furthermore, as I have outlined:

    – nicotine users have a range of smokeless products as options (patches, inhgalers, gum, snus, snuff, bandits, chewing tobacco etc) which are not banned. There liberty to consume their drug of choice is not infringed merely one particularly antisocial mode of administering it.

    – liberties have to be wieghed against social costs. In this case a minor infringement of liberty will result in a massive social gain.

    – in practical terms most establishments will be able to have an outside area where people can smoke. Where the ban has been introduced compliance has been very good, and police enforcement is very rarely needed.
    – cigarette and tobacco smoking use is not being banned – if it was i would object strongly. You will still be able to smoke in the street, in parks, in the country side, in your own home and on private property. vioolating the ban is also a civil offence (£50 fine) rather than a crimainl one, like the possiesion of cocaine or ecstasy (7 years in prison). Its really just sensible public health regulation: A move that has massive proven benefits, majority support even before its introduced, and overwhelming popular support where introduced.

    in a years time youll love it and wonder what the fuss was all about.

  57. jodyaberdein said,

    July 5, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    Re 72:

    I’m not sure I’m communicating very well today. I certainly didn’t think I was making a direct recommendation on prohibition, merely suggesting that addiction distorts choices and providing tacit support for distorted damaging choices might not be a good thing.

    Regarding it being easy to give up smoking, I’m not so sure everyone would agree. The Royal College of Physicians has an excellent report on smoking, in which can be found this paragraph:

    The evidence reviewed in this section demonstrates that the onset of certain conditions such as lung cancer, a heart attack or pregnancy provides the motivation for a higher proportion of smokers to try to succeed in stopping smoking than would otherwise have been the case. However, even after developing a serious smoking related illness which threatens loss of life or limbs in the immediate future, the majority of smokers are unable to stop smoking completely in the year after their condition is diagnosed. This remains true when medical advice and nursing support are provided, and when the smokers make determined attempts to stop smoking. When considered in conjunction with the other available evidence on the role of nicotine in tobacco smoking, this provides convincing evidence that many smokers suffer serious ill-health not through personal choice, but because they are, and remain, dependent on the nicotine they obtain from tobacco.

    Which is certainly compatible with my experience of seeing amputees glumly puffing away outside the hospital doors. Are they exercising their free will and all just happen to be nihilists? Apparently not if you actually ask them what they think: the office of national statistics in England routinely find around 70% of smokers express the desire to give up smoking.

    Furthermore even the tobacco companies realised early on that addiction would open them to serious culpability, hence the first admission that nicotine was most likely addictive only came from a tobacco company in 1997.

  58. triangular.bread said,

    July 6, 2007 at 12:39 am


    You know, I have the right to make choices you don’t approve of. You can deplore them all you want, and tut about my lack of foresight or perspicacity. To which I say: mind your own beeswax.

    You ever think that your glum amputees are enjoying one of the few pleasures left to them? If you’ve had a leg chopped off, it’s not going to magically grow back if you quit.

    Here’s something that may be news for you: non-smokers die every day. You’ll eventually die; so will I; so will everyone reading this. And we all have the absolute right to decide how we head towards that terminus.

  59. jodyaberdein said,

    July 6, 2007 at 6:52 am

    re 81:

    OK I think this is as far as I can go with this point. Regarding rights and choices, I’m not sure I was doing any deploring. What I was doing was trying to expolore whether freedom of choice is limited by addiction, and suggseting it was as clearly the majority of people end up exhibiting behaviour that is both self damaging and contrary to their stated preferences. Again I’m sorry that tutting was thought to be going on. I certainly don’t think that foresight is an issue I’m not sure nicotine dependence goes hand in hand with reduced insight into the problem, if anything the contrary is true.
    Regarding glum amputees, heart attack survivors and dialysis patients, I actually think quite a lot about them as I meet them evey day in the course of my work. It may well be so that they enjoy the pleasure of a cigarette whilst contemplating whether their below knee will turn into an above knee or full hind-quarter, but as I said, most of them state a desire to stop the habit and yet continue. I don’t deplore them or their habits for this, you wouldn’t last long in this trade with that level of moronic morality. I do deplore that they can’t act on their wishes though.
    Regarding non smokers dying, of course they do, just on average much later and less often of lung cancer. Regarding ‘non-smokers die too’, I think that Bill Hicks had quite some insight into his addiction at least. It comes as part of the sketch where he thanks his audience for their support, ‘yeah Bill’s gonna lose a leg!’ he quips. And he died young of pancreatic cancer, not a way I’d choose to go personally, and interestingly not a way most smokers would choose to go either.

  60. stever said,

    July 6, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    triangle – your repeating yourself, and just trolling now.

  61. Robert Carnegie said,

    July 8, 2007 at 10:37 am

    Central Station: if you’re referring to the taxi rank under the canopy, I believe that you’re on railway property there. Railway stations went non-smoking before the ban. For one thing, every time there’s a terrorist bomb they take away all the litter bins. It may also apply to “The Hielan’man’s Umbrella”, the road underpass below Central’s upper train tracks. Or in each case perhaps it’s because there’s a roof.

    Did we sort out “Godwin’s Law”? I’m not sure it really bears. Goodwin’s Law, on the other hand, probably refers amongst geeks to computer journalist Rupert Goodwin. gives a reasonable account as far as I can see (I understand Godwin protested its use to decide the winner of an online debate, but that’s memetics for you), or you could call it something like “The Nazis: An Exemplum In Sophistry”. Obviously, if you set out to discuss the Nazis or something that they did, that’s one exception.

  62. RS said,

    July 10, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    “as for nazi research, at a slight tangent, i think the profits from sales of Mein Kampf are held in trust, supposedly to benefit jewish charities, but because the money comses via such a dubiious source they refuse to spend it, so it’s just gathered interest for 60 years….”

    Superburger, I think you’ll find that the profits have been distributed for at least some of the versions (, with much of the rest of the profits taken by copyright holders (governments or publishers).

  63. raygirvan said,

    July 12, 2007 at 3:30 am

    triangular.bread > Read the following …

    Love the picture. Get orff moy laand!

  64. teej said,

    August 1, 2007 at 1:00 am

    Apologies for joining this conversation late. I just think it would have been nice if the government had shown some imagination when legislating on this smoking thing. Could they not at least have tried something other than an outright ban first? Someone pointed out that there was no market for non-smoking pubs. The government could have at least tried to create one with, for example, tax breaks for non-smoking pubs/tax increases for smoking pubs.

    Also, does anyone have reliable figures on how much the NHS spends on smoking-related illnesses compared to how much smokers pay in tax? I’ve heard it both ways but, if smokers pay more than they cost, this will have a negative effect on public health. Just a thought.

    Yeah ok I admit it I’m a dirty horrible smoker. Oh yeah and I drink too much. Is there a doctor about?

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