You may remember that last month a resourceful fellow jewel robber - via FOI requests - caught Martin McKee and Chief Morality Officer Sally 'Backbone' Davies conspiring to stop the gathering of personal viewpoints on e-cigarettes from tobacco controllers by employing the Faculty of Public Health to undermine their colleagues at Public Health England.
Well, our jewel robbing friend has dug further and now found that three days after the ground-breaking PHE report on e-cigs was published, McKee was telling Davies that the key 95% figure was a tobacco industry plot. No, really!
According to McKee, "only you [Davies], me, Tony Delamothe, Simon Capewell and Simon Chapman know we have found that the 95% figure that Duncan [Selbie] made so prominent in his foreword and Kevin [Fenton] has been announcing to the world was originally created by BAT.".
Yep, you read that right. McKee appears to be implying that PHE has been captured by the tobacco industry and is merely spreading their propaganda without actually doing any research of their own.
This is a quite extraordinary claim. Yes it is tobacco control 101 that if you have no argument you simply hurl ad homs around and pretend the tobacco industry is behind it, as a former colleague explains here.
If you take part in secondhand smoke policy training in the tobacco control movement, chances are that you will be taught that all opposition to smoking bans is orchestrated by the tobacco industry, that anyone who challenges the science connecting secondhand smoke exposure and severe health effects is a paid lackey of Big Tobacco, and that any group which disseminates information challenging these health effects is a tobacco industry front group. Consequently, the a chief strategy of tobacco control is to smear the opposition by accusing them of being tobacco industry moles. And in no situation should one say anything positive about an opponent, even if true.
How do I know this?
Because for many years, I was one of the main trainers of tobacco control advocates in the United States. And this is what I taught, because this was what I was led to believe. I attended many conferences and trainings and this is precisely what I was taught. I accepted it for the truth, and passed it along to others.However, here we have precisely this approach being directed at McKee's own side. Fellow 'public health' professionals are being accused of being duped by BAT without there being a shred of evidence behind his theory.
On the contrary, there is plenty of research which backs up the idea that e-cigs are at least 95% less harmful than tobacco - for example here, here and here - but absolutely nothing to correlate with the claim made by McKee in his private email to the CMO.
Now, if McKee truly believed that PHE had been hoodwinked, you'd think his 'scientific' credentials would motivate him to prove otherwise, wouldn't you, as Clive Bates pointed out in November.
Given the Lancet and BMJ are the giants of UK medical publishing, might we have expected them to take a scientific perspective and look into whether the 95% claim is actually realistic? They didn’t bother with this at all.
In fact, there has been an interesting debate about whether this figure is right or not and if it has been expressed with the proper nuances, but not in the BMJ or Lancet.But still McKee, Capewell, Chapman et al have steadfastly not attempted anything of the sort. Their approach seems to consist only of slinging a load of mud around and hoping some of it sticks.
So where does this leave the likes of those researchers maligned by McKee? Apparently, all those who have submitted studies on e-cigs which agree with or exceed PHE's conservative 95% estimate have not performed their own research, but instead just regurgitated tobacco industry marketing according to McKee.
I did tell you the conspiracy theory was daft, didn't I? have you ever heard anything as bonkers as that?
Most notably, what will former government adviser David Nutt be thinking about what McKee has been telling the CMO? You see, Nutt has already been smeared by McKee in a BMJ article and also an anonymously-authored Lancet editorial which McKee admits in this latest FOI that he was responsible for writing.
It is worth reading the paper on which PHE has based its latest advice carefully. Nutt and colleagues describe how the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, which Nutt founded in 2010, convened an international expert panel to consider the “relative importance of different types of harm related to the use of nicotine-containing products”. During a two-day workshop in July, 2013, the panel met in London to review the context of perceived harms from nicotine products, the range of products (including “electronic nicotine delivery system products”), and the criteria of harms. The group scored the products for harm, and weightings were applied to the results. Based on the opinions of this group, cigarettes were ranked as the most harmful nicotine product with a score of 99·6. E-cigarettes were estimated to have only 4% of the maximum relative harm. It is this result that yields the “95% less harmful” figure reported last week.So, considering McKee was adamant in August last year that the 95% figure was "originally created by BAT", he is presumably dismissing Nutt's research entirely and implying that he is a tobacco industry stooge. I don't know about you, but if I were David Nutt I'd want to have a word with McKee about that kind of claim, preferably via a solicitor specialising in defamation.
In the meantime - as David Nutt himself has suggested - we still await some kind of study from McKee "to repeat the analysis" and disprove the 95% statistic, or in fact anything more substantive than just throwing crap around and impotently crying "tobacco industry" to Sally Davies with a nudge and a wink.
H/T AT via email