What you didn't read this week
One the best things about the smoking ban is that you no longer have to step over dead bodies to get to the bar. We all remember, don't we, the familiar sight of nonsmokers clutching at their chest as that lethal secondhand smoke triggered one cardiac arrest after another. On any visit to the pub you were certain to witness at least one heart attack. The life expectancy for barmaids was three weeks. Thank God those days are over.
Naturally, once the smoking ban came in, there was a massive drop in the number of people being admitted to hospital for with heart attacks. How could it be otherwise?
That, at least, was the story just over a year ago when the Beeb and virtually every newspaper in Britain reported that Scotland had seen a large fall in heart attacks since March 2006 (when the ban started) and so - post hoc ergo propter hoc - it was the ban wot done it. The Guardian's report - Smoking ban brings big cut in heart attacks in Scotland, study finds - was typical of the media's willingness to believe in this delightful little fairy-tale:
"The number of people being taken to hospital with heart attacks in Scotland has fallen significantly since the smoking ban was introduced, the most detailed study into the impact of the measure has revealed.
Researchers found a 17% drop in the number of people admitted for heart attacks in the year since the ban came into force."
Inevitably, one the hatchet-faced gurners from Action on Smoking and Health piped up to make the implied connection with passive smoking explicit:
"We knew from epidemiological statistics there was a risk from secondhand smoke to cardiovascular health but not how much of a risk until now."
This was an understatement. If the study was true then it meant that before the ban a whopping 17% of all heart attacks were caused by passive smoking in public places. Even in the swivel-eyed fantasy world of anti-smoking nutjobs, surely this sounded a tad high? But it was good enough for The Daily Mail who leapt at the chance of doing a spurious extrapolation:
"If the pattern is repeated throughout the UK, there would be almost 40,000 fewer heart attacks a year."
That's right. Before the ban, there were 40,000 heart attacks from secondhand smoke in the workplace. Hence that a pile of corpses down The King's Head.
What the ASH spokeswomen didn't mention was that the 17% figure was not based on hospital admission data but on the same sort of "epidemiological statistics" that had propped up all the rest of the passive smoking horseshit. Some friendly researchers had picked a sample of patients in a selection of hospitals over a limited time-frame and had crunched the numbers in a rather unusual way. And the researchers happened to be members of anti-smoking groups. And the study hadn't even been published. In fact, if the Scottish government hadn't gone to the trouble of issuing a press release, no one would ever have heard about it.
When the study was finally published in July this year it got another flurry of international press attention. By this time, the belief that heart attacks had fallen by 17% had become established fact and was being cited in a bid for world domination:
"The findings of a major study into the smoking ban in Scotland supports calls for a worldwide ban of the practice in public places, health officials said today."
The research, which was first revealed last year, found a 17% fall in hospital admissions for heart attacks in Scotland in the first year of the ban."
But the smell of bullshit lingered over the story and this week the truth finally emerged.
You see, we don't need to pay partisan researchers to estimate how many people get admitted to hospital for heart attacks because the hospitals count and diagnose all the patients themselves. These figures are then compiled and published by professional statisticians. It takes them a while to do it, but that's because they want to get it right. They don't just want to pull numbers out of their arses to provide lazy journalists with fanciful stories.
And when these professional statisticians have collated the information properly, they publish it online for all to see, showing the recent trend and the long-term trend.
They finally got round to doing this on Wednesday and everything that was reported last year was exposed as a shabby load of old bollocks. Yes, admissions for acute coronary syndrome had fallen after the ban but they had been falling for years as this graph shows:
The figure was nowhere near 17%. It was 7.2%. And, above all, the rate went up for the first time in a decade the following year - by 7.8%. In other words, there were more heart attacks in smoke-free Scotland last year than there were before the ban.
So not quite the glorious success story that you might have been led to believe.
Funnily enough, the Scottish government hasn't got round to sending out a press release to spread this bit of news yet. You heard it here first. And probably last.