Wednesday, May 31, 2006

prop-us-up-again-duh

Taking a break from the disjointed why bad water thread, I'm once again inspired by a post of Fred's which links to this article. The article claims, "As Carl V. Phillips, an epidemiologist at the University of Alberta, has shown, evidence points to a low risk of health hazards stemming from smokeless-tobacco use." I was unable to locate any study of the health risks of smokeless-tobacco (ST) by Carl Phillips, but I did find this study where Mr. Phillips and colleagues show that information found through google searches "...overstates the health risks from ST relative to cigarettes." I also discovered that Phillips received a $1.5 million grant from US Smokeless Tobacco Company (USSTC) to study smokeless Tobacco. Mr. Phillips defends the grant in this article. Here is a link to the complete article. If you can't access it and wish to read it, email me and I'll send you a copy.

So here's this guy, Phillips, advocating for harm reduction approach to curbing tobacco use. His study titled, "You might as well smoke; the misleading and harmful public message about smokeless tobacco" consisted of doing a google search and showing that anti tobacco sites give ST a bad rap. His conclusion:

Conclusion: Through these websites, and presumably other information provided by the same government, advocacy, and educational organizations, ST users are told, in effect, that they might as well switch to smoking if they like it a bit more. Smokers and policy makers are told there is no potential for harm reduction. These messages are clearly false and likely harmful, representing violations of ethical standards.

While it is apparently true that chewing tobacco has less risk involved than smoking it, Phillips is a component in a propaganda machine. It doesn't have to be false to be propaganda. The method and language of this study lack the dispassionate approach of science, and contain the manipulative language of propaganda. I especially detest "...ST users are told, in effect, that they might as well switch to smoking..." by throwing in the phrase "in effect" Phillips has avoided a bald faced lie. Instead, he's presented a masked lie. Phillips is claiming that because anti tobacco websites, and "...presumably other information provided by the same...organizations..." claim that ST is as bad as cigarettes, therefore they are encouraging people to smoke, and are guilty of "violations of ethical standards."

Phillips acceptance and defense of $1.5 million to conduct research on smokeless tobacco gives glimpses into the workings of the machine. "Phillips said that criticizing the source of funding usually comes down to observers not liking the results of a study, and having no grounds to condemn it on its merits. 'I think that the whole funding question is a huge distraction from actual real work,' Phillips said." (Source) In the same article he also states, "...research is almost never driven by funding from any particular side." Show of blog hands: how many of you agree with that? And what is this "real work" Mr. Phillips? Is the real work creating a market friendly to USSTC products by providing them with studies that downplay the risks of chewing tobacco that they can use in both overt and covert advertising?

What I'm curious about is did Phillips take his promote ST stance, and then USSTC rewarded him, or was there collusion before the fact? Harm reduction is a valid approach, much more appropriate than the usual total abstinence approach for those who are never going to quit the risky behavior. Perhaps Phillips was making public statements in favor of harm reduction for tobacco campaigns, and agents from USSTC made contact with him and cultivated him into a engine they can harness to further their attempts to promote their ST products. That is what UTSCC is up to. They want to create and sell products, and are funding research they can use to manipulate public opinion into accepting their product. The machine grinds on and Phillips is either a dupe, a willing battery, or most likely, a combination of both.

I didn't read all this article on research funding and conflicts of interest yet, but thought I'd include it on the delusional belief that somebody is actually a) reading my blogs (not just skimming them) b) is capable of reading that many pages, and c) is interested in such things.

I finished the reasearch funding article. Here's a great quote: "Funding does not necessarily create bias, but it selects bias and is a leading indicator bias." (page 7, column 2)

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