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Thursday, 10 May 2012

A Few Things Before I Go

I apologise for the lack of blog posts these past few days.  I have been busy with a number of things, and I'm leaving on a short trip out of the country, so there won't be much for the next few days either.  Sorry!  Daily service will resume next Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on jet lag and motivation.  I dislike flying, by the way.

Tonight is the plain packs debate in Bristol. I hope someone records it.

Part 2 of my Taxes post will be forthcoming, I promise, and there is still time to comment on part 1.  Some very interesting comments so far, many of which echo my sentiments.  For those who have taken a few moments to comment, thank you very much.

School lunches somewhere in Scotland are particularly dreadful.  They are probably dreadful everywhere, but the blog has suddenly gone viral - I even re-tweeted it myself a few nights ago. Cannot help but feel bad for the young woman who isn't getting enough to eat at school -- does three thin slices of cucumber count as a vegetable serving? It probably uses more calories to chew them than what you'd get from them.   The Mash has a funny take on it as well. 

Where I live, it has rained every day except one for the last month. Every day of mizzle, drizzle, or heavy rain is getting very old indeed. This is doing nothing for my love of stargazing. Couldn't even see the moon a few nights back. Haven't seen any stars in so long that I suspect they don't exist any more.  All of this rain has also been wreaking havoc on my internet connection, and as I write this it's not working -- wait, no it's back ... no, gone again. Back again. Ugh, gone once more. Grr. The cats are not best pleased with the weather either, and inside their furry little heads they think the rain is all my fault, judging by their attitudes.  If you're wondering, cats can whinge, whine, and moan like little children when they want to, and this revelation is quite frightening to me.  Can I have just one week of sunshine, please?  Please?

So, anyway, I've spent quite a bit of time that past couple of days trying to determine how the figure "340,000 UK children aged 11-15 'try smoking'" was derived back in 2009 or earlier, and I cannot find anything but a DHS document that makes an uncited passing mention of it on pg 18, para 54.   This is the document that tobacco control cites as if it were a fact, and yet the document doesn't explain how it came to that figure, it just says it once in passing.  I'm thinking it might be an invented stat, or possibly it's derived from another study mentioned in para 47, the "Smoking, drinking and drug use amongst young people in England, 2006" but the figures don't really add up, although maths and statistics is hardly my forte. 340,000 is roughly 9 to 11% of kids in secondary school (base 3 million pupils), and the vast majority are 15-year-olds with a few 16-year-olds sprinkled in for good measure it seems, all of which might agree with the summary of the 2006 study.  Maybe. If anyone knows how this figure came to be the de facto standard for tobacco control and its origins, can you let me know in the comments?  I would really appreciate it.  Seriously, I have searched high and low and have come up with nothing but these two things to support that figure but it is possible I have missed it.

And the reason I'm so focused on that figure is because of how it's currently being used to support the plain packs argument.  I've seen endless variations of "estimated that kids try smoking" or "tempted to try smoking" or "addicted to smoking."  It looks like nothing more than propaganda.  "Try smoking" means nothing statistically. Kids try and abandon new things every day -- having once tried something does not mean you will ever try it again.  "Start smoking" means a little more, but then this is itself diluted by the means in which they categorise kids smoking. And when you look at how the data is derived for the smoking studies, you will see it all about semantics -- that a "regular smoker" has a "puff" on at least one cigarette per week, whereas they group "occasional smokers" as anyone who said they did not smoke but might have ever tried a cigarette, particularly within the previous 7 days of the survey.   I'll write more on this later, and my own research as well as the government's indicates that it is definitely NOT tobacco cigarettes that the vast majority of kids are smoking. Cigarettes are not cool with most kids, and I'm OK with that. Really.

Frank Davis has already done some maths on this subject in respect of Lansley's comments re 300,000 kids and what that really means, if you're interested.