A breath of fresh air

New figures from two separate surveys showing smoking among adults at a “record low”, and a downturn in youth smoking, are to be applauded.

According to the Herald report, “smoking kills about 5000 people a year, including nearly 400 deaths attributed to secondhand smoke.” Then there’s the often delibiltating disease. And as The Standard notes, these drops are good news for our quality of life (as any Galbraiths regular can tell you) and productivity too.

Helen Clark has championed many of the legal initiatives that have led to this result. She deserves plaudits, and lots of them.

Former principal medical officer in the Dept of Health, Dr Murray Laugensen, thinks that a likely cause is that “the psychological effect of the smokefree workplaces legislation, which came into effect at the end of 2004, has brought about a change in public attitudes to smoking.”

Of course, such initiatives proved too easy a target for political opponents trading in the rhetoric of the “nanny state” and other right-wing shibboleths, and they denounced such initiatives as infringing important freedoms.

It’s only a few days since I blogged about Murray McCully’s outburst about research funding for Wellington School of Medicine researchers whom he labels “anti-tobacco activists”, retailed by David Farrar.

Since then I’ve discovered that those opposing the smoke-free initiatives made extensive use of often dubious tobacco industry funded or disseminated “research” (see refs below). They even denied the scientific evidence around second-hand smoke. Will they be applauding this good news? Don’t hold your breath.


Thompson et al. (2007), The use and misuse of health research by parliamentary politicians during the development of a national smokefree law Australia and New Zealand Health Policy, 4:24

Ong. E, & Glantz, S. (2000). Tobacco industry efforts subverting International
Agency for Research on Cancer’s second-hand smoke
. Lancet, 355:1253-1259.


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7 Responses to “A breath of fresh air”

  1. MacDoctor Says:

    I think Murray McCully was not complaining about anti-tobacco research or lobbying. He was pointing out that health research funding is for health research not for political policy making. Anyone involved in health research can tell you that the research dollar is pretty thin on the ground unless you get Big Pharma involved (yeuch). Surely it would be better to fund more independent research unrelated to drugs rather than somewhat woolly policy papers? These rarely involve original or medically useful research. How about some direct longitudinal studies on the drop in ED presentations for asthma and exacerbation of emphysema? Or a more long term one on the fall in lung cancer rates over the next 5-10 years? Those would at least tell us that the smoke free laws are useful (and destroy the Tobacco industries arguments re 2nd hand smoke). That would be far more useful than policymaking to reduce smoking around children.

  2. Steve Pierson Says:

    I wish I had thought of that title for my post.

  3. jafapete Says:

    MacDoctor, Some good points.

    I would add that all research funding is thin on the ground in this country, to the point where I know academics looking for Australian-funded research collaborations with Aussie academics because they’ve given up on NZ and FRST roulette.

    Part of any shortfall in funding in the health area may arise from the rapid expansion of what used to be public health in recent years; but my reasonably close observation of the SOPH in this city is that research in that area has boomed over this period (for non-health sector readers, see: http://www.fmhs.auckland.ac.nz/soph/aboutus/default.aspx).

    You ask, “Surely it would be better to fund more independent research unrelated to drugs rather than somewhat woolly policy papers?” And say that these studies rarely involves original or medically useful research. I guess it depends how woolly the policy papers are, and they probably look very woolly to a clinician. How would unoriginal studies get funding from the HRC? And is “medically useful” different from “beneficial to NZers’ health”, which reductions in smoking would certainly seem to be? Of course, I can’t attest to the links between this research and the policy outcomes that give rise to smoking reductions, but presumably the HRC did.

  4. MacDoctor Says:

    Jafapete said: How would unoriginal studies get funding from the HRC?

    Exactly. Why would the HRC be funding policy review papers, which, by definition, are literature reviews and contain no new research? Surely this is the domain of the policy analyst, who should be funded directly via the parliamentary budget, rather than skimming off meagre health funding?

    Agree about the scarcity of research funding in general. If I remember correctly NZ has one of the lowest expenditures on research, as percentage of GDP, in the OECD (about a third of the average). To be fair, I think that includes the abysmally low expenditure of businesses as well. Unfortunately, in the current fiscal climate, I think this is likely to get worse, rather than better. R&D is always the first to go when tightening your belt!

  5. jafapete Says:

    You remember correctly, I’m afraid. Research into food is now an exception, of course.

  6. Sconehead Says:

    Aren’t cigarettes food?

  7. jafapete Says:

    Only in Liverpool.

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