The Commercial Value of Public Health Exaggerations

I don’t actually watch much TV these days, although it is almost always on  for herself. Most of the time, I am busying about or reading stuff on the net. But, sometime, things impinge on your conciousness. For example, over the last couple of days, I noticed three adverts for different products which all claimed to ‘help reduce cholesterol’.

Of course, advertisers have known since god-knows-how-long how to use ‘relative risks’ to promote their products. I suspect that such knowledge long pre-dates modern epidemiology.

What we rarely hear anyone talk about is ‘relative benefit’. And yet ‘relative benefit’ is also a much used advertising ploy. Its most blatant use is of the nature of claims that ‘our product is better than X’. It isn’t often that an advertiser will actually claim superiority over another specific product in the same category, but it does happen sometimes. Inevitably, when they do, it will be on some specific aspect of the business which just happens to be one in which they performed better for some period of time. For example, a smaller insurance company might claim that it paid more out in claims than a bigger, well-known company over some specific period of time. Little emphasis will be on the period of time, but major emphasis will be placed on the ‘paid out more’. What they claim is true, but the impression conveyed is one of some sort of greater generosity.

Having said that, there is no doubt that most advances take place in small increments. It isn’t all that long ago that wifi phones were large and cumbersome and you had to pull an aerial out. We need not go into technical details (in any case, I have little idea of what they are, apart from satellites playing a part). But I think that advertising those kind of improvements is quite different.

The reason that I think so is that the improvement, though small, is significant, and, perhaps more importantly, is part of a continuing trend in rapid improvement. It did not take long for the personal computer to become the laptop and then the tablet.

The difference between the ‘helps lower cholesterol’ adverts and, say, tablet adverts is the way in which the adverts are phrased. I believe that there is a mountain of difference between using FEAR as an advertising ploy when compared with using HOPE. We see HOPE in many circumstances, not least holiday adverts. Holidaymakers are filmed in various forms of pleasurable activity, and we HOPE to emulate them, if we buy into the DREAM. But no great harm ensues when the dream and the hope turn out not to be the reality.

In the case of FEAR being used in advertising, it is quite possible for great harm to ensue.

Specifically, the stop smoking advert which features a tumour growing on a cigarette, which has been on the TV recently, is capable of doing immense harm. It will have no effect upon youths. In fact, its audience is not intended to be youths. The target audience is the middle-aged ‘worried well’. When I say ‘worried’, I don’t mean only worried about health, if at all. I mean vaguely worried about everything – their jobs, their mortgages, their children, their parents, their marriages, money, etc. Those people are the target audience. It is no accident that the chap smoking in that advert is, a) young middle aged, and, b) smoking outside of his own home. The targeting is absolutely deliberate. The objective of the advert is to add immeasurably to his worries. That advert is a blatant use of psychological force.

Most anti-smoking adverts similarly exploit fear. Fear has a place in advertising. It is reasonable for a home insurance company to point out the dangers of fire and the loss of home and possessions. Those fears are reasonable and real fears. They do not depend upon ‘relative risk’. But there is ‘relative risk’ involved in fears about one’s house catching fire. That RR would be a ratio of how many of the nation’s homes actually catch fire and burn down. It is probably tiny. But that RR would not be a factor in our decision to insure our homes. In fact, I have never seen any insurance company quote the RR of a house burning down. Our decisions are based upon the immensity of the consequences of a fire. The RR of such a fire keeps premiums down.

Note that last sentence: “The Relative Risk of such a fire keeps premiums down”.  My home insurance is about £350 per an for buildings and contents combined. If my home burned down to the extent that it had to be demolished, the loss would be somewhere in the region of £300,000. That figure is just a guess. But you see my point. Almost everyone has home insurance, but hardly any homes are destroyed by fire, so the contributions well exceed the claims.

If we were to look at the relative risks of harm from smoking, and we were to look at the ‘claims’ made by anti-smoking freaks as though they were insurance companies, and as if the claims made by the freaks equated to insurance company pay-outs, what would we find as the benefits of not smoking? We would find some vague pay-out of extended life. If we stop smoking (our premium), then our eventual pay-out from that insurance policy would be living longer. Note: not healthier or happier – just longer.

I have my own little theory about epidemiology. It is that the only trustworthy result is a ‘null’ result. For example, if a study of 100,000 non-smoking spouses, of which their partners are more or less equally divided between smokers and non-smokers, if that study produces a result that shows no difference between the two groups of spouses, then that is a trustworthy result. To simplify that sentence, spouses of smokers fare just the same as spouses of non-smokers regarding, say, the occurrence of lung cancer or heart disease. If there is no significant difference between the two groups, then that result is FAR MORE IMPORTANT than any studies which find some difference. There were two such studies about SHS. One was the Enstrom and Kabat study, the other was the Boffeta study. Both involved huge numbers of people. Both described the effects of SHS as negligible.

But neither of those studies contemplated the healthy effects of tobacco smoke in the atmosphere, such as its ability to attract and stick to bacteria and viruses. Is that idea too far-fetched? How would we know since no one would find any benefit in funding such research?

There was another advert for something simple. I think that it was an advert for porridge. It claimed that it reduced the risk of heart disease. Note that it did not claim to reduce heart disease. It claimed to reduce the risk. I think that that is the first time that I have seen risk specifically used as an advertising gimmick . But what can we expect? Is it not true that Public Health has become ‘gimmick-ridden’?

NO self-respecting Government should give any credence to EU Public Health directives. They are the produce of corrupt political horse-trading. Nor should the WHO be given any credence. That organisation is also hopelessly corrupt. The only answer is to abolish both of them and start again. But that is not possible because of the corruption. The only answer is to withdraw support and funding to weaken that corrupt organisation. You cannot reform a corrupt organisation. It is impossible since the organisation is an enclosed circle.


Do those commercial enterprises which benefit themselves from the FEAR promoted by Tobacco Control pay their fair share of the costs of TC? That is, via bribes softly described as ‘research grants’?

Most of the above thoughts originated from the presentation to Parliament of the Plain Packaging law. What is the ‘RELATIVE BENEFIT’ of that law? What studies have described the quantification of the relative benefits?

What is clear is that some drugs dealers have taken advantage of Government ineptitude.

I must to bed. Forgive typos.



4 Responses to “The Commercial Value of Public Health Exaggerations”

  1. Roberto Says:

    “But neither of those studies contemplated the healthy effects of tobacco smoke in the atmosphere, such as its ability to attract and stick to bacteria and viruses. Is that idea too far-fetched? How would we know since no one would find any benefit in funding such research?”

    Actually, there has been research on curative properties of tobacco. This is described in the book “The health benefits of tobacco” by William Campbell Douglass II (MD). It is not exactly as you say (stick to virus and bacteria) but to reduce risks of certain diseases. It is still epidemiology (statistical correlations), but it seems that smokers have reduced risks of getting Parkinson and Alzheimer, and smoking may even be protective for asthma and other ills.

    According to anti-smoking freaks tobacco has no curative properties, it can only cause harm regardless of the smallness of the doses. No organic substance has such properties, but then we are talking about sick minds who have found their evil evil satanic agent.

    Also, fear is more efficient to move opinions and attitudes than hope. Hope builds up slowly, while fear spreads like fire. Their successful fear mongering is what allows TC (and the rest) to easily trample civil liberties.

    • nisakiman Says:

      Dave Atherton covered the smoking / asthma situation a few years ago:

      It’s noteworthy that as smoking prevalence has decreased, incidence of childhood asthma seems to have increased exponentially. When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, childhood asthma was virtually unheard of, but these days it would appear to be endemic. Likewise the plethora of allergies that kids suffer from these days, and the increasing normality of intolerance to various foods. All those things were real rarities when we were growing up constantly surrounded by a fug of tobacco smoke.

      When I was at grammar school in the mid 60s, on my (unfortunately rather frequent) visits to the headmaster’s office, I could barely see him across the small office, such was the fug produced by his chain smoking. And the staff room was much the same. According to the tenets of Tobacco Control, we should all have been weak, sickly and short-lived. Instead we are the healthiest, longest-lived generation ever, and it is the up and coming generations who are turning out to be the sickly ones. I wonder why.

  2. Ritathomas Says:

    I totally agree with the comment on here,I too grew up in the 1950’s and knew one child who had asthma. Everyone smoked,everywhere, on transport in cinemas, theatres etc. Living in London,asI still do, I also had the benefit of pea soup smogs every Winter. When I went to work in 1961, the boss smoked a pipe that could have given smoke cover to the Bismark, we all smoked in the office of 80 people mostly young women, some of whom were pregnant, and no-one had a babe that wasn’t healthy.what we didn’t have so many of were cars

  3. junican Says:

    The problem is, Roberto, that the Zealots weigh the statistical evidence and decide that, throughout the whole population, any such benefits are negligible compared with the harm. Thus, people who have Parkinson’s disease are disposable.
    The fact that such diseases are not as prevalent among smokers is not a good argument for the enjoyment of tobacco. It is not a core issue.
    It is worth thinking about the core issues. First among them, in my opinion, is the forcing of publicans etc to become unpaid law enforcement officers, to their own detriment. That is a very serious matter which has been covered up.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: