Last October I took a look at some very dubious goings on that led to Big Lottery giving £511,046 to ASH. How it happened and the individual who made that possible are outlined from link 9 (1).
Like it or not, the people who play the Lottery have financed a website called "Refresh" and it's about keeping your house smoke-free. Here I must point out that Refresh is for the use of parents and professionals, because it says so in the lower right hand column (Our website). So if you satisfy either criteria, or if you've had a flutter on the Lottery and would like to see what good cause you've helped fund, it's here (2). And at the foot of the page you'll see there are two partners involved, ASH and the University of Aberdeen.
Looking at their team we see there's the usual padding to gain credibility, plus the hangers-on, who are paid for out of this donation. However there's a certain Dr. Sean Semple who's billed as a senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen and Director of the Scottish Centre for Indoor Air. He's very much a part of the team (3).
Semple considers himself a leader in his field of expertise - indoor air - with ground breaking studies, conducted in two continents, leading to the earth shattering discovery that burning animal dung in a hovel can trigger various respiratory illnesses. All funded by the big giveaway known as Overseas Development.
He first came to my attention when he participated in a study about bar workers health one year after the smoking ban in Scotland. They stared their study with 371 bar workers, yet one year later there were only 191 left!
The reasons why this happened do not appear to have been investigated by the researchers, nor questioned by the press. Those who actually used the pubs prior to the ban know perfectly well that it was closures and lay-offs.
Furthermore those conducting the study were very sloppy with the data they collected. Rather than cross reference a before and after only for those who remained in employment, they simply took the figures for the 371, then those for the 191 and averaged it out. To the researchers they were just an amorphous mass. This lead to very serious flaws in their reported health improvements because they ignored what actually happened.
The first to go were the wet, land locked bars that catered primarily to the working class. Their customers were far more likely to smoke - as I can attest - and had the least invested in air filtration. In fact simply opening the door for longer than absolutely necessary was considered very bad behaviour. Secondly, amongst those bars that survived the first year after the ban, the Managers and Landlords used the downturn in business to sack the whiners, the sickly and least productive, leaving only those who really needed their job to remain.
Naturally this would result in reported health improvements and I'd wager, given the paucity of their results, it probably accounted for all of them. But we're not into real facts here, we're into that grey area of providing support for the establishment. And they do pay very well to those who do their bidding. Took nine of them to produce that junk (4). And ASH used it in 2009 as one of the key benefits of the smoking ban!!!
Semple came to my attention once again in December 2013 when he fronted up as the expert on behalf of ASH with their expose that the level of pollutants in some Aberdeen households were found to be 50 times greater than peak time traffic in Edinburgh City Center. Not content with that, they discovered a single mother in Aberdeen who smokes and managed to generate sufficient pollution within her flat, to make it 20 times higher than the WHO recommended limit. And to ram home his point, Semple even went so far as to say the pollution is comparable to the industrial smog in Beijing (5).
I'm no expert on Beijing, nor their smog. From the reports I've seen on CCTV 9, the problem in Beijing is caused by coal fired power stations, cement plants, rotting garbage and traffic. That's held in position because of weather phenomenon and is mainly inorganic, so it settles everywhere. Like the diesel and coal dust filth I have to wipe off my Velux skylights every spring.
On the other hand I have a great deal of experience of peak time traffic in Edinburgh - and I speak as one who rides a scooter, so I'm slap bang in the thick of it. And I've been in an awful lot of pubs and a fair number of houses where people smoke. Give me the pub or house any day. In fact I consider the comparison to be an insult to my intelligence, and to the millions in Beijing who have to deal with the real thing.
So it was that I took a look at Dr. Semple and found that he's been a part of the furniture at Aberdeen University since 1998. However he makes a point of justifying his existence by highlighting the fact that he's managed to filch £2 million in funding - and there, top of his list of Research Grants, is our £499,566 donated in 2009 by the Big Lottery Foundation (6) for Refresh!
In fact most of the data that was regurgitated in the 2013 press release is a re-hash of his paper that was produced in 2011 and published in the BMJ on behalf of Refresh under the auspices of Tobacco Control in 2012 (7). In this they claim to have recruited 54 smokers, though only 48 completed the study, possibly because their equipment had to stay in their property for two 24 hour periods and resulted in four visits by terribly earnest people telling them how to live their lives, for the sake of their children!
However Semple did a little quiz on his Linkedin page that beggars belief, yet provides an insight into the corrupt methodology employed to construct these so called studies (8). In this he asks:
What is the total lifetime (80 years) mass of PM2.5 that would be inhaled by someone living in a typical Aberdeen (UK) home with a smoker. Let's assume they never work in a dusty job?
and more than one person took the time to answer.
On the basis of breathing 10m3/day, you would inhale 292000m3 over 80 years.
On the basis of 50µg/m3 PM2.5 as an estimate you would breathe 14.6g of particulate matter on a continuous basis.
You should then modulate this number by the daily fraction spent at this location
Instant PM2.5 deposition in the deep lung is close to 20% of inhaled amount in the deep lung and less than 5% of inhaled in extrathoracic respiratory tract.
At a PM2.5 concentration of 50µg/m3 most of the deposited fraction will be cleared by mucociliary transport. No extensive lung PM2.5 accumulation with time would be expected.
Finally, if the total inhaled mass was to be retained in the deep lung, with a basis of 150m² of surface area, maximal deposition would be after 80 years 10 µg/cm² of epithelial surface area.
That was further clarified by another, who explained that these calculations would only be valid if the individual remained in the same room, inhaling the cigarette smoke continuously for the full 80 years.
To cut through the hype. You set the bar at 80 years, don't allow for opening windows, don't allow for taking a holiday - ever, then assume exactly the same volume of smoke for the whole 80 year period - and what you find is the body has the ability to get shot of all this PM2.5 when you blow your nose (9)!! And that's based on a PM2.5 concentration of 50µg/m3!
However Semple kicks in with his findings, (though he's wont to edit this from time to time, having removed a crucial statement as well as reduced the number of homes measured at some point in January 2014).
John Cherrie and I have been working with inhalation rate data and matching this to time activity data and PM concentration data we've collected in different micro-environments and bringing this all together within a Monte Carlo modelling framework so we can examine variability. We've still to do some further work but for the non-smoker living with a smoker the median result comes in at about 16 grammes of PM2.5 over an 80 year lifetime.
We've now got data from about 100 homes in Scotland where smoking takes place - difficult to know how representative they are but the median value is 31 micro grams/m3 for a 24h average PM2.5 concentration. The inter-quartile range is 10-111 micro grams/m3 indicating that about 25% of homes in Scotland where someone smokes have 24h PM2.5 concentrations more than 4 times higher than the WHO guidance value.
So taking Semple's median value of a paltry 31µg/m3, once again it's all gone when you blow your nose, sneeze or cough!
Yet in his press release he states he'd found that single mother of two (one of whom has asthma by the way), who smokes and just so happens to produce pollution that's 20 times greater than the WHO guidelines. That'd put her apartment at 500µg. You simply cannot see with that level of pollution - even New Deli only got to that in January 2014 (10). You'd imagine Semple and his cohort Cherrie might have noticed this but no, seemingly they missed it. Odd, or simply a convenient (late) inclusion, or just a bare faced lie?
In the ASH amateur sleuth fiasco they went out with their state of the art hand held devices to check pollution levels generated by peak time traffic in Edinburgh because they claim to have been unable to get accurate data anywhere else. Err... yes you can - and this is equipment that's first rate and set up and reported upon by professionals.
(For those who may be interested in the air quality in their part of Britain, here's the link to their network of monitoring stations (11)).
The site for Edinburgh is located at Richmond Loan, St. Leonards, and provides a detailed analysis of air quality from 2009.
They all make a very big issue of sub 2.5 Particulate Matter, and that's available every hour of every day for 2013 (12).
Interestingly it does show a marked increase at night, when winds are at their lightest. However the period from the 4th to the 8th March 2013 were especially bad, with peak readings of 71µg at 16.00 hours on the 7th March. For that day the mean average was an impressive 42µg.
To put that into context, DEFRA state they aim for an average PM2.5 of 17µg by 2020 in Scotland (slightly higher in England).
High levels of PM2.5 concentrations are commonplace in Scotland. Looking at the records for Glasgow in 2013, it's pretty horrid during daylight saving months. Concentrations of 50µg and above are peppered throughout the year and the Glaswegians managed to beat their counterparts in Edinburgh and Aberdeen to the highest reading of 75µg on the 5th March (13).
The figure for Beijing ranges from 38 to 371µg (14). Paris hit 193 µg on Sunday 16th March 2014.
ASH do not state exactly which days they took their readings, nor their timing and they did not obtain accurate background readings. Without that crucial information their claims are meaningless, except to themselves and of course the politicians they feed it to.
Same story with Semple and Aberdeen. That's not a terribly clean and green town and their monitoring site's positioned way out by the esplanade at 46, Erroll Place AB24! However looking at the data set for 2103 we see exactly the same phenomenon as Edinburgh, with figures from the 4th to the 8th March showing a peak reading of 70µg (15).
When put into context, his findings "using a Monte Carlo modelling framework", of a "median value of 31µg of PM2.5" needs to be seen against a background level of atmospheric PM2.5 that frequently exceeds 16µg. And on some days, it's actually safer to keep your windows shut in Aberdeen!!
Naturally Semple does not publish the exact dates when these measurements were taken, nor does he mention that there are other sources of PM2.5 in the home. Cooking (e.g., frying, sautéing, and broiling), burning candles or oil lamps, operating fireplaces and fuel-burning space heaters (e.g., kerosene heaters).
Seems that even having a gas boiler located in your kitchen can hike your PM2.5 and the least well off, who sometimes use Calor gas caravan type heaters in their living room get it real bad. Also a person who doesn't have much time to dust can help elevate the figure dramatically, such as a single mother with two young children (16)! While we're at it, anyone under an airport flight path is literally showered in the stuff. And let's not forget seepage from all those cleaning products we have, like bleach and chlorine, usually under the kitchen sink. They too generate PM2.5 if their stopper is not closed tightly.
The WHO guidelines for air quality state a figure of 10 µg annual mean for PM2.5 and no more than 25 µg over a 24 hour period. Aberdeen is regularly above the annual mean and on many days is three times over their guidelines, based on readings from a remote monitoring station. Goodness knows what it must be like in the centre of Aberdeen, or for those living close to busy roads.
To put things into context, the Japanese government states their normal environmental standard is 35µg and they only issue a warning if it exceeds 70µg (17).
However the WHO go on to state "in homes where biomass fuels and coal are used for cooking and heating, PM2.5 levels may be 10 to 50 times higher than the guideline values" (18).
And that just so happens to be exactly the sort of figures that ASH and Semple bandied about to the press about one unwed female with two sprogs, one of whom just so happened to suffer from asthma. Oh, and both the wee tykes had high levels of nicotine in their saliva. We're not told if the mother just so happened to feed them potatoes or cauliflower or tomatoes, in fact any of the eight fruits and vegetables that contain high amounts of nicotine (19).
There are rules and vetting procedures to weed out predators, pedophiles and those intent on messing with our children. Thankfully this lot are one step removed from the children themselves, however I am satisfied that their intent with the production of these studies is to feed false or misleading information to those who do have day to day contact with young children.
Your average teacher, religious mentor, nurse, relative or parent has little time to investigate their claims and many take them at face value on trust, because they defer to these so called "experts". I am satisfied that this trust has been betrayed and those most betrayed are indeed our children. That's a form of predatory manipulation of our children and that's an offense.
I realize that a few hidebound, parochial, academic "doctors" in a low ranking university with an appalling score for teaching (20) will be rock-bottom in the food chain, but to ignore the latest information available on the effects of second hand smoke is an oversight that's inexcusable. That was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in December 2013 and states there is no clear link between passive smoking and lung cancer (21).
Ever since our ancestors sussed out how to start fires we've been living with PM2.5. To this day in the Highlands of Scotland, Peat is the fuel of choice for many and when the wind blows the smoke back down the chimney you may well see PM2.5 levels reach 500µg! Smoking is undoubtedly a contributer to elevated levels of PM2.5, however everything depends on the size of the room and the number of cigarettes smoked as well as their type. Manufactured generate more smoke than rollups and those using 8mm filters will produce more than those using 5mm filters. In truth the effects are marginal in most households and even a 50µg level is dealt with via a snort, a cough or a sneeze. The median figure from Semple and Cherrie's research came to 31µg and that's based on a very small sample and a Monte Carlo modelled "average sized" room in a town that happens to have a very high background reading for PM2.5. Aberdeen is also famous for its granite structures. In certain circumstances granite can produce Radon gas - and that in turn can cause lung cancer (22). Radon particles are larger than PM2.5, however they contribute to poor indoor air quality (23). None of this was pointed out by the researchers. This is not science, nor research. This is farcical propaganda, all tarted up as a vulgar parody of the real thing to impress the gullible.
However there's another issue; that's the figure given in his Linkedin page (100 homes) and that given in his press release last year (54 homes, of which only 48 stayed the course). I suspect the real reason for only quoting statistics from less than a half of the homes visited is to single out those with the highest concentrations of PM2.5. This is where the Monte Carlo modelling framework comes into its own, especially as they targeted parents of children under the age of 6, many of whom remain in their properties for most of the day. Also their study took place from July to March - and it's a known fact that PM2.5 is most concentrated during winter months when it's far more likely that home owners will keep their windows closed. The Monte Carlo modelling framework enables them to skew the data to present the worst possible scenario that's wholly unrepresentative. To then claim, based on this garbage, that 25% of smokers homes in Scotland may exceed the WHO guidelines is an obscenity.
Many years ago when Semple did his analysis of the effects of using animal dung as fuel, there was at least an attempt to offer a realistic alternative; an inexpensive compact stove that burns fuel far more efficiently. With this report his paymaster - ASH - offers only one solution; separate the parents from their property and children while smoking. There are people in this world who put the care and nurture of their children first. They're not into this business of compromise between a career and parenthood and they certainly don't have them because it's the done thing, or as fashion accessories. I know this might be very difficult for some in Tobacco Control to fully grasp, but these parents want to be with their kids all the time and - for those who happen to smoke and are concerned about indoor air quality of any sort - the solution is quite simple and not in the least expensive. Air Purifiers are available from places like Amazon or Argos with prices from £12 to £150. Even the least expensive would nail the so called problem of a single mother (with the sickly sprog) who either happened to have a whole bunch of her pals round for coffee and things and seemingly kippered themselves, or - more likely - her poor wee sickly sprogs, with high nicotine readings in their saliva, messed around with their measuring device!
Rather than quote the somewhat idealistic guidelines put forth by the WHO and used by Semple, Cherrie and ASH as a stick with which to brow beat others, better to use the far more realistic measure provided by AIRnow of all pollutants (24).
I am satisfied the people responsible for these studies are more than willing to lie, deceive, manipulate, misrepresent and exaggerate simply to guarantee further funding (this tranche stopped in December 2013 (25)). The key to that funding is Maureen McGinn (aka Lady Elvidge), chairperson of the board of ASH (26) and chairperson of the Scotland Committee of the Big Lottery Fund (27) (and paid £24,000 a year by Big Lottery for the honour of having her sit at their table for a couple of days a year). Once she's satisfied, lots more money will keep on pouring in, with a further £92,284 purloined on behalf of ASH (Scotland) in 2012 and another £21,953 outstanding for 2013, according to the Big Lottery annual report for 2013 - available here as a weighty pdf. Figures for ASH are on page 84 (28).
The question is if those whose dormant bank accounts are used to help fund Big Lottery (29), or those who play the Lottery feel they're getting good value for the £625,000 of their money that's been given away? I'd say they've been royally ripped-off.
(If you wish to make a complaint to Big Lottery this is the place to start (30)).