Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Advocacy research

Dave Guerin over at Education Directions notes:
Smoking with Kids? University of Otago researchers have surveyed MPs and officials about banning adults smoking in cars if kids are also in the car. Unsurprisingly, they don’t like the results, but they obviously did the research to create this media release to further their lobbying aims for a ban. If you don’t think they’re lobbying, explain why the only quote used in the media release was from John Key, but seemingly not from the survey. I agree that people shouldn’t smoke with kids in the car, but let’s not pretend that the linked media release is a report on research – it’s a lobbying effort. I think academics should participate in public debate, but if they announce research along with a lot of political comment and don’t differentiate the two, thenthey devalue both the research and their credibility. I’m not down on Otago public health academics in general, the public health team have also developed a building quality index and want to make it available for wider use.
It would be useful if somebody sometime went through the research output of the University of Otago's Wellington School of Public Health and split off the proportion that's really lobbying in academic garb as compared to actual research.

It would be even more useful if National ever got around to cleaning house at the Ministry of Health and getting rid of the zealots there who like to fund research the main purpose of which is lobbying government.

A commentator over at Guerin's blog defends the Otago study. Here it is, make up your own mind. My parsing of it is (paraphrase):
We surveyed a bunch of politicians and health decision makers to see what the barriers are to implementing smoke-free cars, which all right thinking people know is the absolute best thing and only evil horrible people would ever oppose. We found that some politicians think that they'd be castigated as nanny-staters if they advocated it and that the policy wouldn't be worth the cost. Consequently, we need to do more work to move public opinion and to reframe the debate; we can probably best do this by reminding everybody to think of the children and maybe by focusing on international obligations to protect kids.
I don't think that's an unfair paraphrasing of their argument. Here's some direct quotes:
Policy and advocacy implications
A challenge for health advocates across the world is to use the clear concern for child protection by policy makers, while also helping remove the obstacles to change in the minds of many policy makers. The public and smoker support for change needs to be communicated. Smokefree car laws need to be framed in terms of protecting the health of vulnerable children. But there is also a need for adult rights of “privacy” in their cars to be framed as being secondary to the primacy of legal protection for children.


A further higher level strategy may be to ensure that the focus of advocacy is not on smokers but on the sources of arguments that privilege adults and disadvantage children. In particular, continued focus needs to be put on the tobacco industry efforts to ensure publics and policy makers think first of smoker “rights” (Menashe & Siegel, 1998; Sweda & Daynard, 1996). Such focus is in alignment with the powerful “theme of the tobacco industry as predators on children’s health” (Chapman & Wakefield, 2001).
Research or lobbying or research about lobbying for health or a mix of all three?

Interesting that the Health Research Council funds studies of this sort.

If I were the sort who worried a lot about second hand smoke in cars affecting passengers, I'd be funding ads advocating that smokers open the windows. The EPA says that a 20 minute car ride with the windows closed gets you your daily maximum recommended dose of second hand smoke, but it takes a two hour ride with the windows open to reach the same level. Most rides with kids are well under two hours - it would be the morning jaunt to school.


  1. is that 2 hours of constant smoking? or two hours in the car with one cigarette (or x cigarettes) smoked during that time. The former would surely indicate that there is no problem, few people could even rack up 2 hours a day of smoking a day let alone just in the car, and the latter seems a bit odd.
    How many people even smoke with the windows up? Unless it is raining hard there is really no point. The level of smoke builds up to unpleasant (even for smokers) levels pretty quickly and it much easier to flick the ash out the window especially for the driver if they are right handed.

  2. I think it was constant smoking, but I'd need to double-check.