Congratulations to Suzi Gage for winning the AAAS Early Career Public Engagement Award!

Suzanne Gage, a scientist whose podcast, “Say Why To Drugs,” has received over 264,000 listens, has been chosen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to receive the 2016 Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science.

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-09-32-03Gage recently completed her post-doctoral research in the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, and is now a scientist at the University of Liverpool. She also founded “Sifting the Evidence,” a blog on The Guardian’s website in which she examines epidemiology, mental health and substance abuse. She is being honored by AAAS for “her evidence-based approach to public engagement activities and targeting audiences who may not be actively seeking science information.”

Gage is a “highly talented, enthusiastic and energetic young researcher who promises to be a real star of the future,” wrote Marcus Munafò, a professor of biological psychology at the University of Bristol, where Gage was a post-doctoral research associate until December. Through her blog and podcast, Munafò wrote, “Suzi has worked tirelessly to provide information to the general public about the scientific evidence surrounding the effects of recreational drugs.”

Her podcast, which she was inspired to produce after appearing on rapper Scroobius Pip’s podcast, discusses a different recreational drug in each episode. Gage aims to counter misinformation and myths surrounding various substances. Munafò noted that Pip’s involvement in the podcast has helped Gage reach an audience of young adults who might not otherwise receive the information. Pip emphasized that the program is not meant to condone drug use.

“This is not a pro-drugs podcast, this is not anti-drugs podcast,” Pip explained, “this is pro-truth and anti-myth.”

The podcast has topped the Science and Medicine chart in the iTunes store and has received support on Twitter, including from Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. It also won the Skeptic Magazine 2016 Ockham Award for Best Podcast. Munafò wrote that the show has also been used by teachers to introduce their students to evidence-based thinking.

Gage has also traveled across the United Kingdom, speaking at “Skeptics in the Pub,” evening events hosted by local organizations to promote critical thinking. She has spoken at the Royal Institution of Great Britain and music festivals in the UK.

She engaged with younger audiences in 2011 by participating in “I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here,” an online event where students meet and interact with scientists. The scientists compete with one other, answering questions about science and their research that are provided by students, who then vote for their favorite scientist. Gage won in the “Brain Zone” category and used the winnings to start her podcast.

Gage’s work in public engagement was recognized in 2012, when she won the UK Science Blog Prize, and in 2013, when she received the British Association for Psychopharmacology Public Communication Award. She has also written for The Economist, The Telegraph and The Lancet Psychiatry.

Gage’s recent scientific work in studying the relationship between health behaviors and mental health outcomes has included investigating causal associations from observational studies, with particular emphasis on substance use and mental health. She earned a Master of Science degree in cognitive neuropsychology from University College London in 2005 and a Ph.D. in translational epidemiology from the University of Bristol in 2014. Her research also earned her the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Travel Award in 2012. More recently, she received the Society for Research in Nicotine and Tobacco’s 2015 Basic Science Network Travel Award.

The AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science was established in 2010 to recognize “early-career scientists and engineers who demonstrate excellence in their contribution to public engagement with science activities.” The recipient receives a monetary prize of $5,000, a commemorative plaque, complimentary registration to the AAAS Annual Meeting and reimbursement for reasonable travel and hotel expenses to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting to receive the prize.

The award will be bestowed upon Gage during the 183rd AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, Feb. 16-20, 2017. The AAAS Awards Ceremony and Reception will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, in the Republic Ballroom of the Sheraton Boston Hotel.

images-duckduckgo-comSuzanne Gage completed her post-doctoral research at the University of Bristol and is now a scientist at the University of Liverpool. She has written for The GuardianThe Economist, The Telegraph and The Lancet Psychiatry.

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Experts say WHO needs better understanding of the evidence on e-cigs to inform its international tobacco control treaty.

A new WHO report fails to properly evaluate the evidence on e-cigarettes and could even undermine international efforts to reduce smoking, says a group of UK based academics.

UK academics are calling for better understanding of the potential benefits of e-cigarettes to reducing the smoking pandemic ahead of an international gathering of countries that have signed the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control.

The 7th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a global public health treaty, will be held in Delhi, India from 7th-12th November 2016. At this meeting, Parties to the treaty (countries and other jurisdictions) will discuss whether similar policy measures recommended to reduce tobacco use should be applied to e-cigarettes.

In advance of the COP the World Health Organisation published a report about Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) and Electronic Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDDS), also known as e-cigarettes. This aimed to summarise the evidence about these devices.

Academics from the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence, have today published a robust critique of the WHO report setting out a series of concerns about the content of the document which, in their view, screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-12-37-14does not fairly represent existing evidence on e-cigarettes. Their critique examines each element of the WHO report and identifies flaws in the way the evidence is presented and problems with how the report could be interpreted, potentially encouraging countries to adopt excessive restrictions on e-cigarettes which could undermine efforts to reduce smoking.

The UKCTAS critique points to evidence set out in the recent Royal College of Physician’s’ report ‘Nicotine without Smoke’ and subsequent research which recognise that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking and that smokers who find it difficult to stop should be encouraged to use them.

The WHO report fails to accurately present what is already known about e-cigarettes. In particular, it: positions e-cigarettes as a threat rather than an opportunity to reduce smoking; fails to accurately quantify any risks of e-cigarettes compared with smoking; misrepresents existing evidence about any harms to bystanders; discounts the fact that e-cigarettes are helping smokers to quit; does not recognise the place of some promotion of e-cigarettes to encourage smokers to switch to these less harmful products; fails to understand that the flavours in e-cigarettes are useful for people trying to stop smoking; mischaracterises the current e-cigarette market screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-12-39-18and appears to support very restrictive policies on e-cigarettes without including any good policy analysis. In addition, the WHO report does not acknowledge that significant restrictions on e-cigarettes could lead to unintended consequences, including increases in smoking.

Finally, the researchers point out that the WHO briefing is based on four unpublished papers which are still undergoing peer review, which does not allow for open, transparent scrutiny of the evidence. This does not, therefore, provide a good basis for policy making and risks undermining rather than promoting the aims of the FCTC, which is a treaty that was designed to help countries reduce smoking rates and save lives.

To read the full report click here.

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Big Tobacco’s dirty tricks in opposing plain packaging

conversation.PNGBig Tobacco’s dirty tricks in opposing plain packaging – Dr Jenny Hatchard

Originally posted: October 17, 2016 1.38pm BST

Tobacco companies want to sell you cigarettes – today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future. Whether you’re at the tobacco counter or out with friends, glitzy cigarette packaging is a really important part of their sales pitch. Tobacco companies are aware of this. It’s why they are so opposed to their cigarettes being put in plain packaging.

But it isn’t just tobacco companies that are against plain packaging. In the UK, where plain packaging was introduced in 2016, business associations, think tanks and civil society groups publicly campaigned against the policy and academics, research consultants and public relations and law firms variously wrote lengthy reports and lobbied the government.

But why would these organisations lobby against plain packaging? On looking into these opposition groups, our recent research gives a clear answer. Opponents of plain packaging tend to have links to the tobacco industry. So much so that three-quarters of organisations identified in our study had financial links to tobacco companies.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Decades of research into political activity by the tobacco industry has shown that “third parties” are used to campaign against tobacco-control policies. Health advocates are aware of this. In 2005, the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control committed the countries that signed the convention to protect tobacco policy from interference by the tobacco industry and, crucially, groups linked to them. In response, in 2011, the UK government committed to publishing details of any policy meetings with tobacco companies and the Department of Health routinely requests disclosure of tobacco industry links. So far so good. In doing so, the UK sets a strong example.

Third party interference

But our research shows how “third party” opposition to tobacco control policies extends tobacco industry interference beyond this realm of government. In a three-year period which included the 2012 government consultation on plain packaging, 88% of research and 78% of public communications opposing plain packaging were carried out by organisations with financial links to tobacco companies (see figure 1). And public and retailer campaigns funded by tobacco companies to mobilise opposition to plain packaging generated 98% of the more than 420,000 negative postcard and petition submissions to the consultation.

Figure 1 Author provided

In this way, ideas and arguments that come from tobacco companies and their research spill into public spaces. Once there, they can influence the public and political mood on life-saving tobacco control policies and create a misleading impression of diverse and widespread opposition. This is known in the world of political science as “conflict expansion”. And the potential effects are significant. When widespread, these “third party” activities can work to delay and even prevent policies: it took four years to get from consultation to implementation in the UK.

This wouldn’t be so serious if organisations and tobacco companies were open about their relationships. But, in many cases, links were not easy for the research team to detect. Of 150 examples of public communications, less than 20% explicitly acknowledged tobacco industry connections. And, while academics and research consultants tended to clearly report funding sources, “third parties” promoting their research in press releases, news stories and letters to government, frequently did not.

If they were open about their financial relationships with tobacco firms, business and civil society organisations would give the public, politicians and officials the opportunity to scrutinise their arguments and evidence in context. In the case of plain packaging, a lack of openness masked these links and lent credibility to claims that the policy lacked evidence and would increase the trade in illicit cigarettes – claims which have been shown to be unfounded by both peer-reviewed research and by the High Court in Britain. Now, as more countries move to introduce plain packaging, “third party” transparency remains an issue.

In order to help countries guard against tobacco industry interference, awareness can be raised of the effects of their activities on public and political debates. And steps could be taken to make their relationships with tobacco companies clearer. A compulsory register of tobacco companies’ memberships, political activities and associated spending would be a strong first move.

There is strong global commitment to addressing the problem of tobacco industry interference. Parties to the framework convention meet in India in November amid concerns about this issue, and the message to the tobacco industry from the WHO is clear: “The world understands who you are and what you do, and is determined to stamp out the global plague which you do so much to spread.”

Are recent attempts to quit smoking associated with reduced drinking in England? | Research report

 

This study sought to address the following research questions:

  • What is the association among smokers in England between a recent attempt to quit smoking and alcohol consumption?
  • What is the association among smokers with higher risk alcohol consumption in England between a recent attempt to stop smoking and a current attempt to cut down on their drinking?

The researchers looked at the association among smokers in England between a recent attempt to quit smoking and alcohol consumption. They identified smokers as light or heavy drinkers (light was indicated with an Audit-C score below 5 and heavy was indicated with an Audit-C score greater than 5) and analysed their recent attempt to stop smoking (identified by those who had attempted to quit in the last week with those who had not) and a current attempt to cut down on their drinking.

This was an observational study which means that it cannot demonstrate cause and effect. It may be that smokers choose to restrict their alcohol consumption when attempting to quit smoking to reduce the chance of relapse. Alternatively, it could be that people who drink less are more likely to quit smoking. If this is the case, smokers with higher alcohol consumption may need further encouragement to quit smoking.

Jamie Brown said “We can’t yet determine the direction of causality. Further research is needed to disentangle whether attempts to quit smoking precede attempts to restrict alcohol consumption or vice versa. We’d also need to rule out other factors which make both more likely. Such as the diagnosis of a health problem causing attempts to cut down on both drinking and smoking.”

This study is part of an ongoing Smoking Toolkit Study and Alcohol Toolkit Study, designed to provide tracking information about smoking, alcohol consumption and related behaviors in England. Each month a new sample of approximately 1700 adults aged 16 and over complete a face-to-face computer assisted survey. The Smoking Toolkit Study and the Alcohol Toolkit Study are primarily funded by Cancer Research UK and the NIHR School for Public Health Research respectively.

Background

Alcohol consumption during attempts at smoking cessation can provoke relapse and so smokers are often advised to restrict their alcohol consumption during this time. This study assessed at a population-level whether smokers having recently initiated an attempt to stop smoking are more likely than other smokers to report i) lower alcohol consumption and ii) trying to reduce their alcohol consumption.

Method

Cross-sectional household surveys of 6287 last-year smokers who also completed the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test consumption questionnaire (AUDIT-C). Respondents who reported attempting to quit smoking in the last week were compared with those who did not. Those with AUDIT-C≥5 were also asked if they were currently trying to reduce the amount of alcohol they consume.

Results

After adjustment for socio-demographic characteristics and current smoking status, smokers who reported a quit attempt within the last week had lower AUDIT-C scores compared with those who did not report an attempt in the last week (βadj = −0.56, 95 % CI = −1.08 to −0.04) and were less likely to be classified as higher risk (AUDIT-C≥5: ORadj  = 0.57, 95 % CI = 0.38 to 0.85). The lower AUDIT-C scores appeared to be a result of lower scores on the frequency of ‘binge’ drinking item (βadj  = −0.25, 95 % CI = −0.43 to −0.07), with those who reported a quit attempt within the last week compared with those who did not being less likely to binge drink at least weekly (ORadj = 0.54, 95 % CI = 0.29 to 0.999) and more likely to not binge drink at all (ORadj  = 1.70, 95 % CI = 1.16 to 2.49). Among smokers with higher risk consumption (AUDIT-C≥5), those who reported an attempt to stop smoking within the last week compared with those who did not were more likely to report trying to reduce their alcohol consumption (ORadj = 2.98, 95 % CI = 1.48 to 6.01).

Conclusion

Smokers who report starting a quit attempt in the last week also report lower alcohol consumption, including less frequent binge drinking, and appear more likely to report currently attempting to reduce their alcohol consumption compared with smokers who do not report a quit attempt in the last week.

Lead author Jamie Brown, from University College London, England, said:

“These results go against the commonly held view that people who stop smoking tend to drink more to compensate. It’s possible that they are heeding advice to try to avoid alcohol because of its link to relapse.”

   Who was involved?

Jamie Brown, Robert West, Emma Beard, Alan Brennan, Colin Drummond, Duncan Gillespie, Matthew Hickman, John Holmes, Eileen Kaner, Susan Michie.

BMC Public Health, 2016; 16 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12889-016-3223-6

Read the full report on BMC here!

 

 

Electronic cigarettes could have a huge effect on public health | Marcus Munafo, University of Bristol

June 20, 2016 2.17pm BST – Marcus Munafo – The Conversation

Tobacco still kills 6m people around the world every year. Despite huge public health efforts to help people quit and prevent young people starting, smoking remains the single greatest cause of ill health and premature death. And even with restrictions on tobacco advertising and smoking in public places, many young people continue to take up smoking. The situation is even worse in poorer countries, where support to stop smoking is limited, and tobacco control policies weaker.

So in light of this, how should we view the increasing popularity of electronic cigarettes?

image-20160620-8853-1qda1qwThe gadgets deliver a nicotine hit by heating a nicotine-containing propylene glycol (e-liquid) to create an aerosol (usually called “vapour”), which is inhaled. Put simply, they deliver nicotine almost as effectively as a conventional cigarette, but without the vast majority of other chemicals present in tobacco smoke (either from the tobacco itself, or as a result of the burning process).

A whole culture is emerging around “vaping”. Many devices offer a range of power settings, and a vast array of e-liquids is on offer, with varying nicotine contents and flavours. Enthusiasts often apply modifications to their devices, and engage in “cloud chasing” – competing to produce the largest and most interesting clouds of vapour. And yes, young people are experimenting with e-cigarettes (in the same way that they have always experimented with pretty much everything), although at the moment there is no strong evidence this is leading to subsequent cigarette use, or even long-term e-cigarette use.

The rapid growth in use of e-cigarettes, especially among smokers trying to cut down or quit, has taken the public health community and the tobacco industry by surprise. Both are struggling to catch up. Health professionals are hurrying to carry out research to develop evidence-based guidelines and policies. Meanwhile, the tobacco industry is buying up e-cigarette companies and introducing its own products onto the market.

So how concerned should we be about this emerging and disruptive technology?

Should we encourage existing smokers to use e-cigarettes to help them stop smoking, even if this means they continue using nicotine long-term? In the United Kingdom there is some consensus that smokers should be encouraged to use e-cigarettes if they feel they might help, and the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training is supportive of their use. Part of the reason many vapers feel so passionately about the subject (and react strongly when they feel that vaping is being unfairly attacked) is that for the first time, through the use of e-cigarettes, they have felt able to take control of their nicotine habit, stop smoking, and reassert some control over their health, without being medicalised in the process.

But a problem remains in the lack of information on the possible harm of e-cigarettes. This is unlikely to change any time soon, since the health effects of tobacco use can take several decades to emerge, and it’s probable the same will be true for e-cigarettes. Nothing is entirely risk-free, but the vastly reduced number of chemicals present in e-cigarette vapour compared to tobacco smoke means we can be confident that vaping will be much, much less harmful than smoking.

Heartening evidence

As part of the investigation into the effects of e-cigarettes, we investigated how the cells found in the arteries of the heart, known as human coronary artery endothelial cells, responded when they were exposed to both e-cigarette vapour and conventional cigarette smoke. We found the cells showed a clear stress response from the cigarette smoke, but not from the electronic cigarette. This suggests tobacco smokers may be able to reduce immediate tobacco-related harm by switching from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes.

Many people find it difficult to function without their first caffeine hit of the day. But no one is seriously calling for coffee shops to be dismantled or regulated. Nicotine is addictive, but much less so on its own than in tobacco, where other chemicals enhance its effect. At the doses consumed by vapers the harm is likely to be very low (although we need to continue to research this), and many vapers actually gradually move to zero nicotine content e-liquids, even while continuing to vape.

Of course, we may end up with a large population of long-term nicotine users who use e-cigarettes to deliver nicotine rather than cigarettes, but all of the evidence at the moment suggests that this population will almost entirely comprise ex-smokers. This would produce a vast public health gain.

We must be careful not to restrict smokers’ access to e-cigarettes, or over-state the potential harm of their use, if this will put people off making the transition from smoking to vaping. To do so would deny us one of the greatest public health improving opportunities of the last 50 years.

Original post – The Conversation | More on E-cigarettes from UKCTAS

Study suggests varenicline is effective for smoking cessation in severe mental health patients

Varenicline for smoking cessation and reduction in people with severe mental illnesses: systematic review and meta-analysis.

Abstract

AIMS:Champix-image

To determine the effectiveness and safety of varenicline in treating tobacco dependence in patients with severe mental illness.

DESIGN:

A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials that compared varenicline with a placebo or an alternative intervention for smoking cessation or reduction.

SETTING:

Both in-patient and out-patient settings in any country.

PARTICIPANTS:

Adult patients aged 18 and over with any type of severe mental illness. The systematic review included eight studies comprising 398 participants.

MEASURES:

Primary outcome measures were (1) smoking cessation (2) smoking reduction measured by changes in the number of cigarettes smoked per day and (3) number of psychiatric adverse events, which were collected at the end of treatment.

FINDINGS:

The random-effect pooled estimates from the five studies that reported smoking related outcomes found that varenicline is statistically superior to placebo in smoking cessation (risk ratios 4.33; 95% CI: 1.96-9.56), and smoking reduction was higher in varenicline groups (mean reduced daily cigarettes was 6.39; 95% CI: 2.22-10.56). There is no significant difference regarding neuropsychiatric and other adverse events.

CONCLUSIONS:

Varenicline appears to be significantly more effective than placebo in assisting with smoking cessation and reduction in people with severe mental illness. There appears to be no clear evidence that varenicline was associated with an increased risk of neuropsychiatric or other adverse events compared with placebo.

 

Read the accepted article here.

@AlcoholFocus & @NiamhCreate ON Dry January #DRYATHLON

AN alcohol-free January can appeal to the health conscious among us following the festive season. We discuss the merits and drawbacks of the custom as thousands of Scots are nearing the halfway point in the yearly challenge.

Last year, over 6,000 Scots took part in the Dryathlon 2015 challenge for Cancer Research UK and raised £605,159 in the process. Yet the real number of participants across the country is certainly even higher, as there’s no requirement to take part in a charity campaign in order to give up alcohol for the whole of the month.

The recommended amount of units of alcohol for both men and women in Scotland have recently been reduced to 14.

The fashion for winter abstinence comes as new guidelines from the UK’s Chief Medical Officers indicate that men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, ideally spread over three days over more.

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Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) is a charity group focused on reducing the negative impacts of alcohol across Scotland.

AFS conducts studies with a mind to influencing alcohol policy throughout the country and educating others on the effects of drinking.

Evidence suggests they do keep up that reduction and the social acceptability continues after Dry January.

Dr. Niamh Fitzgerald, Lecturer in Alcohol Studies at the University of Stirling

Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland:

“Taking part in a campaign like Dry January gives people the perfect opportunity to take a break from alcohol so they can reassess how much they’re drinking. Research has indicated that a month off alcohol can lower liver fat, blood glucose and blood cholesterol. Other short term benefits of cutting down or not drinking at all include no hangovers, better sleep, losing weight and saving money”

The charity also stresses that those who drink more than the recommended guidelines of 14 units per week are putting themselves at increased risk of breast, bowel and oral cancers, as well as liver disease and mental health problems.

Text taken from The Scotsman
Follow @TheScotsman