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An Interview With Dr. Shepard, Co-Fabricator of the Helena Study

Dr. Shepard was one of the co-authors of the infamous Helena Study. The study made an astonishing claim: That in the six months Helena MT had a smoking ban in place heart attacks dropped by 60%. In order to fully appreciate this entry, I suggest you first read the details of the study here and here.

Tony Masset, a student at Carroll College in Waukesha, WI, attended a presentation by Dr. Shepard. Before the presentation he asked me to suggest some questions he could ask.

Tony tried to record the conversations, but wasn’t able to because of an equipment malfunction. Instead, he wrote down the questions and answers immediately after leaving the presentation. As a result this is an accurate, but not word for word, report.

The first round of questions took place during the presentation.

Tony: “There were only 44 cases. Why didn’t you ask a single person about their SHS exposure?”

Shepard: “Because we didn’t have the data from before the study to compare the results too. So even if we asked them about their exposure it wouldn’t have done us any good because we can not compare it to anything.”

Tony: “Your own graph shows a similar dip in the heart attacks in 1998. Why did you ignore that?”

Shepard: “That data isn’t similar as shown in my graph.” Then he pointed to a new column graph that showed the number of heart attacks by year instead of by month. The average showed the rates increasing every year up to the year of the ban and then slowly climbing again after the ban was lifted.

So when one graph proves you’re a liar, create another that shows you in a better light.

Tony: You announced a 60% reduction in your press conference, but your published study only claimed a 40% reduction. Why?”

Shepard: “We did a (phonetically spelled) qwuaz-eye study and the BMJ wanted us to do a linear study.” I am not sure what it means, I think his point was that he had the data determined using one method but the BMJ wanted them to determine the data using their approved method. It has to be a round-about way of saying “we manipulated the data and they didn’t want to publish our manipulated findings.”

My guess is Shepard was admitting that the 60% number came from a “quasi-study.” In other words, an imitation study, something that resembled a study, but was not a real study. What does this say about his integrity?

After the presentation:

After the questions I stayed to argue with him for about 15 minutes. He had an older listener and a younger college student on each side of him giving him a bobble head visual “surround sound” effect, two people that literally shook their head yes to every single thing the man said! A few things said in our Q&A were:

Tony: “Why can’t the bar owners make their own decision about how to run their business? If it truly was beneficial to bar owners wouldn’t they implement smoking bans on their own?”

Shepard: “People do not have a right to smoke because it harms others so bar owners can’t permit a practice that someone does not have a right to do. And no, bar owners have an irrational fear that they will lose business if they implement a ban so they will never decide to ban smoking on their own.”

Bar owners fear of losing business is hardly irrational. Smoking bans always destroy a significant number of businesses, especially bars.

He brought up various court cases where smokers always lost and concluded, “See, no one has a legal right to smoke.”

Nice sidestep. This is not, and has never been, about anyone’s right to smoke. It’s about junk science and the property rights of venue owners.

Tony: “People can decide for themselves whether they want to patronize a bar or not, so why do we need a blanket ban that forces owners to decide how to run their establishment?”

Shepard: “The employees can’t decide for themselves. They often have no skills, no education, and they need to put food on the table and so they have to bus tables, their choice is taken away. Does the owner have the right to subject employees to that?”

Tony: “The employees chose to work there, they knew people smoked and yet they took the job anyway. If someone doesn’t like where they work they can find another job.”

College student bobble head: “What experience do you have in the work force?”

Shepard: “(smirking) You are falsely believing that people can go out and find a job anywhere at anytime, that there are limitless jobs available, and that people have the ability to change jobs. Most people don’t and those individuals that don’t have a choice of where to work can not be subjected to SHS because of how deadly it is.”

Could Shepard have been any more condescending? He claims his mission is to protect bar employees, but it’s because they’re talentless losers who can’t find work anywhere else.

Tony: “I believe one of the great aspects about living in America is that you can choose to leave a job at anytime for any reason and find one where you want to work. Positions for unskilled laborers are probably the most abundant in this economy and you are going to tell me that it is impossible for them to find another job at a different restaurant?”

Shepard: (smiling as the two bobble heads bobbed up and down)”I think you do not understand the point. Bar owners can not be allowed to subject employees to SHS because of its harmful effects, plain and simple. I also think you are not being sympathetic to the situations most people live in and you have never experienced the choices that they have had to deal with.”

Tony: “I want to go back to the question about the first three months of the ban. During that time, with little compliance, heart attacks decreased. In the second three months, with enforcement, heart attacks returned to normal levels.”

Shepard: “Most businesses were in compliance with the ordinance, only a handful weren’t. Part of the reason the ban was lifted was because of the difficulty with enforcing it. They got fed up with trying and overturned the ban. I think it is unfair to bring up those specific statistics because you are focusing too much on the data.”

This is a flat out lie. A substantial number of businesses weren’t complying and he knows it.

Tony: “We have many taxes on cigarettes, if we ban smoking besides the loss of jobs for those individuals wouldn’t the government just push the tax onto some other product or service because they will not want to lose funding?”

Shepard: “We would double the tax each time the percentage of people that smoke is cut in half. It would maintain our tax income and discourage others from smoking. I would hate to be the guy that pays $1,000,000 for the last pack of cigarettes. Also like you said, those people could easily go find other jobs because it is America.” (Head bobbing and laughs)

Tony: “You really pushed the idea that nicotine is the most addictive drug in the world so why would increases in the tax rate suddenly cause people to break the habit? Why wouldn’t they just go bankrupt making them dependent on societal programs such as welfare, increasing costs for nonsmokers?” (A big point of his was that nonsmokers pay for smoker’s health insurance.)

Shepard: “If you were listening that is not what I said. Poor people that can’t afford cigarettes stop smoking; it is the rich that end up being the primary smokers with higher tax rates because they can afford to smoke.”

It is a joke. On the one hand he says “Because the nicotine is so addictive even if smokers want to quit they can’t.” Yet later he says poor people will stop smoking when they can’t afford cigarettes. Like they can suddenly stop buying them because cost becomes the over whelming factor in the decision to smoke. What will really happen is a poor person will steal cigarettes if they can’t afford them, plain and simple. I wish I would have said that.

A few will steal, but the majority will buy “illegal” smokes, cigarettes that have been purchased without paying the tax. There is a huge black market for cigarettes that aren’t burdened with confiscatory taxes, and it grows every time tobacco taxes are raised.

Well I hope I gave you some insight into how the presentation was conducted. He had an answer to everything I said. I learned a lot. I’d like to take their responses, research them, and blow them out of the water next time I argue. I’d like to find weaknesses in their logic and pick their ideas apart. Hopefully I can strengthen my argument after this.

I think I shocked the people when I told them I did not smoke or drink but I would be the first to fight for everyone’s right to do so. I wish I could remember more of what we argued about at the end or even the points he argued in his presentation.

I want to thank you again for the questions and for reading my e-mail. I love your website and I hope you can maintain it with more relevant information!

Tony Masset
West Allis

Great Job, Tony. Yes, nannies, like all fundamentalists, have stock answers for the tough questions. But, as you learned, there is little substance to those answers. If you keep pressing them they usually end up contradicting themselves, revealing their dishonesty.

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3 Comment(s)

  1. I’ve always noticed the doublethink that Shepard presents in his arguments about the addictiveness of nicotine:

    1) Nicotine is more addictive than heroin and cocaine combined. It’s innocent users are powerless and are being exploited by the ruthless tobacco companies who know that they have absolutely no choice.

    2) Tax hikes and making smoking more inconvenient will drastically reduce smoking. They can quit quite easily.

    I think it is pretty easy to see what they are doing. It’s a way to hate and gouge both the tobacco companies and smokers at the exact same time. If they were to stick with one of their statements about the addictiveness of nicotine, it would cut their options in half; either smokers are innocent and powerless victims being taken advantage of by ruthless corporations or they can quit smoking pretty easily and are just being dicks about continuing to smoke.

    This is especially important to people like John Banzhaf who can use both arguments for their own financial gain.

    Harley | May 5, 2008 | Reply

  2. I forget at the moment whether it was Sargent or Shepard, but one of them came out with a statement promising to return to the Helena study after a year to show that in the absence of a ban heart attacks continued to stay at a high level.

    Somehow that never happened. And my email attempt to ask what happened to that future study seemed to meet with no response.

    Anyone want to take any guesses why?

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

    Michael J. McFadden | Aug 6, 2008 | Reply

  3. Probably for the same reason that he never bothered to correct the American Cancer Society when they gave him an award for his 60% number.

    We are dealing with disgustingly dishonest people here.

    Dave Hitt | Aug 11, 2008 | Reply

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