Suggestion For A Survey

It’s beginning to look as if the troll that’s been harassing a number of blogs for the last 4 months or so has finally been banished, thanks to the dogged detective work of one or two bloggers. My thanks go to them. Since there seems to have been no sign of the troll for a couple of weeks now, I’m relaxing my defences. It’s no longer going to be necessary to log in before posting a comment. I’m reverting to my old practice of just asking for name and email. The comment will appear immediately. I know that a number of people will be pleased to hear this. If the troll re-appears, I’ll revert to log-in mode again.

Apart from that, I’ve been thinking about a question that Lecroix Kwdjer asked yesterday:

I wish someone, some group, would commit to an unbiased study on the issue. How many of us feel a smoking ban has been an earthquake-like social event? How many feel there was a clear before and a clear after? Who could do such research without fear of retaliation from antis or other interest groups?

The issue was smokers’ responses to the smoking ban, highlighted by Simon Clark’s question a day or so back, which elicited a strong response.

What I was wondering was whether we could use the power of the internet to carry out such a study ourselves. I was thinking of drawing up a standard set of questions to ask smokers. Once the questions had been decided (e.g. Do you think the smoking ban is a) wonderful? b) tolerable? c) awful? ), readers of this blog (and maybe other blogs) would print out the questionnaire, and take it with them when they went out, and would ask smokers they encountered if they would care to answer a few questions in a survey about smoking bans, and if they agreed, ask them the standard set of questions, and note their responses (or let them read and fill in the questionnaire themselves).

If 10 or 20 of my readers agreed to do this, and each gathered 20 smokers’ responses, that would provide between 200 and 400 survey responses. If more did, it would be an even larger number. After some period of time – e.g. 2 or 3 months -, these responses would be entered into an email, and sent to me or to whoever was going to process the results. And then they’d be published on my blog or somewhere else, perhaps accompanied by a bit of interpretation.

The merit of the idea is that it uses the internet to get pollsters, and these pollsters would be scattered all over England, and all over the world. And it wouldn’t cost anything. So Lecroix Kwdjer, if he wanted to join in, would get results in Spain, and people living in New York would get New York smokers’ responses, and I would get responses in the West of England where I live, and so on.

I got a bit over 900 hits on my blog today, so I’m reaching quite a few people. It doesn’t seem at all implausible to find 20 or 30 people in that 900 who would be prepared to carry out a survey. And if other blogs could be got to broadcast the questionnaire, maybe a few more could be found.

It’s a survey that I’d be quite happy to do. I quite often get chatting to smokers outside pubs, and I reckon that, after chatting to them a bit, I could bring up the survey as a topic of conversation. And even if I hadn’t got chatting to them, I might feel brave enough to just go and ask them anyway (particularly if I’d already had a pint or two!).

And I wouldn’t see it as a ‘job’. I’d just opportunistically ask smokers as I encountered them. I wouldn’t go looking for them necessarily. And I wouldn’t have a quota.

Some days maybe I’d not encounter any smokers at all, and on another day I might encounter three or four simultaneously.

At the end of the survey period, I’d tap all the results into the computer to send to whoever was going to process it all (perhaps myself).

At the end of it all, some people might have done many more surveys than others (perhaps because they lived in cities). Some might have done none at all (because something had happened to them preventing them). But it wouldn’t matter if one person sent in 30 results, and someone else sent in only 1 or 2. It would all add up.

Furthermore, the higher the number of participants, the less likelihood there would be of bias. And the higher the number of participants, the greater the number of smokers surveyed, and the statistical significance of the survey.

And then, when it was all done, and it had been written up, it could be offered to the BBC or newspapers or (slightly tongue in cheek here) the Tobacco Control journal.

Anyway, I’ve been toying with this idea today, and I can’t see anything obviously wrong with it. I think that clearly a standard set of questions would have to be agreed. And also a set of allowed responses. And maybe a printed format. I think that if non-UK participants were recruited, they’d have to be from countries/cities with a similar smoking ban. Pollsters would have to provide information about the nature of the bans where they lived.

And the survey would be as much for our benefit as anybody else’s. We’d get to find out what most smokers think (which is what  I want to know, and I’m sure Lecroix Kwdjer wants to know too).

And it would be a piece of Citizen Science. And it would beat ASH and Tobacco Control at their own game.

Anyway, I invite comments and suggestions and advice. What would be a good set of questions? And an appropriate set of answers? Should written or spoken comments be allowed? Should only smokers be asked? How is a smoker to be identified? You may have some questions of your own.

Would you like to help carry out such a survey?

And you don’t have to log in to comment now!

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61 Responses to Suggestion For A Survey

  1. Dave Hitt says:

    The problem is that without numbers after your name and the funding of an anti-smoker organization or two such a study will never get published, and anyone who refers to it will be pooh-poohed as practicing bad science, because it’s not “peer reviewed.”

    McFadden and Kuneman did a great study, using publicly available information and huge sample sizes, that proved smoking bans had on effect on heart attacks. It has been completely ignored. No journal will touch it.

    So it would be an interesting project, but I wouldn’t expect it to get any real traction.

  2. Frank Davis says:

    such a study will never get published,

    Well, probably not in Tobacco Control. But if it’s published on the internet, it’s published. i.e. the results would be available for anyone to read. They could also have the raw data if they wanted.

    anyone who refers to it will be pooh-poohed as practicing bad science,

    On the contrary, it look to me like it would be good science (or as good science as questionnaire-driven science ever gets). It’s a mistake to think that only people with letters after their names and the support of universities, etc, can do science. That simply isn’t true.

    because it’s not “peer reviewed.”

    But it will be peer-reviewed! It’ll be there online for people to review and criticise in public. And maybe some of their criticisms would be damning. ‘Peer review’ in mainstream science doesn’t entail any sort of equivalent openness.

    it would be an interesting project, but I wouldn’t expect it to get any real traction.

    I can well imagine that it wouldn’t get very far in the media. But it would nevertheless have been done, and would have generated some interesting information. Stuff that would be of interest to smokers, and which they could cite, even if nobody else did.

  3. wobbler2012 says:

    “I can well imagine that it wouldn’t get very far in the media. But it would nevertheless have been done, and would have generated some interesting information. Stuff that would be of interest to smokers, and which they could cite, even if nobody else did.”

    That is very true and that alone is a great reason for it to be done. All the “official” ones are always biased and anything that the BBC would touch has to be biased precisely to the agenda that the BBC dutifully follows.

    I know our thoughts (by “our” I mean readers of this and similar blogs) on this but it would be really interesting to get a broader consensus. I mean surely all will be annoyed to varying degrees by the ban, I would be amazed if they were not.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Yeah. We’d have our own data and our own statistics. And Tobacco Control could throw any amount of mud they liked.

      And furthermore, there’s no other way to get the data, unless people are just going to wait until some millionaire puts up the money for a university to carry out the same study.

  4. lysistratatheoriginal says:

    (OK I won’t log in! thanks Frank!)

    So, it’s not a scientifically genuinely balanced population sample idea, then, like YouGov.
    Whose portmanteau methods and questions are not at all biased, ever, and who follow the best practices always, and who never ever ask leading questions on behalf of their clients because that would make them unscientific and unprofessional. And their peers don’t need to review them or their methods because it’s not academic research, after all, just opinion surveys.

    I don’t think it matters for these purposes.
    I think it’s sheer numbers. And stories. Like the Loneliness stuff a year ago.

    But weight of numbers is good. And stories are even better.
    If we ever get a millionaire to fund some ‘proper academic peer-reviewed research’, great.
    In the meantime, because no-one ever seems to want to fund stuff that isn’t tobacco-control led, even though oddly it might prevent quite a few deaths, I’m with Frank.

    Let’s count some heads and tell some stories. It has impact just as much as this blown-up focus-group frippery.

  5. legiron says:

    True, no journal would publish it. Tobacco Control would see to that.

    However, it is a simple matter to publish it in any electronic format you want and to make it free to download. Done in the correct format, it would be free to download from a huge range of eBook sites. Fancy seeing it as a free ebook on Barnes and Noble? Easy.

    It could even be made available in print although that cannot be done for free. It can, however, be done for very little cost so we could produce something we could ‘forget’ in a whole range of waiting rooms.

    I have some experience in self-publishing without paying for it. Twelve titles so far. Any help I can give in writing or editing or collecting information or getting it distributed, just say.

    I also have ‘Dr.’ in front of my name, and as for scientific publications, my tally so far is 154. Beat that, Arnott ;)

  6. legiron says:


    There’s no point going to the whole science bit because it will be dismissed as ‘funded by Big Fag’ anyway. Questions, however, must be included in the publication to show that they are not leading questions. ASH don’t do this and if we achieve nothing else, we should achieve the idea of putting the question into people’s minds as to ‘Why don’t ASH do this?’

    Formulating non-leading questions is not easy and we’ll have to have some back-and-forth on that before we come up with something that cannot be shot down in flames.

    The paper should maybe include some discussion on ‘leading questions’ and what they look like. The drones might wake up if we explain the mechanisms that have been used to fool them. ASH know the drones will just ignore any direct explanation but if we write as smokers and point out the leading-question game as part of out ‘we do not do this’ method, the drones might notice those who do. Some will try to pick holes in it. Let them, let them eventually realise that the holes they pick are not in our argument, but in their own.

    This idea has enormous potential, Frank, I suspect way beyond what you initially thought of. Antismokers will read it to scoff but that means it can be used to implant ideas and thoughts in their minds. I know that is not what you intended gut then that’s because you are basically a very nice guy, and I’m not.

  7. Iro says:

    I’m in.
    A couple of ideas:
    First we have to describe what the smoking ban is like in each of our respective countries, states, provinces e.g. total ban everywhere indoors except private homes , partial ban with bars being the exception etc…
    The second question can be as simple as are you happy with the smoking ban : yes, no Why
    Thirdly : If you could change one or more things about the smoking ban what would it/they be?
    4th – Do you smoke less/more/same amount since the smoking ban?
    5th – Do you go out more/less/or just as often since the smoking ban?
    Age and occupation of respondent and how many pack/years does he/she smoke.

    I believe that we’d have to keep it short and simple and since it is the opinion of our peers we want (i.e. people who smoke) to verify what the antis tell us i.e. that it is popular even among people who smoke, I don’t think we should be interviewing people who don’t smoke. .
    Will it ever be reported or published? Nope. You can be sure of that. But it will be around and accessible and it will give us a pretty good comparison to what they claim. It certainly can’t be less scientific than theirs and it will have been done honestly for a change.

    • nisakiman says:

      “…I don’t think we should be interviewing people who don’t smoke.”

      On the contrary, Iro, I think it would be interesting to divide those polled into three groups. Those who describe themselves as regular smokers, those who describe themselves as occasional smokers, and those who describe themselves as non-smokers. I know that we are particularly interested in how smokers feel about the ban, but a complete overview would also be useful.

      I think it’s s good idea, Frank, and Leg Iron’s input would be very useful in more ways than one.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I agree about keeping it short and simple. And restricting it to smokers.

      I think the first question should really be asked of the people doing the polling. They should describe their local ban. I think they should also say whether it’s warm enough to stay outside in winter. Whether it’s town or country. Maybe rich/poor. And whether the ban is being observed (e.g. in Greece it isn’t, from what I gather). Maybe some other questions too.

      Third question asks them to recommend change. They might not have thought about that.

      Fourth question is really arguably a health-type question.

      What I want is a survey which explores the social impact of smoking bans. TC never look at this. And probably daren’t.

  8. Iro says:

    Oh by the way Frank, someone’s reading you and sending more readers your way ;-)

    Simon Chapman ‏ @SimonChapman6
    The pathos of nicotine addiction: some smokers so dependent they put smoking B4 social life

    • smokingscot says:

      That tells Frank several things, some of which are relevant to commentators:

      1) It confirms a suspicion his blog’s being monitored.

      2) The reason is the popularity of the blog.

      3) Relevance, subject matter, word of mouth, slightly improved use of keywords and tag lines (that help search engines).

      4) Yesterday was a FD classic and the comments real human interest. No one does it better.

      5) Best of all Frank now has a very good idea of how many people follow his tweets!

  9. Iro says:

    Are we not allowed to post links here? Twice I sent the same message and it doesn’t post. Sorry if it shows up multiple times by accident. This time around I will cut the http’s and @’s see what happens. Here’s what I am trying to post.

    By the way Frank, someone’s reading you and sending more readers your way. You should thank him ;-)
    From twitter:
    Simon Chapman ‏
    The pathos of nicotine addiction: some smokers so dependent they put smoking B4 social life cfrankdavis.wordpress a-social-catastrophe

    • Iro says:

      It worked this time but I had to remove anything that resembles a link.

      • Frank Davis says:

        Odd, it was put in the spam folder. Perhaps it was because it contained a link to my blog? Or contained the words Simon Chapman?

        There’s a limit of 2 or 3 links that can be put in. It’s to keep spam out, I believe.

  10. Morgan Toal says:

    Would it be wise to commission an academic with credentials in statistics to review the survey instrument or study methodology?

    Here would be a meta-experiement: perhaps have it reviewed with references to smoking and tobacco, and again by an entirely separate party where references to smoking and tobacco are replaced with some euphemism, so we can be sure any criticisms are not due to the reviewer’s possible anti-tobacco bias?

  11. R says:

    I would happily help with this. Not just smokers either, many non smokers have deserted the pubs as well. On those rare sunny warm days many people return for that nostalgic pint remembering when we had a Country we didn’t loath.
    I wouldn’t worry what the anti’s throw at it, everybody I have spoken to knows they lie, twist the truth and throw mealiness statistics at everything. The BBC are now often laughed at, the Yougov surveys are pointless and they have all made the same mistaken, they have underestimated us.

    • Frank Davis says:

      “many non smokers have deserted the pubs as well. ”

      That may well be true. We don’t know, do we?

      • nisakiman says:

        “That may well be true. We don’t know, do we?”

        Which is why I thought it might be useful to poll non-smokers also. Because if their social patterns have changed since the ban as well, it would make a significant contribution to the social impact of the bans.

        Anyway, I’m happy to get involved from here, whatever format you decide on.

      • cherie79 says:

        I do know my never smoking son has virtually stopped going to pubs. He said the atmosphere is just not the same any more.

  12. smockr says:

    -dunno if this might be useful, been a while since I tried it:

    • smooooker says:

      (changing id) I know it’s electronic/online – but adressing the online community seemed to work alright in the case of Nick Hogan?

  13. waltc says:

    On your opening topic (trolls), FWIW, a few days ago wordpress sent me an email that someone was trying to change my password and I instantly wondered if it was one of your trolls. I also mention this in case something posted here under my name sounds uncharacteristically (as opposed to characteristically) dumb.

    The survey is a terrific idea . I’ll be happy to cover NYC. I’d also be glad to be in the group formulating the questions since I once long ago designed surveys in ad biz, did it on my own a few years ago surveying restaurants after the ban, and have a slight backgound in soc/psy.

    Occurred to me that one thing to do with the results is to try to interest a respectable academic, preferably in the area of sociology or social psychology– tease him or her with the survey’s results and see if it interests them to study further. I’m not saying “instead of” but in addition to what you’re planning. The names I know in the UK (Warburton @ Reading; Hindmarch @ Surrey) work more in the area of physical psychology but perhaps they could recommend an appropriate colleague. Then there are people who’ve already written bashes of denormalization: Luik, Basham, Simon Davies. More names would pop up from articles in Spiked.

    As for the US: I’m right now looking at a book I pulled from my shelf (“Smoking: Who has the right?”) that’s an anthology pulled together by a couple of Libertarian academics who seem to be on our side and the book touches briefly on smokers’ feelings and spoiled public identities. Lead author is Jeffrey Schaler, listed as on the faculties of Johns Hopkins, the American Univ.School of Public Affairs, and the Institute of Humane Studies at George Mason Univ. I can come up with more names if you like

    Finally, from having worked the streets and bars with various petitions, it’s not hard to find smokers to question. Just look for a crowd of smokers outside of any office building or bar or walking down the street smoking if they don’t look in a hell-bent hurry. FWIW, if you want to include nonsmokers, I’d suggest only including the ones seen in the company of smokers. I’d say we could do w/o the “my hair smells so much better now” crowd that would be found among a more random sample. Besides, they get far too much attention as it is.


    • Frank Davis says:

      “I’d also be glad to be in the group formulating the questions”,

      I think we’re going to formulate them here, in discussion. I’m not proposing forming a committee to think up questions.

  14. I think it’s a great idea! And I am in, you bet. It will take some time to come up with a method and a questionnaire and one can easily see many obstacles, but having many readers means having many minds with many ideas.

    Questions should be worded carefully in order to avoid manipulation of the anwers (just the opposite of what antis do). The person answering the questions must be free of any influence.

    Bias, at least in my case, would be a problem: 99% percent of my internet contacts are people who feel as I do. People I know outside the net, know my stance on the issue and that may condition the answers, but I am sure I can work around that somehow.

    There are organizations in Spain, with many members, that might be interested in the survey. Bias, again, could be a prob there, since they are against the ban.

    The validity of the study will easily be questioned by antis, but who cares. We know fairplay is not their style anyway.

    Since the ban, I have been carrying my own little study, of course. There is a queston I like to ask everyone that I think does not manipulate the answer and is very revealing. I usually ask it after the simpler question “do you agree with the smoking ban?” If the answer is “no”, there is no need for the question, but if it’s “yes” (about 25% of peopled answered “yes”) then I ask: “do you think no single bar or restaurant, none, should be allowed to permitt smoking at any time, ever?” Not surprisingly, because most people are tolerant on the issue, everyone has answered something like: “no, that would not be fair”. I do believe the number of people that favor a blanket smoking ban, no exceptions whatsoever, must be ludicrously small.

    Just some random thoughts.

    Please carry on with the idea. I am sure you will be flooded with input from your readers.

    • Frank Davis says:

      “Questions should be worded carefully in order to avoid manipulation of the anwers ”

      I entirely agree. We want to find out the truth, not arrive at a predetermined conclusion.

      As for who should be asked, I think (at the moment) smokers only. And smokers encountered more or less at random. The people doing the polling may answer the poll themselves, but their responses should be kept separate (as a poll of pollsters).

  15. magnetic01 says:

    A note for Simon Crapman.

    The pathos of a Narcissistic, megalomaniacal, pathological liar: How the universe supposedly revolves around Crapman and his stupid, ill-informed “thinking”.

  16. RooBeeDoo says:

    Frank, this is a great idea. Please count on my support as I have (potentially) a very wide circle of people (smokers and non-smokers) I can approach with the survey to complete and propagate. Thank You.

  17. 250 children each year in town treated for passive smoking

    Published on Tuesday 8 May 2012 12:12

    A STAGGERING 250 children a year in Hartlepool are treated for the effects of passive smoking, shocking new figures reveal.

    Youngsters needed doctors or hospital visits for ear and chest conditions after breathing in second-hand cigarette smoke from parents who light up.

    And health bosses say children can suffer asthma attacks and babies can contract serious conditions like pneumonia and bronchiolitis if they continue to breathe in smoke.


    WHAT DO YOU THINK? Email the newsdesk or telephone the newsdesk on (01429) 239380.

  18. gimper30 says:

    Count me in.

  19. Des King | The Government’s plan to eliminate smoking? It’s just plain stupid
    Staff May 8, 2012 No Comments »
    Government plans to ban branded cigarettes are grabbing the headlines. But, says Des King, glossy packs are way down the list of reasons people start to smoke

  20. Frank Davis says:

    This is a good response. I’ve decided to take this idea and run with it. I’ll put up a longer discussion document tonight looking at the whole thing a bit more closely.

  21. Hi again Frank! It’s been a long time since I’ve studies testing methodology and the formulation of value free questionnaires but I would be glad to help.

    Rather than develop a brand new instrument many people re-use surveys that already have been scaled and assessed for reliability and validity. We can tweak the terminology to remove the bias in many of the antismokers tools. Ofcourse the antis would profess this tactic makes the queries unreliable and lacking in validity but as long as the queries are value free the argument can be dealt with by a small focus group taking the survey before it’s given to the general public (such as your readers).

    Here is a link to Who tobacco surveys it contains a test bank of query formats that have already been accepted:

    Click to access en_tfi_tqs.pdf

    It’s lengthy but you can get an idea of just how difficult it would be to start from square one.The benefit of using one of their models is they have already been scaled.

    I found this after a brief search. Sometimes it’s difficult to get ahold of the actual query instrument. I’ll keep looking but it would be great to have a list of possible variables to address and then decide how to rank the queries (from simple prevalence to more sensitive variables such as attitude towards the end).

  22. garyk30 says:

    Frank’s blog probably has about a thousand hits per day; but; don’t thnik that there are plenty of people to help if you do not help.

    There are many folks.myself included, that visit here several yimes a day. The actual number of visitors may be far fewer than the seeming 1,000. (Sorry Frank. :()

    It is very important that ALL os us take part and help as much as possible.

    Count me in!!!!

  23. Here is a quick search tool for the CDC test bank of questions:

    When I entered “smoking ban” I got a few hits that were interesting. Many of them are tied to ascertaining what meds were used during a quit attempt if any. Lol

  24. lysistratatheoriginal says:

    Well Frank, looks like you got yourself a Convoy…. :D

  25. junican says:

    A quick comment – I have to continue editing my summary of the Doll and Hill Hospital Study!

    Does there not already exist a source of such information? I mean that in the sense of an additional source. What I have in mind is to access many source of which we already have knowledge. I include the comments to Newspaper articles, comments on our own sitescommentsts on MPs’ sites, even comments on YouGov! Given that an individual provides a name of some sort, it ought to be reasonably easy to accumulate opinions which already exist.

    Needs a bit of thinking through though. What I have in mind is to search out anti-ban comments and then put them under headings which the comments themselves will reveal. For example, “The ban has ruined my social life because……” might come under “Does not go to pub anymore” or some other generic heading. Nor is there any reason that a single comment might reveal more than one reason for detesting the ban, in which case a single person could appear in several ‘counts’. YouGov do that when they ask multi-variable questions, don’t they? In this case, however, the ‘questions’ will be dictated by the ‘answers’!

    Shall I have a look round to see what I can find?

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  28. Diesel says:

    I’m in if you need anyone down here in the Deep SouthWest.

    I actually quit the fags over 10 years ago, but took it up again about a year ago, partially because of the smoking ban (its a way of fighting back), and partly for another reason that I’d like to do a paper on myself (I might need the services of the good Dr L G Iron as supervisor).

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  30. Margo Jackson says:

    I think the survey’s a great idea, and questions should be of the ilk: Have you found that the smoking ban has benefited you in any ways? Say how. Have you felt disadvantaged in any way by the smoking ban? Say how. Are there activities you do more frequently because of the ban? Are there activities you do less often because of the ban? Have you made friends/lost friends as a result of the ban? Has the ban changed your relationship with your doctor? Has the ban affected your life – massively, moderately, a bit, not at all? Is it something you think about – an awful lot, a bit, hardly at all? Has it made you happier/ unhappier? etc, etc.
    I’d be happy to take part in the survey.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Those questions are pretty much what we’re asking. You can see the questions here. We’ve only just firmed up the questions. Do you just want to fill in the survey, or would you like to do some polling of friends, family, neighbours, pubs. We need pollsters (We’ve got about 20 in 7 countries).

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