About that meta-analysis…

A few months ago newspapers eagerly picked up news of a meta-analysis of smoking ban studies finding that bans were associated with a 17% decline in heart attack rates in their first year. Will any of them report this whopper of a correction?

As it turns out, the study findings were due to a careless error. In the original study, the authors had inadvertently reported the Pueblo study has having reported a 70% reduction in heart attacks (a result that is completely implausible and clearly should have been noticed as having been in error). Instead, that study actually reported a 34% reduction in heart attacks. The meta-analysis authors published a correction in which they re-analyzed the correct data.

It turns out that the 11 studies did not find a 17% reduction in heart attacks, but only found an 8% reduction in heart attacks.

This level of decline in admissions for heart attacks is obviously not significantly different from the levels of decline in heart attacks that are being observed in the absence of smoking bans, which have varied between 5% and 10% per year in many communities.

That’s from Michael Siegel, of course, one of the few anti-smoking researchers defending scientific accuracy.

The shoddiness of the science behind the claims of rapid drops in AMI rates following smoking bans never ceases to amaze, nor does journalists’ willingness to report on it uncritically.

For more on the extremely flawed Pueblo study, see here.


Portland Stinger in the Oregonian

My love for Fernet-Branca is no secret to readers of this blog, but in cold winter months like this I often find myself turning to its lesser known minty cousin, Branca Menta. The bitter mint liqueur is a great cocktail ingredient for this time of year. Today’s Oregonian features some holiday cocktail recipes from around town and writer Grant Butler kindly included the Portland Stinger at Carlyle:

1 oz Branca Menta
.75 oz lemon
.5 oz bourbon
.5 oz brandy
.25 oz grenadine

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and serve with a brandied cherry.

The recipe is slightly changed from the one Neil Kopplin and I came up with a few months ago and that I offered at Carlyle’s Fernet night. It’s served up instead of on the rocks and places a little more emphasis on the bitter notes in the drink.

For one more Branca Menta drink, see the Menta e Cioccolato. I plan to have that on the menu as soon as I can source the right chocolate.


Win a $50 Carlyle gift card

Finally, a Liquidity Preference blog contest! If you’ve been wanting to come visit Carlyle, this might be your lucky week. We’re teaming up with GoTime.com, an extensive online guide to Portland’s many happy hours going on at any time, to give away a $50 gift card to the restaurant. Readers are invited to enter the drawing in any of the following ways:

1 Entry: leave a comment on GoTime’s blog post
1 Entry: Retweet any of GoTime’s tweets about this giveaway
2 Entries: Follow Carlyle on Twitter
3 Entries: leave a comment on this blog post
5 Entries: Sign up for the GoTime.com Newsletter where you’ll get notices about happy hours around town and future contests

We’ll be giving away a few other prizes from GoTime too. Feel free to rack up multiple entries between now and Thursday, then check back on Friday to see who wins.


H’ronmeer’s Flame


After a one-month hiatus, Mixology Monday returns with the theme of “Money Drinks.” As our host Beers in the Shower explains, this theme is open to multiple interpretations. One of the ones he offers is this:

I feel a “Money” drink is something you can put in front of anyone, regardless of tastes or distastes about the spirits involved. Come up with a drink or a list based on spirits about drinks that would appeal to anyone. example: turning someone onto a Corpse Reviver #2 when they like lemon drops.

The drink I’m posting today meets that definition. It also brings in the money, thanks to the strategic use of pyrotechnics. Here’s the H’ronmeer’s Flame,* one of the newest additions to Carlyle’s cocktail menu:

2 oz rye whiskey
.75 oz Ramazzotti
.75 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth

Stir all of the above, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and flame an orange zest over the surface of the drink. (To flame an orange zest: Take a large swath of zest, toast with a lit match, and squeeze the oils through the flame.)

Creatively speaking, this is not the most inventive cocktail in the world. Call it a variation on a Manhattan or Boulevardier. But the cinnamon notes of Ramazzotti make it a perfect amaro for winter cocktails and the ignited oils from the orange zest give the drink appealing aromatics. Almost as importantly, the light show that results from spraying citrus oils through a flame is a great conversation starter that inspires other customers to order the drink. When you want to bring in the money, fire is your friend.

*Yes, I sneaked a Martian Manhunter reference onto my cocktail menu. And yes, this makes me happier than it rightfully should.


The three best purchases I made this year

Ortlieb office bag — Early this year my trusty backpack finally wore out and I replaced it with a pannier bag. Taking my laptop off of my back and onto my bike has made cycling much more enjoyable. The bag is waterproof, which is a must in Portland. The weight isn’t much of an issue while riding, though it does make the bike a little unwieldy while walking it. The bag itself isn’t cheap and I needed to buy a rack and laptop sleeve too (with corduroy lining!), but the added time I’ve spent biking has been well worth it.

Rice cooker — I’m not one to stock up on excessive kitchen appliances, but when even Fuschia Dunlop wrote, “If I could have only one modern gadget in my kitchen, it would have to be an electric rice cooker” I thought it might be a tool worth having. And it has been, mainly for the benefits of consistency and not having to coordinate rice preparation too closely with the rest of a meal. Most of my cooking interests lean Asian anyway, so the ease of this tool has me in the kitchen more than I otherwise would be.

An unnamed magic pamphlet — I’ve spent thousands of dollars on magic books and videos over the past decade, but very few of those sources have been as useful as one $10 dollar pamphlet detailing a single card sleight that I came across this year. No, I’m not going to link to it. That would defeat the purpose.


Michigan inches closer to smoking ban

That’s the bad news coming out of Detroit Lansing. The legislature has been wanting to ban smoking for years, the roadblock being debate about which lucky few should be fortunate enough to remain free to set their own smoking policies:

Michigan has moved one step closer to having a statewide, workplace smoking ban with the news that a leading Republican lawmaker has the votes to approve such a bill, the Detroit News reports. The bill would exempt Detroit casinos, cigar bars and tobacco stores from the smoking ban.

I argued against the ban in the Detroit Free-Press last year:

The fight that ensued over this issue in Washington is a telling example. Before our ban was passed, City Councilwoman Carol Schwartz introduced a compromise that would have provided tax breaks to smoke-free businesses, increased fees for those that allow smoking and required smoke-friendly establishments to install expensive ventilation systems.

If the council’s goal had truly been to provide workers with more options, the Schwartz proposal would have done that. But predictably, her sensible compromise was roundly ignored in favor of a citywide ban. The lawmakers in Lansing are taking a similarly excessive approach.

The good news for nonsmoking Michiganders is that business owners are already curtailing smoking in response to consumer preferences, just as they were in Washington before our ban took effect. A glance at the Web site of Michigan Citizens for Smokefree Air reveals 3,500 restaurants in Michigan are smoke-free. As tolerance for tobacco smoke continues to wane, more and more managers will see the benefits of joining them.

A market test of smoking bans
Exemptions and employment revisited
Do smoking bans affect business?


J. Witty chamomile liqueur event at Carlyle


Tomorrow at Carlyle we’re hosting our next spirits-in-focus event featuring J. Witty chamomile liqueur. This organic liqueur is made right here in Portland and just came out a few months ago; it has winter spice notes that make it a really nice ingredient in cocktails this time of year, as in the flip pictured above:

1.5 oz grape brandy
.75 oz J. Witty chamomile liqueur
.5 oz lemon
2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters
1 egg

Shake all but the nutmeg hard over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; grate fresh nutmeg on top.

We’ll be offering this and other winter cocktails made with the liqueur tomorrow from 5-7. Founder Jill Witty will be there too to talk about the product, so come on by to warm up with some good drinks (yes, there’ll be a hot toddy on the menu too).


A warning about Wales

The Daily Post reports that new figures soon to be released by Wales’ Chief Medical Officer will show that heart rates have dropped in the region during the second year of its smoking ban. I look forward to seeing those figures, but the close of the article is particularly striking:

There was a 12.5% fall in the number of patients admitted to hospital with a heart attack between October and December last year, compared to the same period in 2006, before the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces was introduced in Wales: some NHS trusts have seen the number of heart attacks fall by up to 40% in the same period.

See anything suspicious there? To my knowledge there isn’t anyone promoting the theory that smoking bans only reduce heart attacks in the final three months of the year. So why focus on just that time period?

The answer is that cherry-picking those 3 months supports ban proponents’ predetermined conclusion. As Christopher Snowdon has shown with the government’s own data, the rate of AMI actually rose slightly during the year the ban took effect and there were more heart attacks in the 5 months immediately following the ban than there were in those same months the year before. Overall there was practically no difference in the AMI rate between the two years, which is surprising since Wales’ rate of heart attacks had been on a downward trend. A fair reading of all the data is that the ban had no discernible effect, yet the story told by activists and mindlessly repeated by reporters is that the ban caused a reduction in heart attacks.

Such a weird statistic should have immediately raised flags for a journalist. A quick search on Google for the words “Wales,” “smoking ban,” and “heart attacks” would have revealed why the figure was selected. Unfortunately Post reporter Tom Bodden took it at face value, so readers don’t get the full story and the misleading statistic is propagated even more widely.

As Snowdon notes, the Welsh rate of AMI has been falling in recent years by as much as 10% per year. The fact that it didn’t fall in the year smoking was banned is an anomaly. My guess is that in the report about to be issued the rate will have resumed its previous decline and, in a classic case of conflating correlation with causation, researchers will credit the drop solely to the smoking ban.

It will be up the to journalists covering the report to treat it with skepticism, ask tough questions, and at the very least seek out a critical source before phoning in their stories. I’m not optimistic that they will.

Update 12/7/09: My prediction seems to be too optimistic. Chris decided to check the data again today and it turns out that the heart attack rate in Wales actually increased last year. So how will the upcoming report show that it declined? Well, that will be interesting to find out!

Update 12/9/09: Here’s the story and here’s Snowdon on why it’s just another example of junk science.

More lazy tobacco reporting