Monday, March 24, 2008

Drifting tobacco smoke kills

An organization called Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is responsible for some of the wildest distortions and grossest exaggerations on the web (or anywhere else for that matter), related to the dangers of secondhand smoke. Some of their claims are simply preposterous.

For example, according to a press release issued by ASH, thousands of children are now dying each year from secondhand smoke. ASH says, "A man's home may be his castle, but that doesn't mean he is free to abuse his children inside it by unnecessarily subjecting them to a substance which is known to cause cancer, and which kills thousands of children every year."

Dr. Michael Siegel, despite his anti-tobacco philosophy answers back, “to claim that thousands of children die each year from secondhand smoke is ridiculous. There is no evidence at all I am aware of that thousands of children die from secondhand smoke."

“Given the fact that I am a strong proponent of workplace smoking bans and of educational efforts to protect children from secondhand smoke, my point is obviously not to challenge the evidence that secondhand smoke is a severe health hazard. In fact, quite the opposite. By making ridiculous statements like this, anti-smoking groups are risking undermining of the public's appreciation of the hazards of secondhand smoke. If people find that anti-smoking groups are distorting and exaggerating their claims, people may end up dismissing all anti-smoking claims, even legitimate ones regarding the real health effects of secondhand smoke.”

On their web page, ASH was also making the claim that “Drifting tobacco smoke already kills more people than motor vehicle accidents, all crimes, AIDS, illegal drugs, etc. In other words, you are statistically more likely to be killed by your neighbor's tobacco smoke than by his car, his gun, or his AIDS virus.” Oh, really.

As far as I know, “drifting tobacco smoke” has never killed anyone. Many people may find the smell of drifting tobacco smoke offensive, but the smell is not likely to kill a healthy non-smoker.

Nonetheless, I figured it was a good idea to verify my belief that their claim was inaccurate.

But, I wanted to use data provided by Canadian sources. So I went to StatsCan, Health Canada and the Non-Smokers Rights Association (NSRA). The stats in Canada should be roughly similar to those in the US, after allowing for the difference in population.

According to Health Canada, 1000 Canadians are killed annually by secondhand smoke. The NSRA echoes the Health Canada figure of 1000 Canadians killed annually. I have no idea where that figure came from, but StatsCan didn’t list secondhand smoke as the cause of death for any of the 237, 000 plus Canadians who died in 2004.

StatsCan did note, however, that 2, 871 Canadians died in motor vehicle accidents in that same year. And, although I can’t be sure if suicide is a crime per se, there were 3,564 deaths by suicide listed in the StatsCan mortality tables. So, secondhand smoke, whether it’s drifting or just hanging around, obviously didn’t kill more people than car accidents, all crimes, aids and illegal drugs; at least not in Canada. StatsCan didn’t list “etc.” as a cause of death either, so I couldn’t really make a comparison.

Do you think, maybe, we make a safer brand of cigarette in Canada? Or, is it just that the NSRA and Health Canada haven’t gotten around to inflating their figures . . . yet?

ASH, one of the more influential anti-smoker groups in the US, makes these absurd claims on a regular basis. They seem to rely on the simple premise that bullshit baffles brains. And, if anyone takes the time to disprove the integrity of their claims, so what? Who’s going to hear about it?

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