Wednesday, April 9, 2008

SHS kills 340 kids a day

Dr. Michael Siegel recently ran a “tournament” to select the “Most Ridiculous Secondhand Smoke Claim” being made by the health scare professionals. He writes a web log called “The Rest of the Story.”

A long time anti-smoking advocate, he is concerned that anti-smoker groups are making inaccurate, often outrageous, health claims to frighten the public into believing that exposure to SHS is worse than it really is. He has suggested that, by making such dishonest claims, to generate a more emotional and sensational message for the media and the public, legitimate public health efforts will lose their credibility.

Dr. Siegel collected a series of what he considers dishonest claims from anti-smoking groups and asked his readers to vote on the most ridiculous.

In one semi-final, a group called Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails, who claim that "Smoking Kills About 340 Young People a Day," lost the best lie contest to an organization called Smoke Free Air for Everyone.

In October, 2007, Dr. Siegel notified Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails that the statistic on its web site was blatantly false.

Incredibly, the organization didn’t dispute his assertion that the claim was erroneous. Instead, they told him that they couldn’t remove or correct the absurdly dishonest statement because only the web master could make changes to the site. Apparently, they’re still searching for the web master. He is believed to be hiding out on an uninhabited island off the coast of Bora Bora. And, evidently, he forgot his laptop, since the claim still appears on their web site.

Dr. Siegel says in his web log, “Clearly, 340 young people do not die from smoking every day. That would mean that there are 120,000 deaths from smoking each year among young people. As I have explained previously, it is rare for smoking to cause death prior to about age 40, or age 35 at the earliest (though there may be very rare exceptions). Thus, it would be difficult to defend a claim that smoking kills 1,000 young people each year, much less 120,000.”

The winner of the semi-final competition was Smokefree Air for Everyone and their contention that: "After 20 minutes, blood platelets look like a pack-a-day smoker's, making your blood "sticky" and contributing to stroke causing blood clots.”

Dr. Siegel remarks, “Although it was difficult to watch Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails go down to defeat, there really is something to be said for an organization that is willing to claim that a mere 20 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure can cause an otherwise healthy person to suffer a stroke.”

In the national final, Smokefree Air for Everyone lost out to St. Louis University Tobacco Prevention Center (St. Louis, MO) and their claim that: "Arsenic, benzene, carbon monoxide, Plutonium 210 and a host of other poisons are in secondhand smoke."

Plutonium 210? Oh-oh. That sounds like enough justification for George Bush to bomb the hell out of Phillip-Morris and send in the marines to locate their weapons of mass destruction.

Announcing the semi-finalists, Dr. Siegel noted: “What makes the St. Louis University Tobacco Prevention Center claim the hands-down winner is that it came in the context of correcting an earlier statement that secondhand smoke contains asbestos. You would think that having been caught with an egregious error like that, you would be extremely careful in fixing it. But instead, you come up with a claim that is exceedingly more ridiculous than the original fallacious claim.”

He points out: “Anyone can make a mistake. What you are rewarded for here is making the mistake but failing to correct it. This is especially impressive because both of the web pages with these fallacious claims are still active and accessible, and thus the public is still reading this inaccurate information.”

In announcing the winner of the tournament, Dr. Siegel notes that the group had “the audacity to claim that Plutonium 210 - which does not exist anywhere in the known universe - is present in secondhand smoke.

The point of this rather long, rambling post is simply this: If someone with Dr. Siegel’s credentials is concerned about the distortions of science and the dishonesty being put forth and/or perpetuated by the anti-smoker brigade, shouldn’t we all take the time and effort to verify the facts before continuing a program of outright discrimination against smokers?

Shouldn’t we all question both the science and the statistics behind a “de-normalization” campaign that is no longer directed against “big tobacco”, but against smokers who, through choice or addictiction, continue to consume a hazardous substance.

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