Sunday, May 11, 2008

SHS kills . . . how many?

On their web page, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) makes 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”.

That’s a pretty wild statement. So, I did my own little study to see if the claims made by ASH have any correlation with known Canadian data. Are Canadians more likely to be “killed” by their neighbour’s tobacco smoke than his car, his gun or his aids virus?

The total number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents, homicides and HIV were obtained from Statistics Canada’s “Mortality, Summary List of Causes” for 2002. The actual figures from StatsCan were then compared to the number of deaths attributable to secondhand smoke exposure as estimated by Health Canada.

The total number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents, homicide and HIV combined was 3,825. Health Canada “estimates” that SHS kills 1,000 Canadians annually. I believe this is a fairly recent estimate that wasn’t being made a few years back.

The results of my little study lead me to the conclusion that they must make a significantly stronger brand of secondhand smoke in the US than they do in Canada; the claim from ASH is simply not supported by Canadian “data”. Canadians are roughly three times more likely to die in car accidents alone than they are to die from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Even more troubling are the Canadian figures for suicides. Although not included in the claim by ASH, the figures jumped off the page at me. According to StatsCan, 792 Canadians committed suicide before the age of thirty; 3,650 Canadians, in total, took their own lives in 2002. This means that Canadians are 3.7 times more likely to die by their own hand than they are to die from exposure to secondhand smoke.

It would appear that suicide is a greater health risk to this country’s young people than the alleged risks attributed to SHS. The age adjusted mortality rate for suicide for teens between 15 and 19 is 10.1 per 100,000. The 1,000 estimated deaths from second hand smoke among a total population of roughly 33 million works out to a mortality rate of approximately three per hundred thousand.

But, billions of dollars are being spent on a fear-based campaign to dehumanize smokers on the basis that SHS represents a serious health hazard to Canadians, especially our young people. There is growing discrimination against smokers in the area of housing, employment and medical treatment; all based on the mantra that “secondhand smoke kills”.

I’m neither an epidemiologist nor a statistician. But I’m getting too damned old to be convinced that two plus two equals five.

Oh. One other conclusion I’ve reached, based on the results of my little “study”. Health Canada will increase their estimates by 500% to 1,000% during the next year or so. That 1,000 figure simply isn’t scary enough, so they’ll pluck another number from somebody’s posterior to inflate their estimate.

And, yes, I’m taking wagers.

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