Sunday, June 8, 2008

Death by smoking?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s why I compiled my little chart. The Hunt & Peck keyboarding technique is slow and laborious and I figured if I could save myself a thousand words, why not?

And, for the record, I do believe that active smoking is a significant health hazard.

There have been a number of studies done claiming that cancer, including lung cancer, is a disease of age. So I used a Statistics Canada mortality table from 2002 to create the chart, mostly out of curiosity. This was not meant to be a serious study, but the numbers are real.

And, guess what? It’s true. As graphically demonstrated by the chart, the longer you live the greater the risk that you will die of cancer.

As a matter of fact, Canadians between the ages of 80 and 84 are 19 times more likely to die of cancer than Canadians aged 45 to 49. And, if you should live to the ripe old age of 90, your chances of succumbing to cancer are 27 times greater than the individual between the ages of 45 to 49. Hell, if you live long enough to collect Canada Pension, you’re eight times more likely to die of cancer (11 times more likely to die of lung cancer) than someone only 15 years your junior.

The pretty background colours? Well, the dark blue area marked “lag time” is the 30 year period most tobacco control freaks point to as the time between increases (and/or decreases) in smoking prevalence and the time when mortality tables should reflect those changes.

In the chart, the dark blue background starts at the age of 20 because the fanatics keep telling us that the vast majority of smokers start in their teens. I assumed (yes, I know the old ass-u-me joke), but I assumed anyway, that 30 plus years was a reasonable latency period for the onset of cancer. (Do they still use that term; I haven’t heard it since the seventies?) Besides, the tobacco control freaks do a lot of assuming; I figure I’m entitled to one miserable little supposition.

At any rate, if most smokers start in their teens and the latency period for the onset of lung cancer is 30 to 35 years, then there should be a significant increase in lung cancer deaths in the 50 plus crowd.

Whoops. It’s true. That’s also shown graphically in the chart.

But the rate at which people continue to die from cancer, including lung cancer, continues to climb through 90 plus years of life (lung cancer rates level off at 80, then seem to decline slightly at 90 plus). That means that either the latency period for cancer is very elastic, taking anywhere from 30 to 70 years to develop, or those dying at 80 or 90 didn’t start smoking until middle age.

The pretty light blue colour background starts at age 65; the age when most Canadians start drawing CPP (Canada Pension). Therefore, it seems a reasonable age to signify the onset of old age. And, the StatsCan mortality table shows that 71.7% of cancer deaths (70% of lung cancer deaths) occur after the age of 65.

Oh. The weird orange-brown colour? The average life expectancy for Canadians in 2002 was just under 80. In 2002, some died of cancer before reaching 80, some died after reaching average life expectancy. Nobody died prematurely; they died before the average which their death, in part, established. Think about it.

Cancer is a disease strongly associated with old age, whether or not the particular form of cancer is smoking related. If a smoker dies of lung cancer at 75 plus years of age (37.4% of lung cancer deaths occurred after that age in 2002), it is unreasonable to assume that smoking killed him/her. And, he or she certainly didn’t die prematurely.

If all the time, effort and the billions of dollars put into the anti-smoking crusade had been put into legitimate cancer research, instead of dehumanizing smokers, we might be further along the road to a real understanding of how cancer works.

Based on the other causes of death in the mortality tables, not to mention plain old common sense, we are all going to die of something eventually, whether we smoke or not. And, even smokers can, and do, live into their nineties and beyond.

I am neither an epidemiologist nor a statistician. Any conclusions reached in this post are obviously debatable. And, yes, there is one other conclusion which may be reached.

Some may look at this post and conclude that I am a blithering bloody idiot. I will not argue that position, but merely point out that my wife reached the same conclusion shortly after we were married forty years ago. I can live with it.

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