Monday, June 16, 2008

Smoking kills 47,000 a year in Canada?

It doesn’t matter which anti-smoker web site you visit. They all claim similar numbers for the number of annual deaths caused by tobacco. Some may infer that most of the damages are caused by smoking cigarettes specifically, others don’t bother.

In Canada, for example, Health Canada and the Non-Smoker’s Rights Association claim that 47,000 Canadians are killed every year by tobacco.

But, have you even wondered just how they manage to arrive at that figure.

Is each death certificate in Canada accompanied by a cause of death investigation? Does some team of experts investigate the lifestyle choices of every single Canadian who dies of lung cancer, for example, to determine his/her exposure to everything associated with lung cancer? How much cooked meat did they eat during their lifetime? Did they cook with shortening? Was there a genetic predisposition to lung cancer? What industrial carcinogens were they exposed to in their working life? How much did they smoke?

Such a survey or report would, of course, be both time consuming, costly and impractical, considering that almost a quarter of a million people die in Canada each year. So, smoking related deaths are estimated. Uh-huh.

The numbers, in Canada at least, are generated by a computer. The exact formula is unknown. It’s a secret. It’s so secret that even the people who know the secret, are kept secret.

There’s a little more information available in the United States. Not much, but a little. But, there are still a lot of secrets.

Recently, I read an article called “Calculating the Big Kill” by Brad Rodu of the University of Louisville, which claims CDC estimates of smoking-related deaths do not add up.

So, how do they do it? Well, in the US, an annual survey (National Health Interview Survey), designed to be representative of the U.S. population, is used to estimate the number of smokers and former smokers in the US. The survey defines current smokers as those who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and who were smoking at the time they completed the survey. Former smokers are those who smoked 100 or more cigarettes in their lifetime and who managed to kick the habit.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US then uses these estimates to estimate how many people died of smoking related diseases. Uh-huh. That’s a lot of estimates.

Now, 100 cigarettes in a lifetime is not a lot of cigarettes; I smoke twice that much in a week. Based on my own secret formula, I estimate that using these definitions of smokers and former smokers artificially and significantly inflates the number of smoking related deaths in both Canada and the US every year. Consider the following two scenarios.

Old Bill Jones is a smoker. Last year he began to collect his old age security. He has been smoking since he was 15, just over half a century ago. If old Bill dies of heart disease, cancer or anything else remotely attributed to smoking, he will become a statistic of the anti-smoker brigade; a statistic used to browbeat, badger and belittle his fellow smokers; a smoking related death.

For just over 50 years, old Bill has smoked two cigarettes a year; one on his birthday in June, the other to usher in the New Year. That makes old Bill a current smoker.

Even if old Bill had merely flirted with the smoking habit, smoking a pack a week for six weeks in 2002, then he’s a former smoker, even if he never took another drag in his life. He’s still eligible to become another smoking related statistic.

But, how can anyone have any faith in estimates based on such illogical, er . . . estimates. No wonder the formula, and much of the data, is secret.

Suggested Reading:
Calculating the Big Kill


Scientist said...

You think that killing thousands of people is not a big deal, and deny the fact that people are still dying from smoking cigarettes. That's enough as is, but cigarette smoke also kills people who do not smoke through the chemicals inhaled through second hand smoke. Look at the reality of it all.
Denial is the real thing you're struggling with. Maybe it is what you are using to deny the fact that estimates are sometimes true. Try estimating how many years off of your own life you are losing by smoking. Come up with it yet? Well it's around 15 years. Sounds cool? Well that's 15 years you won't be around to pollute the world any longer.
I speak from facts you addressed in this article, and scientific ones I have discovered on my own. Approve or disapprove, but people visiting should have the right to know both sides when reading this.

The Old Rambler said...

Estimates may indeed be true sometimes. Just not in this case. My point was that the statistics are grossly exaggerated. Check out my September 24, 2008 post entitled "Smoking related deaths plummet in Canada" to see how inaccurate the 47,000 figure was.

And, if you've really done any research you'll appreciate just how inconclusive the science really is concerning the alleged hazards of SHS.

Anonymous said...

Every year in Canada approx 225,000 people leave this mortal coil but they perform autopsies on only 12,000 of those souls gone to a better place.

This is about 6% each year for the years 2003 - 2007. So let's face it they make the numbers up.

Have have the death statistics (all ages) and the autopsy numbers for those years.
Drop me a line
Libertarian Party of Canada

Larry LaVallee said...

This is the very SICK site!