Friday, September 26, 2008

Fewer smokers die . . . at least from smoking

Health Canada estimates for 1989 claimed that over 38,000 deaths were caused by smoking. They’ve been reporting ever-increasing numbers since then. Earlier this year, they were still reporting 47,000 smoking attributable deaths in Canada annually. Now, they’re reporting 37,000 such deaths annually, based on 2002 mortality tables from StatCan.

But, there was no miracle. There were no real lives saved. Those who reportedly died from cancer, heart disease, etc. due to smoking are still dead. No bodies have been miraculously resurrected. They were only paper deaths, after all; figments of some anti-smokers mind.

But, those numbers were made real, to the public, the politicians and the press, by a host of anti-smoker zealots like the Non-Smokers Rights Association, Physicians for a smoke Free Canada, etc. The inflated numbers were used as a scare tactic, to browbeat and badger smokers into quitting.

Health Canada made no announcement, of which I’m aware, to inform the public that they, and the non-government anti-smoker groups they fund, have been using inflated figures to estimate the smoking attributable deaths in Canada over the last decade or two. They just quietly changed the numbers.

Now, I don’t believe Health Canada set out to deliberately deceive the Canadian public. So maybe their failure to enlighten Canadians resulted from embarrassment over the use of inappropriate data. After all, their statistics have been under criticism for some time.

In the report, published in 2007, Health Canada explains the use of new data and methodology and says: “Despite differences in risk estimation, tobacco smoking is responsible for a substantial number of Canadian deaths.” Why not simply make a public statement to that effect?

And, despite knowing their estimates were inaccurate, the web site was not updated to reflect the changes until a month or two ago.

And, there’s at least one troubling remark in the report: “The results of this paper indicate that the trend in smoking attributable mortality may be stable or even declining. The change in trend may be the result of nearly forty years of tobacco control activities.”

But, the reduction in Smoking Attributable Mortality (SAM) wasn’t “the result of tobacco control activities’. It was the result of a change in data and methodology used to generate the estimates; a change that resulted in a significant drop (10,000) in smoking attributable deaths in just a few short months.

Another troubling aspect is the assertion in the report that: “Policies affecting adolescents, such as price, availability of cigarettes, smoking bans and the marketing of cigarettes are important to decreasing future smoking mortality.

They may, or may not, be important to decreasing future smoking mortality. But, the inference of that claim is that the current decrease in SAM is due to the influence of those factors. It is clearly not.

The new estimate falls below 1989 levels of SAM reported by Heath Canada; long before draconian smoking bans were implemented, long before senior levels of government began demanding extortion money from smokers, and long before ridiculous laws to hide cigarettes under the counter, away from the prying eyes of children.

The anti-smoker crusaders used the inflated death toll to good effect. But there is nothing in the Health Canada report to suggest that smoking bans or punitive taxation have contributed to the reduced SAM.

And, some people (including me) believe the current estimate of 37,000 smoking attributed deaths is still grossly over-stated.

For example, StatCan reports 21,179 IHD deaths in 2002 occurred in the segment of the population over the age of 80. Health Canada attributes 1,419 of those deaths to smoking. Many people would contend that, when someone dies past the age of 80 (mean age 87), the death is neither premature nor preventable; especially when so many non-smokers in the same age bracket are dying from the same condition.

Smoking may be a risky business. Repeat . . . may be. But, if the number of smoking related deaths has been so grossly over-stated . . .

But, I’ll have to come back to this issue in my next post.

To be continued . . .

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