Friday, September 19, 2008

SHS and the Surgeon General

Kevin Coady is the Executive Director of NL Alliance for the Control of Tobacco. In a letter to the editor of the Telegram (St. John’s, Newfoundland), dated April 4, 2007, he claimed that: “A recent report from the U.S. Surgeon General clearly states that there is no safe amount of secondhand smoke. The report indicates that breathing even a little secondhand smoke can be dangerous”.

The anti-smoker brigade, including public health bodies such as Health Canada, routinely and repeatedly make similar statements, usually attributing it to the 2006 report by the US Surgeon General. It’s become a catchphrase, repeated over and over again: “There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke”.
And, since the press accepts everything they’re told by the anti-smoker crowd as gospel, the public is left with the impression that the Surgeon General claimed there was no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. He didn’t; at least not in his written report.

What the Surgeon-General’s report actually says is: “The scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke”.

That claim may factually be true; but the sad reality of life is that there is risk associated with everything we do, including getting out of bed in the morning. Work of any kind is seldom risk free. Hell, there's no risk-free level of living.

Driving to work or taking the kids to school involves risk. There’s always a risk that you will get into a car accident in which you are entirely without blame. And, the odds that you will be killed in a car accident are far greater than the odds of dying from lung cancer, or any other disease, as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Looking at 2002 mortality tables from Statcan, for example, we see that 2,968 Canadians died in car accidents in that year. Another 3,650 Canadians died by their own hand. These were real, verifiable deaths; supported by appropriate documentation.

On the other hand, Health Canada uses a computer-generated estimate of 1,000 Canadians who may have died from cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems or cancer, as a result of exposure to SHS. How do you verify a death manufactured by a computer?

An objective appraisal of these numbers, suggests the claim by anti-smoker crusaders that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke is implausible nonsense.

For example, in the same Surgeon-General’s report, it is noted that 126 million Americans are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. It is also estimated that between 26,500 and 78,896 deaths occur annually as a result of secondhand smoke. The spread on those estimates should be enough to give everyone pause for thought.

The median figure, 52,396, is the closest to the claims of anti-smoker crusaders of 53,000 deaths from all causes due to SHS exposure in the US. And, that means that over the next 100 years, 5.3 million Americans may, or may not, die from smoking related disease due to SHS, according to the numbers in the SG’s report.

But, it also means that 120.7 million will not succumb from their exposure to SHS. And, if almost 121 million will die from something than SHS, then how can anyone reasonably argue that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke?

Compare the 53,000 alleged deaths in the US with the 1,000 estimated by Health Canada. It’s lunacy to suggest that secondhand smoke is so much more deadly in the US than in Canada. The US has 10 times, not 53 times, the population of Canada.
The numbers simply won’t stand scrutiny with the application of a little common sense.

The fact is that anti-smoker crusaders have distorted the scientific evidence to create a more sensational news story for the media. The media has been all too willing to publish the often outrageous claims made by the zealots with little or no attempt to verify the facts or present opposing points of view.

Anti-smoker brigands are distorting the science and deceiving the public to further their own interests. The real science is not being accurately conveyed to the public

Adapting the politics of fear to a war against smoking, anti-smoker crusaders have convinced the non-smoking public that smokers and secondhand smoke were to be feared. They’ve created an environment of hatred and intolerance of smoking and smokers. They’ve done it deliberately and with malice. And they’ve done it with lies.

Gullible politicians are making decisions affecting Canada’s 5 million smokers in blissful ignorance. A complacent press is allowing the deception to continue. Draconian smoking bans and punitive taxation discriminate against 5 million Canadians.

And to think; it’s all for our own good.
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