Saturday, October 18, 2008

SHS doesn’t kill as many as it used to

Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) is fairly diligent when it comes to putting out press releases and fact sheets. For instance, their latest initiatives include an appeal to the auditor-General to investigate the recent settlement between big tobacco and the federal government and a new fact sheet on “Recent trends in tobacco agriculture”.

It’s difficult to imagine what current trends they might be talking about since most of Canada’s tobacco farms have gone the way of the DoDo bird, thanks to groups like PSC and their allies in the anti-smoker brigade.

However, they’re somewhat less diligent when it comes to providing accurate, reliable information to the public.

For example, a fact sheet put out by PSC claims that “over 1000 (and possibly as many as 7800)” are estimated to be killed by second hand smoke each year in Canada. In addition, the fact sheet claims: “In 1996, Health Canada scientists estimated that there are approximately 350 lung cancer deaths due to smoking each year. A study conducted with Health Canada a few years earlier concluded that secondhand smoke caused approximately 2000 heart-disease deaths per year.”

This is, in fact, not only an inaccurate claim but one which seems to be deliberately distorted to inflate the deaths attributed to secondhand smoke. The most recent data from Health Canada, was published in a study entitled “Smoking-attributable mortality and expected years of life lost in Canada 2002: Conclusions for prevention and policy”, in 2007.

The latest figures from Health Canada estimate a total of 831 deaths (252 from lung cancer; 579 from ischemic heart disease) attributable to secondhand smoke. That’s roughly a third of the deaths suggested by PSC. Since the PSC fact sheet was last modified in 2001, the failure to correct the outdated and inaccurate data might be considered a simple oversight.

However, the bracketed claim that the death toll could possibly be as many as 7,800, suggests the original intention of the fact sheet was to mislead; to magnify the Canadian numbers to support their cause.

The 7,800 figure appears to have come from the California EPA: “The most exhaustive study completed to-date was conducted by the California Environmental Protection Agency. It estimated that between 4,500 and 7,800 deaths can be attributed to second-hand smoke (most from heart disease) each year.”

The numbers from California have no bearing on Canadian stats. They were used with no qualifier explaining they were applicable only to California. And, used in tandem with the claim that as many as 7,800 may have died from exposure to SHS, the California statistics might easily mislead the reader into believing the numbers were applicable to Canada.

The only reasonable rationale for using the California data in this manner was to inflate the numbers and mislead the public.

But, this is not the only fact sheet from Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada which contains outdated or inaccurate information.

In another of their fact sheets, “Estimated tobacco-caused deaths in Canada”, PSC quotes the estimated deaths from all causes as in excess of 47,000. The date on the fact sheet indicates it was revised in June 2004. The latest data from Health Canada was published in November 2007, and estimates only 37,000 deaths allegedly due to tobacco use.

PSC is, arguably, one of the more reputable members of the anti-smoker brigade. They have a responsibility to ensure that the information they are presenting to the public is accurate, reliable and up to date.

They have had almost a year to correct the outdated, exaggerated information on their website. The fact they haven’t done so is suggestive of one of two things; either a total lack of concern for the facts or a deliberate attempt to deceive.

We’ll know which if and when we get a response to our e-mail.

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