Thursday, January 22, 2009

Smoking kills a busload of kids every day?

The Butt Ugly program is “an interactive drama/comedy and small group workshop” which uses “recognizable slice of life and fantasy play styles” to deliver an anti-tobacco message. It’s geared to middle schools and high schools.

It’s supposed to be an educational program dealing with tobacco related issues such as experimenting with tobacco, health effects of immediate and prolonged use and strategies used by tobacco companies to target teens.

They’ve been around since 1995, delivering a “peer-led education and intervention anti-tobacco program for middle schools”.

I should make it clear that I’ve never seen the presentation, so my criticism is based on information found on their web site, not on the presentation itself. I should also make it clear that educating young people about the potential hazards of tobacco use, both short term and long term, is a good idea.

The key word, of course, is “educate”. But . . . education should not be confused with indoctrination. And misinformation, a deliberate misstatement of the facts, has no place at any stage of the educational process. Educate and inform the kids, but keep it honest and avoid the fear-mongering. And, outright deception is to be avoided like the plague to maintain any credibility. These youngsters are a damn sight smarter than you might think.

The Butt Ugly web site makes the following claim: “In Alberta, tobacco kills the equivalent of a school bus full of children everyday.”

That’s a pretty remarkable statement. And, what makes it even more remarkable is that it’s stated so matter-of-factly. It’s not a little white lie, and it’s not just an exaggeration; it’s a whopper of a lie.

And, although many adults wouldn’t bat an eye before accepting it as fact, especially the way it’s phrased, it can’t possibly be true. Think about it.

If a school bus holds 40 children, that’s 40 kids a day; 14,600 children dying in Alberta every year. To claim that many children are dying from tobacco in the whole damn country every year would be preposterous.

But, let’s be a little generous in making our calculations. School buses come in different sizes. So, let’s say that, out in Red Deer, a school bus holds 10 children. Yes, I know. That’s a very small school bus. But, I want to be fair. So, multiply 10 by 365, the number of days in a year, and you get 3,650 deaths per year.

That’s better isn’t it? Well, no; not really.

Looking at the 2002 mortality tables from Statcan, we find that only 3,612 Canadians between birth and 20 years of age, died in that year. Uh-huh. Butt Ugly is claiming more children died from tobacco in Alberta than died in the whole damn country from all causes.

But, it gets worse. 1,597 of those deaths occurred in infancy, at less than one year old. Cause of these deaths was listed as congenital malformation, deformations and chromosomal abnormalities (427), certain conditions originating in the perinatal period (918), abnormal clinical findings not elsewhere classified (171) and, all other diseases (81).

None of these conditions, to the best of my knowledge, are linked to tobacco.

Removing these deaths from the 3,612 total deaths recorded by Statcan leaves 2,005 deaths. Subtracting a further 899 deaths due to accidents and homicide, and 215 more from suicide, none of which can be attributed to tobacco, leaves 881 deaths from all other causes for the whole of Canada.

For a busload of kids to die every month, let alone every day, is a statistical impossibility. Alberta is home to only 12% of Canada’s population.

According to the Butt Ugly website, students participating in the program will learn to “research an issue thoroughly, and evaluate the credibility and reliability of information sources as they prepare for the delivery of the program”.

Although the web site claims that students present the program and apparently write some of the material, their supervisory board should be responsible for ensuring the information they provide is accurate and reliable.

And, the supervisory board did a piss poor job of evaluating the credibility and reliability of this particular piece of information. They deserve a slap on the wrist.

And, the web site uses the same biased spin in their anti-tobacco message as adult sites. Arsenic, found in a miniscule amount in tobacco, is “rat poison”. No mention that arsenic is quite common in the environment, including tap water.

Nicotine, they say, is highly toxic and a single drop of liquid nicotine can kill you. That’s true.

But liquid nicotine is not readily available to the public and is used only in controlled situations such as lab experiments. And, nicotine is found, not only in cigarettes, but in Nicorettes, Nicoderm and other nicotine replacement products. It’s also found, in smaller amounts, in potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and a host of other common fruits and vegetables.

Are these people educating our children about the possible health hazards of tobacco or indoctrinating them into the anti-smoker cult?

Where in hell did they find such a statistic?

1 comment:

Michael J. McFadden said...

Rambler wrote, "According to the Butt Ugly website, students participating in the program will learn to “research an issue thoroughly, and evaluate the credibility and reliability of information sources as they prepare for the delivery of the program”.

"credibility and reliability of information sources" eh? I guess that would throw about 90% of antismoking materials out the window. I leave the other 10% in there because I believe SOME of the information about smoking's effects on the health of the smoker are valid, but if I limited the sphere to secondary smoke information the figure for credibility would go down near 1%.

Rambler, you mention their focus on arsenic in smoke and how it's used as a rat poison. In Brains I analyzed arsenic exposure in particular because it's such a fetish for the Antis and determined that in a reasonably ventilated situation an Antismoker would have to sit next to smoker for 165,000 cigarettes to get the same amount as in a glass of government-approved-as-safe tap water.

It never occurred to me to see how many cigarettes you'd have to smoke to kill a rat though! Someday I'll have to check the LD 50 for arsenic and rats: I'll bet it would take several MILLION cigarettes to do the job! LOL!

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"