Saturday, June 28, 2008

Your SHS might kill me

The smokers stood huddled in the alleyway next to the small sports bar where they had joined some non-smoking friends to watch Hockey Night in Canada on the big screen TV. Heads down, collars up and hands tucked into their armpits to protect them from the cold, they didn’t see the man approaching along the empty, snow-covered sidewalk.

“Excuse me”, the man said. He had stopped several metres from the three smokers, as if afraid to get any closer to the group.

“Yes sir. Can we help you?” asked one of the smokers, smiling at the newcomer.

“Could you please put out your cigarettes. I’d like to pass”, said the man.

The smokers looked quizzically from one to the other. One turned back to the stranger.

“I don’t understand, sir”, said the smoker who had been the first to speak to the new arrival. “Why do we have to put out our cigarettes?” he inquired, his face breaking out in a friendly grin, not entirely sure he had heard the man correctly.

“Your cigarette smoke is blocking the sidewalk”, responded the man, “I may have a heart attack. And could you please hold your breath while I pass? I have my rights, you know”.

“What the fu . . .”, started the lone female in the group, her pretty face breaking into a grin as wide as the ones now sported by her fellow smokers. “Is this guy for real?” she inquired of her companions.

All three broke into gales of hysterical laughter.

You may, or may not, find the preceding anecdote humourous. But there is nothing humourous about the extent to which the non-smoking public has been brain-washed into believing that secondhand smoke (SHS) is injurious to their health.

Recent polls suggest that 80% of the population believes that SHS is a hazard of the first magnitude. The public also seems to have been convinced that the scientific evidence is conclusive in this regard.

That’s not really surprising when you consider that the public is exposed to only one side of the argument. The public is largely unaware that there is open debate in the scientific community as to the hazards of secondhand smoke; that for every scientific study suggesting an association between SHS and lung cancer, there are half a dozen studies which suggest the opposite.

The press, at least the mainstream press, has been derelict in their duty to report the whole truth to their respective audiences. The result is that the public is subjected to the misinformation of the anti-smoker fanatics with no attempt made by the media to verify the integrity of the scientific evidence on which the propaganda is based. No attempt is made by the press to solicit or publish opposing scientific opinion.

As a result, politicians pass draconian smoking bans, and impose punitive levels of sin taxes, with no consideration of the possible (probable) social and/or economic consequences of their actions. They are free to ignore all evidence which does not conform to the gospel according to the anti-smoker brigade, whether it’s the real hazards posed by SHS or the economic impact of their smoking bans. Any evidence or documentation supporting an alternative point of view is excluded from consideration.

And they do it all under the watchful eye of a press which has abdicated its responsibility to keep the public informed (and politicians honest).

These are totalitarian tactics meant to force (coerce, pressure, intimidate) smokers into quitting; for their own good, of course, and to protect the children. Unfortunately, many people are beginning to believe the lies.

Even if it's mostly bullshit and bafflegab.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sin taxes and such . . .

The Non-Smokers Rights Association (NSRA) has released their latest backgrounder on Canada’s tobacco industry and its markets.

In it they note advances made in tobacco control; the Tobacco Act of 1997, restricting tobacco advertising and banning sponsorship of sporting and cultural events, regulations requiring picture-based health warnings on cigarette packages, smoking bans in public places and workplaces, increases in sin taxes on tobacco, etc.

These measures, claim the NSRA, have contributed to a decline in smoking prevalence. However, they fail to mention that only legal cigarette sales reported by the tobacco industry were used to determine smoking prevalence. They ignore the fact that 25% to 40% of the current cigarette market is contraband and not included in those sales figures. Smoking prevalence may be considerably higher than the NSRA claims.

The backgrounder points out that: “This rise in cheap, tax-free tobacco sales could lead to a dramatic increase in consumption if it is not stopped as quickly as possible”.

Indeed, there was an apparent increase in consumption when governments responded to a similar increase in contraband sales in 1994 by cutting sin taxes dramatically. But, was it really an increase in consumption? Isn’t it far more likely that the apparent increase was due to people returning to legal product, where sales, and therefore consumption, could be more accurately measured?

Of course, such an admission would not support their contention that punitive sin taxes are the most effective means of inducing smokers to quit.

Then, they go on to lament that: “a substantial portion of federal funding announced in April 2001 has been eliminated and redirected to other government priorities”

Not a word about jobs lost in the tobacco industry, the hospitality industry, the gaming industry, etc. To the anti-smoker freaks, these adverse economic consequences are acceptable collateral damage in their war on smokers.

For example, Imperial Tobacco Canada, citing declining sales and profit margins, moved manufacturing operations of its tobacco products to Monterrey, Mexico. There’s no mention in the NSRA backgrounder of the 1,400 jobs that left the country when Imperial’s Canadian operations were shut down.

The NSRA backgrounder points out that Grand River Enterprise of the Six Nations now rivals JTI MacDonald and may be the third largest tobacco company in Canada.

Then, they lay the blame for the rise in contraband squarely on this relative newcomer to the tobacco scene: “(Native) cigarettes can be sold on reserves to status Indians tax-free. However, the company ships more cigarettes than could be reasonably smoked by status Indians on reserves and some observers suspect GRE cigarettes are being sold to non-natives tax-free on a large scale”.

But, the vast majority of GRE cigarettes are exported to the U.S, as well as China, Jamaica and Uruguay, and they do business in South Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

NSRA complains that GRE sales strategy appears to include “exploiting” sacred imagery and dressing First Nations people up in ceremonial and traditional outfits to market its products. Mohawk brand cigarettes, they claim, are being marketed in Germany as “real quality cigarettes from real Indians.” Which part of that claim do they find objectionable?

Are they saying GRE doesn’t make “quality” cigarettes? Or, are they saying that the people on the Six Nations Reserve aren’t “real” Indians?

And, just in passing, the outfit being worn by the young lady in the graphic accompanying this post is neither ceremonial nor traditional dress. Huh. What guy?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Up in smoke (Part 2)

Rabid anti-smoker activists will point to an alleged decrease in consumption of tobacco products, insisting that higher sin taxes are having the desired effect and forcing smokers to quit. But, the facts are that the decreases in consumption are based on annual sales figures provided by the tobacco industry. They don’t take into consideration the consumption of contraband, now estimated at between 25% and 40% of the market here in Canada.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) knew the high levels of taxation would create problems: “It has long been recognized that the significant taxation of tobacco products and the potential for profit act as powerful incentives for contraband activity. Such contraband activity results in substantial revenue losses at both the federal and provincial levels, and undermines government health initiatives, which form part of the basis for high excise duties and provincial taxes on tobacco products”.

According to the CRA, and anti-smoker activists, all that’s needed to force smokers to quit is stricter enforcement of laws against contraband; just beef up policing efforts and start putting people in jail. Uh-huh.

But, the government has painted themselves into a corner. This time the cheap contraband cigarettes are not simply cheaper cigarettes smuggled across the border by a hard-nosed criminal element.

More likely than not, the inexpensive, readily available contraband is being manufactured and sold by Canada’s first nations.

And, therein lies the dilemma.

Canada’s first nations are highly autonomous. Like their American cousins, they insist on their right to a large measure of self-determination. And, neither the Canadian nor the American governments want a confrontation with their respective native populations.

Over the past decade or so, the Canadian government has been giving permits to some native bands to manufacture cigarettes. Several successful, and legitimate, businesses have been developed on some reserves, including selling cigarettes in the European market. These ventures have provided a much needed boost to the native economy.

In the US, there are many mail order sites offering tax free cigarettes shipped directly from native reserves. Consumers are expected to pay taxes on these smokes; but natives don’t see themselves as tax collectors for any level of government, save their own.

And, Canadian smokers who buy native cigarettes don’t see them as criminals or thugs. The real criminals are the extortionists in Ottawa, and provincial capitals across Canada, which insist on ever increasing sin taxes to modify the behaviour of a large minority of the population.

Canada’s native community didn’t create the problem. They merely responded to an ill-conceived plan to tax smoking out of existence.

That plan was instigated by tobacco control fanatics and implemented by money hungry governments. It was (is) a tax grab intended to coerce smokers into quitting . . . for their own good, of course. The potential adverse consequences of that policy were (are) ignored.

Smokers, unwilling (and, in many cases unable) to pay the punitive tax burden imposed by senior levels of government, are rebelling.

The result is a growing demand for contraband tobacco products. And with a market conservatively estimated at five million in Canada alone (another 60 million in the US), it’s a demand that will continue to grow.

The federal and provincial governments are now faced with the prospect of declining tax revenue, higher policing costs and the possibility of a confrontation with the native community.

Another unintended side affect of tobacco tax policy is making cheap cigarettes available to young people. The vast majority of tobacco retailers were conforming to laws governing sales of cigarettes to minors. With the growing availability of contraband, kids now have ready access to tobacco that is well within the reach of the teenage budget.

Usurious levels of tobacco taxation are creating as many problems as they were meant to solve. And, this time around, simply rolling back the tax on tobacco by a few dollars won’t work. Many smokers now realize that, even if tax on a carton of cigarettes is reduced by half, they are being ripped off by their governments and the tobacco control cartel pulling the strings.

And, like me, they will be reluctant to pay the extortion demanded by their governments. And, they won’t quit; Nicorettes simply can’t compare to the pure pleasure of a good smoke.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tobacco taxes up in smoke (Part 1)

Does anyone really believe that sin taxes on cigarettes are a good idea? Do they have any affect on tobacco company profits? Do they really impact on smoking prevalence, or do they create many more problems than they solve.

The chart which accompanies this post was taken from data published on the Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada web site. It’s actually a composite of two different data sets on that site. One shows tobacco company profits for the years 1991 to 2003; the other shows combined federal and provincial government tax revenue for the same period.

Tobacco company profits include figures for all three major manufacturers in Canada.

The first thing you notice when looking at the chart, is that tobacco company profits have been climbing steadily for the entire 13 year period. Not in leaps and bounds, but steadily. In other words, the tobacco industry remains unaffected by punitive tobacco taxes imposed on smokers.

Tax revenue, on the other hand, is erratic, fluctuating from year to year, often by billions of dollars. The low tax revenue ($3.668 billion) reported in the fiscal year ending 1996, followed a sharp decline from the high ($6.081 billion) recorded in 1992.

But, the drop in tax revenue was not the result of a real decrease in tobacco consumption. Tax revenue dropped because consumers had reached the limit they were willing to pay in sin taxes and had turned to the black market to avoid the high price of feeding their habit.

The government, realizing the error of their ways, was forced to lower the taxes on cigarettes in 1994. But it took several years to regain consumer confidence and for users of tobacco products to return to purchasing legally manufactured cigarettes and once again start paying the extortion demanded by their governments.

You’d think that the government would have learned a lesson from the billions of dollars in tax revenue lost during that period. But, no; they went right back to more of the same, once again imposing confiscatory levels of taxation on the cigarette smoking public. Between 2001 and 2006, taxes on a carton of smokes jumped by $26.30 per carton.

Politicians, jumping on the anti-smoking band wagon, simply ignored the lessons learned only a few short years before. They were convinced by the anti-smoking zealots that the most effective way to reduce smoking was to price them out of reach of all but the more well-off members of society.

According to the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, "Taxation of tobacco is an effective policy for preventing and reducing cigarette consumption.” But, did the punitive levels of taxation really result in a decline in consumption? Or was it really forcing smokers into an underground economy?

Tax revenue reached an all time high in the fiscal year ending in 2004, with combined federal and provincial revenues of $7.605 billion, before tailing off slightly in 2005, then dropping by over half a billion dollars in 2006 to $7.086 billion. The final figures aren’t in yet for 2007, or 2008, but given the fuss being made by all levels of government, there will be substantial declines in revenue.

Canada’s Public Safety Minister, Stockwell Day, said recently, “I'm asking individuals to consider that they are contributing to a dangerous pipeline of criminal activity. This is not a victimless crime or a benign activity”. He was announcing new measures to fight the distribution and sale of illegal tobacco products.

The naiveté of the Minister’s appeal is appalling. What he is actually saying to the smoking public is: please stop buying cheap contraband smokes and quit. After all, that’s why we raised taxes in the first place; to force you to quit . . . for your own good.

Taxes on cigarettes had, once again, reached the limit that many consumers were willing to pay. The working poor, and people on fixed incomes, were presented with only two options; quit or resort to cheap contraband cigarettes. Most have chosen the latter. And many more will start taking advantage of the availability of cut rate contraband cigarettes, once more sending tax revenues into a steady downward spiral.

Unfortunately, declining tax revenue isn’t the only problem created by the anti-smoker brigade and the politicians who support them, in their march towards tobacco prohibition.
To be continued . . .

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

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Stop smoking now . . .

The graphic shows an advertisement from the December, 1919 issue of Popular Mechanics. The full page ad is selling a smoking cessation method called Tobacco Redeemer so that smokers can all live happier, healthier lives. Uh-huh.

The graphic along the left side of the ad claims that:
Tobacco tells on nervous system
Tobacco ruins digestion
Tobacco stunts boy’s growth
Tobacco robs man of virility
Tobacco steals from you the pleasures, comforts, luxuries of life

The text is as follows:
Immediate results
Trying to quit the tobacco habit unaided is a losing fight against heavy odds, and means a serious shock to your nervous system. So don’t try it! Make the tobacco habit quit you. It will quit you if you just take Tobacco Redeemer according to directions.

It doesn’t make a particle of difference whether you’ve been a user of tobacco for a single month or 50 years, or how much you use, or in what form you use it. Whether you smoke cigars, cigarettes, pipe, chew plug or fine cut or use snuff – Tobacco Redeemer will positively remove all craving for tobacco in any form in from 48 to 72 hours. Your tobacco craving will begin to decrease after the very first dose – there’s no long waiting for results.

Tobacco Redeemer contains no habit forming drugs of any kind, and is the most marvelously quick, absolutely scientific and thoroughly reliable remedy for the tobacco habit.

Not a substitute
Tobacco Redeemer is in no sense a substitute for tobacco, but is a radical, efficient treatment. After finishing the treatment you have absolutely no desire to use tobacco again or to continue use of the remedy. It quiets the nerves, and will make you feel better in every way. If you really want to quit the tobacco habit - get rid of it so completely that when you see others using it, it will not awaken the slightest desire in you – you should at once begin a course of Tobacco Redeemer.

Results absolutely guaranteed
A single trial will convince the most skeptical. Our legal, binding money-back guarantee goes with each full treatment. If Tobacco Redeemer fails to banish the tobacco habit when taken according to the plain and easy directions, your money will be cheerfully refunded upon demand.

The anti-smoker brigade has been shrilly screaming about the negative effects of tobacco consumption for hundreds of years; ever since the Indian weed was discovered, in fact. And, snake oil salesmen have been trying to make a buck selling smoking cessation products to a mostly unwilling public for almost as long.

I wonder if the makers of NicoDerm would be willing to offer a money back guarantee if use of their product doesn’t stop the user from smoking? Can the makers of Nicorettes make the claim that their product contains no habit forming drugs? Can any drug or program on the market today get you to quit in three days or less?

The medicine men peddling Tobacco Redeemer to the public 90 years ago offered such guarantees. They eventually went out of business (or wound up in jail). I wonder why?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Too young to die of cancer

Unless the rate of lung cancer deaths has changed dramatically in each age group, since 1902, lung cancer would not have been that great a threat at the turn of the last century, simply because the vast majority of people were dying at a much earlier age. Comparing overall lung cancer rates (across all age groups in the population) for different time periods since the turn of the century would distort the data as life expectancy increased and the number of people in each age group changed.

The probability of developing, and dying from, lung cancer during one’s lifetime would increase simply because the average lifetime had increased. Have epidemiologists been comparing apples and oranges?

Recently, I came across an article, or at least part of an article, I’d saved several months back. Unfortunately, at that time I was not seriously considering writing a blog and had already started the bad habit of failing to note the source of the information. I had also neglected to make any notes on why I was saving that particular piece of trivia.

The article noted that, in Canada today, most people die in old age. In 2002, for example, almost 80% of people who died in Canada were 65 years of age or older.

In 1926, which was the first year vital statistics were compiled for all provinces, only one in six deaths (roughly 17%) occurred in the population 65 or older. Those same statistics show that 30% of deaths occurred in children under the age of five.

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much significance to those statistics. It’s fairly common knowledge that in 1926, people died at a much younger age than they do today.

Advancements in medical science have wiped out or controlled childhood disease to the point where, in 2002, less than one per cent of deaths occurred prior to the age of five. This has, in turn, led to a significant increase in life expectancy, currently around 80, with women living slightly longer than men. It also means that, thanks to the advances in medical science, a much greater portion of the population is living to 65 and beyond.

But what does all this have to do with smoking?

In my last post, I noted that, according to figures obtained from StatsCan, 71.7% of all cancer deaths (malignant neoplasm), and 70% of lung cancer deaths, occurred after the age of 65. This suggested to me that cancer, in all its forms, was a disease associated with age. I also drew a nice little chart based on the figures from statistics Canada.

I read a blog by Dr. Michael Siegel, The Rest of the Story, on a regular basis. A comment made by one of his readers asked, since people have been smoking for hundreds of years, why was the lung cancer epidemic not apparent until the 1930’s.

Many in the anti-smoker cartel point to the introduction of machine made cigarettes at the turn of the century, and the resulting increase in smoking prevalence, and attribute the increase in lung cancer deaths to smoking tobacco. Some say that the prevalence of other lung diseases meant many cancers were simply misdiagnosed, based on medical knowledge, or the lack thereof, at the time.

But, there may be another explanation for the alleged cancer explosion in the thirties.

Although I couldn’t find a Canadian statistic, a US chart shows average life expectancy at birth in 1902 as 50.7 and by 1933, it had increased to 57.7. It has been increasing steadily since then and by 2002, average life expectancy in Canada was just under 80.

If, in 1926, 83% of deaths occurred before the age of 65, is it possible that people simply weren’t living long enough for cancer, including lung cancer, to develop? Is it possible that the increase in lung cancer mortality rates is due to a statistical anomaly revealed by the rapid increase in life expectancy during the first half of the past century?

Was cancer, including lung cancer, simply waiting for average life expectancy to catch up to and/or exceed the incubation period.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m neither an epidemiologist nor a statistician. But I am curious.

If anyone reading this post knows of a study which shows how (if?) the increase in longevity, and the redistribution of age groups within the population, was taken into consideration when categorizing smoking as the sole culprit in lung cancer deaths, please leave a comment with the appropriate link.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Death by smoking?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s why I compiled my little chart. The Hunt & Peck keyboarding technique is slow and laborious and I figured if I could save myself a thousand words, why not?

And, for the record, I do believe that active smoking is a significant health hazard.

There have been a number of studies done claiming that cancer, including lung cancer, is a disease of age. So I used a Statistics Canada mortality table from 2002 to create the chart, mostly out of curiosity. This was not meant to be a serious study, but the numbers are real.

And, guess what? It’s true. As graphically demonstrated by the chart, the longer you live the greater the risk that you will die of cancer.

As a matter of fact, Canadians between the ages of 80 and 84 are 19 times more likely to die of cancer than Canadians aged 45 to 49. And, if you should live to the ripe old age of 90, your chances of succumbing to cancer are 27 times greater than the individual between the ages of 45 to 49. Hell, if you live long enough to collect Canada Pension, you’re eight times more likely to die of cancer (11 times more likely to die of lung cancer) than someone only 15 years your junior.

The pretty background colours? Well, the dark blue area marked “lag time” is the 30 year period most tobacco control freaks point to as the time between increases (and/or decreases) in smoking prevalence and the time when mortality tables should reflect those changes.

In the chart, the dark blue background starts at the age of 20 because the fanatics keep telling us that the vast majority of smokers start in their teens. I assumed (yes, I know the old ass-u-me joke), but I assumed anyway, that 30 plus years was a reasonable latency period for the onset of cancer. (Do they still use that term; I haven’t heard it since the seventies?) Besides, the tobacco control freaks do a lot of assuming; I figure I’m entitled to one miserable little supposition.

At any rate, if most smokers start in their teens and the latency period for the onset of lung cancer is 30 to 35 years, then there should be a significant increase in lung cancer deaths in the 50 plus crowd.

Whoops. It’s true. That’s also shown graphically in the chart.

But the rate at which people continue to die from cancer, including lung cancer, continues to climb through 90 plus years of life (lung cancer rates level off at 80, then seem to decline slightly at 90 plus). That means that either the latency period for cancer is very elastic, taking anywhere from 30 to 70 years to develop, or those dying at 80 or 90 didn’t start smoking until middle age.

The pretty light blue colour background starts at age 65; the age when most Canadians start drawing CPP (Canada Pension). Therefore, it seems a reasonable age to signify the onset of old age. And, the StatsCan mortality table shows that 71.7% of cancer deaths (70% of lung cancer deaths) occur after the age of 65.

Oh. The weird orange-brown colour? The average life expectancy for Canadians in 2002 was just under 80. In 2002, some died of cancer before reaching 80, some died after reaching average life expectancy. Nobody died prematurely; they died before the average which their death, in part, established. Think about it.

Cancer is a disease strongly associated with old age, whether or not the particular form of cancer is smoking related. If a smoker dies of lung cancer at 75 plus years of age (37.4% of lung cancer deaths occurred after that age in 2002), it is unreasonable to assume that smoking killed him/her. And, he or she certainly didn’t die prematurely.

If all the time, effort and the billions of dollars put into the anti-smoking crusade had been put into legitimate cancer research, instead of dehumanizing smokers, we might be further along the road to a real understanding of how cancer works.

Based on the other causes of death in the mortality tables, not to mention plain old common sense, we are all going to die of something eventually, whether we smoke or not. And, even smokers can, and do, live into their nineties and beyond.

I am neither an epidemiologist nor a statistician. Any conclusions reached in this post are obviously debatable. And, yes, there is one other conclusion which may be reached.

Some may look at this post and conclude that I am a blithering bloody idiot. I will not argue that position, but merely point out that my wife reached the same conclusion shortly after we were married forty years ago. I can live with it.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Strong and free; but not smoke-free

I used to work for a living.

I had to earn the money it takes to raise a family; to keep a roof over their heads, and mine; to put food on the table and keep clothes on their back. And, I had to provide for those intangibles that make life worth living. Simple pleasures, like an annual outing to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition), a picnic at High Park or just taking the kids out for burgers and fries at MacDonalds.

And, I had to provide for my own simple pleasures, to maintain my sanity in a world that often seemed mad and out of control. Among other things, I drank beer and I smoked cigarettes. I still like a cold beer now and then, with family and old friends, and I still smoke a pack a day.

I don’t work for a living anymore.

Oh, I still work; but it’s unpaid volunteer work. I don’t do it for any altruistic reasons, my motives are purely selfish. One of the things I learned on retiring was that I actually needed to work. Not for the money, although a little extra cash would be more than welcome, but for the personal satisfaction that comes from a job well done. It keeps the mind and soul intact; and, more than anything, it makes you feel useful.

Over the years, I’ve paid my share of taxes; income taxes, sales taxes, UIC, CPP, property taxes and a host of other, hidden taxes levied by money hungry governments at all levels.

Being both a drinker and smoker, I’ve also paid my fair share of sin taxes; extortion demanded by moralist do-gooders who profess to know what’s best for me and who insist I conform to their standards of morality and conduct. I ignore them . . . paying their sin taxes with only a mild grumbling. My dues have been paid up to date.

Over the past few decades, I’ve watched my tax dollars being handed out to organizations whose policies I oppose: the Non-Smokers Rights Association, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, etc. I listened to their empty-headed rhetoric and dismissed it. I believe in freedom of choice.

Now, these same organizations, funded in whole or in part by my tax dollars, have launched a campaign to de-normalize smokers. On the basis of corrupt science and suspect statistics, smokers are being vilified, ostracized from polite society and openly discriminated against. Anti-smoker campaigns have become nothing less than state funded propaganda; de-normalization nothing less than state sanctioned bigotry.

I suspect that many non-smokers recognize the lies. How can they possibly believe that a society which could put a man on the moon is incapable of designing a ventilation system to clear cigarette smoke from a bar or legion hall? How can they possibly accept the lunacy of denying an individual a job because he/she smokes in the privacy of their own home? Do they honestly believe their parents were child abusers because they may have smoked in their presence as children?

Many people appreciate that the secondhand smoke scare is largely a hoax generated by petty dictators to force smokers to quit. Many more understand the dangers of allowing a vocal minority to impose their moral standards on society. Most recognize that freedom includes the right to make one’s own life style choices; their own decisions, good or bad.

When will they cry: “Enough”?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Conflict of interest & tobacco control

In a recent post ( Smoking, drugs & hypocrisy, May 24, 2008), I pointed out the self-serving hypocrisy of the anti-smoker brigade. On the one hand they routinely dismiss evidence from any individual or group with even the slightest hint of contamination by big tobacco; on the other hand, they rely heavily on funding, both directly and indirectly, from the pharmaceutical industry.

The big drug companies stand to make a lot of money from the “de-normalization” of smokers and the efforts of the tobacco control crazies to introduce outright tobacco prohibition.

The conflict of interest created by anti-smoker fanatics who receive huge sums of money from drug companies introduces an element of bias that tends to cast suspicion on all studies and reports funded by the pharmaceutical industry. This trend, which has been apparent for many years, is beginning to worry even those in the public health community.

Dr.Michael Siegel is an ardent anti-smoking activist and a professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, Boston University School of Public Health.

Recently, Dr. Siegel posted an article on his blog (The Rest of the Story, May 27, 2008) on one such particularly blatant conflict of interest. The chair of a panel of experts convened by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) was found to have a substantial, undeclared conflict, and had received a good deal of money from “big pharma”. Eight other members of the panel also had conflicts which were apparently reported.

What made this particular conflict so galling was that the panel made a recommendation to physicians across the US that they recommend use of smoking cessation products such as Nicoderm, Nicorettes, etc. to all patients wanting to quit. That recommendation had a direct bearing on the financial bottom line of the drug companies, especially GlaxoSmithKline who manufacture most of the products recommended.

Dr. Michael Fiore, the chair of the panel, had done consulting work for the pharmaceutical industry, including ClaxoSmithKline, within the past five years. He also holds an endowed chair at the University of Wisconsin. In other words, GlaxoSmithKline was (is) providing direct support for both the professor's career and his academic endeavors to the tune of $50,000 per year.

Readers may judge for themselves whether the tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees and the endowed chair at the University of Wisconsin may have swayed Dr. Fiore’s decision to recommend smoking cessation drugs to physicians across the country.

On a website called, I found the following: “The law of physiological addiction states that administration of a drug to an addict will cause reestablishment of the dependence on that substance”. The article also noted that according to some leading drug addiction experts, nicotine might be more addictive than either cocaine or heroin.

It is curious that Dr. Fiore and his panel of experts would recommend use of drugs that contain nicotine, if indeed it is addictive, since the addiction would continue. Patients would simply become dependent on the new delivery system (Nicorettes or the patch, for example) for their daily fix or return to smoking. The only beneficiary to such a recommendation would be the drug companies who market stop smoking aids.

Also of note is the fact that one of the drugs recommended by Dr. Fiore’s panel, Chantix, has been associated with severe and fatal side effects. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration banned the use of Chantix by anyone seeking a commercial motor vehicle license. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also banned use of the drug by airline pilots.

The simple facts are that, in large measure, the drug companies have bought and paid for a substantial amount of the evidence used by the anti-smoker brigade in their march to tobacco prohibition. And their evidence is no more reliable than that provided by big tobacco.

Or, to put it another way, the public is being misled.