Monday, September 29, 2008

SHS kills . . . twice?

According to anti-smoker crusaders, secondhand smoke can kill you. But, can it kill you if you’re already dead? Are anti-smokers so callous that they would kill a smoker twice for the same crime?

The latest report from Health Canada has slashed Smoking Attributable Mortality (SAM), from 47,000 to 37,000, with the stroke of a pen. In addition, the new format provides some insight into how they calculated the 37,000 deaths attributed to smoking.

According to StatCan, there were 17,188 lung cancer deaths in Canada in 2002. Health Canada estimates that 13,401 of these deaths (9,028 male; 4,373 female) were directly attributable to smoking.

They base these numbers on something called a Smoking Attributable Fraction (SAF). For lung cancer, this fraction (88.6% for males; 62.5% for females) is then multiplied by the total number of deaths recorded by StatCan for the time period being studied. The result is the estimated Smoking Attributable Mortality.

The fractions are so implausibly high because they include former smokers, albeit at a lower relative risk. Smoking prevalence rates for males in the study was 26.3% for current smokers, and 44.6% for former smokers. Former smokers were identified as anyone who had smoked 100 or more cigarettes in their life time. Only 29.1% of the adult male population (15 years of age plus) was identified as non-smokers.

But, here’s another sticking point. The SAF for lung cancer due to exposure to SHS is 1.5% for males and 1.4% for females. If you multiply the total number of lung cancer deaths as recorded by StatCan mortality tables (10,195 males; 6,993 females) by the appropriate SAF you get approximately 252 lung cancer deaths allegedly caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.

But, the vast majority of lung cancer deaths (roughly 75%) had already been attributed to active smoking. So, were some deaths actually counted twice; once due to active smoking and once due to secondhand smoke?

If the SAF represents the number of non-smokers allegedly killed by secondhand smoke, shouldn’t the calculation be confined to deaths among the non-smokers who succumbed to lung cancer?

After all, the Health Canada report says quite clearly: “Passive-smoking-attributable mortality (PSAM), was derived by applying age and sex specific relative risk and rates of mortality from lung cancer and ischemic heart disease (IHD) to the population of Canadians who have never smoked but who are exposed to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) from spouses and other sources.”

Now, a year or two back, I would have accepted the report from Health Canada without question. But, after reading about hurricane force winds required to clear secondhand smoke from bars, the serious hazards from SHS posed to minor passengers driving in a convertible with the top down, people dropping dead from heart attacks after 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure, the deadly effect of smoker’s breath on children, etc., etc., etc, I’m inclined to be a little more skeptical.

Maybe someone with the proper credentials will enlighten me.

And, maybe they can also enlighten me about the number of deaths from Ishemic Heart Disease (IHD) attributed to SHS exposure in the over 80 crowd. According to StatCan 2002 mortality tables, 21,179 Canadians past the age of 80 died from IHD. That’s 52% of all deaths from IHD.

Now, here’s what I need help understanding. The statistics show that the same SAF used to calculate deaths due to SHS was used for the under 45 group as was used for the over 80 group. This indicates that exposure to SHS occurred at similar smoking prevalence levels and exposure levels for both age groups.

But most Canadians retire at 65 years of age, thus eliminating exposure in the workplace. In addition, smoking prevalence declines with age, from .307 for males aged 44 years to .075 for males over 80. A similar reduction can be seen in the female population. Percentage wise, the reduction in smoking prevalence, and therefore spousal exposure, is 75% in both females and males, by the time they reach 80.

So, shouldn’t the reduced exposure to SHS in both the workplace and the home be taken into consideration?

And, just what kind of numbers game are they playing when they tell us that, out of 21,179 total IHD deaths after the age of 80, they can pinpoint 279 as being due to SHS exposure. And, even if they could, if those non-smoking 80-year olds exposed to SHS are living to the same ripe old age as those not exposed, how can anyone reasonably argue SHS is a hazard?

Maybe my interpretation of the statistics is wrong. And, maybe cows really can jump over the moon. But given the exaggerations and distortions coming from the anti-smoker brigade, it’s difficult to trust anything they say. Sadly, this lack of confidence also applies to Health Canada, at least as far as smoking related issues.

Statistics can be a wonderful tool. They can also be a powerful weapon in the hands of the propagandist intent on spreading fear in an unsuspecting population. Fear makes it easy for people to surrender the civil liberties of others, in the name of the public good. They seldom consider the fact that they might be the next target group of the hate mongers.

But, right now I need a break. Let’s see . . . two fingers of Gordon Highlanders and a smoke should just about do it. While they’re both still legal.

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 . . .

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Smoking related deaths plummet in Canada

Health Canada has slashed the number of deaths attributed to smoking by roughly 21%. And they’ve done it with a simple stroke of the pen. And, even better, they’ve done it retroactively. Uh-huh. The new estimate of smoking attributable deaths is based on StatCan mortality tables from 2002. Some pundits estimate that 60,000 lives have been saved since 2002. Others point out that they're still just as dead, just not from smoking.

For years now Health Canada has been “estimating” the number of Canadians who die annually from smoking related deaths as a direct result of smoking. Until a month or so back, the estimate given on their web site stood at 47,000 annually.

The Smoking Attributable Deaths (SAM) estimate has been used by Health Canada to support their contention that smokers have been dying in epidemic proportions. But, the estimates have also been used by anti-smoker crusaders like the Non-Smokers Rights Association, Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada and Action on Smoking and Heath Alberta (ASH), to name just a few.

In fact, those estimates have been used as a scare-mongering tactic by anti-smoker zealots for a decade or more. The figures were quoted at every opportunity, in newspaper articles, press releases, television interviews, etc. They’ve been spouted by politicians of every political persuasion to support the imposition of draconian smoking bans across the country and impose punitive levels of taxation on smokers.

Now, Health Canada is reporting on their web site that smoking related deaths in Canada have dropped by 21%, from 47,000 a month or so back to just 37,000 today.

Well, actually, they don’t tell you that smoking related deaths have declined, at least not on their web site. They just announce that tobacco kills 37,000 Canadians each and every year. For, the explanation, you have to search around for a report published in 2007.

So, just how was this miracle accomplished?

Apparently, the computer generated estimates used by Health Canada were based on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II). But, the direct application of the US survey to the Canadian population was deemed inappropriate. So, Health Canada simply made a few adjustments to data, and bingo, 10,000 fewer deaths from smoking.

Health Canada explains the change in their report: “The total Smoking Attributable Deaths (SAM) was estimated to be 47,581 (21% of all deaths, age ≥ 35). However, the CPS-II has been criticized for not being generalizable to the entire US population. When compared to the general population, participants in CPSII tend to over represent the middle class and have more education. As well, a disproportionate number of them are white. Thus, direct application of a large US survey to the Canadian population may not be appropriate.”

But, to keep the estimated death toll high, they added a few more diseases from which Canadians may be dying as a result of their smoking habits: “In 2004, the Surgeon General (SG) added several diseases to the list of those for which evidence is sufficient to conclude a causal relationship between smoking and disease: stomach cancer, renal cell carcinoma, uterine cervical cancer, pancreatic cancer and pneumonia.”

So, what’s the big deal? They made a mistake and now they’ve corrected it.

Well, there’s a little more to it than that. The inflated figures have been used by the anti-smoker brigade in their march to tobacco prohibition since the previous Health Canada study conducted in 1998.

And, it’s not just the guesstimate of smoking attributable deaths that have been used to manipulate the public. All data which was based on those estimates will also be artificially inflated. Estimates of health care costs, for example, and Possible Years of Life Lost (PYLLs) were also calculated on the inaccurate SAM numbers from a decade ago.

There have already been considerable social and economic costs attached to the smoking bans and ever-increasing levels of sin taxes imposed by senior levels of government in response to the alleged smoking epidemic. These include job loss in the tobacco and hospitality industries, lost tax revenue and increased policing costs to deal with smuggling and contraband

Smokers are now social outcasts, open to blatant discrimination in housing, employment and medical care, thanks to a campaign of de-normalization initiated by anti-smoker fanatics at the Non-Smokers Rights Association, ASH Alberta, the Canadian Cancer Society, and a host of other activists receiving funding from Canada’s two senior levels of government.

The death toll from tobacco use, exaggerated beyond reason, was used to persuade a naïve public and gullible government to impose the draconian legislation demanded by the anti-smoker fanatics.

And, wait until you see what they’ve done with the estimates of death due to secondhand smoke.

To be continued . . .

Sunday, September 21, 2008

CAGE stands fast

To stand fast means to hold one's ground; to refuse to abandon one's opinions or beliefs. Canadians Against Government Encroachment (CAGE) is doing just that; they’re digging in despite recent attacks on their integrity and credibility.

CAGE is the creation of David Romano, a political scientist, and Daniel Romano, brothers who were concerned about the degree to which government was interfering in the daily lives of the public. In short, they oppose the nanny state that wants to tell you how to act, what to eat, whether you should drink or smoke and how you should behave. It was incorporated as a non-profit organization in January 2005.

One of the first initiatives in which CAGE would become involved was the smoking debate and the ominous “de-normalization” campaign of the anti-smoker brigade.

Government, insistent on treating grown men and women like stubborn children, are intent on depriving smokers of their right to use a perfectly legal product. They persist in their efforts to strip private businesses (bars, restaurants, pool halls, etc.) of the right to operate in their own best interests by refusing to allow them to serve a smoking clientele. And, they do it in the name of the public good.

But, although the government stands ready to pass draconian smoking bans and establish usurious levels of taxation, they like to keep their distance when it comes to the ugly side of the war on smokers. Perhaps they want to maintain a state of plausible deniability when it comes to the blatant discrimination of smokers as it pertains to housing, employment and even medical care, not to mention the suspect science and statistics which support the anti-smoker cause.

The government doesn’t want to know about the stigmatization of smokers, the socio-economic consequences of smoking bans or the lies being told to support them.

So, to do the dirty work that every war effort requires, they fund a host of non-governmental sub-contractors. One such organization is the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association (NSRA). This outfit has received literally millions of dollars of taxpayer money over the past 15 years or more to reduce smoker prevalence and save smokers from themselves.

And, if they have to denigrate and demean smokers to accomplish their task, so be it.

The NSRA is not the only group, to be sure; there are others. Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada, for example, and ASH (Alberta), which claims over 300 members in that province, are also funded heavily by taxpayer dollars. Dollars collected through sin taxes extorted from smokers by money hungry governments at both the federal and provincial level.

But, the NSRA is the most hard-nosed of the bunch. For them, enough is never enough. Their goal is nothing short of the total eradication of smokers.

In a document dated March 2008 and made available recently through their web site, NSRA identifies CAGE as a front group for the tobacco industry. The NSRA uses the following definition: "A front group is an organization that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned."

In other words, they’re claiming that CAGE is not engaged in civil liberties issues, but rather acting as paid lackeys of the tobacco industry. But, in the same article, they admit that the activities of CAGE are carried out “with financing provided by the Romano brothers.”

They take particular umbrage with CAGE for their support of a group of bar owners fighting Quebec’s Tobacco Act in court.

Labeling CAGE as a front group appears to be a deliberate attempt to undermine both their credibility and integrity. The slur was deliberate and completely lacking in evidence. They have demanded, and deserve, an apology from the Non-Smokers Rights Association. None is likely to be forthcoming.

The NSRA is in no jeopardy of losing federal government funding of over $400,000 a year. And, as long as that money keeps rolling in, they can ignore the libel and defamation, secure in the knowledge that CAGE hasn’t the funds to fight another legal battle.

Another legal battle? Uh-huh.

A week or two back CAGE exposed the identity of one “Cathy Bell” and announced that CAGE is initiating a defamation lawsuit based on claims she made about the organization. Cathy Bell has been making a nuisance of herself on the internet for several years with her fanatical anti-smoker point of view.

According to the CAGE article, “Cathy Bell methodically researched Dr. David Romano’s academic and professional history, noting every place he had studied and worked, and proceeded to, over a period of two years, send bombardments of thousands of e-mails to his past and present work colleagues (he works in a field unrelated to the tobacco issue) and to anyone else whom “she” thought may have some connection or interaction with Dr. Romano.

The article goes on to note that “these e-mails contained libels, innuendos and accusations regarding David Romano’s motives and character.” They warned his employers that he might be “prone to violence and may pose a threat to his colleagues”, claiming she herself was in physical danger from his “fanatical” cult of followers at CAGE.

Cathy Bell used a number of aliases in her frequent letters to the editor and on-line forums, disparaging smokers and disseminating her own particular brand of hatred, and apparently used a number of web sites under fictitious names to spread her repugnant philosophy.

Cathy Bell, it turns out, is a man named Jones from Montreal.

There is nothing to suggest that the unsubstantiated claims by the NSRA were made to retaliate against CAGE for their efforts to prosecute “Cathy Bell” Jones. I believe I may have read that particular piece a month or so back. I ignored it. I’ve conditioned myself against their propaganda.

But, it is extremely disquieting that so many people have trouble believing that individuals would oppose government intrusion into their personal, private lives, without justification, simply because it’s wrong. It is equally disturbing that organizations like CAGE cannot demonstrate their support for those they feel may be oppressed or could be denied the right to express their opinions simply because they may be contrary to those held by the majority.

Neither the NSRA nor Jones should get a free ride on this one. Smear tactics and propaganda should not be permitted to replace reasoned debate on such an important issue. This is still a free society, where men and women may hold their own opinions and express them openly, without fear of censure, unwarranted criticism or self-righteous condemnation.

We are still free . . . aren’t we?

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.
Note: The graphic accompanying this post was downloaded from the net. Unfortunately, I didn't note the copyright information. If anyone recognizes the graphic, please let me know so that I can give it proper attribution. If you are the copyright holder and object to my use of the graphic, please notify me and I will remove it immediately.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The law of unintended consequences

“So, the big 40 is fast approaching. What have you got planned for the milestone celebration?” I asked my oldest daughter.

“I don’t know yet, Dad”, she answered. “We thought about commandeering some tables at the Legion, but . . .”

She hesitated before going on. “You saw what happened at Carrie’s wedding last year. The hall was never any more than half full after dinner. At one point, there were only three guests and a waitress in the hall. The rest of them were down in the freaking parking lot having a smoke. And, that’s weird as hell, because over half of them were non-smokers like me”.

“Yeah. But look on the bright side”, I offered, grinning broadly. “Now you can go out to dinner without having to put up with the offending odour of cigarette smoke”.

“I could do that before the freaking ban. When was the last time you saw anyone smoking in the Mandarin or any other decent restaurant?” she demanded, her voice rising slightly. ”Who in hell asked for this freaking ban anyway?”

“Don’t look at me”. I chuckled, pulling a pack of Putter’s Lights from my shirt pocket. “I’ll be back shortly”.

The last words I heard as the screen door closed and I stepped into the garden were: “Lovely, just freaking lovely”.

A few months back, ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Ireland suggested that the smoking bans in the United Kingdom were having an adverse effect on children’s exposure to secondhand smoke. According to ASH, the ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants was not having the desired effect.
Instead of quitting, smokers were picking up a six-pack and doing their drinking, and smoking, at home. Local pubs in England are feeling the crunch, with over 2,150 (to date) having closed since the English ban was initiated in July of 2007. Similar closures have been noted in Scotland since the Scottish parliament instituted a country wide ban two years ago.

But, the more serious problem, according to ASH, was the fact that children are perhaps being exposed to greater levels of secondhand smoke as more and more parents do their entertaining and smoking at home rather than the local pub.

It was a foreseeable problem, of course, if government had taken the time to listen to both sides of the argument. Instead, any and all opponents to the bans were dismissed as lackeys of the tobacco industry. Unfortunately, if you hear only one side of a dialogue, you won’t understand the conversation. And without all the facts, you can’t make a truly informed decision. In many cases, a mean old dog called “Unintended Consequences” will rise up and bite you in the ass.

In July, 2006, a couple of researchers released a discussion paper called, “The Effect of Taxes and Bans on Passive Smoking”. They were Jérôme Adda, University College London, Institute for Fiscal Studies and Francesca Cornagli University College London, Department of Economics.

Their conclusions: “While on average, bans in public transports, shopping malls or schools decrease the exposure of non-smokers, bans in bars, restaurants or recreational facilities appear to increase their exposure. We hypothesize that such bans displace the smoking to places where non-smokers are more exposed, especially young children".

These results suggest that smoking regulations have a distributional effect, increasing the exposure and putting at risk the health of poorer sections of the population while it benefits individuals in higher socio-economic position. The strengthening of smoking regulations could possibly lead to a widening in health disparities across socio-economic groups”.

Essentially, what they found was that increases in sin taxes and smoking bans in truly public areas, such as public transit and malls, had some effect on reducing exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoking bans in pubs and restaurants, on the other hand, were more likely to increase exposure in non-smokers.

And, as in any regressive form of taxation, such as sin taxes, the hardest hit was those in the lower income bracket. They also noted that these effects were more pronounced during the winter months, for what should be obvious reasons.

In California, which has always been the hotbed of anti-smoker activity in the US, the weather is good year round. People can compensate, although some cities in that state are pushing for even more extreme bans, including bans on smoking where any non-smoker might reasonably be expected to be, including parking lots, parks, beaches, etc.

With a climate like Canada’s, and the northern border states in the US, where the weather can be inhospitable, to put it mildly, similar bans just aren’t appropriate, nor are they necessary.

What I think this paper demonstrates is simply that man is a social animal. And, before the anti-smoker crusaders invented the hazards of secondhand smoke, smokers and non-smokers could socialize without restriction.

Non-smokers were never forced to enter a smoking establishment. They chose to do so. Many chose to do so to be with smoking friends, despite the alleged risks. That choice has been taken from them. Now, smokers and non-smokers have only one place left to gather; private homes.

And, as the war on smokers continues to escalate, the anti-smoker zealots will soon be calling for interventions in private homes; to protect non-smokers and children, of course.

Or, maybe just to inflict a little more punishment on smokers for their obstinacy and refusal to quit.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Take your smoking area with you

You won’t find many smokers who are pleased about smoking bans. But two NHL veterans, Dave Andreychuk and Stan Neckar, who both appreciate a good cigar, had an idea to start a business based on smoking bans.

Andreychuk was one of the highest scoring left wingers to play in the NHL. He played for a number of teams in the league before ending his career with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2006. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Andreychuk won his only Stanley Cup ring with Tampa Bay in 2004. The city of Hamilton was proud enough of their native son to name a sports complex after him.

One of his team mates during that Stanley Cup year was Czech born Stan Neckar (pronounced nets-cash), who was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 1994.

So what do two big time hockey stars do when it’s time to hang up their skates? Well, if you’re Andreychuk and Neckar, you look around for a lemon from which to make lemonade. And, most smokers would agree that smoking bans are about the biggest lemon to come down the pike in the last decade or so.

The pair was frustrated with the no smoking laws sweeping across the US. There was no place for them to enjoy a cigar in comfort at social events. Says Neckar of one evening after winning the Stanley Cup, “half the team was standing outside having celebratory cigars and I was thinking, there has got to be a better way.

So, he and Andreychuk set about to finding a solution. They found it in a silver Airstream travel trailer.

Together with another partner, Juan Guillen, a veteran of the cigar industry who actually conceived the plan, they formed a company called the Mobile Cigar Lounge. Uh-huh. They created a mobile smoking area for cigar aficionados who want to take their smoking area with them when attending social events.

A custom built classic Airstream was transformed into a luxury lounge complete with cherry wood cabinets, granite counters, hard wood floors, ostrich seating, 5 flat screen satellite TVs’; all the comforts of home and more.

The mobile lounge is available for rent for weddings, stags, poker games, etc. In fact it can be rented for just about any social or sporting event where cigar smokers might want to light up, away from the nuisance of non-smoking areas.

It’s the better way to enjoy a cigar when you’re out on the town. No need to stand huddled in the rain or sweltering in 100 degree heat. Just step outside to your air conditioned mobile cigar lounge, light up and relax.

Forgot your stogies? Don’t worry about it. The trailer comes with a pantry-sized humidor, with a range of cigars which can be purchased from a hostess. You can even have a drink, if you bring your own liquor. It’s the perfect spot for an after dinner brandy and cigar following a meal at that upscale restaurant which can’t allow you to light up because of the smoking ban.

Now, I’ve seen both these guys play. Both have taken a few hits during their careers; shots which would have addled the average Joe’s brain. But, there’s nothing addled about this concept. And, I’ll bet the anti-smoker nuts are tearing their hair out, wondering how they missed this possibility.

Of course, the fact that Neckar wouldn’t talk about the rental fee suggests it’s one of those “if you have to ask the price, don’t waste your time deals”.

But you could hitch up a trailer to get you and your friends to the local Legion hall or your favourite country bar. Imagine, you’d have your own personal smoking area in the parking lot, available anytime you might need that nicotine fix. Just don’t forget the designated driver rule.

Shit. It might just work.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Anti-smoking/anti-smoker. Where's the line

Is the press finally ready to remove their head from their anal cavity and question at least some anti-smoker assertions?

Last week, in a piece called “Crossing the line from anti-smoking to anti-smoker’, Rob Breakenridge of the Calgary Herald noted: “The appeal of anti-smoking measures derives from their ostensible goal of protecting people -- non-smokers, children, and smokers themselves. However, the anti-smoking lobby may be a victim of its own success, in that they're running out of people to protect”.

Breakenridge was referring to a hike in sin taxes being proposed by an anti-smoker coalition in Alberta. They want to increase the price of cigarettes by $2.00 per pack. That’s a hefty increase, considering Alberta already has the highest price per pack in Canada.

Breakenridge points to research by McMaster University health economist Philip DeCicca which suggests peer pressure and peer acceptance may be more relevant factors in controlling the prevalence of teen smoking. DeCicca suggests that taxation has little impact on whether teens start smoking and concludes that "price hikes are not a very effective tool to discourage youth smoking."

I’m not sure why anyone needed a study to figure that out, but there it is. Common sense tells us that punitive levels of sin taxes have encouraged black market sales of contraband cigarettes. Cheap contraband cigarettes ensure that smokes are well within reach of the average teen budget. It’s the law of unintended consequences in action.

Cigarettes are not readily available to teens through normal channels. They face too much of a hassle at the local convenience store. And, in Ontario, at least, there has been wide-spread compliance with laws prohibiting sales of tobacco products to minors by convenience store owners.

Punitive levels of sin taxes have made contraband extremely profitable and made cheap smokes available from irresponsible adults who have no concern for the health or safety of our young people.

Breakenridge contents that, if the objective was to protect non-smokers, especially children, then that goal has been largely accomplished.

And, he’s right. Smoking bans have purged smokers from most public places. They are now forced onto sidewalks and into back alleys to grab a few puffs before returning to the bar or club while socializing with non-smoking friends.

Non-smokers are now protected from exposure to secondhand smoke in all public settings. But there is emerging evidence that public bans may not be having the desired outcome. Once again, the law of unintended consequences may be coming into play.

Smokers are socializing more in private settings (most notably the home), rather than going out to clubs and bars which no longer want their business. And, their non-smoking friends are joining them. Some anti-smokers are now claiming that because of the restrictions on smoking in public places, many non-smokers, including children, are suffering greater exposure in the home.

And, the only way to resolve that issue is to prohibit smoking. Period.

Breakenridge also notes that the public has been made fully aware of the dangers of smoking. And, again, he’s right. Further attacks on smokers are unjustified and will not protect non-smokers or children from anything.

Says Breakenridge: “But that leaves us with the adult smoker, fully aware of the dangers and obstacles of his or her habit, who does not wish to quit. Does this group really require protection? If the answer is no, then maybe we've crossed the line from anti-smoking initiatives to anti-smoker initiatives”.

He obviously hasn’t given a lot of thought to the concept of de-normalization or he’d understand that the line was crossed many years ago. The scientific evidence supporting the contention that secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard is too contentious.

The process anti-smoker crusaders refer to as de-normalization was not introduced to control smoking; it was a declaration of war on smokers. And, the anti-smoker element of society does not intend to take any prisoners.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

SHS and the Yeti

Sasquatch is an aboriginal word meaning "hairy giant" and refers to a large manlike creature believed to roam the woods from California up the West Coast and across Canada. The yeti is a mythical beast; a large hairy humanoid creature said to live in the Himalayas in Tibet The yeti, also known as the Abominable Snowman, is a close cousin to the sasquatch or Bigfoot.

YETI (Youth Engaged in Tobacco-free Initiatives), according to their mission statement, is a group of youth dedicated to improving the health of their peers and others in their community by advocating for a happy, healthy, and tobacco-free lifestyle. It’s a project of the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and the YETI, through a process called indoctrination, are close cousins to the anti-smoker fruitcakes.

A few weeks back, the YETI in Thunder Bay paraded with a banner publicizing their latest initiative to keep parks and beaches free of tobacco industry products. They plan to demand that city council amend Thunder Bay‘s smoking bylaw to include outdoor recreational areas.

But, according to an August 14 editorial in the Chronicle-Journal, they will consider seeking designated smoking areas at parks, beaches and campgrounds rather than an outright ban on lighting up outside; at least for now. I’m sure they consider it a very noble gesture; to allow smokers to be herded into their own private ghetto where they can engage in their filthy little habit. (I wonder if they’ll provide ashtrays, or will smokers be forced to butt out on the grass so they can later be accused of being inconsiderate litterbugs.)

In a surprising twist, the Chronicle-Journal editorial suggested that, although their cause was just, the call for a smoking ban outdoors may be going a little too far. “But unless an outdoor public recreation area is jammed with a crowd that contains a considerable number of smokers, the danger and even the displeasure of wafting smoke is minimal and momentary at best”.

No one should deceive themselves into believing that the Chronicle-Journal is a champion of smokers or freedom of choice. Consider their impassioned plea to smokers to quit, for the good of the children. “As for the activity that leads to that short, burnt butt, the evidence of self-inflicted death is overwhelming. So for the sake of your own children, if not all children in Thunder Bay, please follow the example of so many others you know and quit”.

The editorial notes: “But smokers have already been forced outdoors and to suggest they be denied their guilty pleasure at city parks and beaches is asking too much of them”.

Such smug, self-righteous comments can be infuriating, but we must learn to laugh at the lunacy. I don’t feel the least bit guilty about smoking or the pleasure it brings.

OK, once in a while, when my four-year old grand-daughter is running my ass into the ground, I might say something stupid like, “I’ve really got to quit”. But, the feeling usually passes the minute I get my breath back.

But, I wonder. Does the editorial board of the Chronicle-Journal also believe that relaxing with a few beers on the week-end is a guilty pleasure? How about pre-marital sex? Homosexuality? A happy meal at the local McDonals? Who appointed these small-minded hypocrites as defenders of public morals?

But, even this mild criticism of the effort to impose a ban on smoking outdoors was met with a rebuke from Dr. Jim Morris, the chairman of Tobacco Free Thunder Bay. “Your editorial “A good cause gone too far” (Aug. 14) casts a negative voice to the start of the campaign to make city parks and beaches free of tobacco industry products”. He wrote.

Wow. We can’t have any negative voices when it comes to anti-smoker crusaders and their war on smokers, can we? Everybody’s got to be pushing the same propaganda or people might start to see through their secondhand smokescreen.

Dr. Morris goes on: “Part of the function of prohibiting smoking in these areas is to show children that the use of tobacco in modern society is no longer acceptable”. Uh-huh. No longer acceptable by whom, I wonder? I honestly don’t think the children gave a rat’s ass one way or another until the anti-smoker fanatics began their indoctrination campaign.

He goes on: “I agree, tobacco is still a legal product, but it should not be encouraged and non-tobacco users shouldn‘t be co-mingled with tobacco users”.

Co-mingled? Does Dr. Morris also oppose the co-mingling of black and white; how about the co-mingling of catholic and protestant? Is it permissible for smoking and non-smoking friends to co-mingle and share a common space, or are smokers to be completely ostracized? Can you spell bigot?

If tobacco is such an egregious threat to society, why aren’t Tobacco Free Thunder Bay and others of their ilk pushing for prohibition?

He is a doctor after all. He can’t be that concerned about losing his anti-smoker pay cheque, can he?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

SHS is not the only killer in our midst

21,000 Canadians are being killed annually by exposure to air pollution, including 3,000 deaths attributable to short term exposure. So says a study released last month by the CMA (Canadian Medical Association). The CMA predicted that, by 2031, 90,000 will die from acute short term exposure with a cumulative total of over 700,000 dead.

The study, "No Breathing Room: National Illness Costs of Air Pollution”, concentrated largely on the economic costs of the effects of air pollution, rather than the cost in human misery. But, it was the number of estimated deaths that got the most attention; more shock value.

“Even in brief doses, heavy pollution can affect the ability of blood to coagulate, making clotting more likely and giving rise to heart attacks and strokes”, Ted Boadway, CMA's technical advisor on health and the environment was quoted as saying.

Most major media outlets carried the story, but the implication of the CMA’s findings was largely overlooked by the media.

One commenter on the CTV report on the study noted: “With all due respect to the study authors, who I believe have good intentions, people tend to tune out alarmist reports like these. No one I know is going to lose a minute’s sleep over this”. And the author of that comment was right. The story appears to have died a slow death.

The story came, and went, with little or no public debate.

The fact that 21,000 Canadians are expected to die from air pollution this year should be of major concern to all Canadians. In fact, it should be of major concern to all countries experiencing similar air pollution problems. And, it should have sparked considerable debate.

But, I couldn’t find a single journalist who took the story to the next level. For example, why did the CMA concentrate on the economic cost rather than the human toll in suffering and death?

Why didn’t a single news article point out that the 21,000 annual deaths ascribed to air pollution was 21 times the number attributed by Health Canada to secondhand smoke?

Did no one notice that the rate of asthma, usually associated with secondhand smoke, has been steadily climbing in Canada over the past couple of decades while smoking prevalence has been declining? Did anyone consider that air pollution may be a more significant factor in the climb in asthma rates than secondhand smoke?

Recently, scientists at the Environmental Chemistry department at Louisiana State University identified a new form of air pollutant, fine particle residues emitted via automotive exhaust pipes, smokestacks and household chimneys. Dubbed persistent free radicals (PFRs), these particles replicate the damage to humans caused by cigarette smoke.

Newspaper articles on the study suggest that inhaling these pollutants exposes the average person to up to 300 times more free radicals daily than smoking one cigarette.

"Free radicals from tobacco smoke have long been suspected of having extremely harmful effects on the body," said H. Barry Dellinger, Ph.D., of LSU. "Based on our work, we now know that free radicals similar to those in cigarettes are also found in airborne fine particles and potentially can cause many of the same life-threatening conditions”.

Dellinger says this discovery by scientists at LSU could help explain the long-standing medical mystery of why non-smokers develop tobacco-related diseases like lung cancer.

Anti-smoker activists, on the basis of ambiguous epidemiology and suspect statistics, have launched a war of attrition on smokers claiming that smoking is not only killing smokers, but that their secondhand smoke is killing those around them. The social and economic consequences of the relentless war on smokers have been devastating in many cases.

But, the body of scientific evidence pointing to causes other than secondhand smoke in the “smoking related deaths” of non-smokers is mounting. Among these are air pollution and the newly discovered “persistent free radicals”. Why is this evidence being ignored?

A press release from Freedom to Choose in the UK welcomed the LSU study. It quotes Andy Davis, Freedom2Choose chairman: “The conclusions of this study come as no surprise to scientists involved in this type of research. Air-borne pollutants have been a known cause of lung-cancer for over 50 years now. The Medical Research Council, back in 1957, found that up to 30% of all lung-cancers were attributable to air-pollution and this was before the great volumes of traffic appeared on our roads”.

A major study by the CMA warning of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Canadians over the next three decades and the study from LSU identifying a previously unrecognized group of air pollutants are major news stories. The findings of both have serious implications for the industrialized world.

The news media has failed to give either of these stories the attention they deserve. And, their failure to do so does a serious disservice to the public.

Yet, every claim by the anti-smoker fanatics, no matter how outrageous, is given full-blown press coverage as a matter of course.

Maybe someone should do a study on the news media to find out why.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Stop helping smokers

Over the past three or four days, I’ve stumbled across seven Canadian newspapers which carried essentially the same story; smoking rates in Canada have stagnated over the last three years. All of them were pushing the same solutions; higher levels of taxation and a need to crack down on the sales of contraband.

And, in reading the articles and editorials from those newspapers, it’s clear that they all came from the same source. The anti-smoker crowd seems determined to remind the public, on a regular basis, that the war on smokers is not over until every smoker in Canada is eradicated.

The Edmonton Journal (Alberta - August 29): “the percentage of Albertans smoking in 2007, 21 per cent, is still two per cent higher than the national average”.

The Daily Gleaner (New Brunswick – August 27): “while only 19 per cent of Canadians smoke, here in our province, 21 per cent of the population lights up regularly”.

The Telegram (Newfoundland – August 29): “This year the rate is 21.2 per cent - among the highest in Canada”.

The Moose Jaw Times Herald (Saskatchewan – August 29): “The news came this week that Saskatchewan, for the third year in a row, has the highest rate of smokers in Canada at a high 24 per cent. Shame on us”.

You get the picture. Here’s your story gentlemen, get a quote or two from your local anti-smoker crusader and make sure it gets to press. There’s no need to check the facts, we’ve done that for you. Thanks for your contribution to the war effort.

The Alberta Cancer Board is quoted as saying, “one important step is to increase taxes on cigarettes again, this time by $2 a pack”. Cigarettes are already over $10.00 a pack in Alberta. And, the Journal article reminds us that the health care costs of smokers have to be paid somehow.

It's time to raise taxes on cigarettes to help pay for all that health care, and to discourage the rise in cigarette consumption. If willpower won't make a smoker cut back, perhaps a higher price per pack will”, says the Daily Gleaner.

The Moose Jaws Times Herald says current controls on smoking “don’t reach into the private lives of Saskatchewan residents who continue to smoke at home or in other non-regulated locations”. Uh-huh.

The Times Herald article goes on, “Smoking they say is a personal choice but when public dollars are spent to treat medical conditions caused by smoking, then those personal choices are interfering with the public good and wasting taxpayers dollars on self-inflicted diseases”.

Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada have estimates for smoking related health care, including costs for acute care hospitalization, family physician visits, ambulatory care/physician fees and prescription drugs. The total for 2006 was $4.37 billion. For the 2005/2006 fiscal year, Canada and the provinces took in $7.09 billion in sin taxes from smokers (GST/PST not included).

Canadian smokers are not only paying their own way, but are shouldering the burden for a substantial number of non-smokers. But, I guess you can’t let the truth stand in the way of an opportunity to vilify Canada’s five million smokers.

The Daily Gleaner points out, “We'll never eradicate smoking because no addiction will ever simply cease to exist. But there are ways to make smoking less tempting”. Behind the bullshit and bafflegab, what they’re really saying is that there are even more draconian ways to penalize and punish smokers for their obstinate refusal to do as they’re told and quit.

Perhaps the saddest part of the propaganda efforts by the anti-smoker fanatics is the one-sided press coverage. Only the anti-smoker side of the argument was presented in those newspaper articles. Not a single quote from any pro-choice smoking group. Not a single article or editorial questioned the validity of the science. Not one suggested a compromise of any kind.

It’s one thing for a newspaper to take an editorial stand in support of, or opposed to, any public initiative. It’s quite another to suppress debate to the point where the public is unaware that there is, in fact, an opposing point of view.

It’s expected that the anti-smoker activists will dismiss those who oppose their views as big tobacco shills or allies.

But, it’s irresponsible of the mainstream media to parrot the claims of those activists with no attempt to verify their legitimacy. The failure to provide an opportunity for anyone to express an opposing point of view is even more loathsome and a disgraceful abuse of the power of the press..