Friday, January 30, 2009

Are smokers evil & insane?

Anti-smoker rhetoric is obviously becoming more shrill and strident; in fact, it’s reaching an all time high. And, if January is any indication, smokers are in for a rough ride in 2009.

First there was the third hand smoke nonsense, with the insinuation toddlers were at risk from smoke residue they licked off the floors smoking parents apparently never clean. The press ate that one up, with headlines from coast to coast, and a brand new hazard has been created. A brand new public menace for which smokers, of course, are responsible

Then there were attempts by the anti-smokers to scuttle the TICAP conference in Brussels and silence freedom of speech and freedom of association. The mainstream press, the unofficial cheerleading wing of the anti-smoker movement, ignored the European Union’s assault on democracy.

Then, there was Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) putting down smokers as baby killers and such and inciting hatred against those of us who choose to smoke. John Banzhaf, leader of the fanatical anti-smoker group, was quoted as saying:

"Smokers pollute the air the public and their children are forced to breathe with toxic carcinogenic fumes, inflate taxes and the costs of health insurance, start the blazes which are the major cause of residential fire deaths, kill thousands of their own children every year, and are a major contributor to litter on beaches, streets, and elsewhere. Isn't it time we stopped tolerating if not encouraging this outrageous behavior and harm to the public."

I keep wondering when Banzhaf will start advocating frontal lobotomy as a means of controlling a smoker’s undesirable behaviour?

If you’re a smoker and into self-flaggelation you can read about it and find a number of links on Dr. Michael Siegel’s blog, Tobacco Analysis. Siegel thinks the Tobacco Control movement may be “going off the deep end.” Uh-huh. I think that’s called understating the case.

And then . . . earlier this week, Dan Hawkins of Harrison, Arkansas, recent appointee to the state Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Advisory Committee, declared his belief that 70% of cigarettes are smoked by people who are mentally ill.

Something tells me smokers down in Arkansas are in deep shit.

Hawkins further claims that: “30 percent of smokers have an Axis II personality disorder, i.e., they not only have one or more serious psychiatric illnesses, but may also be bad people.”

Rep. Dan Greenberg, of Little Rock, revealed the contents of Hawkins e-mail, which was addressed to members of the State’s House of Representatives. In an article in the political blog, The Arkansas Project, Greenberg said “When you start talking about the high incidence of criminality and insanity among smokers, I think that’s probably not the message that (Governor) Mike Beebe wants to send out.”

The article was entitled: “Beebe Appointee: Smokers are Evil and Insane (And Lawmakers Who Disagree are Stupid, Corrupt and Just Like Nazis)” Catchy little title. The text of Hawkins e-mail is available here.

As might be expected from an anti-smoker fanatic, Hawkins saved some of his vitriol for legislators who don’t fully agree with the anti-smoker message. Says Hawkins: “According to the unbiased medical epidemiological research literature, pro-tobacco legislators have both lower-rated intelligence & integrity.” Yeah. That’s sounds like he's saying they’re stupid and corrupt.

And, he’s apparently got a scientific study to back up his claim. But, then, don't they all.

Hawkins wants to sue, and possibly jail, any legislator who doesn’t support anti-smoker initiatives. “Explorations are currently underway to see if legislators, in their lifetime(s), can be held legally accountable (both civilly & criminally) for pro-tobacco (pro-death for profit) votes injurious to the public health.”

Says Hawkins, who has a PhD from some Cracker Jack company or another: “I describe here some of the worth of increasing the state cigarette sales tax increase.” Huh? All this ranting and raving is in support of an increase in a proposed sales tax increase on smokes.

I guess the Governor must really want this tax increase if he’s willing to appoint this attack dog to the Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Advisory Committee. There’s no mistaking where he stands.

But, does the Guv really plan on letting him run around unattended?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Anti-smoker brigade - teaching kids to hate

A couple of posts back, I noted that the education of young people, as it pertains to smoking and secondhand smoke, has, in fact, turned into a blatant form of indoctrination. Youth groups across Canada are apparently being used by the anti-smoker brigade to preach a message of fear and hatred of smokers. And, as with most anti-smoker groups, the information they present to the public is something less than reliable.

Butt Ugly, for example, claims that the equivalent of a bus load of children dies every day, out in Alberta, from exposure to secondhand smoke. It’s a preposterous claim, of course and easily disproved.

But, the point is, someone is feeding this erroneous information to our kids. Deceptive statistics and bald-faced lies are becoming quite commonplace on websites designed to appeal to youngsters. And, young people are being recruited to go out and spread this misinformation to their peers and the public at large.

Another site, similar to the Butt Ugly site in Alberta, has been brought to my attention. The youth group is called the Oxygen Commandos, and it operates in Quebec. According to their web site, "commando teams mobilize to unmask the dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke by performing short street-theatre scenes unannounced in public places".

Among the more questionable statements on their web site is that: “The concentration of toxic substances in second-hand tobacco smoke is much higher than in the smoke inhaled directly by smokers.”

This claim suggests that those exposed to secondhand smoke, since they are exposed to higher concentrations of toxins, are at even greater risk from smoking related illness than smokers. A little bit of common sense tells us this claim can hardly be true. If it were, we would be seeing far greater number for deaths due to secondhand smoke than we see for smoking related diseases attributed to smoking. That’s obviously not the case.

Then, there’s this little gem: “In Canada, second-hand tobacco smoke is the third leading cause of death after smoking and alcohol abuse.”

This claim is patently absurd. Secondhand smoke doesn’t even make the top ten in Statcan mortality tables for 2002. Ranking well above estimates for secondhand smoke as a cause of death are Septicaemia (1,489), Nephritis (3,437), Parkinson’s disease (1,664), Alzheimer’s disease (5,515) and any number of other, non-tobacco related diseases.

Health Canada puts estimated deaths from secondhand smoker exposure at 831, based on those same 2002 mortality tables from Statcan. And, those are statistical deaths, estimated by Health Canada. Clearly, secondhand smoke is not the third leading cause of death in Canada. In fact, there is no conclusive evidence that secondhand smoke kills anyone.

But, maybe they mean that secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of “preventable” death in Canada.

According to the Industrial Accident and Prevention Association (IAPA), accidents don’t just happen, they’re caused. Therefore, one must assume that all accidents are preventable.

And, once again referring to Statcan mortality tables, Transport accidents (including motor vehicle accidents) accounted for 3,165 deaths in 2002, non-transport accidents accounted for 5,585 deaths (including 1, 016 from accidental poisoning) in the same year.

Whether or not suicide is preventable is debatable, but certainly some form of intervention might have reduced the number of suicides (3,650) in Canada in 2002.

Another claim on the site states: “The poisoner (the smoker) regularly serves this noxious cocktail (secondhand smoke) to between 55 per cent and 70 per cent of non-smokers.”

Such highly inflammatory language encourages young people to think of smokers as murderers and worse; to see smokers as somehow less than human and undeserving of either consideration or compassion.

The question is whether this is the kind of message we want to send to our young people; that people whose behaviour does not conform to their own may be de-normalized, denigrated and demeaned.

Do we want our kids to grow up believing that it’s all right to pervert the truth if they believe the cause is just and the outcome desirable? Do we want the state, and their proxies (mercenaries) in tobacco control, preaching that hatred and intolerance are acceptable behaviour?

The site notes that the Oxygen Commandos are funded by the Tobacco Control Program, Health Canada and the Nicorette and Nicoderm Donation Campaign in partnership with the Canadian Council on Tobacco Control.

But, the really strange thing is the disclaimer at the bottom of the page. “The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the official policies of Health Canada.”

I wonder why Health Canada felt the web site warranted a disclaimer?
Incidentally, Butt Ugly didn't respond to my e-mail suggesting their claims were a little exaggerated.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

TICAP conference on despite sabotage

A conference, scheduled to be held in the parliament of the European Union (EU), has been cancelled only days before it was scheduled to open. The conference, planned by The International Coalition Against Prohibition (TICAP), had a monkey wrench thrown into the works when the EU Bureau decided to withdraw an agreement for use of the parliament building which had been approved as the venue for the conference months ago.

Permission to use the EU parliament was withdrawn after a letter from an anti-smoker group, the Smoke Free Partnership, was sent to the EU President. The decision to rescind permission was made "in camera" (read "in secret") and was apparently not relayed to organizers of the conference until several days after the fact.

Florence Berteletti Kemp, director of the anti-smoker group, claimed that: “The TICAP conference purports to develop methods and strategies to end 'the use of pseudo-science' in relation to tobacco control, in contrast the WHO FCTC* recognizes 'that scientific evidence has unequivocally established that tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke cause death, disease and disability'.”

In other words, we don’t want scientists with opposing views disputing our facts in public, it might be embarrassing.

But, if the scientific evidence is so unequivocal, why are they afraid of an open debate on its merits? Why the deceitful, underhanded methods employed to deny opposing voices an opportunity to be heard? Why the attempt to curb the most basic of human rights in any free society; freedom of speech.

Scientists from around the world, including some notable members of the tobacco control movement, were scheduled to address the first ever TICAP conference planned for January 27/28 in Brussels. And, the two day event was attracting a lot of attention; too much, apparently, for the anti-smoker brigade.

Anti-smoker activists do not tolerate legitimate scientific debate. In fact, they don't tolerate any opposition whatsoever for that matter.

But, if the science behind their message of intolerance and hatred towards smokers is so strong, why are they afraid of a few speeches regarding the hoax of secondhand smoke? Why the sly tactics to block the event?

A press release issued by TICAP says: “For decades the anti smoking industry has grossly perverted science for their own ideology; it comes as no surprise to us whatsoever that they are now perverting democracy and freedom in the very heart of the EU.”

Fortunately, the organizers of the TICAP conference, “Smoking Bans and Lies”, were prepared for the scheming, devious tactics of the antismoker fanatics, and a contingency plan has now been put into motion. The British Delegation of the Independence/Democracy Group in the European Parliament has launched the “Thinking Is Forbidden” Conference.

All scientists and other participants to the cancelled conference are invited to attend. Live satellite links for those unable to attend in person will also be available at the alternate site directly across from the parliament.

The original conference, under the patronage of Godfrey Bloom, MEP (Member of European Parliament), was called to discuss health policy as it relates to smoking, smoking bans and the issue of secondhand smoke. Among the issues on the agenda: the economic impact of smoking bans, epidemiology and the passive smoking fraud, toxicology and ventilation, and public health ideology and the pharmaceutical industry.

Simply put, the TICAP conference sought to present the truth about the use of pseudo-science to establish and justify anti-smoker policies, political actions and laws and make the public aware of the influence of pharmaceutical and other commercial lobbies on political decision-making.

This attempt, by anti-smoker activists, to thwart the democratic process and deny opposing points of view to be openly discussed and debated, is nothing short of reprehensible. Smoking may be a nuisance to many non-smokers, but the attempt by anti-smoker activists to suppress such basic rights as free speech and freedom of association are a threat to freedom itself.

If they’ve been open and honest with the public, the press and the politicians, they should have nothing to fear. On the other hand . . .

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Smoking kills a busload of kids every day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where in hell did they find such a statistic?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Smoking related deaths, not just for smokers

It’s nice to be retired. You have so much time to consider existential philosophy and the many mysteries of life. Do we really live in a world without meaning? Is life really some absurd joke?

And, just where in hell did the term “smoking related disease” come from? What makes a disease a smoking related disease? Do only smokers die from smoking related diseases? Does anyone remember when the anti-smoker crowd first started using the term?

While reading about yet another smoking ban the other day, it dawned on me that I hadn’t really given much thought to the concept. I’d simply accepted the term, like many people, knowing that it referred to diseases ostensibly caused by smoking.

But, what really makes a disease a smoking related disease? What makes Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD), for example, a smoking related disease? Is it simply because some smokers die of heart attacks?

It simply doesn’t make sense that, because someone who smokes dies of a heart attack, IHD is a smoking related disease, or that his or her death was “smoking related”.

After all, if a smoker dies in an automobile accident, his death is not considered smoking related. And, if a smoker steps off the roof of a ten storey building, it doesn’t make his almost certain demise a smoking related death. So, if a smoker dies of IHD, why is it a smoking related death?

So, I did what I usually do in such circumstances, I looked it up on the internet. It sure beats browsing through those big, heavy books.

Health Canada is a great place to go to find out about things like smoking related disease and smoking related death. They know a lot about smoking and health. So, I checked it out . . . and came away more confused than when I started.

In 2002, according to Statcan, there were 40,607 deaths from Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD). Of those 40 thousand plus deaths, 5,343 were estimated by Health Canada to be smoking related deaths and were therefore, presumably, smokers.

But, if only 13% of IHD deaths (5,343) were smokers, doesn’t that mean the other 87% (35,264 deaths) were non-smokers? And, if the vast majority of those who died (87%) were non-smokers, how can IHD be considered a smoking related disease?

According to Physicians for a Smokefree Canada (PSC), 21% of the population (5.377 million) smoked in 2002. But, if 21% of the population was smokers, wouldn’t you expect 21% of those who died from IHD to be smokers, reflecting their numbers in the general population?

In fact, if smoking created a greater risk of IHD, as the anti-smoker crowd claim, shouldn’t the percentage of smoking related deaths due to IHD be greater than the percentage of the smoking segment of society they represent? Shouldn’t the numbers be out of proportion to those in the general population in the other direction?

That’s apparently not the case. As noted previously, 5,343 of those IHD deaths were allegedly caused by smoking. This means that one in every 1006 smokers died of IHD in 2002. By contrast, the non-smoking segment of the population, 20.228 million, had 35,264 deaths from IHD. That’s one in every 574 non-smokers who died of IHD.

If non-smokers are dying of IHD at almost twice the rate of smokers, why is the anti-smoker brigade pressuring smokers to quit? According to their own figures, smokers are less susceptible to IHD than non-smokers.

Does it make sense that so many non-smokers are dying of a smoking related disease?

I’m neither an epidemiologist nor a statistician, so it should come as no surprise that I find numbers such as these confusing. But, they do make you think.

And, right now, I’m thinking of something I was told in an accounting class forty odd years ago.

“Two plus two always equals four. If the numbers don’t add up, one of three things has happened. You’ve made a mistake, someone has fudged the numbers . . . or you’re dealing with statistics.”

Anyway, I’m confident there’s a perfectly plausible, scientific explanation to account for this little anomaly. I’d ask Health Canada, but I’m still waiting for their “subject matter expert” to respond to my last question.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Killers: SHS is debateable; smog is not

While surfing the web, looking for something interesting to talk about, I came across an article on smog. The article, on, pointed out that the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) was claiming smog killed over 9,500 people in Ontario (Canada) in 2008.

The estimate used by the OMA in 2000 was 1900 deaths, and that had been increased to 5,800 deaths for 2005. Now, in 2008, only a few years later, the estimate had grown to 9,500 in the province of Ontario. It seems that smog is killing a lot of people across Canada. And, not all that many people seem to be aware of it.

Checking out their website, we find the OMA explaining the 2005 increase in deaths by claiming that, “The most significant change though is that we now have reliable cohort-based studies for PM2.5 which show the premature deaths that result from the long-term effects of exposure.”

Dr. Ted Boadway, Executive Director of Health Policy at the OMA said at that time: "Unfortunately, new evidence that uncovers the cumulative impact of smog on our bodies has forced us to increase our earlier estimates of the negative effect smog has on our communities."

What struck me was that OMA estimates for annual premature deaths (2130) due to smog in Toronto alone, were almost three times the number of deaths (831) Health Canada attributes to secondhand smoke exposure for the whole of Canada.

In August 2008, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) released a study which suggested that: “Up to 21,000 Canadians will die this year due to air pollution."

But, despite the appalling annual death toll from exposure to smog and air pollution, these stories made a splash in the media, then, as the sensationalist impact dissipated, the press quickly lost interest and the public followed suit.

Also, in August of last year, Louisiana scientists announced that a previously unrecognized group of air pollutants, known as persistent free radicals (PFRs), had adverse effects remarkably similar to tobacco smoke.

H. Barry Dellinger, Ph.D., Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said. "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. This is a staggering, but not unbelievable result, when one considers all of diseases in the world that cannot currently be attributed to a specific origin."

Once again, there was a brief splash in the media, then, the issue was abandoned both in the press and the public consciousness.

Smoking and secondhand smoke, on the other hand, remain in the news thanks to an unrelenting barrage of press releases from anti-smoker crusaders. It’s nothing short of a sophisticated propaganda campaign, of course, intended to demonize and de-normalize smokers.

But, the constant and repetitive nature of the anti-smoker campaign tends to focus public awareness on the subject of secondhand smoke. Yet, although the estimated death toll from smog dwarfs that attributed to secondhand smoke, the public, the press and the politicians are inclined to ignore those deaths as alarmist and, seemingly, inconsequential.

Make no mistake, the campaign to vilify smokers has diverted attention from other very serious risks to the health and well being of society. That’s problematic, and it should be of concern to smokers and non-smokers alike.

And, it raises another question concerning the alleged harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

Most of the new studies on smog, the discovery of persistent free radicals and a host of other scientific findings are fairly recent. How would they impact the studies done on secondhand smoke which did not consider the true health risks of smog as a confounder (an alternative explanation) in establishing the relative risk of secondhand smoke?

Remember, the evidence that secondhand smoke creates a risk of cancer or heart disease in non-smokers is flimsy at best. And, we’ve known for a fact that smog has been killing people since the Great Smog in London back in 1952.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Third hand smoke; anti-smoker insanity

“Yep. It’s getting pretty sad these days. Can’t even get on a elevator without someb’dy killin’ ya.”

The old guy sat down next to me on the rustic old bench where I was waiting for a streetcar to take me downtown. He appeared to be a lonely old chap, but he was clean shaven and well-dressed and I’ve never been averse to casual conversation, even with strangers.

“Excuse me?” I queried, not sure what he was referring to.

“Woman got herself killed t’other day. Oh, yeah,” he said, with a toothless grin. “Happened downtown, it did. Some poor woman got on the elevator with one a them smoker fellas and the mis’rable bastard breathed on her. Killed ‘er dead, he did, just like that.” He finished, snapping his fingers for emphasis.

“Yep. Third hand smoke is what done it. Only young she was too.” The old man shook his head in dismay, then continued,
“Somethin’ ought’a be done about them smokers, that’s for sure. Foul, smelly bast . . . “

He stopped mid sentence, his eyes bulging like saucers, as I withdrew the pack of Putters Lights from my shirt pocket. Sweat was already beading on his forehead as I extracted a fag from the blue and white pack. He was visibly trembling when I put the fag between my lips and brought out my trusty Zippo.

“Ah, geez don’t do it, mister. Don't light it.” He groveled, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean nuttin’ by it. I don’t wanna get dead.” Then, terrified and next to tears, he turned and ran for his life.

I flicked open the Zippo and brought the open flame to the end of my fag. ‘Why is he running?’ I thought to myself. He’s got at least 20 minutes before my secondhand smoke turns to third hand smoke and causes him to keel over.

A new “scientific study” by Dr. Jonathan Winickoff , warns the public that third hand smoke is hazardous to the health of both adults and children, but mostly children. In another week or two, the anti-smoker crowd will have people believing something called third hand smoke kills not only babies, but houseplants, household pets and all manner of living things.

By the end of the month, third hand smoke will be a bigger threat to humanity than atomic weapons. OK. OK. Maybe not as big as the atom bomb, but big. For sure, it will be even more deadly than secondhand smoke which is, in turn, more hazardous than first hand smoke.

And, e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y knows first hand smoke is very deadly stuff. Just ask anybody in the anti-smoker brigade. They’ll tell you. After all, that’s what started this whole nightmare.

Of course, as it turns out, the study wasn’t really a study, it was a telephone poll. And the hazards of third hand smoke weren’t really studied. What was studied was what people thought about third hand smoke. And, the truth be known, they didn’t really ask about third hand smoke per se, because they hadn’t invented it yet. So they just asked people if someone smoking in a room today would hurt you tomorrow. Or was it, if someone smoked in a room yesterday, could it hurt you today. No matter, it was something like that.

But, if that’s not confusing enough for you, third hand smoke, as it turns out, isn’t really smoke at all, it’s tobacco residue left over after the smoke is gone. Of course, after the smoke is gone it can’t really be called third hand smoke, because it’s not . . . smoke that is.

Dammit, now they’ve got me confused.

At any rate, due to the potential health hazards of young children eating, licking or absorbing infinitesimally small trace amounts of this solidified, once-upon-a-time secondhand smoke, tobacco contamination, anti smoker crusaders are now free to push government to ban smokers from all public and private spaces. Yes. Smokers. Did you expect them to ban cigarettes?

According to Winickoff: “For people who smoke, this is another important piece of factual evidence for them to attempt to quit smoking.” Uh-huh.

Factual? I think I may be sick.

For the real story behind this lapse into insanity, check out the article by Christopher Snowdon on Velvet Glove Iron Fist

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Smoking, SHS . . . and now third hand smoke

“A new study says third-hand smoke may be dangerous.”Toronto Star

Unfortunately for the fear-mongering, anti-smoker zealots at the Star, the “study” says nothing of the kind. The study turns out to be a phone poll on the attitudes and beliefs of the public as it pertains to the newly-coined phrase “third hand smoke”.

No conclusion on the toxicity, or even the existence, of third hand smoke was forthcoming from the poll.

In fact, Stanton Glantz, of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at U of C, San Francisco said yesterday in an interview with Scientific American that he is not aware of any studies directly linking third-hand smoke to disease.

The lack of any balance in the inflammatory outburst by Stuart Laidlaw in the Star article suggests he may have written the piece directly from the press release, without taking the time to read the actual study. Laidlaw should at least make an effort to control his anti-smoker bigotry if he wants to maintain any credibility.

The discussion section of the alleged study points out the real purpose of this survey:
“This novel finding is important because the thirdhand smoke concept could easily be incorporated into current and future tobacco counseling messages, tobacco control programs, policy initiatives, and guidelines.”

In simpler terms, the contents of the survey should be milked for its propaganda value in the continued persecution of smokers. The science is unimportant.

Dr. Michael Siegel, wrote on his blog yesterday:
“The tobacco control movement's warnings to the public about the dangers of thirdhand smoke highlight once again that science is no longer driving the movement. Tobacco control practitioners are warning parents that even if they smoke outside the home, leaving a coat hanging on a door is going to expose their children to toxins and harm them due to offgassing of vapors from particulate matter that has settled on the coat during smoking. Yet there is no evidence that such very low levels of exposure to tobacco smoke residue constituents is harmful”.

Siegel is a well known anti-smoking advocate, an MD and a professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, Boston University School of Public Health.

What Stuart Laidlaw and the Star refer to as a study, is little more than an exercise in propaganda by Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

Laidlaw claims in his article that:
“Researchers have found that third-hand smoke containing heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials lingers long after second-hand smoke has dissipated, and can be ingested by children crawling around a room.”

What researchers? Where is his proof that “researchers” have found third hand smoke to be hazardous, for that is the clear implication of his statement? Winickoff is quoted in the article as saying: "This is the first scientific study to use the term."

And, remember, such notables in the field of tobacco control as Siegel and Glantz say there is no scientific evidence to support the concept of health hazards from third hand smoke.

Winickoff’s survey is driven by the need to maintain pressure on smokers; to vilify those who choose to smoke in the eyes of the public and force them to quit.

Winickoff says:
“Third-hand smoke is what one smells when a smoker gets in an elevator after going outside for a cigarette or in a hotel room where people were smoking. Your nose isn’t lying, The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: ’Get away.’”

I would add: “But, only if your brain is the size of a pea.”

Smoking is a serious public health issue. Wild exaggerations and deceptive “scientific studies” contribute nothing to the debate. Neither do sensational headlines and misleading articles in the press.

Disseminating such propaganda to the public is irresponsible journalism.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Smoke that cigarette … government needs you

Angeline Webb, of the Canadian Cancer Society, is proclaiming a victory in the war on smokers. Ms. Webb claims Alberta’s Tobacco Reduction Act, banning smoking in all public places and workplaces, is having the desired effect and forcing smokers to quit.

She was reacting to the latest government fiscal data from Alberta, indicating a drop of $50 million in provincial tobacco tax revenue. The 5.6% drop in revenue may, or may not, be indicative of a decline in smoker prevalence. But, apparently, Ms. Webb sees this as evidence Alberta smokers are on the run . . . to the nearest drug store for the nicotine patch or a pack of that foul tasting gum.

Obviously, she hasn’t given much thought to the alternative explanation. And, there is an alternative explanation. Maybe the constant rise in tobacco taxes has finally reached critical mass and Albertans are running in the other direction; to the nearest dealer in contraband tobacco.

Over the past three years, Alberta’s tobacco tax revenue has increased annually; from $697 million in 2004/2005 to $890 million in 2007/2008. The constant increase in sin taxes on smokes makes Alberta’s one of the highest in the country, including Ontario. And, as might be expected, they have the highest price per pack in Canada.

By contrast, Ontario reached it highest level of tobacco tax in 2004/2005 when it extorted 1.45 billion dollars from smokers. According to figures provided by Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada (PSC), the amount collected in 2007/2008 had dropped to 1.22 billion. And, tobacco tax revenue in Ontario is in freefall.

But, no one in Ontari-ari-ari-o is proclaiming a victory for anyone but the smugglers and dealers in contraband tobacco products. Current estimates for contraband sales of tobacco in Ontario go as high as 50% of total tobacco sales.

Smoking prevalence in the province has remained stagnant for the past three years, as it has nation wide, suggesting something besides smokers kicking the habit is responsible for the declining tax revenues. In Ontario and Quebec, there is little confusion as to what that something might be.

Meanwhile, back in August, Michael Platt of the Calgary Sun reported on the latest smoking prevalence numbers by saying: “One-in-five Canadians smoked in 2005 and one-in-five Canadians smoke now. All indications suggest there will be one-in-five Canadians smoking three years from now, too. The survey shows the number of teens who smoke regularly isn't dropping, either”.

Rob Cunningham, of the Canadian Cancer Society, his vision apparently obscured by the blinkers mandated for anti-smoker crusaders, was recommending higher sin taxes to deal with the problem. "The Alberta government should move swiftly to increase tobacco taxes." Uh-huh.

That’ll solve the problem. Increase the profit margin for the distributors of contraband tobacco. It will help defray the costs of transporting black market smokes the roughly 1700 miles from source in Southern Ontario to new markets in Calgary. It will even make counterfeit smokes from China and South America, imported illegally through ports in British Columbia, more profitable.

Obviously the Canadian Cancer Society believes Alberta is different from the rest of Canada; not subject to the lure of cheap (tax-free) tobacco. But, if they don’t think that contraband tobacco is responsible for the biggest part of the decline in Alberta’s tobacco tax revenue, they’re dreaming in Technicolor. Or maybe they’ve just got their heads buried deeper in the sand than most Canadians.

At any rate, Ms. Webb and the Canadian Cancer Society were patting themselves on the back for their contribution to what they believe to be a decline in smoking prevalence. On the other hand, Premier Ed Stelmach was whining about the “hefty deficit” faced by the provincial health department. A deficit estimated to be somewhere around 1.3 billion dollars.

That’s obviously bad news for the folks in Alberta. The government now has to find ways of generating revenue (or cutting costs) for health care. Increased sin taxes on tobacco won’t work; people will either quit or, more likely, switch to contraband. So they’ll have to find some other product to demonize and tax to death. Any bets on what may be next?

And, just in case the anti-smoker fanatics succeed in eliminating smokers from Canadian society, I wonder what contingency plans the government has to replace the billions in tax revenue now generated by smokers? No, Virginia, the savings in direct health care costs won’t offset the loss in tax revenue.

What’s that word again? Paradox?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Punitive taxes on smokers no solution

High tobacco taxes are touted as the most effective means of reducing demand for tobacco products. In theory, increasing cost will force smokers to quit. And, also according to theory, higher taxes have the added advantage of putting the cost of cigarettes beyond the reach of teenage budgets, meaning fewer teens will be inclined to start smoking.

But theory is one thing; the reality, of course, is something completely different.

Ask the anti-smoker zealots why they aren’t pushing for all out prohibition and they’ll tell you it’s simply not an option. They’ll point to the lessons learned from the American prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1933. They’ll admit that the resulting lawlessness and violence is unacceptable. They know that the public would be no more inclined to support tobacco prohibition today than they were the prohibition of alcohol in the twenties and thirties.

And, yet they continue to push for piecemeal prohibition which is creating the exact same problems. Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada, the Non-Smokers Rights Association and a host of other charter members of the anti-smoker brigade, insist that prohibitive levels of taxation are the most valuable weapon in their arsenal to force smokers to quit.

They point out to recalcitrant politicians that Canada has an obligation, as a party to the FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control), to implement tax policies that promote “national health objectives.” Unfortunately, the WHO (World Health Organization), responsible for the treaty, doesn’t have to suffer the consequences stemming from the usurious levels of taxation imposed on tobacco users; Canadians do

The fact, which politicians of all stripes seem determined to ignore, is that high cigarette taxes have already created a thriving black market and a massive loss of tax revenue as smokers grow weary of paying the extortion demanded by their government.

It’s not that the problem of contraband was unexpected. Both politicians and the public should have been aware of the detrimental consequences of excessive taxation. The government was warned by law enforcement years ago that increasing tobacco taxes beyond a reasonable level would lead to a black market that would be both costly and very difficult to bring under control. Those warnings were ignored.

Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada estimate that contraband represented 40% of tobacco sales in Ontario in 2007. The most recent estimates suggest that contraband is almost 50% of the Ontario market. Governments are losing billions in tax revenue and the problem of contraband is beginning to spread across the country.

And, is it any wonder?

In 2004, the cost of manufacturing a carton of cigarettes (value brand) in Ontario was $12.53. That includes distribution, and profits at both the wholesale and retail level. Tax from various levels of government was $42.93. That’s 78% of the total cost of a carton of cigarettes. And, the average cost doesn’t include PST or the 2006 increase in provincial tobacco tax.

And, it was government, pressured by the anti-smoker lobby, which raised taxes to such punitive levels. It was government which created the huge profits to be harvested from the trade in contraband tobacco. And, it is government who must ultimately bear responsibility for the adverse consequences of this misguided tax policy.

Anti-smokers point to Canada’s First Nations as if they were responsible, demanding authorities increase enforcement efforts to get contraband off the streets.

But, by concentrating only on First Nations, they demonstrate that they have no real grasp of the problem and its costs. For example, Canada has become a lucrative market for counterfeit tobacco products; manufactured offshore, imported illegally and sold on the country’s growing black market. According to the RCMP, these counterfeit products originate primarily in China and South America.

Imperial Tobacco, Canada’s leading tobacco manufacturer, reports an alarming increase in theft of legal cigarettes, which then make their way onto the black market. Imperial Tobacco’s web site points out that in 2004, there were 17 times as many thefts as there were in 2003. Millions of dollars worth of cigarettes, millions of dollars in profits created for criminal elements as a direct result of punitive taxation.

Anti-smoker fanatics believe the problem can be remedied by forcing Canada’s First Nations to become tax collectors for the federal and provincial governments. It won’t work. The demand for cheap tobacco is too great. And, if Canada’s First Nations don’t fill it, then someone else will.

In Canada, it will be a criminal enterprise the likes of which has not been seen since the twenties and thirties. Count on it.

Additional reading: Patrick Fleenor - Wall Street Journal