Have you been seeing the new "Truth" commercials on television?
Do you remember being taught that honesty is the best policy, or that a lie of omission or exaggeration is still a lie, or that a lie is a sin that will grow and fester once you let it take root in your soul? Granted, my mom was a busy single mother, and it's possible she might have missed a lesson here or there, or that some things might have been forgotten, but I'm almost sure I remember something about lying being bad.
"Thou shalt not witness false bears." or something like that.
Well, times change and rules change, huh? Evidently, now it's OK to be misleading - or even outright lie - so long as your intentions are good.
A recent commercial from the dubiously named "thetruth.com" tells us that 1200 people die every day from smoking... In the ad, these are actually claimed to be "loyal customers" of a single un-named "big tobacco company", but I'm guessing they're being "illustrative", and they actually mean smokers overall, right? It's not a bad lie or anything.
They say it's a national tragedy, and that flags should be lowered to half-mast... From their 1200 a day number, we can tell that 438,300 people die of smoking, on average, every year (365.25 days per average year for anyone doing the math and scratching their head). Then ask you to come to their website... Where they offer no hard data, nothing to back up their "facts"... I guess they just expect you to believe them. Reminds me of another "information outlet" that called itself "Truth".
In their defense, though, there is a small graphic on their site that advises us: "ask questions. seek truth." So I did.
I wanted to get a handle on this tragedy... Get a sense of scale. Well, the United States Census Bureau tells us that a person dies in the US every 12 seconds... 7200 a day. So... 7200 divided by 1200... One sixth1 of the people who die in the US die because of smoking?!? Can this possibly be true?!? Does that mean if nobody smoked, one sixth fewer people would die...? More of us would just live forever? Like Elves and Vampires?
Well, I thought about that for a while, let me tell you... Eternal life. Now that'd be worth quitting for.
But, actually, I think we'd still die. I think it means more of us would live to be really, really old. I think it means hospitals, nursing homes, terminal hospices, and the drug companies that make the medications that help us cling to our baby-food eating, adult diaper wearing years would be even bigger businesses than they are now.
This was my suspicion, so I decided to test it. Are hundreds of thousands of Americans being cut down in their prime due to smoking cigarettes? Are generations of would-be pensioners being robbed of their mouldering golden years? Is our already failing Social Security system getting a major break because darn near a full half-million extra people are checking out every year before they can cash the check?
In 2002, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, at the Centers for Disease Control, 2,447,864 Americans died2.
So, wait... Almost 60% of those who died waited until they were 75 years of age or older to do so? Yep. And more than 74% were 65 or older. That includes our tragic hero, the Smoker.
What's worse, up until the 45-64 age group3 accidents remain the leading cause of death overall. Accidents?!? With the possible exception of that uncomfortable moment of panic when the cherry drops in your lap while you're going down the freeway, I don't think we can blame accidents on cigarette smoking4. Cancer becomes the leading cause in the 45-64 age group with Heart Disease taking first prize in people 65 and older.
Serious researchers - that is to say, those interested primarily in scientific fact, as opposed to those interested primarily in sensationalism and political agendas - use an interesting term when studying mortality rates by specific causation... "Excess Mortality" or "Excess Deaths". This term sort of admits that 100% of a given sample group of people (excluding elves and vampires) is probably going to die, given a long enough period of observation... So in order to understand, in any meaningful sense, how many deaths were caused by "X", we have to have some idea of how many deaths were going to occur in that given population anyway.
Cigarette Nazis almost never use that term... In fact, I've never caught one of them using it. The process of Cigarette Nazi Logic runs out more like this:
Heart Disease is the leading cause of death in the United States -> Smoking causes Heart Disease -> Cigarette Smoke is the real leading cause of death in the United States.
Malignant Neoplasms are the second leading cause... Malignant neo... What? Cancer!?! Cigarettes cause cancer!! It's worse than we thought! Cigarettes are the first and second leading causes of death!!
What's third...? Cerebrovascular Diseases. I'm not sure how, but I'm sure cigarettes cause that, too.
Fourth? Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease... Hah! Lung disease, you mean... And we all know what causes that!! So cigarettes are three of the four leading causes of death!?!
We must outlaw smoking! We must kill the smokers to save them from themselves...! To save us from them!
Remember that lovely white-haired gentleman who said "There are Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics."? Well, the anti-smoking crusade loves nothing more than that last one. Problem is, as I'm sure another white-haired gentleman at some point told us, a set of statistics can be mis-used to prove anything.
Lets see now... Here are some facts. Facts taken from anti-tobacco studies. Real ones. All I've done is tossed the exact same statistics in my pile instead of theirs.
Remember... These numbers are taken from anti-smoking studies. The same studies the Cigarette Nazis are reading. These are the worst case scenarios that they can support with their data.
The causes of death that the Cigarette Nazis cite as "smoking related" account for well over half of all deaths in our society. They cite how amazingly more common these forms of death are now than they were, say, a hundred years ago, but a hundred years ago, the average life expectancy of a man was what... 35? Now, over 95% of all deaths occur after age 35. If I had to guess why, I'd guess more people getting shelter, regular meals, and doctor visits. Fewer people being eaten by bears. If a Cigarette Nazi had to guess, he'd guess "More Smoking, Obviously!6"
All in all, it seems that the leading cause of lung cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and death itself is being alive a long, long time. Whether you smoke or not.
So what am I saying... Smoking is good for you? Hell no. There's a thing on fire in your hand, and you're inhaling the smoke. If you need a university study to tell you that's not good for you, you're not spending enough time camping. Or thinking.
But that's no excuse to lie about it... No excuse to exaggerate the facts, or paint a hideously grim picture that's not supported by the facts.
You never catch them telling the whole truth. You won't catch them saying "If you have a cigarette every now and then, you might enjoy it... But, statistically speaking, you'll probably die at 79 instead of 827."
Nah. That just wouldn't be sensational enough. Besides... They're doing ot for a good cause.
1 - On thetruth.com, they say one in five... But maybe they're not liars. Maybe they're just bad at math.
2 - This report is preliminary data, with a historical margin of error of around 1 percent in relevant areas.
3 - For some inexplicable reason, in this particular section, data is clumped in 20 year segments, while in all other areas of the study, the preferred grouping is 10 years.
4 - Actually, Cigarette Nazis try. They remind us that some house fires kill people, although they don't say how many (about 9 a day) or how many are estimated to be caused by "smoking materials" (about 25%, or 2.34 a day), which presumably includes pot other illicit drug smokers... Hmm... Who do you think is more likely to burn the house down. Mom with her cigarette, or little Bobby with his doobage?
5 - The study results I read didn't mention just how much second hand smoke the non-smoker had to be exposed to, or over how long. Considering that the Cigarette Nazis A) religiously quote the most damning statistics they can reasonably generate, and B) did quote that there is "no safe level of exposure", one would have to assume there is no significant increase over any various levels of exposure they tested. If there were, they'd find a way to use it.
6 - Someone like, for instance, David Moyer, MD, in The Tobacco Reference Guide. Dr. Moyer quotes several sources that note with amazement how much more common these "old age" conditions are, now that people are living twice as long as in years gone by.
7 - See my next rant, on my favorite Cigarette Nazi statistic of all time.
and... ...since I'm as likely as not to have sympathetic ears here, I'll nclude the Rant mentioned in footnote 7.
This is my all time favorite smoking statistic.
Let's work with that a moment. Now, most times, it takes me about three days to finish a pack of cigarettes... But let's assume a pack a day, since that's a quantitative phrase that anti-tobacco propagandists dearly love.
If each cigarette in a long-term habit costs you seven minutes of life (presumably taken at the end of said life - at least I know of no instance where the reverse is true) then our pack-a-day smoker loses two hours, twenty minutes a day. Sounds damning, doesn't it? The Cigarette Nazis are hoping that's as far as we get in our thinking, but let's keep going.
At that rate, we lose 35.46 days for every year of heavy smoking... A few days under a year of life for every decade of the habit. Supposing we start smoking a pack a day at five years of age, as the Cigarette Nazis seem sure we will if tobacco companies are allowed to advertise anywhere, we'll lose seven years by the time we're seventy five.
Now, me... I'm a white female, 38 years old. In theory, that gives me a statistical life expectancy of around 82. Seventy-five if I smoke a pack a day from age five. For my actual smoking habits, the cost lines up more around three years. You know what? Wrap it up, I'll take it. I enjoy smoking a cigarette every now and then... So yeah. I'll give you those last three years.
But what about second hand smoke? I suppose a person who spent all their waking hours in a heavily smoke-filled environment might inhale 10% as much smoke as a pack-a-day smoker... That's obviously being pretty liberal with the probabilities, but let's go with the heavier numbers for the sake of argument. Our theoretical - Hm. Who gets exposed to that kind of second hand smoke daily from 5 to 75? I don't know, maybe she's a bartender in a really cool day-care center. Well, she'll pay, baby... over the course of those seventy years, she'll lose eight months of her life. Makes ya cry, doesn't it? I hope she got tipped well.
Then again, if she's an average American, her first-hand exposure to donuts will cost her a lot more lifespan than her second-hand exposure to cigarette smoke. Statistically speaking, she's much more likely to pay through her first-hand exposure to oncoming traffic.