Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pennsylvania Health Department Quoted as Stating that One to Three Million Nonsmokers in the United States Die Each Year from Secondhand Smoke

According to an article at the news site (Philadelphia), the Pennsylvania Department of Health claims that between 1 million and 3 million adult nonsmokers in the U.S. die each year from secondhand smoke exposure. In addition, the newspaper reports that the health department claims that 300,000 children (under age 18) in Pennsylvania die from smoking, either directly or indirectly.

According to the article: "Most Pennsylvanians won't balk at going outside to light up if data collected by the Pennsylvania Department of Health is any indicator. Eighty percent of Pennsylvanians want a smoke-free work and play environment, said state health department spokeswoman Holli Senior. ... 'We obviously hope the law will have a huge impact on Pennsylvanians' health,' said Senior. ... Senior noted that more than 20,000 Pennsylvania adults die each year from their own smoking and approximately 300,000 Pennsylvanians under the age of 18 die either directly or indirectly because of smoking. Nationally, it is estimated that between 1 million and 3 million adult non-smokers die each year from exposure to second-hand smoke, noted Senior."

The Rest of the Story

Both of these claims are absurd on their face, as they are statistically impossible.

There are approximately 2.5 million deaths annually in the United States from all causes. Thus, there is no way that there could be 3 million deaths each year due to secondhand smoke. Since active smoking is only responsible for an estimated 400,000 deaths each year, it is obviously impossible that secondhand smoke could cause anything close to 1 million deaths. In fact, the most extreme estimate I have ever seen of the annual number of deaths in the United States due to secondhand smoke is about 60,000.

There are approximately 125,000 deaths annually in Pennsylvania from all causes. Thus, there is no way that there could be 300,000 deaths among youths from any cause, much less from smoking. Since there are only about 2,000 deaths each year among youths (under age 18) in Pennsylvania, it is obviously impossible that secondhand smoke could cause 300,000 deaths among this population.

I suppose it's possible that the newspaper reporter just got these facts wrong, but even if that's the case, it is incumbent upon the health department to correct the errors. As of this posting, the errors have not been corrected.

Assuming that this was merely the result of a careless error, the interesting question becomes: Why is this climate one in which anti-smoking advocates are being careless with the facts?"

The answer, I believe, is that the tobacco industry is no longer monitoring our statements and calling us on any unsupported claims. It's now basically a free for all. Here we have two of the most outrageous claims imaginable and you don't even see so much as a correction.

Perhaps the tobacco companies are assuming that if they simply let the anti-smoking advocates have at it, they will eventually come up with such outrageous claims that the public will stop believing everything they say. If you go around telling people that 3 million people die every year in the U.S. from secondhand smoke, it's not going to take very long before you lose all public credibility.

Now, let's just examine what the health department is telling us here. If 3 million people die each year from secondhand smoke, but only 2.5 million die from all causes, then I guess that means secondhand smoke exposure causes half a million people to become essentially, but not technically, dead. Essentially, they become walking zombies.

While this phenomenon was previously attributed to sleep deprivation, it apparently is the case that the walking zombie syndrome is caused by too much secondhand smoke exposure.

So the next time you hang out in a smoky bar late at night and feel hung over the next morning, rest assured it's not the alcohol nor the lack of sleep that is responsible for your symptoms: it's the secondhand smoke, for sure.

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