Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Anti-Smoking Group Still Maintains that 340 Young People Die from Smoking Every Day

According to Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails (ALA), "Smoking Kills About 340 Young People a Day."

That means that every year, 124,000 young people die from smoking.

While smoking is obviously a terrible public health problem and it is estimated to cause over 400,000 deaths per year, it is simply not true that 124,000, or 31% of those deaths, occur among "young people." It is rare for smoking to kill people below the age of 40. Most of the deaths from smoking are caused by heart disease, lung cancer or other cancers, and chronic lung disease -- all of these are conditions that generally do not set in until at least middle-age. Only rarely does one see a young adult die from smoking.

This is not to minimize the health effects of smoking; it is merely to point out that the statistic being communicated by this anti-smoking group is factually inaccurate.

The casual observer might understandably surmise that this communication on Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails' web site is simply an honest or careless mistake.

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is that Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails has been aware of this inaccurate statistic on its web site since at least October 22, 2007, when I first notified the group of the error. If this were just an innocent mistake, I think it would be reasonable to assume that the organization would quickly change the web page to correct the mistake.

However, as you can see, the "mistake" persists to this day.

In fact, several months after I first wrote to the group, asking why they hadn't yet changed the web page, I was told that the reason for the failure to correct this statistic was that the web master was unavailable (presumably on vacation).

All I can say now is that it's been one heck of a long vacation: from October 22, 2007 to February 26, 2013. That's five and a half years! I would love to have that web master's job.

I really don't understand this need to lie to the public, or to stretch the truth beyond recognition, in order to make a point to the public.

Based on the fact that the organization has presumably known about this inaccurate statistic for the past five and a half years yet failed to correct it, it seems implausible to me that Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails has any sincere interest in making sure that it communicates truthfully and accurately to the public. If it did, then why would it not have corrected the problem?

When I find a mistake on my web site, I correct it immediately. I don't wait five and half years. And while it's true that I don't have a web master who I need to contact to make the correction, I find it hard to believe that any web master is completely out of the reach of modern-day communication for five consecutive years.

Instead, it seems to me that perhaps the organization just doesn't care about the scientific accuracy of its public claims. After all, the end goal is viewed as a noble one, so what does it matter if you stretch the truth a little?

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