In Ireland you will often hear that smoking is the biggest preventable cause of death with 5,200 succumbing to it every year. This has been repeated so often now it has almost become an accepted fact.
But, have you ever wondered where this 5,200 figure comes from? Have you some vague image in your head of earnest lab technicians pouring over the results of exhaustive clinical trials? Do you visualize intelligent honest men and women of integrity calculating with incredible accuracy based on verifiable figures and proving beyond doubt that 5,200 number?
Well, sorry to burst your bubble but that never happened! Firstly, there is NO disease or condition unique to smokers therefore no such thing as a smoking related disease. You can still get a heart attack or cancer even if you never smoked. And the hospital's admissions system run by HIQUA does not record smokers and no figures are kept either. Even worse, the two biggest killers in Ireland, heart disease and cancer, are know as multi-factorial or having multiple causes. One aspect is hereditary and then there are your lifestyle choices such as eating smoking and drinking. The amount of exercise you get is a major factor as is stress and economic status. The reason for suffering from one these killers is highly complex and it is impossible to factor out all of the others and blame just one of them. But that is what they have done nevertheless.
Knowing this, no GP in the country has ever put smoking on a death certificate as either the primary or secondary cause of death because they can't. That is why the Central Statistics Office never even mention smoking in their statistics on cause of death. The death certs never mention it either. So to declare that smoking killed someone is to offer an opinion not a diagnosis or cause.
Therefore, the 5,200 figure is a nonsense. It has been generated by a computer based on similar figures generated by computers in other countries. At best you could call it an educated guess, an estimate or just propaganda to drive a certain agenda. It would be harmless tom-foolery were it not for the fact that National laws have been drawn up based on it. Those of you from an IT background will know that a computer can generate any figure you want based on what you feed into it. That is how Jeb Bush got his brother George to win the Florida elections and hence the President's office. But in the case of computer generated numbers on smoking, these have justified a campaign of incitement to hatred and an invitation to the non-smoking population to view smokers as inferior beings. Nasty is a mild word for it.
A similar computer-generated figure of 8,000 deaths a year from hospitals is also floating around. The alleged deaths are being caused by lack of care, medical mistakes and incorrect medications given. Added to this is the figure of 160,000 inures for the same reasons. Do you believe those figures from the "Patient Focus Group?' If you do, then hospitals are biggest preventable cause of death in the State. Can you possibly believe that? What you probably do believe though is that no GP will ever write the word "hospital" on a death cert as a cause of death so the CSO won't be reporting it.
But there has to be a nagging doubt, doesn't there? If 5,200 deaths from smoking is just bullshit, what is the truth of the matter? Having read and researched extensively on the topic I can only say I don't know. But the scribblings of all the great minds on it that I've diligently poured over, don't know either. In the human physical condition you simply could not take food consumption on its own and examine thousands of diets to discover what is good or bad. So what they do is to try to spot trends instead that could point to a relationship with one thing and another.
One good paper I read suggested that farmers might observe every single day that the sun always rose shortly after the cock crowed. This would point to a relationship between the two events and this kind have thing has been done repeatedly with smoking. But a scientist looking for causation must then have to surmise that cocks cause the sun to rise and by extension, in the absence of cocks it would never rise. What I have done is to move from correlation to causation in the case of sunrise and you can clearly see it for the bullshit it is. Look at it another way. Every single person who has died from heart disease or cancer has breathed air all of their lives. Every one of them has drunk water too and eaten food. In terms of pure epidemiology this amounts to correlation but it doesn't prove causation from air, food or water.
So, how is done, I hear you ask? Where does this 5,200 figure really come from. In the States I have read that certain scientists estimate that 20 per cent of lung cancers happen in non-smokers. How the hell is that possible when lung cancer is supposed to the sole preserve of the smoker? Could something else be at work here or a combination of factors coming together at various levels and times? Everything we do and consume has risk attached and could it be that a number of these risks together are the true cause of illness? There are just too many variables to ponder and that makes accuracy impossible. But if you are looking for a propaganda figure, then 5,200 is as good as any.
Risk as a concept can be amusing to play with. For example, each year we have several deaths from drowning in the sea. Clinically, water gets into the lungs which prevents breathing. Viewed statistically you would take the figures of deaths from drowning in the sea, estimate the amount of people in any given year who have been swimming in the sea and this will yield a percentage risk. But if you are to treat this the same way smoking has been treated then you would need to view water as actual cause of death. As a result, a glass of water must be viewed as an item of risk and an argument could then be made to ban it or at least impose restrictions. Absolute rubbish I know but I have repeatedly heard the mantra that even one cigarette is dangerous. I can digest and accept proven facts and in fact I like to do so. What I don't like is concocted numbers like 5,200 presented to me as a hard fact when it is no such thing. Worse again, when that number is further used to steal my freedoms and marginalize me, I resent it and I fight back.
So when it comes to presenting 5,200 deaths annually from smoking as a fact to base legislation on, then I suggest you take it with a pinch of salt, if you are wiling to risk taking salt?
Oh! And that is why I have put this article in the 'politics' category.