The risks of smoking are greatly exaggerated Too much is made of the 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke. We're told these chemicals are so harmful that they are responsible for the deaths of millions worldwide. Untold in this "war on tobacco" is that each of the plants we consume consists of an equally daunting thousands of chemicals many of which are recognized poisons or suspected cancer-causing agents. Cayenne peppers, carrots and strawberries each contain six suspected carcinogens; onions, grapefruit and tomato each contain five -- some the same as the seven suspected carcinogens found in tobacco.High-heat cooking creates yet more dietary carcinogens from otherwise harmless chemical constituents. Sure, these plant chemicals are measured in infinitesimal amounts. An independent study calculated 222,000 smoking cigarettes would be needed to reach unacceptable levels of benzo(a)pyrene. One million smoking cigarettes would be needed to produce unacceptable levels of toluene. To reach these estimated danger levels, the cigarettes must be smoked simultaneously and completely in a sealed 20-square-foot room with a nine-foot ceiling. Many other chemicals in tobacco smoke can also be found in normal diets. Smoking 3,000 packages of cigarettes would supply the same amount of arsenic as a nutritious 200 gram serving of sole. Half a bottle of now healthy wine can supply 32 times the amount of lead as one pack of cigarettes. The same amount of cadmium obtained from smoking eight packs of cigarettes can be enjoyed in half a pound of crab. That's one problem with the anti-smoking crusade. The risks of smoking are greatly exaggerated. So are the costs. An in-depth analysis of 400,000 U.S. smoking-related deaths by National Institute of Health mathematician Rosalind Marimont and senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute Robert Levy identified a disturbing number of flaws in the methodology used to estimate these deaths. Incorrectly classifying some diseases as smoking-related and choosing the wrong standard of comparison each overstated deaths by more than 65 per cent. Failure to control for confounding variables such as diet and exercise turned estimates more into a computerized shell game than reliable estimates of deaths. Marimont and Levy also found no adjustments were made to the costs of smoking resulting from the benefits of smoking -- reduced Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, less obesity, depression and breast cancer. If it were possible to estimate 45,000 smoking-related Canadian deaths as some health activists imagine -- and Marimont, Levy and other respected researchers think it is not -- then applying an identical methodology to other lifestyle choices would yield 57,000 Canadian deaths due to lack of exercise and 73,000 Canadian deaths blamed on poor diets. If both the chemical constituents of tobacco smoke and the numbers of smoking-related deaths are overstated -- and clearly they are -- how can we trust the claim that tobacco smoke is harmful to non-smokers? The 1993 bellwether study by the Environmental Protection Agency that selectively combined the results of a number of previous studies and found a small increase in lung cancer risk in those exposed to environmental tobacco smoke has been roundly criticized as severely flawed by fellow researchers and ultimately found invalid in a court of law. In 1998, the World Health Organization reported a small, but not statistically significant, increase in the risk of lung cancer in non-smoking women married to smokers. Despite these invalidating deficiencies, the Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization both concluded tobacco smoke causes lung cancer in non-smokers. One wonders whether the same conclusions would have been announced if scientific fraud were a criminal offence. When confronted with the scientific uncertainty, the inconsistency of results and the incredible misrepresentation of present-day knowledge, those seeking to abolish tobacco invoke a radical interpretation of the Precautionary Principle: "Where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activity should not proceed." This unreasonable exploitation of the ever-present risks of living infiltrates our schools to indoctrinate trusting and eager minds with the irrational fears of today. Instead of opening minds to the wondrous complexities of living, it opens the door to peer ridicule and intolerance while cultivating the trendy cynics of tomorrow. If we continue down this dangerous path of control and prohibition based on an unreliable or remote chance of harm, how many personal freedoms will remain seven generations from now?
First published KW Record Wednesday November 20, 2002