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More Wasted Research

I hate the fact that liberals are always coming up with more BS that needs a goodly amount of “de-mything.” I spent three hours pouring over black body research showing it would take a 100% increase in CO2 to produce a 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature for an object the size of Earth with present solar output. I didn’t need that. I could have been working on another writing project of mine instead. I hate numbers, I hate running numbers and doing research. However, I like to KNOW things before I talk about them.

Such is the case with the latest report done by the Surgeon General in which he declares the debate about secondhand smoke is over, and any amount of second hand smoke exposure is deadly. This is report is going to used as the battle cry of crusaders everywhere to institute smoking bans in restaurants, bars, parks and sooner or later homes.

My immediate, gut reaction is the report is crap. Before mentioning any research about 2nd hand smoke, I can talk about smokers themselves. It takes 40,000 cigarettes to produce any risk if lung cancer. Even then the risk of lung cancer is relatively low, only about 1:1000 smokers, you can find this research with relative ease:

As you can see from this graph, if you smoke 10 cigarettes a day, 4000 cigarettes a year for twenty years, you run a .15% chance of getting lung cancer per year. So, by the numbers, a smoker who smokes 10 cigarettes or so a day for forty years has about a 4% chance of getting lung cancer. [This will be gotten into later, but the Relative Risk Ratio (RR) is 20.00 for lung cancer for smokers over the baseline 1.00 for the rest of us, a 2000% increase.]

So, even when your are a smoker it’s damn tough to smoke enough to guarantee yourself a slow death from lung cancer. If it’s that hard for smokers, 2nd hand “smokers” have to have it tougher. I think the data proves this is the case.

There are two major studies which have been the basis for most of government’s claims about second hand smoke. The 1993 EPA study and the WHO report. The EPA study was a meta-analysis that took 30 different studies and tried to mesh them into a single result. The EPA reported the results of their study before the study was done, and then they used a 90% confidence interval to gives themselves a statistically significant result (normally a 95% or 99% confidence interval is used).

The actions of the EPA in their report led to the report being kicked out of federal court as being inadmissible. This is the same study that is used to claim that “3000 non-smokers are killed every year by second hand smoke.” A better study is the World Health Organization report.

The abstract of the report is available here.

You should note:

RESULTS: ETS exposure during childhood was not associated with an increased risk of lung cancer (odds ratio [OR] for ever exposure = 0.78; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.64-0.96). The OR for ever exposure to spousal ETS was 1.16 (95% CI = 0.93-1.44). No clear dose-response relationship could be demonstrated for cumulative spousal ETS exposure. The OR for ever exposure to workplace ETS was 1.17 (95% CI = 0.94-1.45), with possible evidence of increasing risk for increasing duration of exposure. No increase in risk was detected in subjects whose exposure to spousal or workplace ETS ended more than 15 years earlier

About 2000 people were participants in this study, and it remains the largest ever done. It showed that there was no statistically significant link between 2nd hand smoke exposure and lung cancer. The largest study ever done of second hand smoke and lung cancer found no statistically significant correlation between the two.

You can learn more about these numbers and studies, what they mean and how to interpret them here.

http://www.davehitt.com/facts/

Here’s the real skinny on 2nd hand smoke; “Nonsmokers have a natural risk for lung cancer of roughly 6 in 100,000. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases that risk to 8 in 100,000 – an increase in absolute terms of 1 in 50,000 or 0.002 percent.”

You can see where it’s easy to adjust the numbers here. You could say “second hand smoke increases your risk of cancer by 33%” [8-6=2, 2/6=.33], which is exactly what the Surgeon General and the media do:

Regular exposure to someone else’s smoke increases by up to 30 percent the risk of a nonsmoker getting heart disease or lung cancer, Carmona found.

It’s actually unclear what they’re talking about, if it’s the number manipulation I showed you or just an increase in what is called “relative risk.” If it is in fact an increase in “relative risk,” that would be even less impressive.

TPL explains “relative risk”:

Scientists and the media typically report increases in relative risk to make the data seem more impressive than they actually are. For example, the EPA reports that secondhand smoke increases the relative risk of lung cancer by 24 percent. But this increase in risk is misleading because it is based on a very small number.

Nonsmokers have a natural risk for lung cancer of roughly 6 in 100,000. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases that risk to 8 in 100,000 – an increase in absolute terms of 1 in 50,000 or 0.002 percent.

A relative risk ratio (RR) of 1.00 means no additional risk, an RR of 1.50 means an increased risk of 50%. The federal courts require an RR of at least 2, and many epidemiologists regard an RR less than 3 as weak or insignificant. Robert Temple, director of drug evaluation at the FDA, states “My basic rule is if the relative risk isn’t at least 3 or 4, forget it.” Marcia Angell, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine notes “As a general rule of thumb, we are looking for a relative risk of 3 or more before accepting a paper for publication.”

Again, it’s just important to note that while there are numbers which show a slight increase of risk, it’s just not significant enough to base policy on. The “relative risk” as reported by the Surgeon General for second hand smoke is 1.33 (lung cancer and heart disease). For all of science, a 1.33 RR means nothing, but for people searching for a cause in life it’s enough to excuse tearing away the freedoms of Americans.

Heck, while we’re at it, the RR for cigar smokers who smoke 1 or 2 cigars a day is 1.02 versus the 1.00 baseline for ALL causes of death. This is statistically zero, meaning smoking cigars every day isn’t dangerous at all. Data available here:

National Cancer Institute, “Cigars: Health Effects and Trends,” Smoking and Tobacco Control Monographs. Available online at: http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/tcrb/monographs/9/.

Of course, this isn’t going to stop some from celebrating the end of freedom.

I take my friend to task in the comment section. He does use a common liberal tactic, and that is to mention a dozen different issues trying to make a point. In trying to show conservatives are more myopic than liberals, he mentions global warming, deforestation, and the ozone layer.

Well, global warming is a topic too big to get into here, and the ozone hole will make my head bleed (literally I’m told), but I did want to touch on Josh’s attitudes on “deforestation” [seriously, it’s like Josh leaped out of 1988 and didn’t get the “environmentalists ain’t cool anymore” memo]. In the comments section he says:

Timber is a crop, yes. However, the way that timber has been harvested is incredibly unsustainable. If you look at Forest Service data on the profitability of timber cutting on National Forest lands, you’ll find that it’s profitable pretty much only in the Northwest, and extremely unprofitable elsewhere. We need wood, we have wood to provide; arguing that we can continue to utilize the clearcutting and other non-sustainable methods currently in use is madness, unless you’d like the whole United States to look like central New Mexico.

Well, I am going to get you started. First, if cutting down trees wasn’t profitable, then private enterprise wouldn’t do it. Maybe it isn’t cost effective for the government, but there is a need for wood.

Second, central New Mexico is awesome. However, that is not how these forest lands would look if everything was clear-cut and not replaced. Central Wisconsin had all of their forests destroyed by heavy logging, I’ve been there you see, and it looks nothing like New Mexico. It’s not forest anymore, but it ain’t “Mad Max Apocalypse” bad either. You’re using a scare tactic, not a rational argument.

Third, there are some important numbers dealing with our forest “resources” that Josh either doesn’t know or skips over. In 1907 there were 759 million acres of forest land in the United States, today there is 747 million acres. Or in terms we can all understand, there has been about a 1% reduction in the total acreage of forests since a century ago; so in 1000 years we can expect a 10% reduction in the amount of forest land in the United States. Woo. Also, the United States is actually already reducing its use of forests for wood. There is more wood in our forests (not acres, actual wood) than there was in 1953, about 26% more wood. Two point four million acres of forest are planted each year in the United States.

Finally, in the last sixty years the number of trees being grown has exceeded the number of trees harvested.

In other words, forests are on their way up, both in acreage and number and thickness of trees. The “deforestation” is over and resulted in a 1% or BFD level reduction in forest acreage. Where did I get these numbers? From some right wing source you say? Nope, the data is available from the US Department of Agriculture in their 2000 RPA Assessment report.

And I was sitting here doing all this research when I could have been watching Carlos Mencia.

2 Responses

  1. I had typed up a long reply and then decided it sounded too much like a rant. So, instead, I’m going to just say that there are holes in your report and if I get a chance in a couple of weeks when my paper is finished and life calms down, I’ll address them.

    I made a mistake in referring to “deforestation” because that’s not really the main concern; instead it’s the issue of improper management techniques leading to unsustainable use.

    Finally for now, it’s called HYPERBOLE. You use it all the time. If it’s not a scare tactic when you use it, it’s not a scare tactic when I use it.

  2. One more thing…things might actually be improving in this regard, since the forest service itself admitted in 1997 here:

    http://www.fs.fed.us/forestmanagement/reports/tspirs/1997/index.shtml

    that it’s management practices have been changed drastically in the last decade. If that’s true, that’s great. But remember, the initial point of the post was that conservatives ignore things until they can’t anymore. Under Reagan and Bush I the practices for management were woeful, and under Bush II Secretary Norton (Interior) was largely viewed as completely unsympathetic towards the multiple-use/sustained-yield concept. So now I’ve talked more than I wanted to right now, and I’m going to shut up.

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