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Surgeon General nonsense

I threw a really long post on the recent SG report declaring war on second hand smoke here. I read the actual data in the report, and it’s the same old crap. David Strom ran the numbers over at the Taxpayers League website, a non-smoker has a 6 in 100,000 chance of getting lung cancer, people exposed to second hand smoke have a 8 in 100,000 chance of cancer, a 1 in 50,000 increase (or a Relative Risk Ratio of 1.33 versus 1.00) or a .002% increase. In other words, jack squat. The Surgeon General is repackaging old nonsense and is trying to enforce new restrictions on freedom.

Update: Even those who support restrictions on workplace ETS say the Surgeon General is purposefully misleading the public. It will be hard to dismiss this person a member of the “tinfoil hat” crowd. (I have a problem with his analysis too, since he says it takes living with a smoker for decades to get a small increase in morbidity rate yet he supports workplace restrictions, which has to be a much smaller effect)


13 Responses

  1. We had this conversation on my blog, sort of, and on the Martyemail blog, sort of, but I wanted to go on the record here as well.

    I have a couple of questions for you. First, you’re looking at the risk of cancer. What about the risk of heart disease, respiratory tract infection (especially in children), increased likelihood of SIDS, etc.? I don’t have the data, and as I mentioned earlier don’t have the time to go on an in depth research project, but to my knowledge these effects have been established in study after study.

    Second, you have not yet answered the question which I posed to you on my blog regarding what the source of the “freedom” which you are claiming to smoke in public is. Why is smoking in public places a “right?” If the elected representatives chose to impose a restriction, isn’t that in line with their function as a representative? If the people don’t like it, don’t they have the right to kick them out? I suppose if your argument is that bad studies are being used to try to bring about a certain result, then I can understand what you’re saying and agree with you. However, I just don’t understand this concept of smoking in public being a freedom. Customary ability to do a thing does not make it a liberty interest.

    Enough on that…answer if you want to, or don’t, but understand I’m not trying to be snide here; I really am interested in what you view as the foundations of the freedom to smoke in public.

  2. One more thing…this 6 in 100,000 statistic doesn’t make sense to me. There are approximately 300,000,000 people in the United States. Using the 6 in 100,000 rate, that would be 300 million/100 thousand = 3000 * 6 = 18000 people with lung cancer in the United States. Presumably, this means over the course of a lifetime, also…since that’s all I can figure you mean by 6 in 100,000.

    However, in 2002 alone, there were just over 180,000 people diagnosed with lung cancer. That means that in that year alone, 1 in every 1,666 people in the United States was diagnosed with lung cancer. This is according to the CDC report, information from which can be found here:


    And it can be corroborated in general here:


    And a little more digging finds more sites that have similar numbers. So…where exactly does this rate of 6 in 100,000 figure come from? I mean, these numbers appear to be wildly off. Heck, go to the American Lung Association website to find some statistics if you like. What gives with these numbers?

    Even if you try to suggest that smokers have HUGELY disproportionate cancer risk rates, some research indicates that 20-25% of lung cancer cases arise in non-smokers. Borrowing a phrase from Bert Blyleven, my California Math suggests that’s about 35,000-40,000 cases each year in non-smokers.

    So again, I ask…where do these numbers come from?

  3. The Surgeon General “pooled” the statistics on all cancers and heart disease and came up with a “33% increase” statistic which is basically meaningless, that would be a RR of 1.33 whichis generally not considered significant, and you also have to factor in the confidence interval on such a stat which would further reduce its meaning. If a RR is less than 2.00, it is not regarded as being significant.

    I’ll look up the stuff on SIDS. I would guess though that the SIDS stuff is based on smoking in the homes, ETS exposure at bars and restaurants is miniscule to have any effect (guess); especially compared to ETS exposure of children in the home of a smoker.

    You keep saying “study after study” but that means nothing if study after study continues to find RR below 2.00 or basically insignificant results.

    As for my ideas about the “right” to smoke in public, this should be easy. Americans should be as free as possible. If an action can be proven to be harmful then it makes sense to regulate that act in public places. The Federal courts require a RR of 2.00 for a study to be admissable in court to prove harm. That has never been attained for second hand smoke (ETS). OSHA has never regulated ETS in the workplace since the carcinogens in ETS never reach levels requiring regulation.

    However, I don’t regard bars and restaurants as “public places,” at least, they are not collectively owned by the public. If it is not collectively owned, it should be left up to the owner of the property as to whether smoking can be allowed, be it home or business.

    Let people in a free society freely choose establishments for their patronage. If ETS is a big deal to you, go to places that don’t allow smoking. Certainly, don’t take away freedoms for childish reasons like “the smell gets on my clothes.” If you’re going to take away any freedom, you need a good reason, and a provable one.

    I see the push to encourage smoking bans in private establishments as a reduction in property rights. As a “property rights guy” I really don’t like that. If there was better science, I might shift, better every study I see (there were more than 80 in one chapter of the SG report) has a large confidence interval and a very low RR.

    I think that the risks of ETS are being purposefully blown out of proportion to trick people into supporting smoking bans. It’s the same thing with seatbelts, actual studies show forcing people to wear seatbelts increases the number of fatalities on the roads, yet we still get a push to support mandatory seat belt laws.

    To review, I don’t see bars and restaurants as “public” like government buildings or parks/sidewalks/etc obviously are, since they are privately owned. I know there are some cases which have stripped away the “private” aspect of bars and restaurants, but since I’m pro-life I don’t give a bleep about court cases. There is no statistically significant results regarding lung cancer and ETS.

  4. Lung cancer is common among people who work around asbestos, those who smoke, etc. The 6 in 100,000 number is the “natural rate” of lung cancer, those who get lung cancer w/o asbestos, argon or smoking exposure.

    I found this on lung cancer:

    Besides smoking, exposure to harmful substances such as arsenic, asbestos, radioactive dust, or radon can increase the risk for lung cancer. If you have more than one of these risk factors—for example, you are a smoker and you are also exposed to asbestos—you greatly increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Radiation exposure from work, medical, or environmental sources may also increase your risk for lung cancer.

    According to this website 90% of lung cancer is caused by smoking. That leaves 10% for all other causes combined.

    So, even though only 25% of the population smokes, they are 90% or so of all lung cancer cases. If you do the math, there are 180,000 cases of lung cancer, smoking causes 90% of them or 162,000 cases, leaving 18,000 cases to all other causes (or, coincidentally, the exact number you calculated for the 6 in 100,000 number).

    Thanks for being bad at math and proving what I said earlier.

  5. there is a virus which can account for lung cancer in non-smokers.


  6. I was just asking where the number came from…I was missing the important factor, that being the “natural rate” number, which I didn’t see. I’m not bad at math, just reading and comprehension. Come on now…if you’re going to criticize me, get it right.

    Notice, by the way, that I didn’t say the number was wrong…just that I didn’t see where it came from. I was asking for clarification, which you gave me.

    Incidentally, I still have a problem with the statistic. Let’s go with the figures you gave me, and that 10% of lung cancers are non-smoking related. There are approximately 170,000 lung cancer related deaths in the US each year. That means approximately 17,000 people die each year from lung cancer who had nothing to do with smoking. That means over 2 years, 34,000 die, and so on and so forth. The 6-in-100,000 figure is more accurately described as the yearly rate of lung cancer diagnosis, not the “chance of getting lung cancer,” which would be a lifetime statistic. Possibly I’m still just bad at math, but methinks the stat was mislabelled and under-reports the actual incidence of lung cancer risk. Problem is I forgot why we’re even arguing over this; is it relevant for something?

    Also…am I insane for continuing to post on your blog and subjecting myself to your responses? I don’t know. It entertains me though, so I guess that’s a plus.

  7. I’m still working on finding the study I got that number from. It’s likely it’s on my other computer (I save A LOT of studies and unfortunately my mind traps a lot of numbers without properly citing them) However, I just don’t think it really matters. Lung cancer happens to people who don’t smoke. What’s important is why it happens to people who don’t smoke. Asbestos, Arsenic, Radioactive something or other, Radon and I guess that virus thing are possible culprits. Another culprit might be second hand smoke. Studies suggest the RR is 1.33 or 33% above the baseline cancer rates. So take 18,000 times .33 and you get 5,940 (Close to the EPA estimate). To get the “per hundred thousand” number you take 5,960 and move the decimal place over 3 places while dividing by three and you get 1.98 per 100,000 (basically, 2 per 100,000). So, even by EPA BS best cherry picked data results, you get an increase (from zero this time) of 1 in 50,000 or .oo2% increase in danger of getting lung cancer against a baseline.

    So there you go, no more searching for the study, we calculated it outright.

    Wow, you’d think I was a math nut or something.

  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lung_cancer

    87% of Lung Cancer victims are smokers and there are 170,000 cases each year.

  9. Hehehe…an anono-drone called me insane! My day is complete! And that was fun…much more fun than researching the Upper Colorado River Bain Compact, which I had been doing all night. Nothing like a good flogging by Martin to enliven an evening…

  10. Jst is right, you can find more on the American Lung Association website (www.lungusa.org) or on the American Lung Association of Minnesota site (www.alamn.org).

    Marty falls into the same trap that his blogger buddies Strom and Westover are in: when the truth is “inconvenient,” simply question the science. You don’t have to prove anything or explain how YOU know more about this subject that the US Surgeon General. the American Lung Association, the Minnesota Dept. of Health, the American Medical Association, well, the list goes on and on.

    The time has come for Minnesota to go smokefree has come, and Marty knows it. You can make your case (albiet a weak one) for “property rights” if you wish. When you try to undermine the proven health risks of secondhand smoke, you have jumped into “tin foil hat” country.

  11. ohhh Bob, the folks at Anti-Strib really miss you.

    How dare Marty utilize the one useful class in 5 years of his education to question the government!
    I think it’s great that he or anybody can further analyze the statistical methods used for research, of which research results in claims or statements.

    Whether one likes the ruling or not, the Supreme Court has as a side effect enlightened us to what is ‘private’ and ‘public’.
    So, the concept of private property is well established. People simply disagree as to how much should Big Brother get involved. Many agruements are based on feelings, not reason.

    Most citizens support a smoking ban, I give you that. Mainly for the stinky clothes and smelly dislikes.
    But yet, everybody would revolt if Big Brother came into McDonalds or Culvers and threw away that bacon cheeseburger with fries and Diet Coke. (or imprison any parent buying the same meal for junior).
    Your same rational would justify the above situation. Ends never justify the means.

  12. Mr. Lungs-

    Ever hear of the Isles report? It was a study done by the British government in response to a study done by a London University which showed mandatory seatbelt laws caused more fatalities. The Isles report confirmed the findings of the earlier study, seatbelt laws cause more fatalities on the road.

    What did the British Government do with this report? It kept it hidden away from the public because it didn’t fit in with the policy of the government. The report was later leaked to the press.

    The Surgeon General, the American Lung Association, and most government bureacracies have agendas which do not include keeping this a free country. They are using the government and laws to try to force people to “be healthy.”

    Unlike you Mr. Lungs, I’m not trying to force people to eat right, excercise, go to the dentist and take care of themselves. I’m not trying to have some purpose in life to make me feel better about who I am.

    As for the science, the 1.33 RR found by the EPA meta-analysis in 1992 is about the same RR for lung cancer for people who eat mushrooms every week or those who eat a lot of oriental foods. Yet you’re not pushing for the regulation of mushrooms are you Mr. Lungs? I have the citations and the studies which will be going into a later post.

  13. “You don’t have to prove anything or explain how YOU know more about this subject that the US Surgeon General. the American Lung Association, the Minnesota Dept. of Health, the American Medical Association, well, the list goes on and on.”


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