I smoke.

8 Jan

I smoke.

I started the summer I graduated from High School. The ubiquitous anti-smoking “Public Service” television adds of the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association (a whole bunch of tumors and disembodied lungs, holding meetings … it’s quite a picture) had irritated me for years. I don’t like being preached at unless I chose the preacher. So sue me. One day I decided that if all those buttinskis were against smoking, I needed to try it. I had scant interest in cigarettes, but my maternal grandfather had smoked cigars – Muriel Air Tips – and so I went out and bought a box.
I liked them.
I moved from el-cheapo cigars (and Muriel Air Tips are about as cheap as they come) to a dime-store pipe and Captain Black Gold pipe tobacco before the summer was over. When I went to Johns Hopkins later that year I was a confirmed pipe smoker. I was delighted to discover Faders Tobacconists in downtown Baltimore, and my taste in tobacco got better.
While I was primarily a pipe smoker for years, I did smoke the occasional cigar, and the better the cigar the better I liked them. When the cigar boom of the 1990’s began I was, so to speak, in on the ground floor already. I shifted over to cigars almost exclusively.
While this was going on the anti-tobacco Crusade went on apace. And as cigars became popular again for the first time in decades and curious thing happened. The Crusaders began to attack cigars with the same vitriol that they had previously reserved for cigarettes.  They had no evidence – or if they did they kept it jolly quiet – but they began to assert that cigars are just as dangerous to health as cigarettes.
Now, I already had my suspicions of the whole Crusade. Crusades, even when based on a reaction to real harm (Prohibition comes to mind) seldom make for good public policy. They are rooted in the conviction that most people hold that the world would be a better place if they were in charge. A lot of people manage to contain this groundless conviction, but the ones that don’t can do an enormous amount of harm before society gets sick of them.
Now, I don’t dispute that there is strong statistical evidence that smoking a pack of cigarettes a day or more leads to a broad variety to ills, including lung cancer, emphysema, and so on. But the biological mechanism is unknown even now. The assertion that cigarette tar is carcinogenic, while it makes sense in context, is based on painting liquid slurry on the backs of mice that are bred to grow tumors and then analyzing which ones grow tumors first or fastest. In other words, it comes down to statistics and even then the mechanism is broadly different from the exposure that a smoker has.
If you start looking into the Crusade, you run into all kinds of problems. I see the assertion that 400,000 people die from secondhand smoke every year quite often. You’d think that was pretty solid. But if you follow it back you quickly find that the number was first quoted with regard to actual smokers. And then you discover that that in turn is based on death certificates. Any death by lung cancer is likely to be attributed to smoking, because the American Cancer Society has issued guidelines that encourage that. So they are saying “look at all these deaths that we attribute to smoking because we believe that smoking causes lung cancer; they prove that smoking causes lung cancer!”. A moderately bright five year old could see through that. Then, after a while, the same number begins to be attributed to secondhand smoke. Is there evidence? Well, studies have been done, but they don’t really bear up that well. So it comes back to somebody deciding that anybody who died from lung cancer, or emphysema, or several other ills, probably died from secondhand smoke, totting up the numbers, and then pointing to them as if they proved something.
I do believe that smoking is bad for your health. So is eating rich food, riding a motorcycle, competing in contact sports, sexual promiscuity, and a lot of other things that make life worthwhile. I dislike being nagged. I dislike even more being told by my ‘betters’ that their superior wisdom justifies putting limits on my freedom. I positively detest such nattering when the natterers point to dubious science to justify their meddling. The studies about secondhand smoke do not demonstrate a statistically significant relationship between secondhand smoke and ill health. The EPA’s study claims to, but the EPA ‘adjusted’ the confidence interval, which is a fancy way to say they cooked the books to get the result they were sure was The Truth. Interestingly, in the same study, the EPA admitted that the highest concentration of “Environmental Tobacco Smoke” that they expected to find in the real world would amount to smoking two-fifths of a cigarette a day, per day of exposure. Naturally that aspect of the study hasn’t been played up much.
Burning tobacco smells bad to many people. I sympathize with non-smokers who want smoke free workplaces. If they based their activism of “it stinks and we don’t want to smell it”, I would have no trouble with them. Instead they climb up on their pulpit and assert that I am putting their health at risk and that that means I am a Bad Man whose life they get to meddle in.
To hell with the lot of them.
This isn’t going to be my last post on this subject, by a long shot.
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