Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"Smoke Free VA Now"... By Any Means Necessary

I just heard one of the most appallingly disingenuous misuses of facts in my entire life, and what kills me most about it is just how effective it's certain to be.

WRVA just played a commercial from Smoke Free Virginia Now which touted the following information:

1) that an estimated 1700 Virginians die as a result of secondhand smoke every year,

2) that the Surgeon General recently declared that "there is no safe amount of exposure to secondhand smoke," and

3) that 98% of Virginians believe that secondhand smoke is dangerous.

The next part of the commercial implored the listener: "In the face of this overwhelming evidence" I should contact my legislator to get anti-smoking laws passed.

Okay, first of all, I loathe smoking. It gives you cancer and emphysema, it makes your eyes and skin gross, it makes you smell, it makes me smell if you're smoking and I'm near you, and I find people to be unpleasant to be around when they're smoking. I don't smoke, I have never smoked (other than celebratory cigars and a single clove cigarette because it was freshman year of college), I never plan to smoke, and I avoid places where there is smoking.

That said, this commercial is a pack of lies and bull#### that deliberately manipulates the few facts it uses.

1) The connection between secondhand smoke and death is emotional and anecdotal, and the science is so far from compelling that it makes global warming look like holy scripture. See the following sites for evidence and commentary: The Rest of the Story: Tobacco News and Commentary, Clearing the Air, Junk Science, and the impressive Dave Hitt.

2) Surgeon Generals throughout the years have often been both politically motivated speakers and demonstrably wrong about medical science. And the SG's statements are frequently excerpted out of context by activist organizations to support fanatic and frantic claims. In point of fact, the SG's report on Reproductive and Developmental Effects from Exposure to Secondhand Smoke concludes:

The evidence is suggestive but not sufficient to infer a causal relationship between prenatal and postnatal exposure to secondhand smoke and childhood cancer. ... The evidence is inadequate to infer the presence or absence of a causal relationship between exposure to secondhand smoke during infancy and childhood cancer. The evidence is suggestive but not sufficient to infer a causal relationship between prenatal and postnatal exposure to secondhand smoke and childhood leukemias. The evidence is suggestive but not sufficient to infer a causal relationship between prenatal and postnatal exposure to secondhand smoke and childhood lymphomas. The evidence is suggestive but not sufficient to infer a causal relationship between prenatal and postnatal exposure to secondhand smoke and childhood brain tumors.

I count four references to the evidence being "suggestive but not sufficient," as well as one "inadequate" in there. Even the strongest language can only "infer a casual relationship."

3) I don't give a rat's what 98% of Virginians believe. 100% of Italians believed the world was flat. 100% of many Native American tribes believed it was balanced on the back of a turtle. Let me write this as large as blogspot will let me:

OPINION POLLS
DO NOT EQUAL
EVIDENCE.

They certainly do not eqate to the "overwhelming evidence" that Smoke Free VA Now touts so earnestly and smugly in their radio spot.

If the people of Virginia want to outlaw smoking because it's yucky and they don't like it, that's fine; I can respect that point of view. For the most part, I share it. But if you have to lie and manipulate to make a compelling argument, well, you've got nothing as far as I'm concerned.

I hate smoking. It disgusts me. It's on its way to being outlawed, another freedom being taken from us for our own good by well-intentioned liberals with extremely short memories (*cough* PROHIBITION *cough*). But this is a dirty way to try to sway public opinion to your cause, disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. You want to attack a legal behavior that's scientifically proven to ruin families, shorten lifespans, lower income, and reduce self-image? Attack premarital sex and adultery.

You should also read Hitler's Anti-Tobacco Campaign for laughs and shivers of fear.

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4 Comments:

  • At 1/25/2008 9:29 AM , Anonymous philip hamm said...

    ...Never mind the basic economics of the idea....

    The concept of a "Smoke Free" state is laughable in Virginia or North Carolina. That's like advocating a "Corn free" Kansas. Tobacco is a huge part of the economy of these states.

    Loosely related... For an interesting case study on well intentioned medical concepts taken to the most extreme, check out last week's American Experience from PBS. Fascinating and horrifying.

     
  • At 1/25/2008 10:43 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Jeez, that American Experience is horrifying...

    The one constant throughout the history of science is that a little knowledge enables appalling arrogance.

     
  • At 1/25/2008 11:49 AM , Anonymous philip hamm said...

    Arrogance is part of the human condition.

    It is not limited to or particularly manifest in science any more than things like religion, politics, etc.

     
  • At 1/26/2008 9:46 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    True. But it's more destructive in some places than others. When the arrogance of science extends into the realm of politics and begins to start behaving like religion, you have a new creature altogether.

     

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