Not a shred of evidence indeed

As the seasons change here on Cape Ann, we’re bidding farewell to the last of our summer guests. And while the weather was generally cool and crisp these past couple of weeks…we had plenty of heated (yet friendly) debate to keep us warm. All thanks to some of my more controversial musings in the Daily Dispatch of course. In particular, my recommendations for how to quit smoking (as I shared in the Dispatch Physicians Behaving Badly).

Unfortunately, smoking has been so demonized, it’s impossible to support it in any way without getting someone incensed…despite the science. And every time I turn around, there’s yet another chapter in the ongoing debate.

For instance, on August 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down a new law that requires tobacco companies to add graphic health warnings to their packaging. And while you can bet the fight between the FDA and Big Tobacco will continue (all the way to the Supreme Court), and at our expense as taxpayers, for now, it appears you’ll just have to wait to enjoy those images of rotting teeth, diseased lungs, and a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his throat.

Such images have already been added to cigarette packs throughout much of the European Union. And a recent ruling in Australia has gone even further. There, tobacco companies have been required to actually remove their trade logos and branding from boxes besides being made to add these jarring images.

Fortunately, so far here in the U.S., courts have upheld the First Amendment right of free speech. “This case raises novel questions about the scope of the government’s authority to force the manufacturer of a product to go beyond making purely factual and accurate commercial disclosures and undermine its own economic interest—in this case, by making ‘every single pack of cigarettes in the country mini billboard’ for the government’s anti-smoking message,” wrote Judge Janice Rogers Brown.

Of course, what wasn’t addressed is whether or not these graphic images even represent reasonable depictions of the health effects of smoking. The facts that the government does not seem to want you to know:

  • 9 out of 10 smokers never get lung cancer; while 1 out of 100 non-smokers do get lung cancer
  • Smokers who smoke less than half-a-pack per day have the same health profile as non-smokers on average—and are better able to maintain healthier body weight
  • Cigar and pipe smokers are actually healthier overall than non-smokers (although they do have higher rates of oral cancer)
  • The evidence for the effects of “passive smoking” used to justify government anti-tobacco campaigns has long been controversial

All facts the government continues to ignore. What ever happened to their supposed emphasis on science-based public health policy?

And on top of all this, Judge Brown said FDA “has not provided a shred of evidence” showing that the graphic labels would reduce smoking. Of course, I’m not surprised. It’s just like the demonization of salt and fat.

Then again, since when has the government needed evidence to launch expensive public health “education” campaigns? Beyond First Amendment protection of “free speech,” the truth does not seem to get Fifth Amendment protection of “due process” in the court of public opinion when it comes to many government health prosecutions.

As for my views on smoking, again, I must simply stand behind the actual science. From research I helped conduct in 1987. Which showed that “light” smokers (less than half a pack per day) generally suffer no harmful health consequences. And recent evidence from the National Cancer Institute in their Monograph # 9 that one or two cigars per day have no health consequences on average.

So if you’re struggling to quit, consider just cutting back to just half-a-pack per day or less, or try just one or two after a meal. Which is certainly much less of a mountain to climb than quitting altogether. And probably just as beneficial.

Albanes, D.A., Jones D.Y., Micozzi, M.S. Mattson, M.E. (1987) Association between smoking and body weight in the U.S. population: Analysis of NHANES II. American Journal of Public Health 77: 439-444.