To those of you prone to apoplexia gravis, a word of caution: this post does not advocate smoking anything, other than possibly herring. Nor does it represent a defence of tobacco companies or other enterprises dedicated to the challenge of profiting from the sale of highly addictive toxic substances. It is instead a plea not to abandon reason and the careful use of language when writing about stuff we strongly disapprove of. Overstating a strong case often hurts it. It is also dishonest.
I am fortunate in that my kids, when they were mere tots, bullied me into giving up smoking. As soon as I lit up in their vicinity, they would cry out “daddy, you are going to die!”. Worse than that, they used to rat me out to my wife when I snuck outside for a quick smoke behind the shed. It was a battle I could not win, so I quit. Filthy habit.
You must have seen headlines stating something like “Smoking ‘kills five million a year’” (the year in question was 2000). What does this mean? Is this a bad thing or a good thing? Does it mean that five million people who died in 2000 would not have died when they did? That they would not have died ever, if only they had not smoked? That they would have died later (if so, by how many years or months), and that the manner of their dying would have been more comfortable that their smoking-caused deaths?
The headline in question really ought to have read: “Smoking-related illness and disease caused the premature deaths of five million people worldwide in the year 2000. Average life spans were -reduced by N years. If they had not smoked, the five million would not have died of smoking-related illnesses and diseases – cancer (lung, throat, mouth, larynx oesophagus, lung, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach, blood and cervix), diseases of the cardiovascular system (atherosclerosis, stroke, heart disease, aneurysms of the aorta and peripheral vascular disease), diseases of the respiratory system (emphysema, bronchitis and pneumonia), increased health risk and risk of death to the unborn from smoking pregnant women, periodontal disease, brittle bones, cataracts, ulcers. Instead they would have died, had they not smoked, at some later date, of cardiovascular diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases, ischemic heart disease, assorted cancers, strokes, lower respiratory tract infections, respiratory infections, respiratory diseases, unintentional injuries, HIV/AIDS, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, perinatal conditions, digestive diseases, diarrheal diseases, intentional injuries (suicide, violence, war, etc), tuberculosis, malaria, road traffic accidents, neuropsychiatric disorders, diseases of the genitor-urinary system, cirrhosis of the liver, nephritis/nephropathy, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, musculoskeletal diseases, hepatitis B, Parkinson’s disease, alcohol use, drug use, upper respiratory infections, skin diseases, hepatitis C, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease or some other condition.