William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Government Loves You And Wants You To Stop Smoking

As an example to others, and not that I care for moderation myself, it has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain from smoking when awake.

When they used to tell me I would shorten my life ten years by smoking, they little knew the devotee they were wasting their puerile word upon—they little knew how trivial and valueless I would regard a decade that had no smoking in it!

Mark Twain made that first quip at a public lecture more than a century ago, a time in which bureaucracy was still a benign social disease. Indeed, the disease was thought relatively harmless, so it was left untreated. The fullness of time might yet reveal that the inaction of our ancestors will cause a fatal reaction in the body politic.

A hundred years ago the nascent malignancy was so weak that Twain was able to give that speech freely and in the open air, without having to insert a mandatory warning about the evils of tobacco. But try that kind of lecture now, at a time when the disease has grown into a menace, and if the speech were to be filmed, it would require an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Kiddies’ ears would have to be plugged, lest they hear an unapproved message.

Or perhaps Twain now would be made to augment his talk with a Power Point presentation filled with lurid pictures of rotting teeth and blackened lungs. Much like our bureaucracy will soon mandate to appear on packages of tobacco.

Didn’t you know? Yes: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, tumorous bureaucracies whose growth rate would send an oncologist shooting into the nearest tavern for a stiffener were they human patients, gave lots of money to a team of marketing “researchers” to prove that shocking images of disease would induce citizens to forswear smoking. The study was needed so that the bureaucracies’ fiats could made to sound scientific.

The design of the study was basic. A panel of smokers was lassoed into a confined space and shown words like “WARNING: Smoking Causes Mouth Diseases” or enhanced pictures of nacreous flesh. They were then asked how much they wanted to quit smoking. Those treated to the Night-of-The-Living-Dead images were more apt to say that they’d quit. Golly.

Wait, just wait: let’s pause to say that again. People shown disgusting pictures were more likely to say, on the spot, that they’d like to quit than those shown mere words. But are they more likely to quit? Ah, we don’t know. Our government says it wants to try this latest scare tactic because some European governments are already doing it, and some Asian ones too. Experience there has shown that the effects of viewing medical porn are not lasting. But hope is everlasting.

Anyway, that isn’t the interesting part. For in the same issue of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing in which this curious study is found appears the rhetorically entitled article “Can Corrective Ad Statements Based on U.S. v. Philip Morris USA Inc. Affect Consumer Beliefs About Smoking?” This editorial is made to appear as independent evidence, but it is nothing more than an analysis of the same study discussed above.

They say that “the results indicate that the corrective ad statements can have a positive effect on antismoking [sic] beliefs of focal interest in the case, and some beliefs are affected more strongly by the test advertisements than are others.”

Corrective?

One can only correct what is mistaken or what is in error or is dysfunctional. It is absurd, and indeed impossible to correct what is well, unbroken, or proper. Thus the government has convinced itself that its subjects—I mean its citizens, of course—do not know how to best judge whether smoking is proper. The bureaucracy believes that the “correct” behavior is to not smoke.

And the reason it thinks so is obvious: health is more important than anything. If citizens do not share that ideal, they will be forced to pay for a bombardment of “corrective” images until they are made to see the error of their ways, until such time, that is, that it shares the ideal of the bureaucracies.

I now enjoin you to reread that second Mark Twain quote. “How trivial and valueless I would regard a decade that had no smoking in it!” Twain believed that there are some things more important than health. And if enough of us do not share in Twain’s wisdom, health is all we’ll soon have left.

14 Comments

  1. I have a completely different perspective on this. The government has no desire to see people stop smoking. Before the tobacco settlement, the cost of a pack of cigarettes was on the order of a buck and a half. After the tobacco settlement, the price went to nearly three bucks. In my state, they now tack on another 2 bucks in direct taxes so smokes retail for between 5 and 6 bucks with the state getting three and a half to four and a half bucks depending on state taxes. So the taxes make up 2/3 to 3/4 of the price of cigarettes. Combine that with the savings on social security and medical care because smokers die quickly prior to going senile and the money saved really adds up.
    If they realy wanted smokers to quite, they would have a picture of the state governor on each pack with two words the photo, “Thanks Sucker”.

  2. As I pointed out on this blog previously, the cause of cancer is unknown. The causal mechanism and etiology are unknown. Anybody that tells you this or that causes cancer or this or that will prevent or cure cancer is BSing you.

    In 1971 President Nixon signed the national cancer act and the National Cancer Institute was tasked to find the cause of cancer. The NCI confidently predicted they would find the cause within 5 years, by 1976. After spending billions of dollars and 39 years on research they have not discovered the cause of cancer. The last time I checked they were confidently predicting they would discover the cause of cancer by 2015. Look at this NCI website, the next to last paragraph.

    http://training.seer.cancer.gov/disease/war/

  3. Cancer is not one thing. Different types of cancers have different causes and indeed many are genetic. But there is no doubt that smoking cause lung cancer. To even imply it does not would make me question either your intelligence or your exposure to the data.

    The lack of progress into curing or preventing all forms of cancer is frustrating. I would favor a shakeup in funding. Perhaps a panel of scientists to select new and/or different leads/tracks to study. Something should be done to improve this process.

    There is an anomoly in the data about the progress we have made with cancer. For the most part there have been some success where the cancer was limited to a part of the body we could simply excise on the operating table. But most progress fell under tha category of discovering the cancer in it’s earlier stages and then aggressive use of radiation or chemotherapy. But the anomoly can best be explained this way:
    In the past by the time you discovered lung cancer it was so far progressed that you had less then 18 months to live. But with earlier detection it was possibly to detect it, lets say, 3 years or more before it would have been detected in the past. So with aggressive treatment you might live 4-5 years!! Do you get the anomoly? Your life was not extended but the statistics on extending your life improved dramatically. But still, today, if you were to discover the early stage of lung cancer using all our modern technology and used all means to cure or reduce the cancer your life expectancy is at best about 5 years. There is no cure for the serious cancers and doctors are generally amazed when someone has a true remission and lies a normal life span. With few exceptions our “progress” in the treatment of cancer has been very limited.

  4. Briggs

    November 21, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    GoneWithTheWind,

    In no way and in no place do I claim, nor have I ever claimed, that smoking cigarettes is conducive to health. I am sure you meant to question Ray. But I am so shaken by even a hint of your rebuke, that I have taken a cigar to calm my nerves.

  5. In Canada, cigarretes are up to 10+ dollars per pack. Most of it is taxes.
    Brutal taxation of cigarrettes is often justified by saying that smokers are a burden to the health system, and therefore to society at large.

    But it is also said in the same breath that smokers live 7 to 10 years less than non-smokers. If this is true, then most smokers are leaving the system precisely around the time when non-smokers are beginning to receive SS and retirement payments – entering the parasytical phase, and old age, where infirmities multiply with or without smoking.

    Smokers, then, should be commended for checking out so gracefully once they become non-productive, and the notion that they are a burden and must therefore be taxed dry is bunkum.

  6. Proof positive that the second-stringers are running the country: “Send me in coach, I don’t smoke!”

  7. My heart soars with ironic laughter. GWTW suggests forming

    “….a panel of scientists to select new and/or different leads/tracks to study.”

    Yes, that seems like a novel approach. Why hasn’t this been tried before? What could possibly go wrong? And follows up that brilliancy with the perennial progressive screed,

    ” Something should be done to improve this process.”

    I love it. Something should be done.., the motto of the irresponsible.

  8. I’d like to know how the ingredients in cigarette have changed overtime. I imagine that more chemicals and additives have been added. Perhaps we have to work for tobacco companies to uncover the secrets.

    This reminds me of a question raised in a hospice volunteer training. When a patient who is dying from a smoke-related disease asks for a cigarette, should a volunteer light up one for the patient against the families’ wishes? We were instructed to follow the patience’s wish and to be careful with respiratory support devices.

  9. Professional football has enormously negative health effects on the participants. I viewed at least 6 players carted off this morning before the 1st Quarter was over. When are we going to tax the players half or more of their salaries per game in order to send them a “health message” from our caring bureaucracy?

    And why can’t the bureaucracy please roll the wounded away a little quicker? It took an hour to play 15 minutes.

  10. JH asks,

    “When a patient who is dying from a smoke-related disease asks for a cigarette, should a volunteer light up one for the patient against the families’ wishes?”

    Why the hell not? The purpose of a hospice is to make a patient’s final days as comfortable as possible. If a cigarette can provide some comfort to a hospice patient, there is no reason to deny it. Denying it will not prevent or even delay the patient’s death.

  11. Martin Lindstrom in Buyology Truth and Lies About Why We Buy describes some research he was involved in that use fMRI technology to see the impact of cigarette packaging on the desire to smoke.

    While most subjects said that the negative messages discouraged them from smoking, the actual fMRI results showed that the warning pictures actually stimulated an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This is an area of the brain that is activated when the body desires something.

    So looking at diseased lungs and cancer patients actually encouraged smokers to light up.

  12. Gonewiththewind said “But there is no doubt that smoking cause lung cancer. To even imply it does not would make me question either your intelligence or your exposure to the data. ”

    I didn’t imply anything but pointed out what NCI said. They admitted they don’t know what causes cancer. Gonewiththewind is obviously more intelligent than the people at NCI. I’m sure when Gonewiththewind tells them how stupid they are and explains what causes cancer they will nominate him or her for a Nobel in medicine.

  13. My apologies. You appeared to be agreeing with it.

    So do you doubt smoking cause lung cancer?

    For what it’s worth we have a pretty good idea what cause some specific cancers and we know that some cancers have a genetic component. What we don’t know would fill an encyclopedia but it still seems odd for someone at the NCI to make such a broad statement that we don’t know what causes cancer.

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