Smoking is a worldwide recipient of hate and scorn. It is a scourge and those who partake of the habit should be scourged as well. Right? Well, really … what are we talking about here. First, let me say I have never smoked. I tried it and couldn’t manage to not get sick. Both my parents smoked. My son smoked – and not only Marlboros. But I have never smoked.

The evil weed

The World Health Organization just released a study showing that 600,000 people die each year from passive smoking. This is a worldwide figure. So if there are 6.5 billion people on the planet, that means 0.09% (or 0.0009 people for every 100 folks or 9 for every 100,000 people) are so affected.

Let’s compare that 600,000 figure with some other figures. Let’s first consider starvation. People are not sure how many starve to death (which would seem much easier to count than passive smoking deaths), but agree that somewhere between 23,000 and 25,000 people starve to death each day. Worldwide figures for death by starvation lie between 8.5 and 12 million per year.

Malaria kills about 3 million people each year. So five times more people die from malaria and twenty times more from starvation. Just so we have something to work with here, I’m presenting some other numbers.

DDT could wipe out more mosquitoes and we could halt the spread of malaria, but DDT is bad and can’t be used because it affects bird eggs. Starvation could be wiped out easily – all we need to do is spend all the money we waste on wars around the world, as well as that spent on building up armament systems, and we could easily feed the world. We don’t even need all the money spent on war, just a small portion. What we need to do is stop destroying arable land and actually let people live in peace long enough to harvest their crops.

But even that isn’t my point. I’ve tried to grasp the method used for calculating these numbers.

I’m quoting from Food Consumer because they had more figures than I found in general news outlets.

Passive smoking causes 379,000 deaths from heart disease, 165,000 deaths from lower respiratory infections, 36,900 deaths from asthma and 21,400 lung cancer deaths.

In poor countries like those in Africa, more children die from passive smoking than adults, 43,375 children versus 9,514 adults, whereas in high income European countries fewer children die from secondhand smoke than adults, 71 children versus 35,388 adults.

What I can’t find is how they figured this out. I mean, how do you know passive smoke from cigarettes and not the cook stove caused these health issues – if you are living in squalor in Africa and using a wood fire for cooking. Or if you are in America, how do you know it isn’t the smog or the miasma of car/truck/bus exhaust – which kills trees along roadsides so would be able to affect people inhaling this crap. I know when a bus passes me, I’m choked by the diesel exhaust and have learned to hold my breath until I am past the trail.

Lower respiratory infections do kill many children and old people because they haven’t got the reserves to fight the infection. How was it determined that passive smoke was the initial cause? I know for at least a time, I’m not sure if it is still a factor, anyone in the United States who died of lung cancer was part of the statistics of smoking deaths. So I guess if you didn’t actually smoke yourself, you are part of the passive smoking deaths. But really, is cigarette smoke the only pollutant we have in this country? Did we somehow get rid of all manufacturing with its noxious fumes as well as all motorized travel with the exhaust issue?

And heart disease. In essence, we all die of heart disease. We all die because our hearts stop beating. And smoking does cause vasoconstriction or narrowing of blood vessels. So does eating too much fat and having plaque build up on the interior of vessel walls. Actually, aging causes this too. What methodology was used to determine the cause of death was to be laid at the altar of smoking?

While I agree that smoking is stinky, so are skunks. I agree that some things are much nicer to smell, like incense or scented candles. I have no idea what the smoke from those items is doing to my lungs, but I light candles and incense often.

When I worked in surgery, they told us to be farther away than three feet from the plume of smoke from the electrocautery device. A Bovie is used to control bleeding by searing the bleeders closed. It is highly effective, but it makes smoke. However, smoke from three feet away – or arm’s length – doesn’t harm doctors and nurses. So how does all this smoke harm all these people? It is a conundrum.

I don’t think it is wise to take up smoking. My mother called them “coffin nails” when I was a small child – before the warnings on the cigarette packages. There is little doubt that cigarettes are not health inducing. But they are not the scourge of the world, either. Maybe instead of spending so much time and energy as well as resources on this, we could eradicate some mosquitoes or feed a few people. Or we could stop warring. All of these are the real killers worldwide.