Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Friday, May 07, 2004

File under: Interesting
Written by: Beck

Tech Central Station has a new article out by Sydney Smith that caught my attention. The purpose of the article is to attack a new study showing that second-hand smoke has a major impact on non-smokers.
The basis of this latest second-hand smoke hysteria is a study in the same issue of the British Medical Journal which purported to find a forty-percent decrease in heart attacks in Helena, Montana, during the six months that the city banned smoking in public places. The data come from St. Peter's Hospital, the one hospital that serves the Helena area, population 68,000. Most of the time, between the months of June and November, St. Peter's gets anywhere from thirty-four to fifty patients with heart attacks. During the six months of the smoking ban, they had only twenty-four. Obviously, the drop in heart attacks must be due to the smoking ban.

Or maybe not. First of all, the number of patients that St. Peter's serves is very small, and the smaller the patient population the more likely disease rates will fluctuate just by chance[...] Every doctor experiences good months and bad months that are more or less random, (except for bad viral seasons, when patient influx is predictable.) It's not far fetched to think that the same thing is going on at St. Peter's, and if the study had compared heart attacks year to year, rather than six-month period to six-month period, there might not have been such a large difference.

Another problem with the study is that during the six months of the smoking ban, the hospital changed the way it diagnosed heart attacks. Before the smoking ban, heart attacks were diagnosed by testing for an enzyme called creatine phosphokinase. When the heart is damaged, this enzyme leaks into the blood. However, other muscles can leak this enzyme, too, so relying on it exclusively can result in a certain degree of false positives. During the smoking ban, the hospital began testing for another enzyme, called troponin, and enzyme which is specific to heart muscle, and which improves diagnostic accuracy considerably.
Which is of course enlightening, but the part that caught my eye was the strikingly sympathetic light in which he casts smokers.
And yet, as loathsome as smoking is, it's hard not to feel sorry for smokers. Every morning I pass small clusters of them in front of the hospital, just around the corner from the "No Smoking" sign, like high school hoodlums who smoke just a step away from school property. Some of them are hospital employees, puffing off job stress during their breaks. Others are patients, with nothing but flimsy hospital gowns and robes to protect them against the elements while they seek solace in tobacco. It seems cruel to make them smoke outside. The hospital has a special room for prayer. Couldn't they have a special room for smoking?

But then, the world has become a cruel place for smokers. Not only must they huddle outside at work to indulge, they increasingly must also huddle outside when they're enjoying a night on the town. Over a hundred cities in the U.S. have banned smoking in public places such as bars and nightclubs. Last month, Ireland banned smoking in pubs. Now Scotland is under pressure to do the same, and the EU is flirting with its own ban.
Anyway, it's only a matter of time before the entire Western world has outlawed smoking in bars. That's what the entire debate is about anyway, no reason to pretend it's about the safety of employees at such places. Naturally, it's heresy to speak in such terms, but I am nothing if not a heretic.

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John Beck

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