I, for one, welcome our new science-twisting public health overlords

Over on WizbangBlue there’s an emotionally charged pro-statism diatribe against that demon weed, tobacco. Yeah, I’m that guy. This idiot right-winger is pro-tobacco – which, apparently, means pro-asthma.

Several years ago the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Caroma, was very concerned about the nation’s rising asthma epidemic. And he should be, as 20 million Americans now have asthma, or three times as many persons as just 25 years ago. Yet the nation shows no seriousness in outlawing the number one cause of new asthma cases, secondhand cigarette smoke, or even public smoking.

What strikes me as interesting is how the asthma epidemic exploded during a time the number of smokers in the US has declined to an all-time low. Since a rash of anti-smoking laws – spawned by the fraudulent (more on that to come…) EPA report on Environmental Tobacco Smoke – have even further eliminated the potential for children to be exposed to ETS, a dramatic spike in asthma caused by tobacco smoke hardly seems plausible. I’d be interested in learning how it was determined ETS is the number one cause of new asthma cases.

There is really little way for children or adults with chronic respiratory problems to avoid exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. It is all over. Smokers smoke near bus stops, in grocery store parking lots, or on public sidewalks as children walk by on their way to school.

I don’t know where Paul lives, but outside of barrooms I go weeks on end without seeing second hand smoke here in Dallas – which is hardly a poster child for healthy living. Then again, I’m not hypersensitive and happen to enjoy the rich, flavorful aroma of tobacco smoke.

When I was growing up people smoked in restaurants, in college classrooms, at the movies, on airplanes, in cars on cold days and wouldn’t let me roll down the windows. ETS was everywhere. Suddenly with ETS next to non-existent its sinister presence has caused a three-fold increase in asthma?

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America claims:

Passive smoking worsens asthma in children and teens and may cause up to 26,000 new cases of asthma each year.

If ETS “may cause” 26,000 cases of new asthma each year, over the 25 year period during which asthma cases in the US rose from 6.5 million to 20 million we could expect ETS might be responsible for 650,000 of the 13.5 million new cases. That would be 4.8% of new cases. Which means ETS isn’t a factor in 95% of the increased cases. What could possibly be to blame? The Department of Health and Human Services NIH states:

The exact cause of asthma isn’t known. Researchers think a combination of factors (family genes and certain environmental exposures) interact to cause asthma to develop, most often early in life. These factors include:

* An inherited tendency to develop allergies, called atopy (AT-o-pe)
* Parents who have asthma
* Certain respiratory infections during childhood
* Contact with some airborne allergens or exposure to some viral infections in infancy or in early childhood when the immune system is developing

If asthma or atopy runs in your family, exposure to airborne allergens (for example, house dust mites, cockroaches, and possibly cat or dog dander) and irritants (for example, tobacco smoke) may make your airways more reactive to substances in the air you breathe.

Different factors may be more likely to cause asthma in some people than in others. Researchers continue to explore what causes asthma.I guess the science is settled for anti-smoking crusaders. But science never has been the anti-smoking brigade’s strong suit. The EPA report declaring ETS a carcinogen is exhibit A. Its conclusions spawned property rights-squashing smoking bans across the country. The report was a slipshod piece of advocacy loosely wrapped in a veneer of scientific language and fed to a scientifically illiterate press and public. Lacking basic knowledge of statistics seeing that the study used a 90% confidence interval (CI) and identified a 1.38 relative risk means nothing.

Most studies use a 95% confidence interval – there is a 5% probability the outcome is a result of chance. Why did the EPA use 90%? Because the results weren’t significant at 95%. The study didn’t yield the desired outcome using scientific standards so the standard was changed to achieve the desired outcome.

That desired outcome, a 1.38 relative risk of 38% increase in the probability of getting cancer because of ETS is very thin gruel to boot. Relative risk values less than 3 are generally considered meaningless. Four or above indicates a strong probability. Stories that breathlessly (get it) claim “xyz causes a 40% increase in abc” could be written more truthfully as “New study inconclusive, outcome just as likely to be the result of chance.”

Here’s another interesting nugget from the HHS/NIH:

One theory researchers have for what causes asthma is the “hygiene hypothesis.” They believe that our Western lifestyle–with its emphasis on hygiene and sanitation–has resulted in changes in our living conditions and an overall decline in infections in early childhood.

Many young children no longer experience the same types of environmental exposures and infections as children did in the past. This affects the way that the immune systems in today’s young children develop during very early childhood, and it may increase their risk for atopy and asthma. This is especially true for children who have close family members with one or both of these conditions.”Hygiene hypothesis?” I call it “Mama’s precious little snowflake syndrome.” Howard Hughes had nothing on modern germophobes. You’d think kids today were all a bunch of bubble-boys the way they’re slathered in sanitizers and anti-bacterials from birth. Is it any wonder they don’t develop robust healthy immunities?

One big downside to energy efficient buildings is they don’t breathe. Rising energy prices and federal mandates have obligated Americans to live in draft-free homes. All the allergans – mites, roach droppings, pet dander and irritants – like tobacco smoke are trapped. Saving energy is great, but how many billions in medical costs were incurred because of sick building-induced asthma?

Look for me to run for the White House on a “Just say no to double-pane insulated windows!” and “Smoke ’em if ya got ’em!” platform in 2016. Assuming Obama doesn’t declare a national emergency sometime in 2015 and suspend elections, of course.

Anyway, the point wasn’t just to goof on Paul but a larger point on what he’s advocating – increased regulation on tobacco users. But goof I must over the metaphoric chaining of blacks to slave ships by tobacco companies and somehow weaving drug pushers, addicts and smokers into a shadowy serial-polluting villain. So how do you really feel about tobacco smoker? No worries, I can dig it. I’m tolerant that way. Laughing with you, not at you.

Ultimately it’s a case of just how much right does the government have to interfere in a person or business’ affairs. I don’t like smoke in my face when I’m eating any more than the next person, but I don’t believe the government can force a restaurant owner to ban smoking. Oh, the government can do it, but I don’t think they have that right. That’s why it’s called private property – it’s mine and I can decide how to run my business.

If it’s children that concern you, why do you insist on so limiting the places smoking is permitted parents who smoke are practically forced to do so inside the house with their kids? Better they could light up out of doors at the McDonalds Funland than inside their squalid crack shack. It’s the dose that makes the poison.

Beyond the pariah approach is increased taxation or an outright ban on tobacco. Ignoring the lesson of Prohibition and the War on Drugs and creating fertile black markets for cigarettes. Frankly I like the laissez-faire caveat-emptor nature of the black market. There’s nothing that beats the thrill of heading over to the seedy side of town to score a carton of Kentucky Gold. Is it a bust? Go, go, get the stuff and go! That really takes me back.

The crux of the argument revolves around public health – smoking costs money because the government pays health care expenses (socialism) and second hand smoke irritates some people (freedom). I don’t like the government paying for health care and I’d rather eat between two smokers than two people talking on cell phones. But life is a bitch. Sometimes you don’t get to pick the radio station and sometimes the heavily-perfumed middle-aged Rubenesque lady sits next you on the plane.

Hell, if I had my way all you chumps would be pedaling away on bicycles with zero right-of-way while I was blasting around town in 1960’s era muscle cars. Running leaded gasoline.

Liberals are right to laugh at Republicans. The war is over. There may still be some battles that can be won, but America has reached the point where government has so thoroughly imbued itself into every aspect of life it’s become a parasite that will take over its host. The failures laws passed by Congress cause will be so massive only government can be trusted to manage the system in the future. Game over. It’s what Americans want, apparently.

I’m just glad that thanks to smoking I may not live to see the US government collapse under debt and ensuing repatriation of the American Southwest by those poor tobacco-huffing Latin American immigrants.

Let The Banks Fail
The Knucklehead of the Day award