Daryl Ilbury

Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

Smoking causes cancer, you retard! (Only it doesn’t)

In Eish!, Fools, Politics, Science on August 4, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Mouth CancerThe image you see on the left is that of a packet of cigarettes from Australia. See if you can see the brand name. It’s there on the bottom. In the smaller type. Virtually hidden.

My wife bought the pack during a recent business trip Down Under. She doesn’t smoke, but she does know how strongly I feel on the subject – not of the perils of smoking, but on how distorted the Australian authorities’ views are on matters pertaining to the health of its citizens.

As of 1st December 2012 all tobacco products sold in Australia must be in plain packaging. The motivation behind it is simple, but complicated. It is designed to discourage the buying of tobacco products on the belief that it will make for a healthier nation. Sounds simple enough because the link between smoking cigarettes and cancer has been established and is well known. Or is it?

It would be fair to assume that most people who saw this pack wouldn’t challenge its claim that ‘smoking causes mouth cancer’. However, the claim is not entirely true. The devil, as they say, is in the detail.

Smoking is just one of a number of risk factors associated with the development of mouth cancer – also known as oral cancer; but it doesn’t, as the box suggests, cause cancer. If it did – and this is important – then everyone who smokes would develop mouth cancer; which isn’t the case. In a way it’s like saying sex causes babies. No-one can deny the link between intercourse and conception, but having sex doesn’t cause you to have babies. Cancer is actually caused by the mutation of cells in the body.

Am I splitting hairs? No. It’s a question of scientific accuracy. Proof of causality is at the very heart of scientific research. It’s why rigorous methods need to be used to eliminate any extraneous variables in conducting scientific research so that a direct cause-and-effect relationship can be proven; i.e. if this, then that, every time.

Example: if every time a small electrical shock was applied to a particular part of a person’s leg their knee jerked and the lower leg was kicked forward, then science can claim than for that person the application of a small electrical shock to a particular part of their leg causes their knee to jerk and their lower leg to kick forward. If, however, for the first couple of times the person receives the small electrical shock they utter a small shriek (more from surprise or momentary discomfort than anything else), then science cannot claim that the application of a small electrical shock to a particular part of a person’s leg causes them to shriek.

So what does this mean for the relationship between smoking and mouth cancer? According to the NHS there are other risk factors – beyond smoking – associated with the development of mouth cancer. These include poor oral hygiene, diet, the human papilloma virus, smokeless tobacco (such as snuff and chewing tobacco), and the consumption of betel nuts and qat (a green-leafed plant that is chewed as a mild stimulant).

Oh yes. There’s another product that can cause mouth cancer; and this is where the distortion of values rears its ugly head. That product is alcohol – something that is passionately embraced as part of the famous Australian outdoor lifestyle. An example is proudly emblazoned on the Australian cricket team’s shirts for all the world to see.

In contrast to laws prohibiting tobacco companies to show their brands on their products, alcohol companies are left untethered to advertise their brands, and even sponsor sporting events where the drinking of alcohol is encouraged; even though the consumption of alcohol, like that of tobacco, has been proven to increase the risk of developing mouth cancer.

The term ‘double standards’ pops into mind.

What is true about the new, plain packaging though, is that it sends a very clear message to smokers – who are well aware of the dangers of smoking, but choose (as is their right) to smoke – that the authorities think they’re retards who haven’t got the message yet.

[In case you were wondering – no, I don’t smoke; and I don’t in any way encourage smoking]

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