Smoking out the facts

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The Article

According to three doctors at the KS Hegde Medical Academy in Mangalore, India, writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, giving up smoking can kill you. Arunachalam Kumar, Kasaragod Mallya, and Jairaj Kumar were “struck by the more than casual relationship between the appearance of lung cancer and an abrupt and recent cessation of the smoking habit in many, if not most, cases.”

In 182 of the 312 cases they had treated, an habitual smoker of at least a pack a day, for at least a quarter-century, had developed lung cancer shortly after he gave up smoking.

They surmised a biological mechanism protects smokers against cancer, which is strengthened by years of determined smoking. When the smoker quits, “a surge and spurt in re-activation of bodily healing and repair mechanisms of chronic smoke-damaged respiratory epithelia is induced and spurred by an abrupt discontinuation of habit,” and “goes awry, triggering uncontrolled cell division and tumour genesis.”

An evolutionary argument could support this hypothesis. Man is the only animal who cooks his food, and thousands of generations of our ancestors, pent up in smoke-filled caves, could easily account for this biological mechanism.

Since the findings of Kumar, Mallya, and Kumar coincide with my own medical hypothesis, based on my own anecdotal evidence, I hasten to embrace them. Several deceased friends and family, starting with my paternal grandfather, perished shortly after they quit smoking—not only from lung cancer, but from other causes ranging from previously undiagnosed heart disease to industrial accident.

The same general principle would apply: that a body long accustomed to a (frankly addictive) substance, goes haywire when the substance is removed. In the good old days, people instinctively understood things like that, without the need for medical research. And it was inconceivable that, for instance, hospitals would prevent patients from smoking, who were already medically challenged on other fronts.

Other medical literature has documented other risks of non-smoking, that include neurotic depression, violent irritability, and obscene weight gain. But these tend to be discounted because they lead to death only indirectly.

Likewise, indirect evidence for the dangers of not smoking comes from the 150th anniversary number of Atlantic magazine. P.J. O’Rourke points to (actual, serious) U.S. historical statistics showing that, in the period 1973-94, annual per capita consumption of cigarettes fell from 4,148 to 2,493. In the same period, the incidence of lung and bronchial cancer rose from 42.5 to 57.1 cases per 100,000 population.

In the past I have flagged UN statistics showing that life expectancy was nicely proportional to tobacco consumption, internationally—so that, for example, Japan and South Korea were respectively first and second in both life expectancy and tobacco consumption. The lowest tobacco consumption was in Third World countries, where we also found some of the shortest life expectancies.

I think we could also find historical statistics showing there is a reliable, worldwide relationship between rising tobacco consumption, and rising life expectancy, nation by nation, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

As Al Gore likes to say, “the science is irrefutable.”

The weakness in that last statement being, that there is no such thing as irrefutable science. There is nothing in the whole history of science that is not tentative. And while, in astronomy, I remain convinced that the Earth revolves around the sun, I would not put all my money even on that proposition, but, given attractively long odds, reserve a penny bet on the sun going round the Earth.

If my reader is planning to give up smoking in the face of what I report, then courage to him, and I will avoid saying, “Go ahead, make my day.” I am not in the pay of the tobacco lobby—on the contrary, I seem to be paying them—and am in principle indifferent to what substances others decide to use or abuse. My dander rises only when they try to interfere with my own freedom, through the childish, petty, and essentially totalitarian public campaigns against harmless smokers—buttressed by scientific claims weaker than the above.

There is one more hypothesis with which I would like to leave my reader. It is that the kind of quack “science” that was used to ban smoking has now mutated into the kind that is used to flog global warming. It should have been resisted then; it should certainly be resisted now.

David Warren
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