Your Lying Eyes

For this discussion ignore first-hand smoke – the stuff you draw into your lungs intentionally. We know that smoking is very bad for your health – like unresolved arguments, processed food and mountain climbing – and you would be well to steer clear. You may not – that’s your choice. We’re all aware of wretchedly stressed friends, the shape of junk-food junkies and tragic high-altitude accidents.

But what makes the arguments about the deadliness of second-hand smoke so hard to accept is the lack of such anecdotal evidence.

Exposure to second-hand smoke has been greatly reduced in more than a dozen states and a whole host of major cities through “clean air laws.” There should be a noticeable improvement in public health with millions of people no longer regularly exposed to the deadly off-gassing, right? If such an improvement is happening, nobody’s reporting it.

An early case of environmental hazard to health (1800’s) was the case of the London chimney sweeps suffering from an epidemic of groin cancer. They tracked the cause to exposure to toxic chimney soot – and the fact that the sweeps may have been performing a fine job cleaning the chimneys, but they weren’t doing the same for their crotches.

Likewise the learning impaired children whose disability was traced back to their eating lead-filled paint chips.

But in both cases, anecdotal evidence of the problem came before the solution. Asthmatics aside, there is no anecdotal evidence of the deadliness of second-hand smoke – only statistical evidence. There was no big epidemic of problems arising from second-hand smoke that was solved when the smoke was removed.

Ben Franklin said, “There are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Groucho Marx said “Who are you going to believe – me or your lying eyes?”

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