Tag Archives: smoking

Smoking Bans Will Cause Healthcare Costs To Rise Even More

NPR has an article highlighting two studies which show that indoor smoking bans have a big effect on people’s health:

  • The first study focused on a Minnesota county that banned workplace smoking and found that heart attacks dropped by a third within a year and a half of the ban
  • The second one was a meta-study which concluded that smoking bans were likely the reason for a drop in heart attacks and strokes by a sixth and of lung diseases by a quarter.

Photo by RawMotion

As we saw before, heart attack, cancer, lung disease and stroke are the top four causes of death in America, and together are responsible for 57% of fatalities. Smoking is a factor in all of them. Politicians and anti-smoking advocates are quick to point out not only the public health benefits of smoking bans, but also the financial savings due to all the health care that’s not being provided anymore. (The same holds true for food taxes and bans, like Hungary’s junk food tax.) At first blush, that makes sense, because if people aren’t having heart attacks and strokes, they won’t need as much care. And in the short-term, that may be true. But what is often forgotten is that everyone grows old, and aging is far worse for your health than smoking: over their entire lifetime, a smoker’s healthcare is estimated to cost about 326,000$, but because the non-smoker will live longer, their bill will run 417,000$ — 28% more.

Therefore, it’s crucially important for everyone to realize that in this age of health and budget consciousness, the two goals of living longer and spending less on healthcare are very much at odds with one another. Without any improvement to the health status of the population, healthcare costs are predicted to increase even beyond the currently oppressive levels. Almost half of our government expenses are currently used by two agencies specializing in geriatric care: Social Security Administration and Department of Health and Human Services, which includes Medicare. With half of the states in the union having already enacted comprehensive smoking bans, those agencies’ budgets will only need to go up, and eventually, most of the government’s function will be simply to care for the elderly.

See also:

From The Archives of Internal Medicine and Circulation, via NPR

Big Tobacco Won Their Lawsuit Against New FDA Graphic Warning Labels

Back in June of 2011, the FDA announced new warning labels for cigarettes that were pretty gruesome on purpose, to shock people into not buying cigarettes. In August, five tobacco companies sued the government saying that the rule violated their right to free speech because it was forcing them to advertise against themselves. Yesterday, the judge in question ruled for the tobacco companies saying that the law did violate their free speech, that the graphic warnings were more shocking than text warnings, and that they weren’t based in fact:

Although an interest in informing or educating the public about the dangers of smoking might be compelling, an interest in simply advocating that the public not purchase a legal product is not.

One of the proposed new warning labels


See also:



Spoken Language Correlates To Long-Term Choices

An associate professor of economics at Yale wrote a very interesting paper (PDF) in which he compares good future-driven behaviors with not speaking a future-aware language. He noted the distinction between languages that have a strong future-time reference (FTR) requirement and ones that have a weak one: for example, English ranks as a strong FTR language because the language changes significantly when talking about the future (“It will be cold tomorrow”) compared to talking about the present (“It is cold today”). Contrast that with Finnish, which barely changes to account for the future: “Tomorrow be cold” vs “Today be cold.”

Most languages have a strong FTR: all Romance ones, most Slavic, Turkic, Iranian, etc. The language families that tend to have weak FTRs are Germanic, Chinese, Japanese and Sundic. (English, while a Germanic language, has been so heavily influenced by Latin and French that it has a strong FTR — the only other Germanic language besides Afrikaans to do so.)

Charlize Theron's first language is Afrikaans


The paper then compares this language trait with data that indicates a concern for the future: savings accounts, heavy smoking, physical activity, obesity. The idea being that if you smoke a pack a day, have 47$ in your bank account, spend your weekends on the couch and ate a cheesecake for dinner last night, you probably aren’t too concerned about the future. It turned out that speakers of languages with weak FTRs (like the Germans and Japanese) are a lot better about future-oriented behaviors:

Weak-FTR speakers are 30% more likely to have saved in any given year, and have accumulated an additional 170 thousand Euros by retirement. I also examine non-monetary measures such as health behaviors and long-run health. I find that by retirement, weak-FTR speakers are in better health by numerous measures: they are 24% less likely to have smoked heavily, are 29% more likely to be physically active, and are 13% less likely to be medically obese.

So there is correlation between how much a language emphasizes the distinction between present and future and how much speakers of that language prepare for the future. This is evident in the current economic situation in Europe: Germany (weak FTR) has to bail out Greece, Spain and Italy (strong FTRs). The author’s hypothesis is that speakers of languages like Finnish, in which present and future are pretty much treated the same, are more aware of the future because to them the future is now — so they tend to smoke less and save more. Whereas the French see the future as this far-off thing, so they smoke more and save less.


But is there also a causation between language and behavior? That’s a much harder question to answer: it could be that the language influences behavior, and it’s pretty unlikely that behavior influences language — people would have to migrate on a scale that’s probably a lot larger than observed. But it could also be that a third factor, like culture, influenced the way the languages developed, as well as the behavior. If, thousands of years ago, the Germans as a people were concerned about the future, maybe they didn’t care to make the distinction between present and future, but cared to save their gold. The author himself notes that it appears that language and culture both independently influence future-driven behavior, and that language doesn’t directly cause that behavior, but that it may affect it through an intermediary.

In marginally-related news, having a name that’s easy to pronounce has been correlated to being more likely to be promoted. That explains why Mitt doesn’t go by Willard.

From Yale (PDF), via Motherboard and Slashdot

Big Tobacco Is Suing The FDA

After years of being sued by pretty much everyone under the sun, Big Tobacco is doing the suing now. About two months ago, the FDA announced it was upgrading its warning labels on cigarettes from the textual Surgeon General’s warning to graphical ones that show all kinds of nasty pictures designed to induce so much vomiting that people will not be able to even look at a pack of cigarettes. Surprisingly, the tobacco companies don’t like this idea. What’s more, they’re saying this is the straw that broke the camel’s back, and that they never agreed to even the Surgeon General’s warning, they just didn’t fight it when it came into being 45 years ago. The new rules, they argue, seriously cross the line because it amounts to the government forcing the makers of a legal product to advertise against itself, which should be a violation of their right to free speech because it forces them to say something they don’t want to say.

One of the new warning labels


Philip-Morris, the largest cigarette company (they make Marlboros, Parliaments, Basics, Virginia Slims and a bunch of others), is surprisingly not part of the suit. But five other companies are, including R.J. Reynolds, who is the second-largest one (they make Camels, Winstons, American Spirits, and others). Their lawyer had this to say about the law suit:

Rather than inform and educate, the graphic warnings include nonfactual cartoon images and controversial photographs that have been technologically manipulated to maximize an emotional response from viewers, essentially turning our cigarette packs into mini-billboards for the government’s anti-smoking message.

Update, 1 March 2012: Big Tobacco won their lawsuit.

Via The LA Times

Cigarettes Are Radioactive

A little known fact is that besides containing arsenic and cyanide, cigarettes also contain a radioactive element called polonium. This is the same element used to assassinate former-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 in London. For some unknown reason, the tobacco plant seems to selectively absorb uranium by-products from the soil, which later decay into radioactive polonium.

Just how radioactive are cigarettes? According to the Army Corps of Engineers (PDF), smoking two packs a day for a year will cause a person to absorb 80 milliSieverts (mSv) of radiation, which is about 20x more than all the radiation a non-smoker gets from the usual sources (airplane flights, bananas, x-rays, watching TV, etc). The minimum radiation dose clearly linked to increased risk of cancer is 100 mSv per year, and two packs a day is not far from that at all. So if you’re a heavy-smoking pilot who breaks bones a lot, you’re kinda screwed.

Photo by RawMotion


But let’s say you’re not a heavy smoker and you want to know how much radiation is in one pack of smokes. A little math tells us that’s 110 µSv, which is a little more than five chest x-rays, and a little less than half of what a nuclear power plant is allowed to produce per year. Again, that’s in one pack. So if you smoke a pack a week, that adds about 5.7 mSv per year, which means you  absorb about 2.5x more radiation than the average non-smoker, but still only about 10% of the yearly radiation dose clearly linked to cancer.

Meanwhile, the electronic cigarette lobby implies that their products don’t contain polonium.

Sources: The New York Times, US Army Corps of Engineers, and xkcd

New Eco-Friendly ‘Marlboro Earth’ Cigarettes

The Onion is reporting that Philip Morris USA has a new brand of cigarettes that were designed with the environment in mind:

the new environmentally friendly cigarettes work by employing powerful carcinogens that accumulate in the lungs of smokers, slowly breaking down their vital organs and eliminating the danger posed to the overpopulated planet by the human race.

They warn that in most cases the cigarettes take a very long time to work, so people should start smoking them as early as possible — most preferably during childhood. What’s more, the new brand also contains powerful chemicals that not only make saving the environment a pleasurable, stress-relieving activity, but also make the urge to help reduce urban sprawl, climate change, and toxic waste quite addictive.

Perhaps China will make an exception for Marlboro Earths from their smoking ban.

From The Onion

China Bans Public Smoking

NPR is reporting that China has banned public smoking, and depending on which part of the story you read, either 1 in 4 Chinese people smoke (300 million out of 1.3 billion), or 1 in 3 of the world’s smokers are Chinese. Either way it’s a big deal, so why would they do this? Apparently it’s either to save lives or save money via healthcare costs. This begs one of two questions: first, if it’s to save lives, isn’t China already severely overpopulated to the point where they have the one-child policy? Second, if it’s to save money, have they not uncovered the research that tells us non-smokers cost more in healthcare spending than smokers because they live longer?

But then again, who are we to complain? Maybe poor economic decisions like this will stave off their predicted unseating of American economic hegemony in five years. Although, the story makes it a point to say that the ban will likely not be well-enforced… so maybe they’re just trying to have their cake of appearing to be modern and health-conscious, while eating to benefits of smoking too.

From NPR