IN DEFENSE OF SMOKERS
© 1999, Lauren A. Colby. Version 2.3
The U.S.: A Smoking Laboratory
|For Men||For Women:|
|Age Group||1970||1980||1990||Age Group||1970||1980||1990|
|85 +||215.3||386.3||538.0||85 +||56.5||96.3||142.8|
Particularly interesting are the figures for women. They show dramatic increases in LCDR's, in the key age groups where lung cancer is most prevalent, notwithstanding a steady decline in smoking rates.
The most obvious interpretation to be given to these figures is simply that the decline in smoking has not produced any decrease in LCDR's and that, in fact, in most age categories, the LCDR's have gone up. The anti-smoking people have an answer to everything, however, and, to combat the obvious implications of the statistics, they have developed a new theory: the "incubation period" theory. According to that theory, lung cancer is caused by smoking, and there is an "incubation period", variously given as 20 years, thirty years, or some other number, during which cancer develops in the lungs of smokers. According to this theory, the dramatic increase in LCDR's in women simply confirms that smoking causes lung cancer, because women began to smoke more recently than men, and the effects are just starting to show up in the figures.
There are a number of problems with the "incubation period" theory. The first is simply that, contrary to the assumptions advanced by the proponents of the theory, women are not newcomers to smoking, in America. A Gallup poll, taken in 1944, revealed that 36% of the women in the U.S. over the age of 17, smoked" 8 . In 1959, the Department of Agriculture estimated that 47% of the overall population of the U.S., over the age of 14, smoked, and that men smoked an average of 24 cigarettes per day while women smoked 19" 9 . I have found no reliable statistics for female smoking earlier than 1944" 10 , but would remind the reader that in films, books, etc., the female "flapper" of the 1920's was usually depicted with a cigarette in her mouth, often in a long white holder. Anyway, various surveys, taken between 1955 and 1985 and cited in International Smoking Statistics show female smoking rates as low as 27% and has high as 37%, with the latest surveys (1985) at 25% or 28% (according to which survey you believe). The notion that women were shy abstainers from tobacco use until recent years simply is not supportable.
A second, even more serious problem for the "incubation period" theory is that the statistics for LCDR's in women just don't add up when compared with the overall cancer death rate in women, i.e., the rate of death from cancers of all kinds, combined. According to the Statistical Abstract, that overall cancer death rate, age adjusted, has remained practically constant over the years. In 1970, it was 108.8; in 1990, it was 112.7. But how is this possible, given the dramatic rise in LCDR's in women?
To answer that apparent paradox, we must remember that we're talking death rates, not rates of incidence of disease. The death rate in females from heart disease has declined significantly in recent years. Here are the rates, by age groups, for ischemic heart disease (the major killer in that category):
Furthermore, medical science has made considerable progress in curing some of the kinds of cancer which afflict women. Thanks to pap smears and mammography, cancers of the genital organs and breast can now be detected early and often successfully treated. Thus, more women are living to the ripe old age where lung cancer usually strikes. Progress has also been made in prolonging the lives of lung cancer victims through chemotherapy, which may well account for the slight reduction in lung cancer rates in younger women (and men). The anti-smoking crowd, however, refuses to even consider these factors. They are committed to the belief that if smoking were just prohibited, disease, of all sorts, would be practically eliminated. When the statistics fail to show that the drastic decline in smoking has brought about a corresponding decline in LCDR's, the anti-smokers simply postulate longer, and longer "incubation" rates for lung cancer (forgetting, by the way, that on that theory, there also has to be an "incubation period" for the disease in the thousands of non-smokers who develop lung cancer!).