Cigarettes and Needles
Things were better when everybody smoked
I was the stage manager for a Christmas dance production at Fontbonne College in 1983. The star was Sherri Lunde (I hope that is how she spells it), who danced solo for 90 minutes. Her orchestra was a pair of angry twins with exceptional skills on the violin, bass, cello, and saw. The production crew came to refer to the trio as Cinderella and the Ugly Stepsisters.
The mean monicker for the musicians had nothing to do with their physical appearances (almost) and everything to do with their personalities. While the star was, well, a star, at least in the dance world, she was sweet and helpful and patient. She made herself an ambassador of dance and quality stage production. Her stepsisters were mean, angry, sarcastic, and nasty. But, boy, could they make music.
The stepsisters’ biggest complaint: “Everybody smells like cigarettes.” They demanded that no one involved in the production smoke one hour before arriving at the theatre, like the fast before receiving Holy Eucharist.
Nineteen eighty-three was around the start of virulent anti-smoking campaigns in America, and segregation of smokers from the clean people was well underway. Bars and restaurants had smoking and non-smoking sections as if patrons in the bar didn’t share air with patrons in the dining room.
The “separate but equal” truce of smoking lasted about a decade and a half. Then, smokers were banished to designated smoking areas outside. Later, the smoking areas outside moved to at least fifty feet from any door. Then, smoking was prohibited on the premises. (There are exceptions, but that’s pretty much the progression.)
A significant impetus for discrimination against smoking was the dangers posed by secondhand smoke. From the 1980s to the late 1990s, everybody knew secondhand smoke was almost as deadly as firsthand smoke.
We all knew it, but it wasn’t true. It was all a lie pushed by angry, mean, sarcastic, and nasty anti-smokers. Researchers and the medical industry conducted rigged studies to “prove” secondhand smoke killed the innocent, and smoking was banned. In the UK, it was banned altogether.
A 2017 article by the right-wing propaganda and misinformation magazine Slate (I can be sarcastic, too, you know) details the fake news and disinformation around smoking.
When studies sampling larger populations finally appeared, the reported declines in heart attacks began to shrink. A study of the Piedmont region of Italy found a much lower decline of 11 percent, though curiously only for residents under 60 years of age. England, which implemented a smoking ban nationwide, presented the first opportunity to study the matter on a national scale. Researchers there credited the ban with a heart attack reduction of just over 2 percent nationwide.
Before researchers studied these larger populations, the anti-smoking plot relied on a single study from Helena, Montana. The study found a whopping 60 percent increase in heart attacks after a smoking ban was lifted. But the study was based on a tiny sample size.
Long after most of the United States had banned smoking everywhere, the RAND corporation demonstrated the folly and lies of the studies that supposedly proved secondhand smoke caused heart attacks. Gains from Slate:
Contradictory research continued to come in. A clever study led by researchers at RAND Corp. in 2010 tested the possibility that the large reductions identified in small communities were due to chance. They assembled a massive data set that allowed them to essentially replicate studies like those in Helena, Pueblo, and Bowling Green, but on an unprecedented scale. Whereas those studies had compared just one small community to another, the RAND paper compared all possible pairings of communities affected by smoking bans to all possible controls, for a total of more than 15,000 pairings. They stratified results by age in case there were differential effects on the young, working age adults, or the elderly. And in an improvement on most other studies, they also controlled for existing trends in the rate of heart attacks.
The study found no statistically significant decrease in heart attacks among any age group. The data also suggested that fluctuations in heart attack rates were common, indicating that comparisons of small communities would frequently turn up dramatic reductions due purely to chance; large increases in heart attacks happened about as often. This explained the headline-grabbing dramatic results in places like Helena or Monroe County that eluded replication in larger jurisdictions.
Unvaccinated is the New Smoker
I bet the Ugly Stepsisters disinvited unvaccinated “loved” ones from their holiday parties and forced those who were invited to wear N95s and stand six feet apart. That’s because anti-unvaxxed is the new anti-smoking.
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