Junican may have found the source of the “50% of smokers are killed by their habit” claim. From the final report of the British Doctors study (anyone got a link to the 2004 report?):
For those born in 1900-1909, annual mortality among non-smokers was, both in middle and in old age, about half that among cigarette smokers. (These twofold death rate ratios are calculated from the logarithms of the probabilities of surviving from 35-70, 70-80, and 80-90 in figure 2 (top graph).) Taking, as before, the excess overall mortality among these smokers as an approximate measure of the excess mortality actually caused by smoking, this twofold ratio indicates that about half of the persistent cigarette smokers born in 1900-1909 would eventually be killed by their habit.
So the 50% claim only applied to people born between 1900 and 1909. It’s quite explicit. If Sir Richard Doll intended it to be a general claim applying to all smokers, he wouldn’t have restricted it to “smokers born in 1900-1909″.
And there can’t be very many of them left alive. So the 50% claim no longer applies to anybody. It’s past its, er,… dead-by date.
So the next time you find yourself in a studio with Dr Vivienne Nathanson, and she screeches that, “We know that half of all smokers are killed by their habit,” all you have to do is airily brush the claim aside with a languid wave of a hand, and remind her that, “That figure only applied to people born between 1900 and 1909 – as well you know, you poisonous little reptile.” And watch as the bilious little toad starts hissing and croaking and inflating herself to twice her usual size, and the studio has to be evacuated, and the bomb disposal squad called in to puncture her distended hide, and let out all the hot air.
I’m also reminded that the British Doctors study was a prospective study that had to wait for the doctors to die to get the coroners’ recorded cause of death. This meant that everyone has had to wait 50 years for the final, definitive results from it. By which time, 50% of them had probably died waiting, in ‘waiting-related deaths’. And all the prior intermediate reports, published at roughly 10 year intervals, were a bit like getting the count at a by-election before all the votes had been completely counted – i.e. fairly meaningless.