The Life and Death of Health Menaces

Dunno about anybody else, but while I can remember newspaper and magazine articles in the 1960s that carried warnings about smoking, I can also remember numerous warnings about the dangers of cholesterol. It was dinned into me just as much as all the stuff about smoking. And I’m someone who’s scarcely health-conscious at all.

Anyway, it now seems that the advice that we’ve been  given (and which I ignored anyway) for the past 50 years was all wrong. Jo Nova:

Finally the official consensus on cholesterol is admitting defeat:

“Any day now, the US government will officially accept the advice to drop cholesterol from its list of “nutrients of concern” altogether. It wants also to “de-emphasise” saturated fat, given “the lack of evidence connecting it with cardiovascular disease”. “

In the late 1990′s it was widely known online (among health zealots) that our livers are mostly in charge of our cholesterol levels, not what’s on our dinner plates. Something like 80% of the cholesterol in our blood came from our own livers, not the food we eat.  Way back then, it was also known that our bodies use cholesterol to make things like Vitamin D, and er… sex hormones. (How did the mass media miss that.)

“Cholesterol is not some vile poison but an essential ingredient of life, which makes animal cell membranes flexible and is the raw material for making hormones, like testosterone and oestrogen.”

In the Daily Mail:

Matt Ridley, a Tory peer and science author, yesterday said there should be an inquiry ‘into how the medical and scientific profession made such an epic blunder’.

He described the change of advice in the US as a ‘mighty U-turn’ and said studies linking high cholesterol and saturated fat in food to heart disease were ‘tinged with scandal’.

It has me wondering whether the same might eventually happen with smoking, and that tobacco smoke might be no longer seen as “some vile poison” either. Particularly given stories like this:

New research has suggested that obesity is rapidly closing up on smoking as the primary cause of most cancers.

It’s not that smoking has become any safer, just that there’s a growing health risk from the rapid rise in the number of us becoming overweight.

Currently one in five cancer deaths is caused by obesity, compared to one in four from smoking, but scientists believe that those two lines will cross within the next decade.

Smoking is thought to be responsible for a quarter of Britain’s 160,000 annual cancer deaths. Dr Jennifer Ligibel of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University said obesity could surpass that figure in 10 to 15 years as the population gets fatter.

Much of that obesity will have been the result of giving up smoking, of course. What better way to combat the “obesity epidemic” than to take up smoking?

Add this from an NHS website:

“90,000 children spared illness by smoking ban,” reports the Daily Mail. This impressive-seeming statistic is based on research looking at how many under-14s ended up in hospital with respiratory infections in the years before and after the July 2007 smoking ban in England and Wales….

The media reported the study accurately, though some did not point out the limitations of this type of study, in that it cannot prove cause and effect.

What? You mean 90,000 children weren’t spared illness by the smoking ban?

Perhaps what happens is that health menaces like smoking, cholesterol, and saturated fats have a natural lifetime, and in due course are eventually quietly retired, and replaced by new health menaces – like obesity and sugar. In 10 years time it won’t be smoking that causes most cancers, but obesity. Or sugar. Or whatever.

And in another 30 years obesity and sugar will in their turn be retired, and replaced by… brown paper bags, golf, and sitar music.

Well, George Harrison did play sitar occasionally.

About Frank Davis

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9 Responses to The Life and Death of Health Menaces

  1. jaxthefirst says:

    Hmm. Interesting reading about the “hospital admissions” study on the NHS website. Funnily enough, the NHS themselves don’t seem to be absolutely 100% behind it. There’s a lot of couched “could be” and “maybe’s” and a whole host of provisos, whereas usually you’d think they’d be jumping for joy crying “correlation = causation. Hooray!” they’re actually not.

    Despite reading the article several times, I could find no indication as to how much these hospital admissions were dropping in the years before the ban. They say that the study covered the period from 2001 to 2012, but they don’t give any indication as to how much hospital admissions were dropping during the years 2001-2007 – just the fact that admissions dropped by just over 3% in the single year following the ban. So could this possibly be another case – like the Scottish heart-attack “miracle” – whereby although there was a decline post-ban, it had actually slowed down compared to the pre-ban decline – so they’re quietly not mentioning those figures?

    It’s also interesting that asthma cases have been specifically excluded (why, I wonder?), when one would expect something like asthma to be one of the main ailments to be most affected, either positively or negatively, by the ban, being as it is so often an allergic response to airborne matter, rather than the ones which they did include, which are bacterial/viral ailments like pneumonia or bronchitis, none of which have ever been specifically claimed to have been caused by smoking – because even dyed-in-the-wool anti-smoking doctors know that they are actually caused by, well, bacteria or viruses.

    And from an anti perspective (which I think it’s fair to assume that the NHS, as a body, is), it’s actually a bit worrying that a ban which is directed largely towards workplaces, pubs, bars and clubs – places which are predominantly frequented by adults rather than children – should have resulted in a drop in admission for children who are, presumably, now potentially more exposed to tobacco smoke in the home, being as their parents can no longer go out and enjoy themselves with a drink and a comfortable smoke, and so very likely do more of it at home than they previously did. So this drop in admissions could actually be indicating that ETS has a preventative role in the development of the ailments looked at in this study rather than, as is insinuated – certainly in the newspaper story – that it exacerbates them.

    No wonder the NHS, on their own website, are somewhat lukewarm about it – it seems to be illustrating the very opposite of all the wonderful health benefits that they promised in the run-up to the introduction of the ban!

    • Frank Davis says:

      the ones which they did include, which are bacterial/viral ailments like pneumonia or bronchitis, none of which have ever been specifically claimed to have been caused by smoking – because even dyed-in-the-wool anti-smoking doctors know that they are actually caused by, well, bacteria or viruses.

      If the numbers of admissions of children actually is decreasing, it could be because, since smokers have been staying home, the increased levels of bactericidal ETS in homes is improving their children’s health.

  2. nisakiman says:

    Except according to Chris Snowdon’s recent post the numbers of admissions has actually risen over the past decade or so:

    The smoking ban started in 2007. The number of admissions between 2003/04 and 2012/13 were as follows:

    2003/04: 31,353
    2004/05: 31,702
    2005/06: 36,819
    2006/07: 32,344
    2007/08: 33,924
    2008/09: 36,170
    2009/10: 39,148
    2010/11: 42,857
    2011/12: 40,053
    2012/13: 43,895

    The reality is, then, that there were 36 per cent more admissions in 2012/13 than there were in the year before the smoking ban.

    Which makes you wonder who is kidding who, and why.

  3. margo says:

    I don’t remember hearing about cholesterol until the ’80s or so, Frank, but maybe I was focused elsewhere. The constant stream of anti-smoking propaganda is all I remember, plus a bit of disapproval of alcohol.
    I think eventually “They” will run out of ‘it’s all your own fault’ items and just have to admit that the real culprits are: genes, viruses etc and the numerous pollutants that have been poisoning the air, the sea and the soil for decades. But I think it’ll take something massive to make this happen, something too big and obvious to cover up. We shall see.

  4. RdM says:

    Re cholesterol;- counter info has been about for years too.

  5. nisakiman says:

    Another nail about to be hammered into the coffin:

    After years of debate, Austria’s government has announced plans to introduce a total smoking ban in cafes and restaurants by 2018.

    • Joe L. says:

      China’s trying it again, also:

      Beijing will ban smoking in restaurants, offices and on public transport from Monday, part of new curbs welcomed by anti-tobacco advocates, though how they will be enforced remains to be seen.

      Complete with Communist propaganda and an Orwellian tip-line to rat people out for smoking:

      Bright red banners, typically used to display government slogans, have been posted around Beijing with anti-smoking messages. The city has also set up a hot line on which violators can be reported

      • The Blocked Dwarf says:

        I was watching the German TV news (19:00 ZDF) tonight and was somewhat surprised to hear the reporter use the actual term “Passivrauchen” when reporting about Beijing’s all new shiny anti-smoker laws. I doubt any German would use any other term invented by the Nazis….
        I fully expect to hear the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” the next time they report on Benefitstrasse…

  6. Joe L. says:

    Who needs “smoking-related diseases?” This ridiculous headline suggests that Israelis just drop dead shortly after lighting up:

    8,000 Israelis die of smoking every year,7340,L-4663271,00.html

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