I don’t know if there is really such a word as ‘marginality’. It seems so since my spellchecker has not rejected it.

Legiron has written a post, in his usual precise style, called “You can’t cure death”:

In it, he points out that health Zealots offer a kind of immortality. Of course, they would and can deny that they say any such thing because nothing at all specific is suggested. It is only implied.

It is implied by the trick of ignoring actual death as far as possible. The Zealots avoid mentioning actual death by talking only about ‘premature’ death. Only those who have unhealthy lifestyles die prematurely. Those who have healthy lifestyles do not die prematurely. They will die eventually, but let’s not talk about that since, when they do die, those people will have lived their entire lives and will die from nothing. They have never smoked or been exposed to tobacco smoke; they have never drank alcohol or been exposed to alcohol fumes; they live on Sark, and have thus never been exposed to motor vehicle fumes; they don’t take sugar in the tea and only get sugar from fresh fruits; they carefully control their intake of salt; they exercise daily. They are suspended in a permanent state of a sort of ‘middle age’. “They do not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age does not weary them, nor the years condemn” [Apologies for the misuse of that glorious poem to the dead of WW1]

But that scenario is an illusion.

Is it true that it is likely that those who did not smoke, when smoking was very prevalent, were the most likely people not to drink alcohol also? I suspect that it is the other way round. I suspect that it was non-drinkers who were more likely not to smoke. The ‘Temperance’ way was not to touch alcohol, and, to a lesser degree, not to smoke. There is a chart in the Doll ‘Doctors Study’ which is revealing:


(Ignore the grid-lines – they are mine)

The thick black line is non-smokers. In that study, the chart was supposed to show the deleterious effects of smoking. But note that, from about the age of 40, some non-smokers began to die. Not as many as smokers, but some. By the age of 60, quite a lot of non-smokers had died. What was the reason for so many non-smokers dying? As non-smokers, they should not have died at all – well, not ‘prematurely’.

And that raises another point. How do you define ‘prematurely’? The sensible way is to define ‘premature’ as dying before the ‘median point’ – that is, before the middle point of the average age at death. Thus, if the average age at death is, say, 70, then anyone who dies before the age if 70 has died ‘prematurely’. But it isn’t as simple as that (in theory). Suppose that few people die between 60 and 70, but loads of people die between 70 and 80? Is the AMOUNT of prematurity the same for a person who dies between 60 and 61 the same as that of a person who dies between 79 and 80?

Which brings me to the subject of this post – Marginality.

I am sure that we are all aware of the saying promulgated by the Royal College of Physicians Anti-tobacco Zealots Dept which controls ASH that ‘smoking kills 50% of those who indulge’. That statement obviously has a corollary, which is that smoking DOES NOT kill 50% of indulgers.

Can we see why that statement is nonsense? It is because no one knows whether or not those smokers who died would have died anyway. There is absolutely no way to know either one way or another.

It is a fact, according to the Doctors Study, that one in seven heavy smokers got lung cancer. The incidence in non-smokers was much, much less. But it is also true that six out seven smokers DID NOT get lung cancer. That is about 80% of smokers did not get LC. Why did Doll claim that smoking causes LC when so few smokers got LC? There must be some other factor involved. What Doll did not do was examine THE COMBINATIONS of factors, such as the combination of smoking and urban atmospheric pollution, to say nothing of war-time stresses and genetics.

So we reasonably look for combinations of ‘marginal’ stresses. In tobacco control, we see no research into combinations of marginal stresses. Or rather, there have been in a small way, but the results of those studies have been suppressed. In particular, as most of us know, there was the Boffetta study, financed by the UN, which found no connection between SHS exposure and heart problems (among other things) among thousands of subjects. There was also the Enstrom and Kabbat study which found no connection between spousal SHS exposure and LC. Correlations are easy to find. There is no correlation between shark attacks on land, but there are loads of correlations of such attacks in the sea. Therefore, the only way to avoid the severe risk of shark attacks is that THE WHOLE POPULATION should not venture into or onto the sea. Thus, the marginal propensity for the occasional shark attack becomes general.

That is also true of smoking. Remember that, around WW1 time and WW2 time, cigs were very ‘raw’. I personally remember filter tips being very brown indeed. Now, they are only slightly discoloured. On the other hand, perhaps because of the strength of the cigs, I smoked few cigs per day.


I just have a feeling that, sooner or later, the ‘margins’ will be explored realistically. But that will not come from tobacco control. It is hard to see how it will come from tobacco companies either, since they have deliberately excluded themselves from ‘science’. What is even worse is that tobacco companies abandoned their customers a long time ago. Perhaps that was unintentional since they were absorbed by political congressional hearings and such.

Who can blame the tobacco companies? They cooperated with the Canadian Government to produce a variety of tobacco plant which was ‘low tar’. The Canadian Government was very much involved. That is where the term ‘light’ originated from as regards low tar cigs. The Canadian Gov was very much involved. The Can Gov escaped because the Supreme Court said that the Can Gov can do no wrong. The reasoning was that, even though it might be at fault, it represented ‘The People’ and thus was immune to accusations of the failings of previous administrations.

Even so, all sorts of possibilities come to mind. I really, really am surprised that tobacco companies have not abandoned Australia and Ireland. The decision would be simple – announce that they would only supply ‘Government Agencies’ with tobacco products. The ‘Livery’ of the products would be in the hands of the ‘Government Agencies’.

Shit would hit fan, except that that situation ought to have already arrived.


‘Marginality’ is already obvious and has been for ages. Political parties target marginal constituencies. That is a fact. But that particular shape of marginality can be far from true. Attitudes change all the time.

No one knows.



9 Responses to “Marginality”

  1. michaeljmcfadden Says:

    Junican, something I like to occasionally point out to people is the fact that if I did NOT smoke, I might have died a number of years ago, perhaps even in my late teens when Vietnam was still grabbing the headlines!

    On some particular day, crossing some particular street, I might not have paused to light a Pall Mall (my brand at the time), but instead have stepped blithely forward only to ground under the wheels of a truck.

    Could have happened. Didn’t happen. Why didn’t it happen? As I say, maybe simply because I paused for a moment to light a smoke.

    It’s worth remembering: Half of all people die prematurely.

    – MJM

    • garyk30 Says:

      And half of all lifestyle fanatics will die before the average of death for all such fanatics.

    • junican Says:

      I didn’t write that post very well, really. I sort of forgot what I was trying to say.
      ‘Marginality’. I was really talking more about ‘marginal propensity’. The way that I interpret that phrase is like this:
      Taking the last general election, perhaps 90% of Labour/Conservative voters always vote the same way. That leaves 10% of each party’s share which is the ‘marginal propensity for change’. Thus, polls will never reveal a massive change in voting intentions over the whole population. However, another factor is very much involved, which is ‘marginal’ constituencies. Safe seats rarely change sides because the marginal propensity does not affect them. Only the marginals matter. So it is the ‘marginal propensity’ in the ‘marginal seats’ which matters. Thus, a marg prop of, say, 2% might make all the difference, especially if a third party enters the fray as was the case with UKIP.
      I don’t know if you have noticed over the pond, but we are now seeing more and more reports in the press about ‘marginal increases in risk’ of the nature of “15% more likely to …….” But, as we know, epidemiology would not accept such an increased risk as valid unless it was at least 100% greater. In simple terms, we should ask, “15% greater than what?” Thus, if the base risk was 1%, the increased risk would be 1.15%, which is hardly worth writing home about, even if the figures were accurate.
      What I was trying to say was that the very marginality of the figures being used to scare people and force governments to act should work against such actions.

      • michaeljmcfadden Says:

        There’s something of what I believe is a bit of a misconception regarding epidemiology. The statements that we often refer to about needing 100% or 200% increase (i.e. a RR of 2.0 or 3.0) were never meant to be absolute, but were meant to acknowledge the limitations of a branch of medical science that realized how poorly it understood all the various factors that impacted human health fifty years ago.

        We still don’t have anywhere near a full understanding of *everything* out there, but GOOD researchers should be able to make at least some degree of valid judgment about what limitations they have in different areas of understanding things.

        E.G., if they set up a clinical trial comparing two types of antibiotics on two sets of “as identical as we can get them” sufferers from an infection, and one of the antibiotics seems to consistently cure 15% more of the sufferers than the other, then it makes sense to say, “This antibiotic has a 1.15 cure ratio compared to the other, so we should start using it instead of the other one.” If the researchers have done their homework correctly and made sure that there were no other relevant variables that were different when they ran those group experiments, then their conclusion should be sound. If they were a bit sloppy, and one group happened to always swallow their pills with water from one well while the other always used water from another well, … well, then their results might be absolutely worthless.

        A study, or even a group of studies, that are set up and controlled poorly in a medical area in which the variables that affect the outcome are poorly understood, might come up with an RR of 2.5 that’s absolutely wrong. But a study or a group of studies that are set up and controlled in a medical area in which the affecting variables are much better understood and in which all those variables are well and carefully controlled for… a study like that might come up with an RR of 1.1 which would actually be correct, meaningful, and helpful in reducing a particular bad medical outcome.

        The trick lies in knowing how much we know and how much we don’t know, and also in properly designing our studies so that we control properly for all the things we know and allow properly for our possible faults in the the areas of things that we don’t know as well. And, of course, in doing the studies not only competently… but honestly.

        The problem with antismoking studies is that they tend to come up with results that don’t control properly for all the important affecting variables, and then, on top of that, the researchers further design and interpret the studies dishonestly — either out of their greed for grant money, their greed for recognition and respect among their peers, or, sometimes, just out of unconscious bias that leads them consistently down the wrong path. It doesn’t matter whether their results come up as RR=1.1, or RR=2.5, or RR=117.637 — greed, bias, and lack of knowledge leading to poor design and control are really what matters.

        – MJM

  2. jaxthefirst Says:

    “I really, really am surprised that tobacco companies have not abandoned Australia and Ireland.”

    Funnily enough, that was one of the suggestions that Leg Iron made way back in the day when PP was first put on the agenda for consideration by the Aussies. Shame the tobacco companies don’t read his blog and ones like these – they might get some halfways decent ideas on how to fight the madness at their doorstep, because they seem to have damn-all ideas of their own. I understand that quite a few antis drop in on blogs like these from time to time, largely so that they can feel the warm glow of satisfaction about how unhappy we all are, but no doubt they also glean snippets of information from time to time about smokers’ current viewpoints, and that might be one reason why they so often steal a march on the tobacco companies. Not that that’s difficult, being as the tobacco companies don’t seem to have much interest in putting up any concerted resistance. I think you’re very generous to give them the wriggle-room of “congressional hearings” etc. I think they knew that the smoking ban et al wouldn’t, in any significant way, make a blind bit of difference to their bottom line (which has proved to be the case, if one keeps an eye on their share prices), and so couldn’t be bothered.

    • junican Says:

      Well, yes Jax. I am sure that the TobCos could have come up with some sort of formula which transferred blame for the lack of cig supplies to the Aus government. My suggestion that they could have made a statement that they would only supply government agencies was simplistic but reasonable. They could have agreed among themselves to supply boxes of, say, 200 loose cigs in boxes marked only with the name of the cigs and the manufacturer to a government nominated wholesaler who would be responsible for repackaging them. They could have added “…until the matter of legality in the world trade organisation is established”. The Oz Government would then have had to do some work to justify its tax take. That would show what hypocrites the government stooges are.

      • michaeljmcfadden Says:

        The TCs could have said, “Hey, look, we make Marlboros. They come in a red and white box. If you want them sold in your country fine. If you don’t, fine. If you think we’re going to make special funky products to your favorite tastes you can go jump in a lake or make your own.”

        The TCs should never have agreed to negotiate with government terrorists.

        – MJM

  3. garyk30 Says:

    “‘smoking kills 50% of those who indulge’. ”

    Since 100% of those that indulged die, they have just said that: “50% of smokers’ deaths are caused by smoking.’

    Thus, 50% of smokers’ deaths are not ’caused’ by smoking.

    ASH has thusly claimed that:
    1) “50% of smokers’ lung cancer deaths are not ’caused’ by smoking.”

    2) Only 50% of smokers’ deaths from the diseases ’caused’ by smoking are actually due to smokers having smoked.
    3) 50% of smokers’ deaths from the diseases ’caused’ by smoking were not caused by their smoking.

    As with math, precision in speech is a must.

    • junican Says:

      As with math, precision in speech is a must.

      Speech has never been precise and probably never will be. Language is not designed to be precise. Imagine saying, “So-and-so is always right”. Depending upon the circumstances, the way that you say it will indicate whether you really mean it or are being sarcastic. In Latin, the Romans had only three ways to qualify an adjective: pretty, prettier and prettiest. But they did not need nuances. They could achieve them in the way that they spoke.
      What is happening now is that the very strength of language – its adaptability – is being used malignantly, deliberately to put ideas into people’s minds. Constant repetition is the method. The meaning of words can very quickly be amended by those methods. Take the word ‘help’. “The smoking ban in pubs has ‘helped’ thousands of people to stop smoking”. No it hasn’t. It has FORCED thousands of people not to smoke in pubs. That is all. No one has stopped smoking because of it. Even if it has worked in that way and has persuaded some people to stop smoking, the ban has not ‘helped’. Suppose that a bus service from place A to place B was cancelled so that people living in place A had to walk. Would the cancellation be justified on the grounds that it ‘helped’ those people to get exercise?

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