The Danger of Certainty in Health

When a cig packet has the notation “Smoking Kills”, that is a statement of fact. But it is a statement of the obvious. It is almost certain that somewhere, somewhen, a person will drop dead immediately after a single puff on a fag. It is also very likely that someone, somewhere, somewhen, will drop dead immediately after a puff on an e-cig.

Someone, somewhere, somewhen.

It is also likely that someone, somewhere, somewhen will drop dead. The reason might be that that person’s heart stops for no obvious reason. It happens, and it happens all the time.

And that is what really annoys me about Tobacco Control – the aura of certainty. But there is no certainty. It does not matter that some non-smokers survive for ten years longer than smokers. There is no certainty. Some do and some don’t.

When a hospital bans smoking in the open air in its grounds, it creates a ‘certainty’. It creates a ‘certainty’ that tobacco smoke in the air anywhere is dangerous. And yet, in my local hospital, a big one, there is a public road which runs through it, used by everyone including a bus route.

Thus we get ‘Possibility’ becoming ‘Probability’ becoming ‘Certainty’.

The Reality in ‘Health’, both for an individual and in general, is that nothing is certain.

Perhaps that idea needs to be further explored.


7 Responses to “The Danger of Certainty in Health”

  1. Rose Says:

    They banned smoking on hospital grounds after the danger was removed.

    University of Georgia

    Retrofitting Tobacco Curing Barns

    Paul E. Sumner, UGA, J. Michael Moore, UGA, and Michael D. Boyette, NCSU
    Biological and Agricultural Engineering and Crop and Soil Science

    “Recent research has shown that a class of carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds known as tobacco specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) may be formed in flue-cured tobacco leaves during the curing process. These compounds are not found in green (uncured) tobacco.

    Present research suggests that TSNAs are formed through a chemical reaction between nicotine and other compounds contained in the uncured leaf and various oxides of nitrogen (NOx) found in all combustion gases, regardless of the fuel used.

    Eliminating NOx compounds in the curing air by using a heat exchanger system has been shown capable of reducing TSNAs to undetectable levels in cured tobacco. The direct-fire curing systems currently in use in most U.S. curing barns are considered to be the major factor contributing to elevated levels of TSNAs in U.S. flue-cured tobacco.

    Further, there is no known fuel treatment or burner design that can eliminate these nitrogen compounds from combustion gases without the use of a heat exchanger (found in all indirect-fired systems). It is believed that reducing the levels of TSNAs in tobacco products would reduce some of the health concerns associated with tobacco use.

    To receive price support for tobacco grown in 2001 and thereafter, producers must retrofit, or change, all barns used to cure the crop to operate with indirect-fired curing systems. An indirect-fired system passes the combustion gases through a heat exchanger and out of the barn, thereby preventing the mixing of flue gases with curing air. Systems with the combustion entirely outside the barn and that conduct the heat to the barn with hot water or steam have proven entirely satisfactory for reducing TSNAs and are acceptable.

    Research during the 2000 curing season has shown that converting from direct- to indirect-fired curing can reduce levels of TSNAs in cured leaf to below detectable levels (less than 0.1 part per million).”

    Even scarier

    What About Existing Diesel Burners?
    “Orginal fuel oil heat exchanger models were not solid welded and have the potential for leaking combustion gases in the curing chamber. Current models are solid welded.”

    “Late in 1999, growers got what appeared to be the latest bad news. The big tobacco companies began to signal their concern that tobacco produced in the United States contains unacceptably high levels of substances called tobacco-specific nitrosamines, carcinogens that can be formed during the curing process.

    The tobacco companies announced that beginning in July 2001, they would no longer buy high-nitrosamine tobacco, and several companies began contracting with growers to produce tobacco containing lower amounts of nitrosamines.”

    “Tobacco was not always cured this way in North Carolina. Boyette said that before World War II wood was the preferred fuel for curing barns. A wood fire burned just outside the barn. The heat and combustion gases flowed through a flue, usually made of brick, that snaked across the floor of the barn, then rose up through the barn. Because the gases moved through the flue, the tobacco was never exposed to them. The barns were heated, and the tobacco cured, but the heat was indirect. Presumably, the tobacco from those barns contained low levels of nitrosamines.”

    “After World War II, Boyette added, tobacco growers began to switch from wood to fuel oil as a heating source, but they still used flues that carried the combustion gases through the barn. Then, with the energy crisis of the early 1970s, growers began to switch to natural or propane gas, which was more readily available than fuel oil. Because gas burns so cleanly, growers were able to get rid of flues, and began using direct-fired barns.”

    But as we have seen, that was a huge and dangerous mistake.

  2. Rose Says:

    Making Cigarettes Safe?
    Time 1957

    “Although the major cancer-causing substance in cigarette tar has not yet been identified, so much is now known about it that smoking could be rendered relatively harmless—without waiting for the substance to be isolated. This reassurance came last week from the man who, since his student days, has been busy amassing proof that heavy, long-continued cigarette smoking is the main cause of the recent dramatic increase in lung cancer: Dr. Ernest L. Wynder, 34, of Manhattan’s Sloan-Kettering Institute.”

    “Dr. Wynder told the American Association for Cancer Research, meeting in Chicago, that the villain is not present in tobacco leaves in their natural, unburned state”,9171,824810,00.html

    Tobacco-specific nitrosamines, an important group of carcinogens in tobacco and tobacco smoke.
    S. Hecht

    “Tobacco-specific nitrosamines are a group of carcinogens that are present in tobacco and tobacco smoke. They are formed from nicotine and related tobacco alkaloids. Two of the nicotine-derived nitrosamines, NNK and NNN, are strong carcinogens in laboratory animals.”

    Dr. Stephen Hecht of the University of Minnesota Cancer Center.
    What a pity that having found what he wanted to find, he looked no further at rectifying the situation.

  3. junican Says:

    In addition to the change from direct heat curing so long ago, not very long ago, the Canadian Government and a Tobacco Company agreed to develop a tobacco plant which contained little tar. They succeeded. I am old enough to remember how brown the filter tips of cigs were as compared with today. Today, the filter tips are hardly brown at all. The tobacco companies, as usual, allowed their marketing depts to bugger things up for them. They decided to call these low tar cigs ‘lights’. That misuse of English words backfired on them when the Canadian Gov accused them of using the new varieties to mislead the public in order to sell more cigs. In a court case, the Canadian Gov was absolved from any blame, even though it had ‘conspired’ with Big Tobacco to produce a ‘tar-free’ cigarette.

    • Rose Says:

      Trouble is the “tar” they never bothered to study apart from trying to make animals ill with it, contained the good bit.

      The sticky bit seems to mainly be solanesol.

      Solanesol: a review of its resources, derivatives, bioactivities, medicinal applications, and biosynthesis

    • Rose Says:

      The tips of my cigarettes are very brown, I switched to rolling tobacco years ago.

      “The hands of tar workers develop skin cancer.
      The marked drenchings of the fingers, the skin of the fingers which holds the cigarette, which are sometimes deeply brown stained have never so far as I know, developed cancer of the skin.”

      “One of the gentlemen, the proponents of the cigarette theory, has tried to explain that phenomenon by saying that the first three fingers of the right hand of man have a natural immunity against cancer.”
      page 81

      I learnt a lot reading through that court case, Dr Hueper was an eminent non-believer.

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