Talking About ‘Risk’

Once upon a time, most of us were pretty clear in our minds about what the word ‘risk’ meant. It did not mean ‘Probability’ – it meant ‘Possibility’. If the result of an action was ‘probable’, then the word ‘risk’ was inadequate. You would not climb aboard an aircraft is the ‘risk’ of it crashing was ‘probable’.

“Public announcement: Do not board this aircraft because it will probably crash. You board at your own risk”.

I visited Nick Hogan’s pub in Bolton before he was arrested, tried, sentenced to pay a massive fine of £10,000 and then jailed because he could not or would not pay the fine. Hundreds of us smokers contributed to pay the fine and got him released. Over the bar was a notice which read (words to the effect): “Smoking in this pub is not permitted. If you smoke, you do so at your own risk”. The magistrates interpreted that notice as an invitation to smoke. I thought at the time, “Oh dear!” It was the ‘do so at your own risk’ which hit me immediately as a No No. He would have been better off plastering the walls with notices saying, “NO SMOKING”, but ignoring anyone who did smoke. Naturally, he was the sucker who provided the opportunity for The Totalitarian State to crush opposition with the jackboot. It was all pre-planned. Find a scapegoat as soon as possible and hit him hard. Later, a few publicans were prosecuted in Bolton for allowing smoking after time and when the doors were closed. They were fined a few hundred pounds. The initial gulag operation was pre-planned.

Did Nick Hogan take a ‘risk’? Of course not! The reaction of the authorities was ‘probable’. He crashed.

So we do not define the word ‘risk’ as a probability – we define it as a possibility.

I was thinking especially about mathematical calculations of ‘risk’, baring in mind the above ideas.

Here is an example. Suppose that a person has a habit of walking to his local for a beer, a smoke and a chat on one night per week, say, a Saturday because he is not working on the Sunday. He walks along a pavement next to a busy road. What is the risk that a vehicle will mount the pavement and kill him? Note again that it is not at all ‘probable’ that such an event would occur, since no one would walk on such pavements if the likelihood of being mown down was ‘probable’. But let us say that the risk is ‘X’. On Saturday night, when he goes for his pint, fag and chat, the risk of being killed by a vehicle mounting the pavement is ‘X’.

Now, suppose that our chap or chapess retires. He no longer has to get up in the morning to go to work, so he gets into the habit of going to the pub every night.

To what extent has his ‘risk’ of being killed increased?

It would be reasonable to say that his risk has increased seven-fold – one night per week has increased to seven nights per week. Is that a true assessment of the risk?

There is a problem. The problem is that the risk cannot apply to the past. If our person got to and from the pub without incident, then there was no risk. Nor will there be a risk tomorrow because tomorrow has not yet happened.

In other words, Time is crucial in such arguments. Every time that our person went to the pub, the risk was X. It neither increased nor decreased. That is, there is no point in talking about ‘increased risk’. The risk is always the same. Yesterday’s risk is irrelevant, and tomorrow’s risk is also irrelevant. They do not exist. Only NOW exists, and what happens NOW depends upon multiple factors. Thus risk X is multivariable, and cannot be simply multiplied. There is also the massive point that Risk X is absolutely minuscule in any case.

That is why epidemiology is not much use for decision making. What happened in the past, in epidemiological calculations, is not much use if conditions have changed. Thus, if the tobacco plants which provided tobacco for cigs are now no longer the varieties which produced lots of tar, and if the method of curing is flue curing (heat provided by hot water circulating through pipes rather than fires lit in the curing barn) then the old ‘risks’ (statistics) no longer apply. Thus, as with my example, only TODAY’S statistics matter. Yesterday’s epidemiological statistics have no relevance.

Thus the claims of escalating deaths from smoking cannot possibly be true. Around 1970, TobComs produced varieties of plants which were low in carcinogenic substances, and it is revealing that they did so in Canada with the help of the Canadian Agricultural Department. That is FACT!

‘Risk’, in the sense of ‘possibilities’, is something that we live with all the time. And there is no certainty that you will avoid ‘risks’ by staying indoors all the time.

I intend to print out some statistics to take with me on holiday and consider. I want to compare today with several decades ago. It is a bugger to do because we do not know how medical advances have changed mortality stats.

SHS ‘risk’ has been the justification of smoking bans. But there are no ‘probabilities’. The lack of ‘probabilities’ shows just how ignorant people in Parliament were when the smoking ban was enacted. There were only ‘risks’.

Being a living being entails risks. The major risk is becoming ‘un-living’.

I can live with that possibility and accept that it will become a probability in due course, but it will only become so AT A SPECIFIC POINT IN TIME! Sooner or later, some important organ in my body will stop working and I shall peg out.

I don’t mind that. I am 78 years old, but still reasonably fit and active.

There is no ‘risk’ from tobacco in my impending death. There is only ‘probability’ that some important organ will fail to function properly.


4 Responses to “Talking About ‘Risk’”

  1. Rose Says:

    Around 1970, TobComs produced varieties of plants which were low in carcinogenic substances, and it is revealing that they did so in Canada with the help of the Canadian Agricultural Department. That is FACT!

    It is indeed.

    Tobacco firms win partial legal victory in B.C. case

    “A divided British Columbia Court of Appeals panel overturned part of a lower court’s ruling that the federal government could not be drawn in by the industry as a third party defendant in cases over the health costs associated with smoking and the promotion of “light” cigarettes.

    The appeals panel, ruling on two related cases, said the government may have to share in any possible liability related to Agriculture Canada’s role in the development of strains of tobacco used to make “light” and “mild” cigarettes.”

    • junican Says:

      I have a vague recollection that that judgement was reversed in the Supreme Court, but I stand to be corrected.

  2. Timothy Goodacre Says:

    Also Junican, what everyone forgets is that cigs are much weaker now than previously due to EU legislation. The last Capstan Full Strengths produced before plain packaging took them away where much weaker than those in the 1970’s.

    • junican Says:

      It depends what you mean by ‘weaker’, but I totally agree. Nicotine content of cigs is all the same, whatever Brand you choose to smoke. In fact, it is almost certainly true that all TOBcoms produce precisely the same product. Thus, since they can no longer advertise, they have no incentive to ‘improve’. Thus, between them all, their objective is simply to reduce their costs to make more profits. And why not?
      TOBcoms have little competition and gain therefrom; TobCon has a specific target to aim its bile at; smokers pay.

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