Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk

207.4lbs. I really enjoyed how today's song and post have this wonderful sense of synchronicity, so let's get right to it.

For some bizarre reason I was thinking of the decline in U.S. smoking rates yesterday. Well, it wasn't exactly bizarre, I was trying to figure out what actual implementations of social engineering that the government has performed that actually worked. As local, state and federal governments go rampant taxing, banning or removing certain things from our diet (trans fats, salts, goose liver etc) , I wondered where personal responsibility falls into all of that. After much thought, I can tell you it doesn't. But just thinking something does not make it factual. So I decided I should take a look at something that has been taxed for a good number of years - cigarettes. I submit the following charts for your inspection:

Notice anything yet? With the charts I had available it can be hard to see the correlation between the two but it's there - as taxes and cigarette prices have increased, smoking has decreased. Now part of the tax money collected is supposed to go to health care and anti-smoking campaigns. Often the tax money for health care goes unused and is diverted but it also winds up hurting the lower classes because they are often in the income group where smoking is more prevalent. Federal taxes are diverted to a health program called SCHIP which is specifically designed to help lower middle class citizens up to three times the national poverty level - specifically not the working poor. Smokers and, to a certain extent, the poor, according to research, are the least likely to incur healthcare costs over their lifespan because their lives are shorter than the national average. The longer you live, the more likely you will be to incur health care costs. So saying that smokers and the poor need to have their increased healthcare costs defrayed by new taxes is disingenuous. Without smokers, your health care costs would be 7% high than they are right now, some studies say more. Chew on that thought for a bit.

What's even more interesting is the money that is devoted to anti-smoking campaigns which saw their heyday from the early 90's to the early 00's. Do you know who most of these campaigns are targeted at? Predominately teenagers. Notice that green line on the bottom chart? That's teen smoking. Are anti-smoking ads effective at getting teens not to smoke? Or do they, in truth, cause a trigger effect where teens become more aware of smoking. A recent study shows that as we become teens we adopt dangerous behaviors, it's natural and always has been - it's called rebellion. So my best guess is that as teens became more aware of smoking as a dangerous behavior, the more attractive it became.

So why has smoking declined? Well in the last three years it hasn't and it is easier to see in the raw numbers than it is on the chart. Smoking rates for adults have stayed flat but they have dropped for teens slightly in the last three years. When was the last time you saw one of those obnoxiously hip non-smoking ads? I know for me, it was 3 years ago at least. Not making correlation into a cause here, we could also correlate the numbers to the fact that, perhaps, anti-smoking ads were better absorbed by kids before they hit high school. But it is significant to note that smoking jumped higher in the 90's for teens and I have been trying to think of any other correlation to smoking besides those ads. Before you say flavored cigarettes, remember those things have been around for decades. I have to say that was an incredibly stupid correlation the government recently made.

The real question is, for adults, did they quit steadily from 1965-2005 because they knew the health risks or did they quit because it was no longer financially viable? As tobacco companies increased prices to cover losses due to lower demand and to pass on costs from massive lawsuits and government increased their taxes on the product, adult smokers quit smoking. Teens viewed tobacco as they would any other illegal substance such as pot - pricey as it is, it is worth the risk. Why then has smoking leveled out for adults? Could it be that more people have fallen into a lower enconomic class the past three years (yes)? Could it be that we have reached a price point that is still attractive to the same number of people who simply refuse to quit? Likely.

Now stopping smoking is taking personal resposibility but is the impetus truly a personal one or an economic one? Even on a state and federal governmental level, smoking is not only seen as a revenue generator but a way to further spur cessation of tobacco use. They do not see quitting as a matter of personal responsibility at all. In fact, a lot of extreme state laws are centered around getting people to quit through the pressure of when and where they can smoke.

We should all know the dangers of smoking at this point but where tobacco companies used to wildly claim that smoking is good for you, we have had other entities inflating the dangers just as much. It seems that in the last few years we have finally reached the point where studies are reaching some interesting conclusions but only because the science isn't being skewed to fit an agenda. Now I am not a smoking advocate whatsoever, I don't think it is a useful habit or a healthy one but I can't stand to see numbers twisted to suit a purpose. Bad science is not useful to anyone and can be inadvertently more damaging than the behavior it is trying to correct.

Let's take second hand smoke for instance, there was a big push in the last ten years to get rid of smoking in restaurants and bars because of health concerns. Fair enough if it were true, the problem is that the science has been indecisive. I personally welcomed the ban of smoking in restaurants, I can't stand the foul smell while I am eating. I think it is gross but that is just me personally. Now bars, on the other hand, I could care less. An interesting thing happened in Arizona where both bars and restaurants were required to implement a ban on smoking unless it was an open area type of establishment or at least 20 feet away from an entrance.

Now the law did little to effect restaurants revenue wise, it did however, cause a major loss of revenue to bars until bars found a way around the draconian law. When revenues go down, so do taxes and bars are major tax generators due to another thing that is taxed quite heavily - alcohol. Not only was the government losing tax revenue due to the lack of alcohol sales in bars, they were also losing the sales tax revenue on the non alcohol items sold there like food. Revenues fell despite what non smokers said who were surveyed before the law was passed - they said they would actually go out more. From a cursory survey of most of my friends who are non smokers, I can tell you this was not true. They rarely went to bars in the first place and when they did - shock, dismay - they smoked. Maybe you have had a similar experience.

The next thing that happened to offset this revenue loss was obfuscated by a different set of logic, the State of Arizona decided it would keep bars open later because it would draw in more revenue from tourists! That's right, they wanted to keep you safe from second hand smoke because of cancer fears but they didn't mind if you damaged your liver. Of course, they said wildly illogical things about all of this. It would give drinkers more time to drink and have less incidents of drunk driving due to the extended time period! It would draw more conventions to the state! The last reason was definitely and openly a revenue driven agenda but the other reasons were as well.

There have been some interesting studies on second hand smoke and they range from showing no harm to slightly more harm than not being around second hand smoke. The slightly more harm part is generally inflated with ridiculously transparent number speak. "Your risk of lung cancer is 20% greater!", I saw one study say. But what they don't say is 20% greater than what and against what specific number, 20% certainly sounds scary. What if I told you that 1.1 in a million people people contract lung cancer who never smoked or were around smoking environments. Now this is a math quiz, what is 20% of 1.1? Well, okay I won't be that mean it's .22. So that would set people's chances who are around second hand smoke at 1.32 in 1 million people - discarding margin of error or numerous other environmental factors. 20% sounds so much scarier than 1.32, don't you think? By the way, a lot of more recent studies do not find a direct correlation between second hand smoke and cancer at all while some have actually confirmed the 20% increase.

So in Arizona, it became like that old children's song "There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea". It kept going on and on. What was the next law to be enacted (also due to a federal mandate)? Stricter drunk driving laws by lowering the limit for low level DUI's. Some of the strictest in the country. Now this was something that happened around the same time period but states have shown it to be an effective deterrent as well as a great revenue generator. There was one problem though: the law started ensnaring people that would have been considered good citizens before.

Grandma who had a glass of wine with dinner was not supposed to be the target of these laws, the almost cartoon image of the angry belligerent harmful drunk was. Revenue went up and so did jail time and court back logs and lawyer bank accounts etc. But soon revenue went down because people were losing their jobs. Families were in shambles.

In a lot of cases, the woman with the DUI because she had two glasses of wine at dinner was treated just the same as the guy who drank a case of beer and half a bottle of Jack and decided to take out half the cars within a city block. Now, they are talking about backing off a lot of the penalties for first time offenders. But if the aim was to make things safer don't you think they would back off only on the first time offenders who were lower level DUI's? Something seems amiss, especially from a statistical basis. Here is why I say this: people with a blood alcohol percentage of .1% and below have the same traffic accident statistics as those with 0% (actually the 0% have far more number wise). The far greater number of fatalities overall, traffic wise, come from red light runners and those on prescription medications. Read the labels on those bottles people.

Don't believe me? The total number of traffic fatalities in 2008 were 937 of which 35% involved alcohol. Now what is not said in any of the statistics and one that is an incredibly important number to see is what number of those were above .12 but alas I have only seen one study that shows there was only a statistical increase above 1.0%, most studies prefer to use .08% since that is the law in most states but clearly not indicative of the exact blood alcohol of the driver. What is very interesting is that the 35% number includes not just drivers but passengers as well. So when they say that a death is alcohol related it could denote anyone involved in an accident. It also does not state in any of the statistics whether the impaired driver was at fault or the unimpaired driver was at fault, it makes no distinction. Most of the statistics we see were created by MADD from a larger data set - not exactly a disinterested party.

After taking a break from writing I did find some MADD research from 2002 for Arizona and here they are and this is their description not mine:

Innocent Victims
in 2002

BAC .01-.08

BAC .08-.09

BAC .10-.11

BAC .12-.13

BAC .14-.15

BAC .15 & up

Innocent Victims









Now looking at the numbers I can tell you that some people sit at between .01-.04 naturally due to diet. What appears especially weird is the number distribution and I still believe my assumption holds true. One writer made this note after seeing the statistics above:

"Speeding, road conditions, bad weather, deer, or mechanical failure may have caused the accident, especially in the low BAC cases. These other factors are never considered by MADD in their rush to panic the public with unrealistically high victim numbers. Some groups would hold a passenger who rides with a drinking driver responsible for his actions and therefore not an innocent victim. The numbers on the chart would be even lower if those passengers who died while riding with a drinking driver were not included."

Still, any number of innocent victims is too high (1 in 375000 taking MADD's calculations but 1 in 610,000 if you use their actual numbers and roll your own) but I will again quote the writer:

In perspective, you are:

28.77 times more likely to be killed by a sober driver
13.52 times more likely to die from a fall
8.52 times more likely to be poisoned
4.57 times more likely to die from an injury at work
3.66 times more likely to drown
2.92 times more likely to choke to death
2.34 times more likely to die while under a doctor’s care

So why do I even bring MADD into a post about personal responsibility? Because they don't believe you have any and have been trying to pressure the government into putting breathalyzers into every car in America. Why would I even have an issue with this? Breathalyzers do not measure your blood alcohol, they never have, so don't go buy one and get out of the bar and think you are a-okay or even think about starting your car if you like breath mints or bubble gum. The truth is, like the government, MADD (which is run by corporate wanks and not run of the mill moms) wants money and is one of the most lucrative non profit concerns in the nation (millions upon millions upon millions). Where does that money go? I don't recall seeing any MADD branded advertising lately have you? They also swatted at one of their biggest partners in the anti drunk driving arena because, gasp, they had the audacity to go against MADD's contrived statistics. You can find those numbers here: Drunk Driving Research and Statistics. Non profits aren't and you'd be wise to remember that.

Here is another former or current MADD member ensnared by the DUI laws they helped to create: Former President of MADD Arrested on DUI Charge

So what have we learned? Well that when the government gets involved there is a cascading set of consequences. Right now, another domino effect is beginning in school lunch rooms by banning salt and trans fats. What have the kids done in response? Eat more junk at home or bring candy to school with them. Brilliant! It just shows that no matter what the government or any other organization does, you are still ultimately responsible for your self and well being. No law will ever change that because only we have the power to make the choice that is best for us no matter who thinks it is right or wrong.

In the end you might say, "I don't drink, I don't smoke" and I would say to you in the immortal words of Adam Ant, don't drink, don't smoke - such a goody goody. But you might have missed the point or I didn't make it very well. If they (government, activist organizations) have done this with two vices that weren't once considered as such how long will it take for them to tax those beloved Oreos out of your dead cold hands? What would be the repercussions of losing all of the foods (and the taste) you enjoy? Well we have already seen the government do that in the 70's by taxing the source and other entities finding alternative ingredients for the food you eat. Sugar was replaced by HFCS and lard was replaced by palm oil and soy bean oil, both of which wouldn't sate the stomach of a mouse.

Now the government wants to have a fat tax on those Doritos you enjoy occasionally. What will the makers of said Doritos do to keep their price down and profits up? Replace the fat with some horrible shit that we will find 30 years later causes humans to grow prehensile tails, switching on latent DNA after prolonged use. At that point we won't care, we will all be swinging from the trees by our tails anyway, at which point you can prepare yourself for the tree tax of 2041.

"Everything it seems I like's a little bit sweeter, a little bit fatter, a little bit harmful for me"

1 comment:

  1. Now, I've always figured we'd eventually grow tails so we could manipulate our mouse while we typed with both hands.

    BTW, MADD sucks as a 'charity':