Smoking myths debunked, #2

Claim: Every cigarette you smoke takes 6 minutes from your life. Or 7. Or sometimes it’s even 10, depending on who’s trying to scare you.

Is it true? Well, we’ve all heard about the super old people who smoke like crazy, and are still… pretty old. Way over the average life expectancy. So, case closed.

It’s extremely easy to fake a minutes off your life number, because it’s not based on some official, national death tally. It’s based on surveys. In science lingo, they like to call these surveys “studies,” but they’re not the science type performed in a lab.

Here’s a theoretical example. Let’s say you ask 10 widows, each of whose spouses died from heart attacks ten years before the average life expectancy, if they’d been exercising when their heart attacks occurred.

If even just one of them says yes, congratulations! You can now average that data across the other participants in the study, and then over the entire population of exercisers. You can claim that each time an exerciser exercises, minutes are removed from their life. Obviously not true, but it is “true,” according to your study.

All of this disregards some important factors. Like what type of exercise, how long each workout lasted, how many years the person exercised, when they started exercising, if they had any medical conditions, and so on. Shouldn’t the minutes lost be different for each of them?

Who cares, you’re getting paid for this!

So what’s the real, actual truth? According to Dutch Researchers, as reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, smokers actually live to virtually the same age as their nonsmoking counterparts.* And according to data from the Oxford Atlas of the World, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization, countries with some of the highest smoking rates, like Japan and China, also have some of the longest life expectancies. *W. Nusselder. JECH 07/ 08/00 – as reported by Andre Picard, Public Health Reporter

Now that’s not enough to say smoking is increasing these countries’ life expectancies, but it does further debunk the “6 minutes off your life every time you smoke a cigarette” claim. And it makes you wonder what the super-smoking countries are doing right that the others aren’t. Is it diet? Exercise? Environment?

Just a theory:

Maybe people in the lower life expectency countries are a little too distracted by smoking, when they should be focused on other issues. What seems to be certain is that not smoking isn’t even close to a guarantee someone will live longer than average.

We’ll leave you for now with a quote from Mark Twain at age 70, when the average life expectancy was about 50. After outliving his nonsmoking peers by 20 years, he said:

“I do not know just when I began to smoke. I only know that it was in my father’s lifetime and that I was discreet. He passed from this life early in 1847, when I was a shade past eleven; ever since then I have smoked publicly. As an example to others, and, not that I care for moderation myself, it has always been my practice never to smoke when asleep and never to refrain when awake. It is a good practice.”

His words, not mine!