Monday, February 18, 2008

More Cigarette Hysteria

Last week the New York Times printed a story with this dire warning: You can get hooked from the first cigarette!

Reason's Jacob Sullum debunked the study debunked the study and Megan McArdle questioned just how meaningful the study actually was.

Referring to Jacob Sullum's work, here's what I posted in Megan's blog in response to those who thought the study might be worthwhile.

In the study, nicotine addiction is determined as loss of autonomy, which is measured via a 10-point, yes or no checklist. The accuracy of such a checklist is questionable, particularly when it comes to asking teenagers "Have you ever felt like you really needed a cigarette?" Even adults may have difficulty in distinguishing between wanting a cigarette and needing one.

The point is that this is bad science- scare mongering pseudo-science. Just because a study get published, that doesn't make it unassailable truth. Yes cigarettes are addictive, but that's no reason to overstate the risks. Kids who smoke today are fully aware of the risks- they give it a try and continue to do it because they like it or because their friends are doing it. Studies like this just increase public ignorance, perpetuating the myth of drugs as evil substances, ensnaring innocent and unsuspecting users. The truth is that there's a lot that goes into addiction- the choices we make about how, when, and why we use drugs and the biochemical makeup of our individual bodies.

The Times starts their story with "You can get hooked from the first cigarette." If that's not overhyped hysteria than, I don't know what is.

There are a couple things at play here, most notably the idea promoted on this blog that we, as individuals, should critically examine the "facts" we're given, even when those facts come from supposedly reputable sources. The point here isn't that cigarettes are less dangerous or more dangerous or anything like that- the point is to promote honest dialog and honest science.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you know what us ultra-liberals say, when it comes to children and drugs, lies are OK. The ends justify the means. - South Park, Season Six, My Future Self N' Me

5:35 PM  

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