Sunday, July 4, 2010

Junk Science: Smoke and Lies

According to the popular myth, people smoke tobacco because they're addicted to the nicotine – which also constricts the blood vessels and raises the blood pressure, which is likely to cause strokes and heart attacks – but it's the tars in tobacco that actually cause lung cancer. This theory is supposedly backed up by a horde of respectable Scientific Experiments.

Having seen some of those experiments myself, I've concluded that those terribly respectable Scientific Experiments were mis-designed – perhaps deliberately. The whole Smoking Myth is false – and I can prove it, with a history book and a thermometer.

Back when I was in college, I earned extra money by working as a laboratory assistant in the medical school's research labs. One day my boss sent me off to another lab to borrow some forms, and there I saw an odd experiment in progress. There was a cage containing ten white mice, complete with food and water containers, and it was covered down to within half an inch of the cage floor by an airtight clear plastic box. Inside the plastic box was mounted a cigarette holder, and in the cigarette holder sat a lit cigarette, smoking itself, its smoke filling the plastic box down to the level where the mice were poking about in the sawdust. As I watched, the cigarette smoked itself down to nothing and went out. Within two minutes a lab assistant hurried up, lifted the plastic box, cleaned out the stub of the dead cigarette, put another cigarette in the holder and lit it, then set the box back down on top of the cage. I asked – as if I couldn't guess – what this experiment was about. “The effects of smoking tobacco,” said the assistant.

To myself I said: “What's wrong with this picture?”

First, that plastic box kept almost all fresh air out of the cage. The mice were in serious danger of suffocating on their own CO2. Human smokers do not shut themselves up in airtight containers to smoke. Human smokers inhale a puff of tobacco smoke through the mouth, carburete it with fresh air – usually inhaled through the nose – exhale, then take several breaths of fresh air before taking the next puff. Those mice were being deprived of fresh air and were subjected to constant smoke.

Second, one cigarette is enough to satisfy an adult human being for at least half an hour. The average adult human being weighs about 150 pounds. A mouse weighs less than an ounce. Ten mice weigh a good bit less then one pound. The smoke in their cage was not only constant but a serious overdose – by a factor of about 200 to 1..

Third, the cigarettes in that plastic box were passively smoking themselves. Human smokers don't inhale passive smoke; they inhale what they puff. Anyone who's watched someone else smoke knows that when the smoker puffs on the cigarette the burning coal flares. It flares because of the air – oxygen – being pulled into the burning coal. Anyone who's ever seen a picture of a blacksmith pumping air into the coals of his forge has seen something similar. Now, why does the blacksmith pump air into his coals? Because when they flare, they burn hotter; in the case of the blacksmith's forge, those flared coals are hot enough to melt iron. Flaring the coal of a cigarette also makes it burn hotter, and this changes the nature of the smoke.

When tobacco burns at low temperature the nicotine in it vaporizes, and is inhaled as nicotine. When tobacco burns at high (flared) temperature, the nicotine actually burns; in Chemists' terms, it oxidizes – that is, an atom of oxygen is added to the molecule. This extra atom changes the nicotine to another substance: a chemical called nicotinic acid. The trade-name of nicotinic acid is Niacin. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Niacin is better known as Vitamin B3. What real smokers inhale is not nicotine at all; it's a vitamin.

This is why nicotine patches do a poor job of helping people stop smoking; it isn't the nicotine that people smoke to get – it's the Niacin. The name sounds familiar because you were probably taught the importance of getting your daily vitamins by the same grade-school teacher, or school nurse, who taught you that cigarette smoke is a deadly poison.

Niacin/nicotinic acid/Vitamin B3 has one unique characteristic; it's just about the only chemical known to man that causes human nerve cells to regenerate. This is why Niacin is often prescribed for stroke victims. This is also why – and you have to actively search the Internet to discover this, unless you have access to a very large and well-organized medical library – while smokers do indeed tend to have more respiratory problems than non-smokers, they also tend to have lower rates of Alzheimer's.

In brief, most of the official research on the effects of tobacco smoking is skewed, biased and inaccurate.

Stranger yet, none of the official studies on smoking pay much attention to medical history. Specifically:

1) Archeologists tell us that the American Indians smoked tobacco for more than ten thousand years, yet we can tell from their skeletons that none of them ever died of lung cancer until the late 20th century. Why?

2) We know that in 1583 Sir Walter Raleigh met with the farming Indians of Virginia, and he swapped them iron tools for samples of their crops – including tobacco – which he took home to the court of Queen Elizabeth the First. Queen Elizabeth's courtiers weren't terribly interested in corn or squash, but they were very much interested in tobacco. Soon everybody who was fashionable in Britain was smoking tobacco. The other countries of Europe, not to be outdone, likewise took up smoking tobacco as fast as they could get ships to America and back. British and Dutch merchant-explorers took tobacco as a trade-good all over the world, and soon people in Africa, Asia and the Pacific islands were smoking tobacco too. From about 1600 to 1900, everybody in the world smoked tobacco – but none of them got lung cancer.

2) That's right. Lung cancer was an unknown disease until shortly after World War One, but even then it remained vanishingly rare. As late as 1930 my grandfather's medical school professor could invite all the school's students down to the autopsy room to witness the examination of “something so rare you will probably never see it again in your lifetimes” – a man who had died of lung cancer. It wasn't until after World War Two that lung cancer became a common disease. Now, what happened around the time of WWI, that became worse during WWII, that affects the way people breathe?

For one thing, people all over the world took to driving cars that were powered by gasoline, a petroleum product.

For another, major industries sprang up that were likewise fueled by petroleum products.

For a third, during WWII a truly incredible amount of petroleum was burned in the air – not only from the exhaust of war vehicles but from burning ships, factories and refineries.

It's also notable that the largest number of lung-cancer cases came out of the shipyards, among workers whose job was to glue sheets of asbestos to the hulls of ships. Inevitably, some of that asbestos was ground into dust and inhaled by the shipyard workers.

Further, the glue they used to apply the sheets of asbestos had carbon tetrachloride as a solvent; those workers couldn't help but inhale carbon tetrachloride fumes in the course of their work. Both asbestos and carbon tetrachloride are well known as carcinogens.

The earliest medical researchers who studied the sudden upsurge of cancer in America after WWII thought at first that this epidemic was caused by air pollution. For various reasons that nobody ever made clear, they soon switched the focus of their research to tobacco smoking. Why?

Well, a brief inspection of the size and wealth of political lobbies will readily show that the tobacco companies are nothing compared to the petrochemical corporations. This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that it wasn't until the 1960s that medical researchers found other ailments directly traceable to air pollution – enough illnesses to move the federal government to pass the first air-pollution laws.

Little by little, the air-pollution laws reduced the amount of pollutants that factories could eject into the air, but not much was done to reduce air pollution caused by petrochemical fuels. Even today, medical problems caused by air pollution are downplayed in the media; how many media stories have announced the fact that smokers who live where the air is clean have lower rates of lung cancer than non-smokers who live in air-polluted cities?

As proof of the power of Big Oil to skew the news, note how the media downplay the vast growth of the alternate-fuel industry. By searching the Internet you can find not less than three new companies which are churning out industrial-sized lots of fuel ethanol derived from cellulose – vegetable trash – and three more that make job-lots of diesel fuel derived from vegetable oils, cellulose and algae. Obviously somebody is buying all that alternative fuel, or these companies wouldn't exist. Yet you won't find a whisper about this in the mainstream media.

It's pretty clear that for 50 years tobacco has been used as a whipping-boy for the sins of Big Oil.

Still, there's a way to get the truth out.

First: form a front-group which has no connections to any tobacco company. Give it a neutral name, such as “Seneca Valley Medical Partnership” or “Pima College Research Group”, and make sure its paper trail is impeccably respectable. Then apply for a government grant to study “the health issues related to the presence of tobacco smoke under varying environmental conditions” such as “effects of differences in temperature and air pressure on the chemical composition of tobacco smoke”, or something similar. Be careful to phrase the grant proposal so it sounds as if you're looking for more Evils of Smoking, of which the government approves. Hire some experienced medical researcher to write the grant proposal. It's vitally important that the research be done on government money, with no connection to any tobacco company, or else the Professional people won't believe you.

Second: set up an experiment to determine the real contents of inhaled tobacco smoke. That is, connect the intake nozzle of a light-pressure air pump to the butt of the cigarette, set a glass tube over the outflow hose of the pump to collect the smoke, start the pump and light the cigarette. This should well mimic the effect of inhaling, as opposed to merely generating, tobacco smoke. Do this with a whole pack of cigarettes, then analyze the chemicals that have collected in the tube.

Third: collect every article available about research on the chemical contents of tobacco smoke. When you find significant differences between what they found and what you found, you'll have excuse to collect the original notes on all smoking experiments. Of course, the further back in the past the experiments were, the less likely you'll be to get complete notes. Try anyway. Look specifically for the methodology of those experiments.

Fourth: collect product catalogs of every medical-research supply house in the country, as far back as you can get them. Look specifically for the lot-numbers of different breeds of laboratory mice. You'll find that there are several breeds of mice, all with different characteristics. There's a breed of mouse that is immune to cancer, and for that reason is being intensely studied by cancer researchers. Of greater interest to tobacco researchers, there's also a breed of mouse which is cancer-prone. These mice will develop cancer from any change whatever in their environment.

These cancer-prone mice are expensive because they're hard to breed; the female mouse usually develops cancer after bearing a single little of young. They're also wonderfully useful to people who make a living by Scientifically Proving that their employers' business rival's product, no matter what it is, “causes cancer in laboratory mice”. So whenever you find a supply catalog listing for cancer-prone mice, carefully record the lot numbers of those mice from every catalog you can find, as far back as you can get catalogs from that supply company. Whenever you manage to get complete notes on previous smoking experiments, look for the order forms for the experiment's equipment – and especially check the lot numbers of the mice that were used in the experiments. You may find something surprising.

Finally: conduct your own experiments with ordinary (neither cancer-prone nor cancer-immune) mice. Make certain that their cage provides fresh air, that the tobacco smoke circulated in the cage comes from properly flared and burned tobacco, and that the amount of smoke pumped into the cage is not excessive for a creature the size of a mouse. Keep thorough notes about the long-term health of the mice.

Once you've gathered enough evidence, don't just publish your results in the scholarly journals; take it to the mainstream media and shout it in their ears. If none of the American media will tell your story, take it to the media in Canada, Britain, Australia, France and Germany – all of whom should be delighted to reveal another scandal about America. Then formally and publicly take your evidence to the tobacco companies, and persuade them to sue – for slander and libel – everyone connected with the earlier, negative experiments.

Be certain to point out, whenever and wherever possible, that honest research could have been done at any time during the last 50 years. Once the scandal starts making regular headlines, the media pundits themselves will ask who fostered this deception – which is easy enough to guess – and why the government was so easily taken in by it. The answers to the latter question are easy enough to find:

1) Government legislators, executives and bureaucrats are not trained in methods of scientific research. They never think to do the research themselves; like most civilians, they're willing to believe whatever they're told by respectable, “reputable” scientists. The problem with this blind trust is that “reputable” scientists can have personal agendas, and be swayed by money, just like anyone else. Usually it takes another scientist, or several, repeatedly shoving the facts under the politician's nose, to persuade the politician that the first scientist was wrong.

2) Government legislators, executives and bureaucrats are just as easily swayed by massive propaganda – call it advertizing – as anyone else. Here's where the power of money makes itself felt. Whosoever has the most money for professional lobbyists, ads in the media, or even creating slanted scientific experiments and getting the results published in the professional journals, has the advantage. Again, Big Oil has far more money for such advertizing than the tobacco companies do.

3) Demonizing tobacco is profitable. The actual cost of a pack of cigarettes at the factory, including the company's profit, is about 50 cents. Various state and federal taxes raise the price to over ten times that, and nobody dares to complain because everyone knows that smoking is Dangerous and Sinful, and nobody wants to be publicly branded as endorsing danger and sin.

This is where the new federal tax on tobacco comes from. Various Indian tribes have made a good living for the past few years by producing and selling their own cigarettes, which – Indian Reservation industries being exempt from state taxes – were priced much lower than the regular brands, and therefore sold well. State governments whined because they couldn't touch all that juicy cash from sales of affordable tobacco, and eventually the federal government listened. Purely from motives of protecting the Public Health, of course, the federal government then slapped new federal taxes on Reservation-produced cigarettes. The enormous federal debt, and all those civilian tax-revolts, surely had nothing to do with it. Finally, they forbade anyone to sell cigarettes to individuals (but companies are acceptable) using the mail, the phone system or the Internet. This will do a fine job of shoving the Indians back into poverty, unless they can sell their tobacco products abroad or to the growing e-cigarette market.

Punishing the innocent, rewarding the guilty, and robbing the Indians again: this is where lying in the name of Science has brought us.