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Monday, January 26, 2015

A MILLION REASONS PEOPLE DON'T TRUST STATISTICS

 By Mike Nettleton



 Our local newspaper, The Columbian ran an article in their "Health Blogs” column in Monday’s edition. It clearly showed the  dangers of accepting statistics at face value. The claim is that the average pack-a-day smoker will spend more than a million dollars on cigarettes in a 50 year span of toxic inhalation. Wow. A million dollars. That could provide a kid's college fund, payments on a dream home and retirement funds. Unfortunately, the numbers are totally fallacious.

A web site that tracks the average cost of a pack of cigarettes across America shows the low end  price in Louisiana at $4.82 and the high end in New York at $11.90. (Due to taxes that are nearly double the actual cost of the smokes.)

Multiply 365 times 50 (the number of days our smoker will puff), and get 18,250. Times it by twelve (11.90 rounded up) produces $219,000. The same calculation for low-end Louisiana nets us $87, 296. Clearly, killing yourself slowly is a bargain in New Orleans. The study claims Washington state smokers will spend $1.3 million on cigarettes. At $9.89 per pack some quick math produces $180, 492.50. Bad enough, but not a mil three. Understand, as an ex-smoker, I'm not an apologist for the filthy habit. In fact being in a room where smokers have hung out makes me sick. But still. . .

If such bogus numbers originated with, say, Fox News, Sarah Palin or one of the insane bloviators out there in the blogosphere, I would understand it. But they were generated by a presumably credible health tracking organization and published by a reputable newspaper. (I might get some argument about that one from some folks on the far right. Clearly there are plenty of of legitimate reasons for not smoking. And you could do a lot of productive things with even the low estimate of 87,000 and change from the heart of Dixie. But it doesn't excuse the stupid and dishonest use of bogus statistics. This kind of number-bending only hurts the cause.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Mike,

    The cost of killing yourself slowly in Louisiana is definitely a bargain!

    Here in the UK ciggies are much more evenly priced from one end of the country to the other and a slow burning death here, will cost you about the same as in New York.

    Tax is always a very prickly issue, but a UK tax calculator site came back with the following - If you smoke a pack of 20 a day, at £7.50 a pack, that's £2,737.50 per year, of which the government netts a cool £2,192.74

    Now that's one set of scary statistics, but as the treasury is in such dire need of funds right now, with so many people unemployed and not paying any taxes, I say rock on folks and puff away to your hearts content. It's a win / win situation. The government makes a stack of dosh in tax and the health service doesn't have you lingering on into old age and costing us money to keep!!

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  2. A related pet peeve is the volume of sensational junk science reported by the networks with glee usually reserved for football scores. By junk science I mean correlational studies that gather hundreds of bits of data from thousands of people and look for statistical connections. These studies are seldom followed by real science that looks for the mechanisms that might account for regularities. It's no wonder that the public is skeptical of scientific statements.

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