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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.