Friday, May 14, 2021

Huge Increase in U.S. Deaths in 2020, and Covid Played a Huge Role

I have spent the past 30 years studying how people die in the United States, which is why I have been so passionate about making cigarette smoking history.  Unfortunately, too many Americans were either apathetic or completely belligerent about practical and commonsense harm reduction solutions to reduce smoking-attributable deaths, so every year half a million lives were prematurely and needlessly tossed away for over two decades.

In 2020 we had the Covid-19 tragedy, in which apathy and belligerence to commonsense pandemic precautions once again killed a lot of Americans.  We now have the first set of numbers from the CDC as proof.

As seen in the chart at left, deaths from all causes in the U.S. skyrocketed from 2.85 million in 2019 to 3.36 million last year.  We expect all-cause deaths to slightly increase each year because of steady population growth (currently about 330 million) and steady ageing of that population.  In fact, during the previous 10 years, on average deaths increased by about 43,000.  But in 2020 deaths were up by almost 504,000.  That jump is unprecedented in the past 50 years. 

One bogus claim heard commonly last year was that Covid was mainly killing the elderly who were about to die anyway from some other disease.  But the CDC numbers destroy such frivolous notions.  The agency recorded 345,323 Covid deaths, which ranks third to heart diseases and cancer in the following chart.  Note that heart disease deaths also had a sharp increase in 2020, while cancer deaths were about the same.

Modest increases were also recorded for injuries, stroke and Alzheimers disease, as noted in the next chart.   


So it’s clear that Covid deaths didn’t “replace” other causes.  In fact, the charts suggest that Covid might have contributed in some way to extra deaths from heart diseases, stroke and even diabetes, which is seen in the next chart.


One group of diseases that Covid had no influence on was influenza/pneumonia, which saw no significant change. 

Keep in mind that absolute numbers of deaths only tell part of the mortality story.  Eventually the CDC will release data on age at death, from which rates can be calculated and more detailed comparisons made with previous years.  I guarantee that there won’t be any good news there.




Monday, May 10, 2021

THR Discussion With Christopher Balkaran on a Strong and Free Podcast


I recently had an interview with Christopher Balkaran, the talented Canadian producer of the Strong and Free Podcast.  Christopher is currently exploring tobacco harm reduction, and he gave me ample time to discuss many aspects of safer tobacco products.  My interview is available here.  If you are especially interested in any of the following topics, I’ve listed the times for quick access.  

1.  Why I jumped from a conventional academic career into tobacco harm reduction research and policy…without a parachute.  At 0:45 to 1:40 minutes

2.  One of my main goals: to correct purposeful misinformation about tobacco products, serving the dream of a “tobacco-free society,” that has misled even medical professionals, including me. At 2:20 to 3:55 minutes

3.  I affirmed my opposition to any drug use by adolescents.  At 5:10 to 6:05 minutes

4.  How harm reduction can help smokers, regardless whether they are unable or unwilling to abstain completely from nicotine and tobacco.  Harm reduction… including this advocate…does not judge smokers.  At 7:10 to  and 24:50 to 25:45

5.  How nicotine is no more dangerous than caffeine.  At 8:15 to 9:10 minutes. 

6. How millions of people enjoy using nicotine and tobacco and derive significant benefits; the danger is in the delivery system, smoke versus smoke-free.  At 9:50 to 11:50.

7.  The history of tobacco use dates back long before Columbus “discovered” America.  At 13:25 to 14:25.8.  The campaign to prohibit all nicotine and tobacco didn’t start with e-cigarettes and vape products.  It started in the 1980s when the reputation of smokeless tobacco use was irrevocably ruined by specious claims.  At 15:35 to 17:15

9.  For prohibitionists, all tobacco products aren’t just dangerous, they are evil.  Those claims are now institutionalized by U.S. FDA regulation, which requires tobacco companies to be absolutely silent about their products unless they can prove that they are safer than cigarettes.  At 17:15 to 18:40

10.  “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  Why offering smokers safer substitutes has mattered to me since childhood.  At 21:20 to 23:40

11.  My work to bring to a worldwide audience the “Swedish Experience” with snus use, which has resulted in the lowest smoking-related mortality among men in the developed world. At 27:15 to 36:10

12.  The emerging IQOS heat-not-burn tobacco success story in Japan shows us how a world-class case of corporate self-cannibalization in the free-market setting could save millions of lives. At 36:35 to 43:00

13.  Why inhaling 7,000 chemicals along with nicotine for decades is worse than vaping. And the incredible reduction in these chemicals in IQOS.  At 45:15 to 47:55

14.  Prohibition (of alcohol) failed miserably 100 years ago…so we are going to repeat our mistakes by Prohibition of tobacco?  At 50:00 to 53:50

15.  Tobacco prohibitionists control the media, so they refuse to defend or debate their mission.  This makes them the opposite of strong and free.  At 55:10 to 56:25

Please watch this interview…and post your comments on YouTube.  Let’s keep the discussion going.


Friday, April 23, 2021

Vaping in New Zealand Versus Vaping in New Zealotsville


Since 2015, the British government’s position has been that “e-cigarettes are considerably safer than smoking cigarettes, are popular with smokers and that they have a role to play in reducing smoking rates.”  Overzealous U.S. authorities, in contrast, have waged total war on these vastly safer products (here, here, here, here, here).  New developments in the U.S. and New Zealand put the American travesty in sharper focus.

The U.S. FDA Center for Tobacco Products spends about $160 million annually, some 22 percent of its budget, on anti-tobacco, anti-vaping campaigns like “Real Cost.”  The agency has previously demonized e-cigarettes by showing them invading teens’ bodies as worms (the original material has been removed by the FDA, but this image is still available) and depicting a magician converting e-cigarettes into combustible cigarettes (here).  Now the FDA has partnered with Marvel Comics to produce a ghoulish video that casts vaping as a “mind control menace.”  While this video hasn’t a fact to stand on, it apparently comports with the FDA mission to tell “target audiences” about the “harms of tobacco product use.” Welcome to the misguided remake of  Reefer Madness. 

In dramatic contrast, New Zealand’s Health Promotion Agency is conducting a major media campaign, dubbed Vape to QuitStrong, encouraging smokers to switch to e-cigarettes.  That country maintains an informative website providing facts about vaping, vaping versus smoking, and vaping to quit smoking. Featured on the site is the photo above.

While U.S. anti-tobacco extremists might be appalled at the image of a child appearing in a government campaign encouraging smokers to vape, this is public health at its finest.  The message is clear: The child’s father can live to see her grow up if he makes the right choice -- to step away from the fire.