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a personal view from Erithacus
6th December 2003
Tuesday, however, after a brief rise, saw all Mondayís gains disappear, and despite a brief rise late on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning the markets remained directionless for the rest of the week before dropping to Fridayís close just 24.4 points higher than at the end of the previous week.
Analysts blamed the lack of enthusiasm on general nervousness, and Fridayís fall on employment figures from the U.S. that failed to meet expected growth levels. Despite this, there was a feeling that corporate news flow generally remains good and that economic news is steadily improving. Buyers this week were said to be "picky", and many traders seen to be taking quick profits whenever the opportunity arose rather than waiting for substantial gains.
Many seem to believe that next week will be considerably better, seeing substantial gains in most sectors, but fresh warnings of terrorist activity may cast a gloom to dampen any rises and any actual new attack is likely to send all the markets plunging again.
Certainly there needs to be the basic rules which at the very least allow large numbers of people to coexist without damaging each other, and we must surely go a little further than that with rules which control those of us who would disrupt, disturb and otherwise make othersí lives unpleasant. I am not proposing anarchy.
But do we really need all the thousands of regulations?
Take, for example, the current hysteria about smoking. Look at the calls this week from otherwise very respectable organisations to actually make smoking illegal.
Suppose, for a moment, that we could completely eliminate lung cancer from the population by stopping everyone smoking. Of course there are many other causes of that disease, and many other diseases blamed on smoking, but just suppose we could do that. Would it not be wonderful? Would we not increase the life expectancy of the whole population?
Yes. We would. Life expectancy would be increased by between eight and nine hours if we completely eliminate lung cancer.
Yet even now when a mass of information bombards us from all directions condemning smoking as bad for us and all around us, we conveniently forget to mention studies by some of the experts who still produce findings completely at odds with the popular view. For example, little mentioned but surely both significant and noteworthy is the study of 100,000 Californian adults over 39 years by professors of the school of public health at the University of California and the department of preventive medicine at the State University of New York which finished in 1998 and whose completed findings were published in May of this year.
Many and varied, but focusing on the 35,561 people studied who had never smoked but who lived with a spouse who did smoke, they found absolutely no evidence of an increase in the incidence of coronary heart disease; absolutely no evidence of an increase in the incidence of lung cancer; absolutely no evidence of earlier death from any health issue, but, although it did not appear in the official report, the researchers are rumoured to have noted that the divorce rate was significantly higher among this particular group.
This particular study may fly in the face of evidence from elsewhere, but it is surely worthy of consideration and, indeed, further investigation. Once again, I feel, we are in danger of leaping into legislation to regulate, restrict and control the activities of a minority group (in this case some 20% of the UK population) when we may quite possibly be totally wrong in listening to findings from experts who, for the most part, are funded by organisations which have already declared themselves against the activity they are trying to prevent.
Should we, perhaps, take more notice of the numerous researchers who have found positive evidence that smoking greatly reduces the incidence of Altzheimer disease, halves the incidence of stress-related illness, can be used to help control many mental problems, increases brain activity and may lead to an increase in intelligence and memory?
Should we continue to be selective with which research we believe, discarding anything which does not accord with the views of those who are most likely to shout the loudest, and those who have the ear of the media?
Perhaps someone might also take note that the tax currently raised from tobacco products in the UK is six times the cost to our health service of dealing with diseases said to be smoking-related.
Or, perhaps, those who keep reminding us of the increases in the incidence of asthma among children should be reminded of the solid and undisputed (I think!) scientific evidence that the cause is undoubtedly from the dramatic increase over the last 50 years of central heating, and the creation of the ideal breeding ground for dust mites in almost every home in our country.
So should we ban smoking?
Of course we should. It is a nasty, filthy, smelly, disgusting habit. We should be saying to the perpetrators, "You stink. Donít make me and my surroundings stink too."
But we should be clear why we are doing it, not hiding behind selected "research" from "experts" who, almost without exception, are looking to prove whatever it is their sponsorís are hoping to prove. and whatever it is that is most likely to give them the best chance of a grant for further research.
6th December 2003
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