Lies, damned lies, and then there's statistics: the flavored cigarette edition

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Summary: In a recent Huntsville Times article, statistics were used to justify the banning of flavored cigs by the FDA. While there may be some meat to their claim, their proof said very little on the topic they acted like they were talking about. I show how the three quoted statistics are more of a smoke screen than an actual argument.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

(23:37:28 CDT)

Lies, damned lies, and then there's statistics: the flavored cigarette edition

Today (that would be Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009), the Huntsville Times had an article about the banning of flavored cigarettes and kreteks (aka: clove cigs). Around here, I am pretty sure the only flavored cigs I have seen have been cloves, though I have seen grape- and peach- and vanilla- and "wine"-flavored cigars (cigars are not under the same ban, mind you). I point that out, because I am going to say "clove" when I mean all flavored cigs. In the article (which I have not yet found online, or I would link to a copy), it quotes three statistics that are used by the FDA and supporters of the ban to show why it does this. They are:

(1) 17 year olds are three times more likely to smoke flavored cigs than 25+ year old. (2) 3600 new teens start smoking every day. (3) 90% of smokers start smoking as teens.

These three facts are given together in order to make them sound like they are describing the same thing. Three times as many teens are smoking cloves than adults, and 90% of them are going to become regular smokers. That's what they want you to take from the article. That's not what the article is saying. First off, #3 is problematic because it does not say that 90% of teens who smoke stay smokers (the actual number is about, or slightly less, than 30%, as taken from this this site, which has lots of important facts to read). Also according to that site, the 90% is "before the age of 21", not just teenagers, which is a slightly important difference because that includes more time at college and in the armed services, two highly influential times for legal adults to start smoking.

Secondly, #2 is pointless without saying what percentage of those 3600 actually smoke flavored cigs. 20%? 50%? 75%? #1 does not answer this question because it is (a) really ambigious (do they mean that three times as many clove smokers are 17 than 25? or, do they mean that three times the number of 17 year old smokers would be ok with smoking flavored cigs than older smokers? or, most likely, are they saying three times the percentage of teen smokers prefer cloves than older smokers? more on this last one in a second) and (b) if 17 year olds are smoking cigs, it sounds like a problem with people selling to minors or giving to minors, at which point it is half a moot point no matter what law you decide.

And why did I say "more on this last one"? Well, if the statistic shows that more the two-thirds of teen smokers quit smoking, and adults are one-third as likely to enjoy flavored cigs, it may be merely that clove smokers bail out and it changes the ratio. What's more, all write-ups I have seen about clove and flavored cig sales have put them in the deep minority of overall sales. Are we saying that 6% of teen smokers smoke cloves while 2% of adult smokers do the same? What's the real numbers, not some ratio of a ratio? The website I linked above, by the way, has some numbers. 6.8% of teen smokers report using (non-exclusively) kreteks while 1.7% report using (non-exclusively) other flavored cigs. So, of the 3600 new smokers a day, a grand total of 306 or so are due in some part to flavored cigs (this is actually wrong, since younger teens actually drop combined flavored use down to about 3% non-exclusively. From the same website, close to twice that smoke cigars, which are untouched by the FDA's current ban.

There are two statistics that could actually justify the ban. (a) What number of teens who refused to touch cigs went back on their convictions because of flavored cigs (as opposed to starting with normals cigs, and then experimenting), and (b) what number of teens (that potential 306 or less per day) who started smoking cloves became regular smokers (of flavored cigs or otherwise)? Without those statistics, this ban has the stink of politics. What's more, it has the stink of regular cig companies, who are backing the ban, trying to get rid of competition no matter how minor, while their own menthol flavors, for instance, stay around. While I will not condone teen smoking, or even regular smoking for that matter, banning everyone from using an already controlled product because, potentially 11,000 teens might smoke it over a year and, possibly, in that year 3000 will continue to smoke it for life; that's a pain (keep in mind these are high-ball numbers, that 306 is an estimate based on a survey that dealt with smoking patterns over the past month, while more conservative estimates say it is half or a one-third of that). Especially since cloves and all the spices in them are available in the grocery store, and so regular cigs can be "spruced up" in no time. For cheaper.

Si Vales, Valeo


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