Educational or Sensational? | Letters | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Educational or Sensational? 

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The Jan. 21 City Weekly contains an ad for the group Teen Advocates Against Tobacco. The ad claims that "Smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined".  Really?

According to CDC data, smoking-associated deaths are listed at approximately 440,000 per year in the US (5.4 million worldwide).  Yet AIDS alone kills 5.4 million worldwide according to the Yale AIDS Watch data.  If these two data sets are accurate then it would be impossible for smoking to have a higher kill total after the inclusion of the other variables in the claim (alcohol, murder, etc.).  Unless a restraining qualifier is added to the statement like "In Utah Smoking kills...".  Even with the qualifier the statement is still speculative (more on that below).

It is important to note that these numbers are not direct deaths from smoking (as the ad states by claiming "Smoking kills..."), this is because in reality the deaths from smoking include other associative variables such as diet, environment, genetics, etc.  To link totals for deaths caused by associative variables (i.e smoking), with deaths caused by accidents (i.e. cars) and deaths caused by direct variables (i.e. murder); shows a lack of consistency in the logic of the statement in the ad.

It is also unclear whether the term "illegal drugs" (in the ad) is meant to refer to overdose, violent death (related to trafficking), or some other nebulous data set.  Ultimately the ad is sensationalized fear mongering.  It is incorrect as written and calls into question the motivation of its writer.  Although it is common for people to draw conclusions from incomplete data sets (even within the scientific community), it does not mean the conclusion is accurate.

To illustrate this point, an accurate statement would have been something along the lines of "smoking reduces lung capacity".  This condition is evident in all case studies for smoking.  Another factually verifiable statement might be, "Some tobacco companies use additives to increase the addictive factor of the product".  Whereas making a statement like "Smoking kills..." or "Smoking kills more than X" is speculative at best and completely inaccurate in some cases (such as those individuals who smoke their entire life without developing a cancer).

This letter might appear to be focusing on a single ad in a local newspaper, but I hope it will open up a discussion on the larger issue of the current state of media culture in general; which contains far more noise than signal.  I have always thought of City Weekly as more of an educational paper rather than a sensational one, but as it ages, I wonder.  How many more advertisements, product reviews, and opinion pieces will it take before you are no different than In This Week?

I would prefer to close on a positive note, so I would like to say thank you for the
“Storm the Hill” by Eric S. Peterson [Jan. 14, City Weekly]. It is informative and constructive reporting like this that I would love to see more of in City Weekly. Give your readers more information on making our community/nation/world a better place please.

Jerry Cross Jr.
Salt Lake City

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