Tuesday, August 09, 2005

In Death, Peter Jennings Becomes Anti-Smoking Poster Boy

Peter Jennings' death from lung cancer at age 67 is being used in a rather opportunistic fashion by some anti-smoking organizations bent on banning the use of tobacco. Examples can be found here, here, and Jennings' network, ABC News asks viewers to email them with the answer to this question: Are You Quitting Smoking to Honor Peter Jennings?

There's a problem, though. Jennings said that he had quit smoking twenty years before picking the habit back up following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Is it really possible to develop lung cancer in less than three years? Many doctors cite lung cancer as a consequence of long term smoking, thirty years or more.

Then there's the issue of New York City air. In the seventies, environmental groups (admittedly not the most reliable source of information) declared that living and working in the NYC metro area exposed residents to air pollution that was the equivalent of smoking 1 to 2 packs of cigarettes a day. Could 40+ years of exposure to this environment have caused Jennings' illness?

When I was in junior high school we were treated one day to an "educational" film about the dangers of popping pimples. The "Triangle of Death" was shown, running from a point on the chin to the top of the forehead. We were solemnly warned that popping a zit in this area could cause the pus to travel directly to the brain, causing immediate death.

There are legitimate and compelling reasons to quit smoking. But, as Dr. Dean Edell recently commented on his radio show (mentioning that 8-9 out of 10 smokers will never suffer from lung cancer), scaring people with bogus information damages the credibility of health organizations.