Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Smoking Related Deaths And Middlesbrough

I was just reading an article on the BBC about the perhaps surprising news that 33% of women in Blackpool smoke while pregnant. Then while I was wondering if that meant there were three pregnant women in Blackpool and one was a smoker (as there are no figures given in the piece), I read the following nugget;
Smoking related deaths from lung cancer were highest in Middlesbrough, with the illness claiming 71 victims per 100,000 in 2006-08.
Now how do you define smoking related deaths?

Is it that you were a heavy smoker all your life and then died of lung cancer? Is it you smoked 10 a day from the age of 12 until you were 30, then died of lung cancer? Or maybe you lived with a smoker for your entire adult life, then died of lung cancer?

The reason I suggest the last of those is, well, it's Middlesbrough. You could not smoke a day in your life and get lung cancer in Middlesbrough - as you could, in fact, anywhere in the UK - yet be classed as a "smoking related" death due to you having lived with a smoker (who may not have smoked in your presence at any point).

This isn't to deny the likelihood of smoking being a potential (or probable) cause of lung cancer, but does kinda lump everyone into one group.

In the post, Middlesbrough's ratio of "smoking related" lung cancer deaths is compared negatively to that of Guildford. The main thing that irks me about that is, I don't recall several major chemical plants in Guildford spewing fumes forth into the atmosphere, whereas the football team and supporters of Middlesbrough are known as Smoggies for that exact reason.

I'm not going to call Bad Science, but it does look like sloppy journalism.

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