Asbestos and Smoking Risks

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Larry Kendall:
TG for the misc. forum.

I just came across some interesting data.

Remember all the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth over asbestos??

I've always wondered how that compares to tobacco smoking in terms of risk for lung cancer.

Here are the relative risks.

Non-smoker, never exposed to asbestos: risk = 1

Non-smoker, exposed to asbestos: risk = 5

Smoker, never exposed to asbestos: risk = 11

Smoker, exposed to asbestos: risk = 55.

Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer by a factor of 11,
Asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer by a factor of 5.
And the two combined increases the risk of lung cancer by 55.

I infer that most of the lung cancer patients whose disease was attributed to asbestos were also smokers, considering how pervasive smoking was among the population at the time.

So here is the question of the day.

With everyone so up in arms about asbestos, why weren't they even more zealous about tobacco smoking?

Howard Walker:
Never smoke asbestos.....

DAVE CUTHBERT:
K5END, the data does not support your inference.

As to your question "With everyone so up in arms about asbestos, why weren't they even more zealous about tobacco smoking?"

A major difference is that asbestos exposure for the most part is involuntary. One does not know they are being exposed. Smoking tobacco is voluntary and the person knows they are taking a risk.

Larry Kendall:
Quote from: WX7G on December 08, 2009, 05:36:57 AM

K5END, the data does not support your inference.

As to your question "With everyone so up in arms about asbestos, why weren't they even more zealous about tobacco smoking?"

A major difference is that asbestos exposure for the most part is involuntary. One does not know they are being exposed. Smoking tobacco is voluntary and the person knows they are taking a risk.



1. You are missing the point: smoking is worse than asbestos, but it has never been portrayed that way. I wasn't talking about choices.

2. Your point is not correct. For decades second hand smoke was no more voluntary than was asbestos. It was in the workplace, restaurants, on aircraft flights...I even remember when people would smoke in hospital rooms. How was that voluntary for the patient?

Dan:
Asbestos doesn't have addictive biochemistry or a long tradition of intentional inhalation for pleasure and social reasons.

Asbestos exposure is a legitimate, scientifically proven health concern.  However, completely rational application of reasonable exposure limits has likely been politically over-ruled by cancer paranoia.

Cigarettes, of course,  are conspicuously exempt from cancer paranoia. 

Cancer paranoia is an interesting thing.  I think in a lot of cases it's a manifestation of feelings that the technological world is outpacing the good of humanity.   The problems we cause for ourselves are vast and complex. 

I have a friend who's worried about 60Hz and cell phone electromagnetic exposure who's still a smoker.   No worries about the smoking (the time and time again proven carcinogen) but a fear of  non-ionizing radiation that doesn't seem to have any human effects even in big studies.  This isn't a rational consideration of relative risks.  It's a feeling that someone somewhere is neglecting public health to provide us with our technological modern world.  Cancer is perhaps an apt metaphor.  Our own good and useful processes getting away from us, overrunning and killing us.

This is a common tension: technological progress vs. the public good.  It has pretty much nothing to do with actual risk.  Asbestos removal is part of a cycle of technological advance, recognition of the disadvantages of that advance, and remediation of those mistakes with a zeal that exceeds what actually needs to be done to reverse the mistake.

I think it's a sort of technological penance, undertaken with a hope that fewer mistakes will be made in the future.   

As such, it doesn't really have anything to do with actually getting cancer.  It has more to do with radical surgery on a metaphorical cancer.

73
Dan












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