The Mysteries Of Governor Gregoire, Part II
By Norman E. Kjono, September 4, 2006
Thank you for your below E-Mail concerning my Friday, September 1, 2006 response to Seattle Times and Seattle Post Intelligencer reporters about the alleged "success" of tobacco control in Washington reducing the number of current smokers:
Sent: Saturday, September 02, 2006 7:36 PM
Subject: Smoking bans
Hi Norm, I live in Colorado and I am on the board for the Coalition for Equal rights, we are the group here fighting the smoking ban. Anyway I was reading your commentary on the supposed percentage drop of smokers in Washington. It made me think of a question I have had since the beginning of this fight. The question is what is the correct amount of smokers in the U.S.? I was told that someone figured out that the number we are told divided by the number of cigs sold would make it that smokers spend 12000.00 a year on cigs!! I don't know about you but I know I could never smoke that much!! I spend on average 1300.00 a year. I believe that there are more smokers than they admit. Could you let me know what the "true" numbers are? Thanks for your time, Lisa
I appreciate that you took the time to write. There is considerable public interest in the subjects that you address in your E-Mail, as well as increasing concern about tobacco control advocacy and the consequences that it imposes on all small business owners, taxpayers, and consumers (regardless of whether they choose to smoke.) Notably, your inquiry regarding the "true" number for Current smokers in the USA is directly on point with discrepancies in Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) prevalence data that date back several years. For example, I discussed the question of apparent conflict in CDC smoking prevalence data in September 30, 2002 and October 2, 2002 correspondence with CDC (see "CDC Never Smokers", bottom.)
I provide response to and discussion of the points that you raised below. First, however, I present for readers information about the Coalition for Equal Rights in Colorado. I am certain that many across the USA would have an interest in your laudable efforts.
You wrote in response to my work posted to www.forces.org on Saturday, September 2, 2006 under the title "The Mysteries of Governor Gregoire." The news articles that I responded to were written based on an August 30, 2006 press release from the office of Washington Governor Christine O. Gregoire, titled "Governor Gregoire Announces State's Smoking Rate Drops to 5th Lowest in Nation," as attached. The news articles to which I responded are as follows:
Seattle Post-Intelligencer's August 31, 2006 article, "State cuts sharply number of adults who smoke," by Susan Phinney.
Seattle Time's August 31, 2006 article, "State's smoking rate way down even before new ban took effect," by Warren King.
Readers can go to Coalition for Equal Rights: to obtain more information about your efforts in Colorado. That link summarizes the legal actions that you have undertaken to oppose the smoking ban in Colorado. A summary of facts and issues concerning that U.S. District Court action is as follows:
1. The Law Suit: This legal action was filed by Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF): According to its Web site, the foundation is nonprofit, public interest law firm dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system.
2. Date and Court Where Filed:
Date Filed: June 15, 2006
Court: U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado (No. 06cv1145)
3. The Parties:
Plaintiff: Coalition for Equal Rights; Shari Warren, owner, Spirit Keeper (Black Forest, Colorado) and member of Coalition for Equal Rights.
Defendants: Governor Bill Owens, in his official capacity as Governor of Colorado; State of Colorado; and other state officials.
4. The Issues: "Whether a State law that, for political reasons, prohibits smoking on certain private property while exempting similarly situated private property runs afoul of the Colorado and United States Constitutions?"
5. Status: On August 25, 2006, the parties filed motions for summary judgment. Responses are currently being prepared.
It may be of interest to you that a similar suit was recently filed here in Washington by an American Legion post concerning Washington's statewide smoking ban passed by Initiative to the People 901 in November 2005. That suit addresses the wording of the initiative and other legal issues.
Responses to Issues Raised
You inquired as to the "true" number of Current Smokers in the USA. As well illustrated in the work to which you responded, "The Mysteries of Governor Gregoire," such calculations are problematic, at best. The cited work addressed the problem of Washington tobacco control "statistics" concerning smoking rates being understated by as much as 25.1 percent in previous data for 2000 -- 2002. As pointed out in that work, if one applies the prevalence rates stated by the Governor of Washington in her August 30, 2006 press release, "Governor Gregoire Announces State's Smoking Rate Drops to 5th Lowest in Nation," we arrive at US adult populations significantly greater than census bureau estimates for 1999 and far less than census bureau estimates for 2005.
The only way the alleged 205,000 decrease in Washington adult smokers can be arrived at is if one significantly overstates the number of adult smokers in 1999 and materially understates the number of remaining smokers in 2005. As I pointed out in that work, such statistical anomalies - errors at both ends that coincidently produce the declining numbers desired -- cannot occur by random chance. Discrepancies in tobacco control "estimates" of Current Smoker populations are attributable to survey bias, as documented in the document titled "Solutions for Survey Discrepancies in Washington State Smoking Prevalence," (see attached), which I referenced in the commentary posted by Forces.org September 2, 2006.
Unfortunately, the problem with underreporting of Current Smoker prevalence is not confined to just the State of Washington. Based on inquiries that I made of CDC in October 2002, it appears that CDC Current Smoker data may also be understated. Should that be the case an interesting and potentially volatile issue is raised: if Washington adult smoker prevalence admittedly had variances as high as 25.1 percent below rates published by CDC 2000 - 2002, what are the implications if CDC data prevalence is also understated?
We arrive at a serious and sustaining problem for state agencies and departments that rely on health department "statistics." Many state offices use health department data for important budgetary, planning and enforcement purposes. For example, in Washington the attorney general's office is currently defending a lawsuit concerning the I-901 smoking ban as well as addressing legal issues concerning 2005 legislation that increased cigarette taxes by 60 cents per pack. The Department of Revenue directly or indirectly relies on health department information in preparing Fiscal Impact studies for legislative bills and other purposes. Actions by the attorney general or state revenue offices affect all taxpayers, whether or not they smoke. If state actions are based incorrect or manipulated data all citizens and taxpayers bear the consequences of flawed public policy. These matters should be of immediate concern to responsible state officials and elected representatives. Such matters may also raise important questions as to equal protection of the laws:
1. Is not accurate presentation of facts relied upon to determine any state action a fundamental requirement for equal protection of the law?
2. What causes of action do consumers and taxpayers have against the state if it is proven that the information relied upon to enact regulations or laws that adversely affect them is seriously flawed, perhaps intentionally manipulated?
It is interesting that the questions I raised with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2002 concern the precise issue raised about the Washington data: survey bias. Indeed, the January 2006 publication by CDC, "Solutions for Survey Discrepancies in Washington State Smoking Prevalence," may provide insight into why national Current Smoker prevalence is also understated. That document cites differences in survey introduction and cue questions as the basis for Washington's Adult Tobacco Survey (ATS) producing prevalence estimates well below the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey. But the BRFSS survey can also be subject to its own bias, which would understate Current Smoker prevalence. Both surveys and data reporting for them are managed by the same people with tobacco control and subject to their unquestioned bias that U.S. citizens must not lawfully consume legal tobacco products. In addition, the costs and discrimination consequences intentionally imposed on citizens who smoke are punitive and sustaining. Why would any citizen respond positively to a question about whether or not they smoke?
The bottom line is that those conducting the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey confront and unresolved conundrum: in today's political and cultural environment concerning tobacco they interject an unavoidable bias by merely asking about tobacco use. In short, the transformation of, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you" to "I'm from the government and I demand your personal information so we can use it against you" by tobacco control advocates creates a permanent and unresolved downward bias for respondents' survey answers.
My 2002 query to CDC points out that in its adult smoking prevalence data cited for 1992 to 2000 show that adult FORMER SMOKERS decreased. During the same period YOUTH SMOKERS increased nationwide by more than 40 percent. Yet during that same period adult NEVER SMOKERS shows an increasing trend of 0.55 percent per year. If significantly more kids were smoking and fewer adults were quitting 1992 - 2000 we should see an increasing adult Current Smoker population. My studies show that, at best, we have a remarkably stable adult Current Smoker population despite punitive tax increases and ostracizing smoking bans. Even if more people are quitting they would properly be in the FORMER SMOKER category, NOT the NEVER SMOKER category.
That quandary of conflicting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Current Smoker and Former Smoker data is resolved by making the same observations about CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey as have already been made about Washington's use of the Adult Tobacco Survey (ATS): question and cultural bias that is unavoidably interjected by tobacco control advocacy cause respondents to deny status as Current Smokers or Former Smokers, which artificially inflates CDC the Never Smoker category, to give unreliable and downward biased smoking prevalence "statistics."
So we arrive at the answer to your cogent and on-point question: "What is the correct amount of smokers in the U.S.?"
The first answer, clearly illustrated by Governor Gregoire in her August 30, 2006 press release is: "Whatever tobacco control advocates and their political supporters want it to be at the moment to support their political agenda during election years."
The second answer is: "Current adult smoking prevalence data are so unreliable and flawed that the 'true' number is unknown."
The third answer is: The only thing that we know with certainty based on facts known about survey bias and reported data is that Current Smoker prevalence, and therefore the number of Current Smokers in the USA, is certainly greater than that reported by either the State of Washington or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So what do we now do when the tobacco control brain trust says "Eureka! They've proven we must 'crack down' even more! More taxes! More bans!"?
The answer to that question is found in a fundamental political reality: smokers comprise a 25 percent-plus voting block that can swing any election in the country.
What's more, they will be doing nonsmokers and all taxpayers a huge favor by voting out of office politicians who can still rely on any tobacco control "statistic" and keep a straight face. They solution to this increasing problem is not found in what "they" will do about it. The solution, like most of life's issues, rests in each person's hands: get involved and vote your agenda or chill out with the whine about being a "victim."
Lisa, thanks for writing. I always enjoy and appreciate hearing from readers. Your personal involvement with the Coalition for Equal Rights and your effort to ask an important question are respected. Unfortunately, time does not permit responses to every inquiry, however your question presented an important issue I felt it was well worth addressing.
In closing, I mention that we grow in spirit as individuals and together as a people by committing ourselves to ideals that are greater than out individual interests. What better ideal to embrace than a commitment to equal protection of the laws for everyone, smokers and nonsmokers alike, regardless of the legal products they lawfully choose to consume?
Norman E. Kjono