- Harry Levins posed the following question
in the opening paragraph of his article on "Killer Asteroids"
which appeared on page 3A of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Wednesday,
October 8, 1997:
- The odds of dying violently are greatest
when the agent of violence is (choose one):
- 1. A tornado.
- 2. A flood.
- 3. An asteroid.
- Answer: An asteroid.
- He went on to explain that two Air Force
officers say that "we're more likely to perish from an asteroid strike
(1 chance in 25,000) than we are from a flood (1 in 30,000) or a tornado
(1 in 60,000)." The officers suggest that we spend $122 million-a-year,
averaged over 20 years, to combat this peril: a total of $2.44 billion.
- Some other causes of premature death
listed for comparison in the sidebar
- to the article:
- Food poisoning: 1 in 3 million.
- Fireworks Accident: 1 in 1 million.
- Venomous Bite or Sting: 1 in 100,000
- Airplane Accident: 1 in 20,000
- Electrocution: 1 in 5,000
- Firearms Accident: 1 in 2,500.
- Fire: 1 in 800.
- Murder: 1 in 300.
- Car wreck: 1 in 100.
- Harry Levins, who admits to enjoying
a stogie now and again, failed to consider the dangers due to smoking,
generally recognized as the number 1 avoidable cause of death in the U.S.
so let's correct that omission by figuring the risks from both active and
- Using the same method of calculation
as the Air Force officers, the lifetime chance of dying prematurely from
each of these causes is respectively:
- Smoking: 1 in 2.
- Involuntary Smoking ["Secondhand
smoke"]: 1 in 55.
- In other words, smoking is like taking
a double-barrelled shotgun with one barrel loaded, holding it to your head,
and pulling the trigger during your smoking lifetime, and paying upwards
of $30,000 or more for the privilege.
- Premature death from involuntary smoking
is about twice as likely as dying in a car wreck and six times as likely
as being murdered. TV is full of mayhem caused by motor vehicles or handguns.
When was the last time death from someone else's tobacco smoke was portrayed
or reported on TV?
- HOW THE RISKS ARE CALCULATED:
- Killer Asteroid. The two Air Force officers
arrived at their 1 in 25,000 chance of a person being killed by an asteroid
during their lifetime as follows:
- The earth gets hit by an asteroid big
enough to cause a global catastrophy once every 500,000 years, so the odds
of that happening in any given year are 1 in 500,000. Assuming such an
impact kills 25% of the Earth's population, that makes the risk from an
impact 1 in 4. The odds of any individual dying from an asteroid strike
in any given year are 1 in 500,000 multiplied by 4, or 1 in 2 million.
- But since we live on average 75 years,
these odds must be multiplied by 75 to obtain the risk of premature death
in any given year. Hence the lifetime odds of dying from an asteroid strike
is 75 in 2 million, or 1 in 25,000.
- Active Cigarette Smoking. For smokers,
who number about 50 million adults, the number of deaths is estimated at
over 400,000 each year, so the annual risk is about 400,000/50 million
= 1 in 125. Since most smokers don't start until they're about 14 we should
calculate the 75 year lifetime risk over 75-14 = 61 years.
- So the lifetime risk is 61 x 400,000/50
million = 61/125 = 1 in 2.
- Involuntary smoking. The total U.S. population
was estimated as 266,499,365 on January 1, 1997, so the total number of
nonsmokers is 266.5 million less 50 million = 216.5 million. The estimated
number of deaths among nonsmokers each year due to involuntary smoking
is 53,000 (1), so the lifetime risk of premature death = 75 x 53,000/216.5
million = 75/4,085 = 1 in 55.
- One good thing about the odds from a
smoker's viewpoint: they really don't have to worry about any of the other
risks that plague the rest of us! [Might be a good reason for having an
all-smoker military. When bullets and shells are whizzing by they can laugh
it all off, secure in the knowledge that it's only smoking they have to
- For the rest of us, it's difficult to
avoid tobacco smoke, which is still commonplace in Missouri, and you often
don't even know it's present. And as Missouri GASP has been vainly claiming
for years now, based on the kind of numbers above, we should be giving
active and involuntary smoking much more attention than we do.
- (1) Published peer-reviewed papers. Number
accepted by American Heart Association, the majority of such deaths being
attributed to heart disease, not lung and other cancers.
- NOTE: We'd like to add to the utility
of the above RISK LIST. If you have reliable sources of premature deaths
due to other causes, such as dioxin, low level radioactive waste, low frequency
electromagnetic radiation* [ARE there any estimated deaths due to these
causes?] please let us know of them.
- * For Missouri/St. Louis, not just the
- Copyright Martin Pion © 1997
- Tobacco control/pro-health web pages
may freely reproduce all or some of
- the above, provided acknowledgement is
given to Martin Pion and Missouri
- GASP Inc.