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« Cost of fuel won't stop me driving | Main | Reading, writing and ... biometrics »

The truth about smoking and health

"You can eat five portions of fruit and veg a day and exercise regularly, but healthy behaviour means little if you continue to smoke" (NetDoctor).

"There are many things we can do to lower our chances of developing cancer such as not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, cutting down on alcohol, eating a healthy balanced diet, being physically active and staying safe in the sun." (Cancer Research UK, Daily Telegraph, April 7, 2010).

Now, I'm no doctor (as I'm sure you know) but I can't help recalling the words of the late Dr Ken Denson of the Thame Thrombosis and Haemostasis Research Foundation in Oxfordshire who was adamant that if you enjoy a healthy diet, keep yourself physically fit and smoke moderately (less than ten cigarettes a day), the risk to your health is significantly reduced and you may be at no more at risk than those who do NOT smoke, eat "unhealthily" and get little or no regular exercise (ie people like me).

His exact words, in an article circa 2005, were:

The greatest ill effects from smoking are for heavy smokers of two and three packs a day. Risks are much lower for light smokers. Studies on lung cancer and heart disease have shown that for those who smoke ten a day or less, the risks are very much lower. In a study on female British doctors there was no increased risk for heart disease or lung cancer in those smoking one to 14 cigarettes per day ...

The problem is, the medical and political establishment isn't interested in promoting this message. All they want you to hear is: quit smoking or die. And that, perhaps, is why the message falls on so many deaf ears because most of us can point to people who smoke who appear, in general, to be perfectly fit and healthy.

PS. If I remember rightly, Dr Denson smoked from the age of 15 and was in his early eighties when he died three years ago. Of course, if he hadn't smoked he would still be alive today. Well, that's what they would like us to believe.

Reader Comments (28)

Quit smoking or die? As in the wages of sin is death. Antismoking is a close relative of the temperance movement and is based on a moral rather than a rational position.
I have a bit of bad news for the healthist fanatics. It is kind of unoriginal, but it bears repeating again and again until some sense of reality reappears in their hippy dippy little world. To quote Terry Pratchett, the salary of virtue is also death, quit smoking and die, run marathons and die, vegans die, athletes die, everybody dies. Do you think they will ever get it?

April 8, 2010 at 12:59 | Unregistered CommenterHeretic

I'm a moderate smoker and a healthy eater.
And a very sprightly 50 .
Last weekend I put edging ,lovely terra cota type round my front lawn to do that I dug a trench aprox 20m long x 0.1m wide and 0.150m deep .
Never got out of breath at all.

However to change the subject if I may, here is the real story behind the middle eastern gent with his shoes on fire on the aircraft that was intercepted by the US Air Force earlier this week.
Guess what, his shoes were not on fire at all.
He was in fact a diplomat from Qatar and he decided to have a sneaky fag in the Loo.

However if you or I had done that we would have been fined.
Diplomatic immunity ,eh ?


April 8, 2010 at 13:03 | Unregistered CommenterSpecky

Oh and I forgot, eating five portions (whatever they are) of fruit and veg each day does not significantly reduce the risk of cancer, any cancer. Staying out of the sun can result in vitamin D deficiency, a very unhealthy outcome. The assertions have been made and repeated ad nauseam, now the research is actually being done and a little (not enough) joined up thinking is being applied and waddayaknow, the assertions were just that assertions based on personal prejudice, special interest group agendas and a lot of self righteous hot air.

April 8, 2010 at 13:04 | Unregistered CommenterHeretic

The basis of Doll and Peto's findings that heavy smoking leads to lung cancer was a survey of British GPs from those born in the late 1800s to 1974. They found that those GPs that smoked up to 6.3 cigarettes a day had no raised risk of lung cancer, heart disease or early mortality. (In the URL, page 8, numbered 95.) (1)

The 1964 US Surgeon General's report found that pipe smokers lived on average 2 years longer than non smokers.

I have recently been sent this US Surgeon General's report from 1967 which was I believe suppressed and never published (thanks Tony) in which the people who suffered the least from chronic illnesses were those who smoked 1-11 cigarettes a day. (2)

In the last paper which is not available on line suggests having a postitve mental attitude protects you from lung cancer by a factor of up to 200%. (3)

On the last point is the anti smoking movement with their smoking bans putting the health of smokers at risk if it makes us miserable?



Kulessa C, et al.: Psychosocial Personality Traits and Cigarette Smoking Among Bronchial Carcinoma Patients. Stress Med., 5:37-46 (1989). Knekt P, et al.: Elevated Lung Cancer Risk Among Persons With Depressed Mood. Am. J. Epidemiol., 144:1096-103 (1996).

April 8, 2010 at 13:13 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Bravo, at last some sensible advice from Cancer Research UK. Let's just hope that the message gets through to all the unhealthy fools out there who smoke and drink and do all these ridiculous things. I am a doctor so let me tell you that carrying on such unhealthy lifestyles can and will take years off your lives.

I am 43 years old, I do not smoke or drink or eat meat. I exercise daily and keep my weight down to below 10 stone, and I never expose my skin to the harmful rays of the sun. The only illness I have ever had in my life, apart from the usual childhood illnesses, was a chest infection, which was caused through being exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke.

Now however I can safely go into pubs and restaurants without being exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke, or coming home with my hair and clothes smelling like horse manure, and before anyone asks, yes I do like to go into traditional English pubs, even though I do not drink alcohol. I quite often pop into my local for lunch and a glass of lemonade.

Many of the patients I treat are ill through simply not taking care of themselves, and indulging in smoking and drinking and living unhealthy lifestyles, and it simply isn't fair, by their selfish behaviour they are depriving ordinary people from getting the service they deserve.

April 8, 2010 at 13:26 | Unregistered CommenterDoctor Hillary G

Funny that I have never had a chest infection.
I have not had a cold for over 5 years.
So if I actually smoke directly and have no symptoms how can so called (quack quack) second hand smoke be so harmfull ?
I weigh in at 9st 6lbs .
Moderate smoking is not harmfull at all.
Exposing your skin to the harmfull rays of the sun is in fact not harmfull at all.
As long as you do it sensibly.

Is here not a law against impersonating a doctor ?
What I mean is these new "politicised types" of doctor.

A good example of a politicised type of doctor would be someone like hmmm,let me think
Ah yes.

Doktor Josef .Mengele.


April 8, 2010 at 13:37 | Unregistered CommenterSpecky

No wonder people are losing respect for the sciences in general including medical science when it starts peddling politicised junk.

April 8, 2010 at 13:45 | Unregistered CommenterSpecky

Dr Hillary G would do well to remember that his or her job is to tend to the sick not run the country and not dictate to other people how to live or how to die. Is this "doctor" suggesting that there would be no sick people if they all did as they were told? Put Dr Hillary out of a job wouldn't it? Perhaps Dr Hillary subscribes to the philosophy of the deserving sick and the undeserving sick? The idea is that help is given where help is needed, no value judgements, no personal agendas just help those that need it. Is this idea too hard for a member of the "caring professions"

April 8, 2010 at 14:12 | Unregistered CommenterHeretic

Bravo Mr A, straight to the facts as usual. I believe Doll and Peto also analysed the difference in disease incidence between smokers who inhaled and those who did not. If memory serves they found a lower incidence of disease in smokers who inhaled. Interesting.

April 8, 2010 at 14:17 | Unregistered CommenterHeretic

@Doctor Hilary G

I find it difficult to belive you are a doctor but an anti smoker in disguise. So SHS gave you a chest infection, on what medical basis?

Cigarettes burn up to 700c, 7 times the boiling point of water and all viruses and bacteria will be killed stone dead. (1 and 2)

Ergo, SHS must be safer than ordinary air.


(Temperature without drawing:
Side of the lit portion: 400 deg C (or 752 deg F)
Middle of the lit portion: 580 deg C (or 1112 deg F)

Temperature during drawing:
Middle of the lit portion: 700 deg C (or 1292 deg F)

April 8, 2010 at 14:17 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

I don't think he is a real doctor either.
Never exposes the skin to the sun.
Hmm , yes definately some kind of strange agrophobic hypochondriac.
It's a shame really ,the way the propaganda is creating victims of mental illnesses.

April 8, 2010 at 15:40 | Unregistered CommenterSpecky

Chest infection from passive smoking?
Doctor, my arse!

April 8, 2010 at 15:49 | Unregistered CommenterBucko

Definitely not a doctor. Either a comedian like Sue Doughcoup (Oh, the punnery) or a troll.

April 8, 2010 at 17:17 | Unregistered CommenterA Nun

Dave Atherton,
This Australian statistical report might be of interest. It found that smokers were healthier than never-smokers with ex-smokers a poor third.
Australian National Health Survey
Table 2.6 (pages 23 and 24) gives the clearest summary.
Of course the anti-smokers would claim, perhaps with justification, that smokers who become ill are likely to quit and hence ex-smokers are more likely to be unwell. Also, that the remaining smokers would tend to be those who had not yet become unwell.
Even so, it is in start contrast to Doll's claims.

April 8, 2010 at 19:48 | Unregistered CommenterTonyW

The issue is not whether smoking is bad or good for you.
The only issue worthy of debate is ,do I want to.

To all minorities who thought they were freed from
prejudice, if you do not respect my rights I will not
respect yours. If the liberal elite wish to promote
bigotry then so be it, no complaints when we spread it

April 8, 2010 at 20:56 | Unregistered CommenterBorn again Bigot.

Hilary, as a first name, male or female, is, I observe, usually spelled by the educated classes in this country with one 'l'. The 'Dr Hillary' in this thread might be American, I suppose ....

April 8, 2010 at 21:25 | Unregistered CommenterNorman


You are a star, I've been looking all over the internet for that.

April 8, 2010 at 22:34 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Doctor (I bow in reverence) Hilary G -

Good try.

But your post is seven days late !

Probably fooled some people, though.............

April 8, 2010 at 22:40 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

Dave, do you mean Hill and Doll rather than Doll and Peto?

This should be of interest.
Correspondence between Hill and Ronald Fisher (The man who originally defined the 95% confidence interval, which has since gone on to be abused) on Hill's study into Lung Cancer.

More from Fisher here.

Alas, not many have heard of him, Wish he were around today!

April 8, 2010 at 23:30 | Unregistered CommenterFisher King

One of my most valuable friends shocked me. He gave up smoking. This was in 1989. He was not ill, but had seen a programme on TV where a smoker had lost both his legs due to thrombosis. Ray would not tell me his age, but I know he was in his 50's when he stopped smoking. For the next ten years, Ray carried on with his life, minus his cigarettes, which I know he missed.

In his 60's, ten years without something he loved, a cigarette, Ray died of lung cancer. So called experts would say he would have gone sooner if he had not given up smoking ten years earlier. Would he? I am not so sure. Maybe he would have had another ten years if he had carried on, and died in his 70's from old age.

April 9, 2010 at 1:29 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

"Dr. Hillary" is an agent provecateur, read it again and laugh out loud, he/she certainly wound some posters up with such preposterous nonsense.

Maybe "it" is a doctor of letters?

Lighten (and light them up) folks, at least Ubersturmfuhrer Donaldson is retiring.

April 9, 2010 at 1:53 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph K

@Joseph K.

He may be retiring as Chief Medical Officer (and, boy, has that guy done some damage!), but as I understand he is bound for some big job in the UN. Thus, he will gain the ability to extend the damage world-wide!

April 9, 2010 at 3:49 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

No I am not a doctor, and you are not fools, and this is not a website/blog, and smoking doesn't harm anyone. Where do you want me to stop? Probably right now I would assume by the tone of your comments towards me.

You think by putting your hands over your ears and over your eyes that all the nasty things you are doing to your bodies will go away. Let me tell you now, as a doctor, and yes, I am a doctor, and I couldn't care less if you believe it or not, that nothing will go away apart from a huge chunk of your life.

As for the childish, so called facts that one of you dreamed up, I would suggest to that person that he is making himself look and sound even sillier than the rest of you.

I came on here with the intention of trying to help some of you, from what I have seen you seem to need a psychiatrist more than a doctor.

April 9, 2010 at 13:11 | Unregistered CommenterDoctor Hillary G

Help us to what? Live the way you tell us? I am 59 and can't remember the last time I saw my own doctor. I smoke and drink a lot, and? Maybe I might catch a glimpse of a doctor when I am dying. When will I die? Do you know Dr? Is it tomorrow, next week? next year? maybe 70? 75? Do you know? Of course you don't. Enjoy your healthy lifestyle. Pass on your God like knowledge. Maybe you will put in more life years than I do. There again, maybe you will not. Who knows? Nobody, not even you sir.

April 9, 2010 at 14:25 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

Here you are then doctor...a question for you.

Can you name a pathologist who at anytime, anywhere in the world...has carried out an autopsy and declared - this person has been killed by SHS (second hand smoke)?

April 9, 2010 at 14:31 | Unregistered CommenterChris F J Cyrnik

Personally, I would consider it a fate worse than death to have 'extra' years added on condition that I expose myself to no risk whatsoever.

"Doctor Hillary" exhibits the dreary joylessness and arrogance of the authoritarian puritan whom others call The Righteous.

Even for "Doctor Hillary", however, the fact remains that, one morning he will awaken for the last time.

April 9, 2010 at 16:44 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

Joseph K -

That's wonderful news you share re the immininent retirement of Herr Donaldson.

But, it's 'Standartenf├╝hrer', surely ?

I'd hate you to get on the wrong side of some SS libel lawyer...................

April 9, 2010 at 22:10 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

Sorry, my knowledge of the Nazi hierarcies and German is limited to how much money they donate to ASH etc.

Dr Hillary is a real hoot isn't he

It'd be a rip-roaring time round at his for dinner or out for a smoke free pint of triple distilled through volcanic rock fucking mineral water.

Chin chin!

April 10, 2010 at 10:53 | Unregistered CommenterJospeh K

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