Sunday, June 28, 2015

Maui Snow job

I went to the cane smoke rally in Kihei Thursday. The first hour was pretty much fact-free, but that does not mean I did not learn something.

There were between 300 and 400 anti-smokers there, and I did not see a single AJA face among them. Not one. I did see more tie-dye than I have since the 2nd Atlanta International Pop Festival. That was in 1970.

If your political movement does not engage the AJAs, it isn’t going anywhere, no matter how much noise you make.

The second hour was the teach-in. I was deeply unimpressed.

There was, however, one relevant factoid, presented by Senator (and physician) Josh Green: one in four Hawaii keiki have “reactive airway disease.”

Far fewer — less than 5% — have ever experienced cane smoke, so it follows that if the middle-aged haoles of Kihei are looking for trouble, they are looking in the wrong place. It ain’t cane smoke.

Another factoid, new to me, came from Lorrin Pang, a public health physician I used to respect. It is difficult, he said, to design an epidemiological study to take out the effects of cane burning, because of the vog. And the effects of fog linger in an area for six days after the fog event has “ended.”

That would explain why my eyes were burning all last week — to the extent I was unable to sleep — although the tradewinds had returned. And why I can ignore the emotional testimony of the teacher from Kihei school who said her pupils come in with eyes watering and red. That’s how I go about, too, and I experience cane smoke not more that 3 or 4 times a year.

Pang lost me when he said he and his students had devised a control for a study of cane smoke.

It was not exact (of course), he said, because it involved daily indoor smoke and not occasional outdoor smoke. It was a World Health Organization study of health problems linked to people who cook over open wood or coal fires. Pang listed the diseases (by proportion affected), such as pneumonia (30%). Not listed: eye diseases.

We know (I do anyway) that the prevalence of blindness and eye troubles in premodern Europe were highly correlated with indoor smoke, and very common compared with today. So I was unimpressed.o

But I was disgusted by Joe Ritter, who presented himself as a researcher (for NASA) of particulates in the atmosphere. “Are the autoimmune diseases caused  by glyphosate? I don’t know,” he said. But,  in the meme so favored by snarkists: It would be irresponsible not to speculate.

You know what would impress me? A study showing that since the shut down of sugar plantations (which started nearly 40 years ago), the incidence of diseases that Kihei haoles want to blame on smoke has dropped significantly on Oahu, Hawaii and Kauai. Or West Maui.
Hint to Pang: There’s a study you can do without those pesky controls. It’s one of those natural experiments.

Here’s a factoid I can guarantee none of the people in that room want to know: Back when there were lots of cane workers and lots of cane smoke, the industrial subgroup with the longest life expectancy was — wait for it! — Hawaii cane workers.

You used to see the retirees, smoking like chimneys, playing hanafuda at Kahului Shopping Center, many of them still collecting pensions into their 90s. While I don’t suspect that smoke is good for us, you couldn’t contradict that from a global survey. We go out of our way to inhale smoke.

One of the questions that continues to disturb anthropologists — and has since at least the time of Aristotle — is how to define “human.” A way that excludes other animals we’d like to exclude, like chimpanzees. Here’s a way:

Humans are the only animals that make smoke so they can breathe it. And we have done so since we became humans. In a sense, smoke made us.

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