Lab Notes #1: On Cigarettes, Alcohol, and the Virtues of Filthy Living

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Cigarettes and a lager and food on the floor.

Musings from this week’s news in healthcare:

  • So you’re down to 11 cigarettes a month. Are congratulations in order?
  • Plus you dropped your food on the floor. Is the five-second rule scientifically sound?
  • And you’re thinking about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday. Did you ask your liver’s permission?

Not so fast, Marlboro man. A recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine surprised nearly no one when it confirmed that daily smokers (median #: 600 cigarettes / month) die up to 10 years earlier than “never smokers.” But even folks smoking at a Camel’s pace (median #: 50 cigarettes  / month) die up to 5 years earlier than never smokers.

Mark Twain, for one, might ask the researchers why they neglected to inquire about “how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking in the course of a lifetime, nor the appalling aggregate of happiness lost in a lifetime by your kind of people from not smoking” (Sketches, New and Old, 1875). Economists might join Twain to wonder about days of life lost divided by number of cigarettes. Despite the prospect of diminishing returns per cigarette, the price per smoke is considerably lower for the daily do-ers. Smoking Costco shoppers, rejoice!

Even at 29 seconds, you don’t have to rush. In a selection from Matt Richtel’s An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System, dermatologist Meg Lemon takes time out from treating people with allergies and autoimmune disorders to wax contrarily on the virtues of living filthily.

“I tell people, when they drop food on the floor, please pick it up and eat it.”
“Get rid of the antibacterial soap … You should not only pick your nose, you should eat it.”
“We evolved over millions of years to have our immune systems under constant assault. Now they don’t have anything to do.”

Look out, white blood cells! Your leisurely days at Club Purell are over.

More bad news for white people (and Native Americans and Hispanics). The British Medical Journal–or, as the cool kids call it, “The BMJ”–indicates that from 2009-16, people aged 25-34 years experienced the highest average annual increase in cirrhosis related mortality (+10.5%) of any group, which was driven entirely by alcohol related liver disease. Researchers note that “White Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans experienced the greatest increase in deaths from cirrhosis.” In descending order, the states hardest hit include Kentucky, New Mexico, Arkansas, Indiana, and Alabama.

Thanks, Obama.

(Actually, Obama won NM twice, and IN in 2008.)

Still, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Celebrate safely with U2, Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, The Pogues, Stiff Little Fingers and, my favorites, the Undertones!