H/t to @cjsnowdon for pointing out the BBC article reporting the oh-so-shocking turn of events, that bans on shisha cafes (hookah bars) have resulted in them going underground. I mean, who would have ever thought that banning the social component of a popular legal activity might cause people to gather clandestinely instead? Or that by banning something, the ability to properly regulate it — e.g., to minimize fire risk — would vanish?
But what struck me about the article was the claim,
The World Health Organization has advised that a 40-minute session on a waterpipe is the equivalent to the volume of smoke inhaled from at least 100 cigarettes.
Yet 84% of those surveyed thought it was fewer than 10.
Now maybe Sarah Sturdey (the author of the article, who deserves to be shamed by name for this) could have just transcribed that first bit from somewhere without engaging her brain at all — basic reporter behavior. But you would think that immediately following it by a radically different belief would cause her to think “wait, do I believe that?”
The WHO claim is pure fiction. It is an n-th generation telephone game miscopy of some claims that were basically made up from whole cloth, tied to a tiny bit of reality. Snowdon wrote an extensive report about the apparent provenance of the disinformation, I have written a couple of brief comments about it, and there are plenty of other analyses out there too. But let’s set aside the crazy option of Ms. Sturdey doing some research before writing her article, and just consider what would happen if she had a third-grader’s command of math and had thought about what she was writing during a quick trip to the restroom (or rather, I suppose, it would be the loo):
Hmm — “volume of smoke inhaled”. To smoke 100 cigarettes in 40 minutes would be more than two per minute. That is much faster than anyone smokes, and indeed would require more total inhaling then someone normally does in that much time, and for every breath to be smoke. That is close to physically impossible.
She would then have time during her inevitable hand washing — she is a health reporter after all — to think:
Smoking even 10 cigarettes in 40 minutes would require about 1/5th of all breaths to be a solid drag. Smoking that much that fast would be an extreme intense session, whatever was being smoked. Gee, maybe “those surveyed” are not morons after all.
Notice that this requires no subject matter knowledge about the relative harm of a lung-full from a cigarette as compared to a hookah. Someone could believe the common claim that hookah smoke is much worse for you (an absurd claim, given what we know about heat-not-burn smoking, and one not supported by any evidence), but still be able to do the simple “volume of smoke inhaled” arithmetic.
Frankly, I am a bit concerned about the 16% who thought that it was typical to smoke a greater volume than 10 cigarettes’ worth in 40 minutes. But I guess that is why society has a place for people who are just really bad with numbers and are willing to make claims about matters they are clueless about, like taking a job as….
[You know, just forget it. It is too easy a parting shot. I will just let readers finish the sentence themselves if they want.]