At one time there was an anti smoking billboard in town that displayed in large, bold red letters the following message: 400,000 SMOKING RELATED DEATHS THIS YEAR in the obvious attempt to persuade people to stop smoking.

As I recall, it also showed the face of a child or a young woman. Most of you have probably seen or heard this figure tossed around before, and perhaps you have wondered where it came from.

A study by the Cato Institute titled “Lies, Damned Lies, and 400,000 Smoking Related Deaths” examines this number and the deception behind it:

“The hyperbole, repeated ad nauseam in anti-tobacco circles, is that smoking causes more than 400,000 premature deaths each year in the United States … The truth is that smoking-related deaths, even under the generous definitions used by CDC, are associated with old age. Nearly 60 percent of the deaths occur at age 70 or above; nearly 45 percent at age 75 or above; and almost 17 percent at the grand old age of 85 or above! Nevertheless, without the slightest embarrassment, the public health community persists in characterizing those deaths as ‘premature’ … Actually, tobacco-related deaths occur at an average age of roughly 72, an age at which mortality is not unusual among smokers and non-smokers alike.”

So should we stop smoking?