Researchers in America have discovered that vaccinating mice with embryonic stem cells prevented lung cancer in those animals…
On the face of it this might seem like a good idea, and I suppose it is. I mean, lung cancer is brutal. Any malignancy is pretty bad, of course; but we’re talking about a vicious and pernicious killer. But there’s an elephant hiding behind these mice — the fairly high predictability of lung cancer within a specific population, which correlates very highly to a likelihood of preventability in that same population.
I’m sure RJR will throw a lot of money into more experimentation here, if they’re not already. (The primary researcher is working at the U of Louisville, and I doubt the funding is coming from the Big Chicken Industry.) After all, the positive causal link between smoking and lung cancer is controversial only in the same way that evolution vs. “Intelligent Design” is, which is to say: Not at all, except among the intensely stupid or religiously insane.
Thus, RJR et. al. know that the best way to improve the public persona of their product is to make it less lethal — or, barring that, to present miraculous-seeming cures for the effects of their product.
Of course there are other causes for lung cancer, such as exposure to asbestos, air pollution or just plain crappy luck, so it’s impossible to argue that the vaccine is a bad thing or even an unnecessary one. However, I think it can be argued that the procedure, once it’s been developed out into a total success,* will be used primarily to treat chronic smokers.
What’s wrong with that? Nothing.
However, we’ll then have to go on to address emphysema, asthma, oral cancer, throat cancer, nasal cancer, coronary disease and hypertension, which are all as strongly associated with smoking as is lung cancer.
The point is that such a vaccine will not make cigarettes any safer or better for anyone to be exposed to, but with the psychological 800-pound gorilla of the big C chained up, my bet is we’ll see at least some relaxation in anti-smoking postures.
That’s unfortunate, since these other diseases are debilitating, some are fatal, and they’re all additional results of cigarette use.
A simpler, cheaper solution would be total smoking cessation, but that requires a voluntary self-policing on the part of smokers. They have to be willing to quit, and they have to actually do it, before the lung cancer (and other associated disease) rates really drop.
And how likely is that? Not very, I fear. After all, we live in a pill-popping world. Take a blue one to get a stiffy, a pink one to avoid pregnancy, a white one to get to sleep, and a tan one for Junior when he gets a little too hyper. Heaven forfend you should try something like exercising or improving your diet — shitty health can always be medicated away, right?**
This is not a healthy attitude; it is a palliative, reactive approach to life, in a world that, against all evolutionary odds, developed a species that is capable of foresight as well as hindsight.
But until we’re socially evolved enough to praise the virtues of planning ahead, our single clear advantage isn’t going to do us a damned bit of good.
What are some other places where we’d benefit from application of foresight, rather than take a reactive stance? Anyone care to add to the list?
* The researcher is pessimistic about the timeline, citing likely FDA delays. I think he’s naively overlooking the power and wealth of the tobacco industry. If they want this stuff on the market next week, it will be on the market next week.
** Erectile dysfunction, insomnia and hyperactivity are all associated with poor nutrition and/or poor exercise, though these aren’t the only possible causes for such inconveniences. And they aren’t serious enough to be defensibly called diseases, in most cases.
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