Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Country ravaged; 1,213 die in tobacco strikes across country"

We're unlikely to see that as a headline anytime soon.

443,000 Americans die from tobacco-related deaths every year.

That is 1,213 every day.

To put that in context, according to the first site I found on Google, the US has lost a total of 1,582 troops in Afghanistan over the entire ten years of war there.

We lose that many Americans to tobacco-related deaths every 31 hours.

We lose 8,495 Americans to tobacco-related deaths every week - which is more deaths than were caused by terrorists on 9/11.  But I don't suspect that President Obama is planning to send in a SEAL team to take out the CEO of Reynolds American, Inc.

When 100 people die in a tornado strike, USA Today runs a headline that suggests it was "Like a Nuclear Bomb."  But when 1,213 Americans die from lung cancer, emphysema, and other smoking related illnesses every single day, we don't see front-page stories.  There is nothing newsworthy about 1,213 Americans dying, because it happened yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.

It isn't newsworthy, meaning that it isn't worthy to put in a newspaper.  That raises the question if newspapers are mindworthy - are the contents of the daily news worth putting into your mind?

Does reading the newspaper make your more aware of what is happening in the world, or less?

In many cases, the answer is less.

Because seeing articles every day about terrorists makes you a bit more willing to tolerate spending billions on transportation security, and encourages you to ignore far bigger threats to our health.

If you don't like the tobacco example, since you could say that smokers have a choice about whether to smoke or not, then you could use traffic fatalities as your benchmark to judge the news each day.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, we had 33,808 fatalities in the U.S. from traffic accidents in 2009.  That is 92 per day.  Yet I haven't seen a front page newspaper headline saying "92 Die in a Wave of Car Crashes."  Nothing newsworthy about it.

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