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Monday, 27 October 2014 07:33

Ebola Deaths in the US Won't Even Come Close to the Number of Deaths Caused by Tobacco and Alcohol

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2014.10.27.Jonas.BF(Photo: Lucky Rubi / Flickr)


An epidemic is sweeping the country. Congress - especially the GOP - is outraged. The Republican propaganda machine, especially Fox - and increasingly CNN - is going full blast with an ongoing headline basically blaring, "The Increasingly Incompetent President's Responsibility to do Something, now!", claiming dilly-dallying, shilly-shallying on the part of the White House, the CDC and what have you.

After all, an epidemic can kill about 1,200 people per day in the US. But wait (as Paul Krugman is fond of saying), that's deaths due to cigarette smoking. It happens that the nation, principally various government agencies, is doing something about this epidemic, using a wide variety of interventions. Smoking rates among adults are down by over half since the publication of the first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health in 1964. (The truth of the science in that report was of course denied with vigor by the tobacco industry until the late 1990s - sound familiar?) In fact, due to the various smoking prevention and quit-smoking programs, tobacco-related deaths should be down to about 600 per day in 30-40 years. But that will still be a lot of preventable deaths that will occur from ongoing peddling of cigarettes for massive profits.

There's another epidemic that kills at least 180 people per day. But wait. Those deaths are due to drinking alcoholic beverages. Not only is there not a national program to deal with the problem, there is an ongoing massive advertising campaign to use the substance. And the ads are usually accompanied by some version of the alcohol beverage companies' idiotic "know when to say when" slogan. Really? You mean when you get drunk, and, say, "I shouldn't drive," you should be capable of "knowing when to say when?"

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Then there's another epidemic that kills at least 80 people per day. But wait. Those deaths are due to gun violence. Not only do we not have a national program to deal with this vastly reducible scourge. But the gun industry, which includes the weapons and ammunition makers and the gun dealers, through their national shill, the National Rifle Association, actually promote gun purchases and ownership and potential use, which promotion, of course only increases the number of gun deaths. Further, in the howling on the Right to have a "knowledgeable national leader with prestige" for the "fight against Ebola," it is the NRA-fueled GOP that has for a year and a half held up the appointment of a new US Surgeon General because President Obama's nominee has publicly stated that gun violence is a national health problem that should be addressed in some minimal ways.

Then there are common preventable diseases such as influenza. In a "good" year, there are about 3,000 preventable deaths from the flu alone. That number can range up to 50,000.

So what is really going on here? Two things. One, the GOP is using Ebola as a hammer against the President, coming up to the mid-terms. Second, a point that is perhaps made less-often is that the United States lags behind many other countries in its approach to preventable diseases (and public health in general), often due to Republican policies.

For Republicans, they are on principle opposed to federal programs They much prefer the "states' rights" approach to virtually any public-service/protection issues/problems/programs. But public health programs to prevent the deaths cited above require a broad national approach - and the development of the best research from the federal US health research and implementation agencies.

Next, GOP budget-cutting since 2010 has led to a close to $600,000,000 cut in Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funding (which is close to a 10 percent drop). This certainly could explain the slightly slow and a bit limited response to Ebola by the CDC right at the beginning (which by now certainly seems to be up-to-speed). Of course, Ebola has hardly spread in this country, it should be noted, despite the hysteria on the Right. The Republicans are also always fighting to reduce the research budget at the National Institutes for Health (NIH).

The GOP and its right-wing talk radio allies spread falsehoods about the disease as if so doing were a disease itself. Then there is the constant GOP "anti-regulation" mantra (except when it comes, of course to regulation of personal behaviors such as female control of their own bodies and everybody's choices when it comes to the use of the recreational mood-altering drugs [RMADs]), which, on now finds itself in the contradictory position of encouraging more DC regulation when it comes to Ebola. Just the other day, the house FOX lawyer Peter Johnson, Jr., was letting us know that "this Obama-led government is failing the nation, by not regulating nearly enough." Finally, of course, left for the most part unstated, but underlying all GOP propaganda is the fact that Ebola originated in Africa, black (OMG), you know, and where the President was born, you know.

Yes, indeed. It all fits together so neatly into one hypocritical GOP pre-election propaganda package, doesn't it?


Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash at Truthout, he is the Editorial Director of and a Contributing Author of The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy. Dr. Jonas' latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, and available on Amazon.