One of the more thought-provoking and entertainingly ornery websites I've seen of late is called The Hittman Chronicle, run by a guy called Dave Hitt. He stole my heart with a piece called "Name Three."
When I was a kid, my father used to try to get me to eat stuff I didn't like by claiming, "There are millions of starving kids in India who would love that!" One day I replied, "Name three!" I received a quick slap in the head, and later that night he spanked me to sleep. This taught me two important lessons. One: don't say that to dad again. Two: "Name Three" is a great comeback to people spewing bogus numbers.
Which is exactly what Hitt proceeds to do. With pitbullish tenacity and a Merry Prankster's fondness for provoking authority, he happily pesters tobacco experts who wax dramatic about the deaths supposedly caused by second-hand smoke. Hitt's question is the simple, time-tested "Name three."
It's not as childish as it may seem. The debate about smoking is infused with dishonesty and junk science. Critical, to-the-point questions are needed. And surely, if, according to the anti-tobacco lobby, upwards of one million people have died from second-hand smoke over the past twenty years, the experts shouldn't have the slightest trouble supplying Hitt with a few names.
You know where this is leading: Not one of the nicotine nannies can do it. Not one. "Why not?" Hitt pushes on, in an e-mail to the American Lung Association.
"If I had asked for the names of people who died from primary smoking, I'm sure you could name a dozen without giving it a second thought, and could list a hundred or two with five or ten minutes research ... It's an easy project because primary smoking really does kill people."
On a related note, here's a reality that few non-smokers seem to be able to wrap their heads around: Smoking tobacco can be extremely pleasurable, irritated lungs be damned. As blogger Southern Avenger points out:
Those who don't smoke can't understand it, as they watch others hack and cough while continuing to light yet another cigarette. ... But hacking and coughing are to a smoker what a hangover is to a drinker, a fat stomach is to a food lover, or an unwanted stalker is to a womanizer — the nasty price you pay for what is otherwise an enjoyable experience."