Despite improvements in treatment for asthma, the death rate form this disease has doubled during the past decade from its previous rate. Two possible explanations for this increase have been offered. First, the recording of deaths due to asthma has become more widespread and accurate in the past decade than it had been previously. Second, there has been an increase in urban pollution. However, since the rate of deaths due to asthma has increased dramatically even in cities with long-standing, comprehensive medical records and with little or no urban pollution, one must instead conclude that the cause of increased deaths is the use of bronchial inhalers by asthma sufferers to relieve their symptoms.

Each of the following, if true, provides support to the argument EXCEPT:

[A]. Urban populations have doubled in the past decade.
[B]. Records of asthma deaths are as accurate for the past twenty years as for the past ten years.
[C]. Evidence suggests that bronchial inhalers make the lungs more sensitive to irritation by airborne pollen.
[D]. By temporarily relieving the symptoms of asthma, inhalers encourage sufferers to avoid more beneficial measures.
[E]. Ten years ago bronchial inhalers were not available as an asthma treatment.
Answer: A

What is responsible for the increased death rate for asthma over the last decade? The author mentions three potential explanations. The first two—increased, more accurate reporting and an increased urban population—cannot, according to the author, explain why asthma death rates have increased dramatically in cities with long-standing accurate records and very small urban populations. From this, the author makes the remarkable conclusion that the increase must be due to a third Explanation: the use of bronchial inhalers. This argument needs a lot of help, and fortunately, four of the five answer choices are intended to provide support, which means to help fill in the gaps. (A), however, is irrelevant: the only urban factor mentioned is increased pollution, and what relation a doubling urban population has to pollution is ambiguous at best. Mostly, however, (A) simply has no bearing on the inhaler question or the first two factors mentioned and then discredited as causes for the phenomenon. Each of the other choices, as we’ll discuss below, does have a direct bearing on these issues, whereas (A) does not.

(B) strengthens the argument by helping to rule out increased reporting as an alternative explanation for the increase in the asthma death rate. If records have been just as good for the past twenty years, then an increase in deaths over the past ten years cannot be influenced by better reporting.

(C) and (D) both suggest qualities of the bronchial inhalers that indicate that their use might play a role in increased asthma death rates. It is plausible that irritated lungs and avoiding medical treatment are causally related to death.

(E) If bronchial inhalers had been available the entire time, it would be hard to believe that they could suddenly be responsible for the recent increase in the asthma death rate. (E) thus strengthens the argument by suggesting a connection between the recent doubling of the death rates and the introduction of the proposed cause, the inhalers.

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