George Clowes Testifies on Mt. Prospect Smoking Ban

Published September 5, 2006

On September 5, Heartland Senior Fellow George Clowes addressed a Village Board meeting in Mt. Prospect, Illinois on the subject of a proposed smoking ban in the community. His testimony, edited for clarity, appears below.

Good evening. My name is George Clowes. I live at 604 South Elm Street. I wasn’t able to attend the August 22nd Committee of the Whole meeting where possible smoking restrictions were discussed but I’d like to present my point of view before the draft ordinance is completed.

First, in the interests of full disclosure, I’m speaking tonight as a private citizen and not as the representative of any group or organization. I have no financial interest in smoking nor am I advocating that people smoke. However, since its founding in 1984 I have been a supporter of The Heartland Institute, which is a strong defender of smokers’ rights. I used to be the managing editor of a newspaper published by Heartland and I’m currently a Senior Fellow dealing with education policy. Smoking is not a policy area that I have anything to do with. These are my personal views, not the views of the organization.

Another point of information: I’m not currently a smoker but I did smoke quite heavily over a period of about eight years when I was in high school, in college, and after I left college. I smoked about a pack and a half a day at the height of that period but I’ve not smoked for almost 40 years.

As far as the smoking ordinance that the Village is considering, the original note from the Village Manager indicated there were three options for the Village Board to consider. The first option was to do nothing and simply allow the Cook County ordinance — which bans smoking in public places — to go into effect. The second option, which the Board appears to favor, is to take the Cook County Ordinance and essentially write its provisions into the Village code.

The Village Manager also offered a third option, which hasn’t been discussed very much, and that is to enact a very simple ordinance to say that the Village will continue to operate under the provisions of the Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act. This Act is currently in place and allows for smoking areas in restaurants and public places. The Act does not ban smoking but allows business owners to make their own individual decisions about whether they should provide large or small smoking areas in their establishments, or — as the Westin and Marriott hotel chains have done — ban smoking altogether. Under the Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act, accommodating smokers is a business decision and that’s what I think is appropriate instead of an outright ban on smoking. If the Village continued to operate under the Illinois Clean Indoor Act, that would allow businesses in Mount Prospect to make their own choices about how best to accommodate their smoking and non-smoking customers. If a business found it was losing customers because it allowed smoking, then that business could ban smoking if the owner wanted to. The advantage of this approach is that it would allow the market to operate without the Village having to ban smoking.

As a second point, I would urge the Board to review the justifications cited in the ordinance for banning smoking. The justifications in the Cook County ordinance describe the dangers of second-hand smoke. However, in a brief search I conducted this afternoon, I found the latest peer-reviewed study on the effects of second-hand smoke does not justify a smoking ban. The study, reported three years ago in the British Medical Journal, was conducted by two research professors who analyzed some 35,000 Californians who did not smoke and had never smoked. The study covered a period of 39 years. The researchers concluded that there was no “causal relationship between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco-related mortality.” They said there could be a small effect and that couldn’t be ruled out. Despite this research finding, the Cook County Ordinance states baldly that “there is no safe level of second-hand smoke.”

Taking an approach that “there is no safe level of second-hand smoke” is a change in the Village’s approach to regulating the use of consumer products that could cause damage to individual users and/or third parties. In general, you don’t ban them but you do regulate them. Saying there is no safe level of second-hand smoke is like saying there’s no safe level of impurities in drinking water. However, we know from Public Works that the impurities in drinking water have to reach a certain level before the water is considered unsafe to drink. I would urge the Village to find the justification for the statement that there is no safe level of second-hand smoke. I don’t think it’s a scientific statement. I think it falls under the purview of junk science.

Another parallel is with drinking and driving. If we consider the effects of alcohol on driving, we know that alcohol certainly impairs judgement but we are willing to put up with a limited amount of impairment. It is only when the alcohol reaches a level of 0.08 in the bloodstream that we say a person is too impaired to drive. You can’t tell me that they’re not unimpaired when they have [a level of] 0.06. However, if you take the argument you’re using for second-hand smoke and apply it to alcohol, no one should be driving who has any trace of alcohol in their system. But you don’t say that.

As my final point, I question some of the figures that are cited as justification for banning smoking. One of the figures that was cited on August 22nd was that there are 2,900 deaths annually in Illinois from secondhand smoke. Now, that’s almost five times the number of deaths from alcohol-related driving accidents and so it seems to me that the 2,900 figure is highly questionable. We know the unfortunate number of alcohol-related driving deaths each year with some certainty but I would recommend the Village Board find the support for the claim that there are 2,900 deaths each year from second-hand smoke in Illinois. I don’t think there is any scientific support for such a figure. If you are going to cite justification to support a smoking ban, as the Cook County Ordinance does, then that justification ought to be based on facts, not assertions.

George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute.