Ohio City Debates Proposed Smoking Ban

Published April 1, 2005

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at my reception January 25 at a Lakewood, Ohio hearing on whether to ban smoking in restaurants and bars. Such events tend to bring out the penny-ante dictators. After all, when customers can readily find smoke-free facilities and nobody’s forced to take a job, such bans are inherently authoritarian.

But these people went beyond the standard bullies with a noble-sounding cause.

Stacking the Deck

The nine-member commission appointed to advise the city council on the ban originally arranged to have six witnesses testify. One would expect a balanced panel with three witnesses for the ban and three witnesses against, right? Try six for and zero against. Then they relented and deigned to allow one witness on the other side … until they discovered it was me.

Specifically, those behind the national jihad against so-called “passive smoking” insisted I not be allowed to speak. One email labeled me a “shock jock”–an interesting metaphor considering I’ve never even guest-hosted a radio show.

Hours before my flight, I got word the panel had, under the threat of civil disobedience from the Small Business Coalition of Cleveland, again relented. I would be allowed to speak if I went last. By then, of course, the media and bored audience members would be gone. My time was also cut by a third at the last minute, but I rather saw that coming.

Just the Facts

Did I shock them? I hope so. Somehow the multitude of studies I discussed had been “overlooked” by the throng of witnesses before me.

I informed the panel that the study that began the crusade, published in 1992 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had, despite EPA’s insistence, found no statistically significant link to lung cancer. If EPA’s researchers had used the normal standard for statistical significance–a measure of the probability that the outcome resulted from sheer chance–they would have found no relationship.

Since the football fell short, they used a more lax standard to move the goalposts closer.

Strong Evidence Against

I told them EPA also found a mere 17 percent increased risk, yet the National Cancer Institute has said even a 100 percent increase is “considered small” and is “usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias, or the effect of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident.” (The exception is with very large studies, but EPA’s was not.)

I noted that the other “authoritative” study linking passive smoke to lung cancer, commissioned by the World Health Organization, actually showed a statistically significant reduced risk for children of smokers and no increase for spouses and coworkers of smokers. For spouses and coworkers of smokers, it found neither increased nor decreased risk.

And I told them that the largest of the passive smoking studies (35,000 participants) and longest (39 years) found no “causal relationship between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (passive smoking) and tobacco-related mortality.”

Fantastic Claim

I was going to tell them that smoking-ban crusaders had attempted to link to passive smoking virtually every disease known, “with the possible exception of herpes, hangnails, and hemorrhoids.” But lo! One of the previous witnesses was a pediatrician who claimed passive smoking caused herpes.

Fancy that, a virus spread by smoke.

I addressed specifically the health of workers. Such independent bodies as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory have found that in facilities where smoking tables are segregated (which is true of virtually all that do allow smoking), passive smoke “concentrations in the nonsmoking section of the restaurant in question were not statistically different from those measured in similar facilities where smoking is prohibited.”

Another Oak Ridge study of waiters, waitresses, and bartenders in the Knoxville, Tennessee area found a large range of exposure, with nothing detected at the bottom end. But even at the top end the levels indicated were “considerably lower than Occupational Safety and [Health] Administration workplace standards.”

Propaganda, Not Science

It has long been clear that “passive smoking” is not a scientific term but a propaganda one. A 1975 New England Journal of Medicine study found that even back then, when having smoke obnoxiously puffed into your face was ubiquitous in restaurants and bars, the concentration was equal to merely 4/1000 of a cigarette per hour.

And while obviously you can inhale smoke from others’ cigarettes, we also know “the dose makes the poison.” We are constantly bombarded by carcinogens such as ultraviolet radiation and estrogens, but in such small amounts the body’s defense systems ward them off.

This explains why, despite what we’re so often told, studies of health risks of passive smoke keep coming up negative.

Hidden Agendas

Anti-smoking activists, however, continue to ignore the facts, because to admit them would destroy their agenda entirely. Having made all the progress they could in getting people to stop smoking by telling them, “Your smoking will kill you,” they have changed tack to get others to force them to stop, by telling nonsmokers, “Other people’s smoking will kill you.” (Or at least give you herpes.)

Former Surgeon General David Satcher essentially admitted as much at a Washington, DC hearing when he said a ban on workplace smoking would “be effective in creating a new social norm that discourages people from smoking.”

Smoking–real smoking–is both vile and deadly. I fully sympathize with those who want to see it go the way of the mastodon. But they lose me when they slip on the jackboots and fudge the science.

So now you know why there was so much fuss and feathers over my impending testimony. It wasn’t the Fumento they were afraid of–it was the facts.

Michael Fumento ([email protected]) is an author, journalist, and attorney specializing in science and health issues. He is a science columnist for Scripps-Howard and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.

For more information …

Support for the statements Fumento makes in this essay is available online at the following sites:

“Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1992, http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=16667

U.S. EPA, National Center for Environmental Assessment, “Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) Follow-Up Activities,” http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/sciencedisplay.cfm?PrintVersion=True&actTypr=project&deid=22469

National Cancer Institute, http://www.nci.nih.gov

World Health Organization, http://www.who.org

“Multicenter Case-Control Study of Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Lung Cancer in Europe,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, October 7, 1998, http://www.junkscience.com/mar00/boffetta.pdf

“Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Tobacco Related Mortality in a Prospective Study of Californians,1960-98,” BMJ (British Medical Journal), May 17, 2003, http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=16668

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “11th Report on Carcinogens,” February 2005, http://ntp-server.niehs.nih.gov