Smokers: Modern-Day Lepers?

Published July 8, 2005

Dear Editor:

Many smokers today are made to feel like modern-day lepers, segregated and ostracized on the basis of junk science that says secondhand smoke is a public health threat.

A study commissioned by the World Health Organization found “weak evidence” of a relationship between lung cancer risk and exposure to second-hand smoke. The weakness of the evidence stems from the fact that the risk of secondhand smoke is small relative to the very high risk of actually smoking, making it more difficult to quantify through testing.

Most experts believe that moderate, occasional exposure to secondhand smoke presents a low cancer risk to nonsmokers. Many office buildings contain specially ventilated smoking areas; some are required by law to provide them. Millions of Americans have been accommodated with properly ventilated smokers’ lounges in the workplace.

There has never been a sufficient tally of co-workers whose health has been damaged by secondhand smoke to warrant throwing smokers outside into the inclement weather in front of the office buildings of our cities.

Now smokers stare nervously as you pass them by at the entry-ways of downtown buildings. Soon they will be banned from even there, since smoke has a way of blowing back into a building.

A fair system would allow reasonable accommodations for smokers and non-smokers alike. Well-ventilated smoking areas should be provided for employees, bar and restaurant patrons, and those who use our government buildings. Smoke-intolerant co-workers or patrons should not be required to pass through such smoking areas.

Our willingness to make reasonable accommodations for the smokers in our midst is a measure to our commitment to fairness and common sense, as well as our ability to resist junk science and politically motivated alarmism.

Ralph Conner
Maywood, IL
[email protected]

Ralph Conner ([email protected]), who is not a smoker, is public affairs director for The Heartland Institute and former mayor of Maywood, Illinois.