Before "secondhand smoke," anti-smoking activists had tried for decades to convince lawmakers to ban smoking from restaurants, bars, and other privately-owned establishments. Despite the release of the Surgeon General's 1964 report suggesting smoking can increase the risk of lung cancer, as one of our older members put it, "everyone considered them [smoking ban proponents] to be kooks."
To be sure, warning people about the potential dangers of a product is justifiable, even noble, if done accurately and without exaggeration. But for true, dyed-in-the-wool anti-smokers, warnings simply weren't enough. They wanted what they had wanted since before anyone knew smoking was bad for you: bans. Anti-smokers wanted a "smoke-free society." But how to achieve this, when people who chose to continue or start smoking were only hurting themselves?
The solution to this conundrum was proposed at the World Health Organization's 3rd World Conference on Smoking and Health (June 2-5, 1975), which had organized to establish anti-smoking policy goals. It's safe to say most in attendance had already made it their goal to end smoking once and for all.
To achieve this, it was determined then and there that smokers should be made to feel they weren't just hurting themselves, but those around them. This would have the added "benefit" of convincing non-smokers they were being hurt by their friends and relatives who smoked. In order to eliminate smoking, as one summary point of the conference put it,
"It would be essential to foster an atmosphere where it was perceived that active smokers would injure those around them, especially their family and any infants or young children."
--World Health Organization 3rd World Conference on Smoking and Health, June 1975
That anti-smoking groups, health organizations, and policymakers should make everyone think smokers were hurting their friends and loved ones (especially, where possible, their children), was a goal made in 1975--well before any studies on secondhand smoke. It was a very serious allegation to make, given the complete abscence of proof. But for anti-smokers then as now, perception outranked the truth because "the end justifies the means."
Given the complete lack of proof that secondhand smoke was dangerous, though, how did the anti-smoking attendees justify such a policy? Why, exactly, did they set out to do this back in 1975? Because, according to one summary point of the conference:
"Every smoker is a promoter of other smokers. The practice ought to be an enclosed one, not to be endured by the non-smoker in ordinary social intercourse; and no one should be allowed to use advertisement or any indirect means to suggest otherwise."
--World Health Organization 3rd World Conference on Smoking and Health, June 1975
To paraphrase, every smoker is a walking cigarette ad; smokers (who, by the way, comprised a majority of the adult population at the time), should be cleaved from "proper" non-smoking society, and no one should be allowed to speak up in their defense. When you put these ideas in the context of any other unhealthy activity (sugar or alcohol, for example) you start to realize why "everyone considered them to be 'kooks.'"
Eccentric though their views may seem, the conference's policy recommendations have since become standard practice, just as ordered. Even official bodies like the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services endorses them.
"A critical component in youth tobacco use is to create an environment in which tobacco use is not considered the norm in adult society."
--MDHHS in "Pure Michigan Smoke Free Parks and Beaches"
Notice above that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is suggesting creating a society--or at least, a perception--in which people who smoke aren't considered normal. Is this really the sort of action we want undertaken from our government agencies?
"...Until you quit, do not smoke where children can see you. If children see you smoke, they may come to believe that smoking is a healthy behavior."
--"A Note For Parents on Smoking Around Children," brochure offered at MDCH offices
Let's ponder this statement. If a neighbor's child sees your family cookout through the fence, does that mean they'll automatically think cheeseburgers and bratwursts are healthy? Do people aged zero to 18 really equate hot fudge sundaes to health food whenever they see an adult eating one? And what about the countless billions spent on anti-smoking policies and ads? Apparently, all a smoker need do is wander within the visual range of a child for those billions go down the drain.
The true concern here is rather obvious: that children who see a smoker might think--just maybe--that smoking is a morally OK thing for adults to do. The last thing anti-smokers want is another generation raised to believe smoking is "socially acceptable."
This reasoning causes many to view modern anti-smoking activism as a moral crusade more akin to the temperance movement (which fought to illegalize alcohol) than to a legitimate health "awareness" campaign. Instead of simply warning people of the risks involved, anti-smokers have gone off on a moral crusade in which smoking isn't just unhealthy, but "wrong." When smoking bans were first discussed, proponents assured they were not a form of social engineering - that they were not a means of changing society's viewpoint. Today, proponents of bans readily admit as much.
"The aim [of smoking bans] is reduce the public acceptability of smoking and the culture which surrounds it. We know that legislation which discourages all public smoking will have the better impact on...perception of smoking as an unacceptable habit. Hence fewer people will smoke, hence overall health will improve."
--Baroness Elaine Murphy, fmr Chair of North East London Strategic Health Authority, on the justification behind smoking bans
"We conclude that the impetus [behind smoking bans] is the imperative to denormalize smoking... Although invoking limited evidence may prove effective in the short run, it is hazardous for public health policy makers, for whom public trust is essential."
--Ronald Bayer, codirector of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health, Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York City
"The strongest reason to avoid passive cigarette smoke is to change societal behavior: to not live in a society where smoking is a norm. It's very reassuring that passive smoke in the childhood home doesn't increase the risk of lung cancer, but it doesn't decrease the need for us to have strong antismoking measures."
--Dr. Jyoti Patel, Northwestern University School of Medicine, responding to the results of a study
That's the strongest reason--and here we were all told the smoking ban had something to do with secondhand smoke. Wrong. As the 1975 WHO Conference determined:
In short, starting in 1975, smokers were unwittingly scheduled to become social pariahs. Anti-smoking groups were given the task of convincing a society woefully tolerant of smokers to become much less so. And secondhand smoke--which had not yet even been studied--was predetermined to be a means to that end.
"Only a few scientists believe that secondhand smoke poses a risk of death."
--Epidemiologist Geoffrey Kabat
The accusation that secondhand smoke is deadly--or, in other words, that smokers are murderers--is a very serious one indeed. To make such declarations as a matter of fact requires extraordinary, unequivocal proof.
Anti-smokers would have you believe that "all the science" confirms the accusation, that the "debate is settled," and that everyone in the medical profession will back them up. But this is far from the case. Courtesy Tobacco Control Tactics:
"...it's rotten science. But it's in a worthy cause. It will help us get rid of cigarettes and become a smoke-free society."
--as quoted by Dr. Alvan Feinstein, Yale Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology.
The stance that secondhand smoke gives nearby non-smokers cancer was the only way anti-smokers were able to successfully push for Michigan's smoking ban. It's a stance that some (though not all) have since dropped. Yet Michigan's smoking ban remains, and serious consequences have resulted. It continues to cause small mom-and-pop bars and restaurants to "drop like flies;" destroys small businesses which previously were successful for generations; it puts countless people out of work and costs Michigan taxpayers millions of dollars.
Perhaps more devastating are the societal consequences of systematically declaring an entire group to be murdering others. "My grandchildren are afraid of me now," as one woman confided to us. She'd asked their mother why and learned the answer: secondhand smoke. This notion that secondhand smoke is deadly has resulted in quite a bit of fear. An atmosphere has been fostered "in which it was perceived that active smokers would injure those around them," all right.
We've provided numerous quotes from ethical scientists who state with much authority that secondhand smoke is not deadly; that it's a manufactured, artificial danger. But smokers, their loved ones, and the majority of Michiganders who agree Michigan's ban goes too far must arm themselves with more than quotes. It's far more effective to learn about the studies themselves. You can learn about the most infamous studies on our about page; what follows is a general guide to how such studies are conducted.
A truly scientific epidemiologic study of SHS would be conducted as follows: Non-smokers would be randomly assigned to groups which were then exposed or not exposed to a measureable quantity of SHS for a length of time adequate for the potential development of disease. However, a scientific experiment such as this is impossible because it would be unpractical and unethical.
The purpose of an epidemiologic study is supposed to be to determine where "proving-or-disproving" lab work should be done, but this crucial final step is impossible in secondhand smoke studies. There are no measurements of exposure, there is no lab work, no experiments, and never any proof.
In layman's terms, SHS studies are not science experiments--they're surveys.
"Epidemiological observations...have serious disadvantages...They can seldom be made according to the strict requirements of experimental science and therefore may be open to a variety of interpretations. A particular factor may be associated with some disease merely because of its association with some other factor that causes the disease, or the association may be an artifact due to some systematic bias in the information system."
--The Causes of Cancer, JNCI 66:1192-1312
Instead of measuring peoples' lifetime exposure to SHS, studies simply rely on the memory of subjects and assume those memories are 100% accurate. Even if they're telling the truth as they think they know it, subjects in all likelihood will not accurately remember how many minutes per day they were exposed to SHS twelve years ago--let alone the quantity--yet they're asked to make such wild estimations anyway.
Worse still, there is no satisfactory way of determining the margin of error from these already tenuous results, nor is there a way to correct for it. In other words, the studies on SHS are based upon guesswork. This is usually glossed over, and peoples' level of exposure presented as a precise.
Many surveys aren't even conducted in person, but over the phone. It gets worse: some of the "subjects" in these "studies" are no longer among the living. Instead, their spouses or relatives are asked to guess, for example:
How many minutes per day was your late husband exposed to secondhand smoke between 1980 and 1984? How many lit cigarettes was he exposed to every four hours during one average day in that time period?
Recall bias is almost never acknowledged by anti-smokers either, but it's another major flaw in epidemiologic studies. If, for example, you've had a heart attack and you're a non-drinker, and you've been led you to believe alcohol fumes cause heart attacks, and you then participate in a study about alcohol fumes and heart attacks, you are more likely (intentionally or not) to overestimate the amount of alcohol fumes you've been exposed to.
Similarly, heart attack victims in such a study who themselves drink are more likely to say they're a non-drinker; this is known as misclassification bias.
Cases and controls are often mismatched, confounding errors are prevalent, errors of disease diagnosis aren't usually addressed, publication bias is likely, statistical errors abound, the amount of subjects in each study are often too small to get accurate data, and results from different studies are inconsistent and aren't reproducible.
What's left is nothing that even comes close to proof that smokers are killing others: piles of garbled numbers from surveys based on guesswork likely full of errors. In meta-analyses, crusaders can even cherry-pick studies from this pile (based on which have the juiciest results) and lump them together into a single summary using out-of-context data, then present their summary as "indisputable proof" that smokers are murderers and should be kicked out of bars.
Studies rarely declare the competing interests of its authors. Most studies, for example, are funded by companies who manufacture try-to-quit-smoking products or are otherwise associated with the anti-smoking industry. The scarier such studies make SHS seem, the more people are shamed into trying to quit. The more people try to quit, the more money they spend on nicotine gum, resulting in huge profits for the entities that invested in the studies to begin with.
Increasingly, studies on SHS have been funded only if they meet the specific needs of their financial backers, who state openly that their goal is further restrictions on smoking. Want funding? Here's what we want...
Flawed studies filled with the inaccuracies outlined above are often summarized in a vague press release and given to journalists--before the studies have been peer-reviewed or published in medical journals. The press duly reports on the study's "findings." But later, when such studies are up for peer-review or publication, they're rejected. The press rarely reports this part of the story--or a retraction--simply leaving the public to assume that everything previously reported about the study is true.
For a study to show a possible correlation, it should result in a relative risk (RR) of at least 2.0 or higher. This is an accepted epidemiologic standard to compensate for motivational bias and the overall design of such studies. Even then, RRs higher than 2.0 would only suggest a possibility of a correlation--it wouldn't "prove" anything. On the other hand, any RR less than 2.0 is an indicator the study's conclusion could easily have been caused by some unknowable error.
In fact, RRs of 3.0 or even 4.0 are preferred:
"...When relative risk lies between 1 and 2... problems of interpretation may become acute, and it may be extremely difficult to disentangle the various contributions of biased information, confounding of two or more factors, and cause and effect."
--Sir Richard Doll, "The Causes of Cancer"
"Relative risks of less than 2 are usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias, or effects of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident."
--The National Cancer Institute
Relative Risks of less than 2.0 may readily reflect some unperceived bias or confounding factor."
--The International Agency for Research on Cancer
"My basic rule is if the relative risk isn't at least 3 or 4, forget it."
--Robert Temple, director of drug evaluation at the Food and Drug Administration
One prime example of this are the electromagnetic fields generated from power lines. The EPA concluded that this "secondhand exposure" to power lines is perfectly safe "largely because the relative risks...have seldom exceeded 3.0" in studies on the subject (EPA, October 1990, p 6-2, "Evaluation of the Potential Carcinogenicity of Electromagnetic Fields.")
Yet of the 149 studies on secondhand smoke, only two meet this criteria. Two. Out of 149. Which is 0.01%.
Above:Taken in their entirety--even if you throw the 2.0 standard out the window--the results of secondhand smoke studies as a whole are far from "overwhelming." It should be noted that each of the 149 studies referenced in the above chart were funded either by pharmaceutical companies or organizations otherwise connected to the anti-smoking movement, with the exception of one part of one study. The majority of studies, which show no statistically significant risk, are simply ignored by ban advocates.
"Of those chemicals present in ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke) only a very few of them can be classified as toxins or carcinogens. Some basic physics, a bit of chemistry and a series of rather simple mathematical calculations reveal that exposure to ETS is hardly a dangerous event."
--Michael R. Fox, Nuclear scientist and university chemistry professor
Your average daily diet contains roughly 10,000 chemicals. A cup of coffee in itself, for example, contains over a thousand. Water itself is a chemical. Your body is made of chemicals. Chemicals are everywhere, all the time; there's no avoiding them.
As a cigarette burns, the smoke emitted mixes with air. This is why actually smoking can be bad for you, and why SHS is not. It's a concentrated hit of smoke vs. smoke mixed with an entire roomful of air. You may be able to see it, but in reality what you're seeing is almost entirely air. According to the 1989 report of the Surgeon General, approximately 90% of SHS is comprised ordinary air and water, with a slightly elevated level of carbon dioxide (the stuff that all humans exhale when breathing).
4% of SHS contains carbon monoxide, which when found in sufficient quantities can be harmful. You've heard of carbon monoxide detectors. You've heard of people suffocating to death in their homes because of high levels of carbon monoxide. But what you haven't heard of is patrons dropping dead in the smoking section of restaurants (or even the smokiest, most poorly-ventilated bars) from carbon monoxide poisoning - because the quantity in establishments that allow smoking can never even approach harmful levels.
The remaining 6% of ingredients found in SHS, according to that 1989 Surgeon General's report, (arguably) contain roughly 4,000 chemicals--but only at super-sub-microscopic levels. Yet this is the part that anti-smokers really cling to.
Most of the quantities of the chemicals found in SHS are so minute that they can't even be detected--they're only theorized to be there! The few that can be detected are only found in such trace amounts that they have to be measured in nanograms, picograms, and femtograms.
Some perspective: you'd have to divide a grain of salt into 100,000,000 pieces to get a picogram.
"The presence in the body of a trace chemical generally signifies occupational or lifestyle-related exposure to that substance. Such a presence alone should not be over-interpreted as necessarily injurious to health, however. For the vast majority of exogenous chemicals (chemicals originating outside the body), there is no evidence to suggest that trace concentrations in the body present a risk to human health."
--American Council on Science and Health
Even the Surgeon General's report admits that very few of the 4,000 chemicals in that tiny 6% of SHS could be considered toxic, even if their levels were a hundred or even a thousand times greater than the microscopic levels found in real-world environments.
Obviously, any burning substance, whether it's a cigarette, a campfire, a candle, a combustable automobile engine, or the cooking of food will emit chemicals. Only anti-smokers are willing to claim that the materials in SHS exist in any significant quantity to be a danger.
Arsenic can be a deadly chemical, and it's in secondhand smoke. So that must make secondhand smoke bad, right? Well, no. We've all heard that apple juice contains arsenic, too. Recently, the FDA added limits to the amount of arsenic that apple juice is allowed to contain. This means that, if the rules are followed, apple juice will now contain an "officially safe" amount of arsenic--an amount that could never cause an ordinary human being injury. Compared to secondhand smoke, apple juice contains a lot more arsenic.
In fact, a full-time server working in a restaurant that allows smoking would need to work there for over a hundred years to be exposed to enough arsenic to equal the size of one grain of salt. And that's only assuming none of the arsenic the server was exposed to in those 100+ years ever broke down (many chemicals released into the air from burning substances break down rather quickly).
Furthermore, a restaurant patron drinking a 16 ounce glass of water in the smoking section would have to be sitting next to someone who was simultaneously smoking 165,000 cigarettes to be exposed to the same amount of arsenic already found in their glass of drinking water. In fact, just by taking a hot, steamy shower, a person inhales more arsenic than they ever could from SHS. Yet ban advocates claim there is "no safe level" of arsenic, and go around telling everyone to support smoking bans.
There's also formaldehyde in secondhand smoke. Yuck! Formaldehyde? You mean the stuff that they put in dead bodies?? Yup, that's the stuff. It's also found in human breath; the result of naturally-occurring biological processes. Yet ban advocates claim there is "no safe level" of formaldehyde, and go around telling everyone to support smoking bans.
The microscopic ingredient found in the largest quantity in SHS is benzene. Anti-smokers cite this chemical frequently, because benzene can cause cancer in laboratory animals if those animals are exposed to enough of it. But does that mean benzene is deadly, dangerous, or "risky" at any quantity?
If you think so, you're in for a real scare: benzene is also found in fruits, fish, vegetables, nuts, dairy products, and eggs.
Unline the Surgeon General, the National Cancer Institute has estimated that an individual may safely ingest up to 250 micrograms of benzene per day, every single day, for their entire life. It may be the "worst" chemical in secondhand smoke, and it may be the chemical found in the highest quanitty, but it's impossible to get the necessary quantity of it from SHS to actually be dangerous. Someone sharing even poorly ventilated airspace with multiple smokers would have to do so for 750 hours per day to approach the NCI's unsafe level of benzene exposure. That's impossible, of course, because there are just not enough hours in a day. Yet ban advocates claim there is "no safe level" of benzene, and go around telling everyone to support smoking bans.
In fact, you can take each ingredient of SHS one by one and determine none could, in any real-world situation, reach a level considered to be "dangerous." You'd have to be locked in an airtight phone booth with smokers--up to hundreds and thousands of them, for years--up to hundreds and thousands of years--to approach unsafe levels (courtesy NYCClash):
Taking an aspirin will relieve your headache. Taking 33 aspirin would kill you. So is aspirin poison? Of course not. The fundamental rule of toxicology is that "the dose makes the poison." One aspirin isn't poison, but a dose of 33 would be. This fundamental rule of toxicology is ignored by anti-smoking organizations, who claim that secondhand smoke is dangerous at any level. There's a reason they ignore this rule: they have to. If they didn't, they'd have to admit SHS was harmless in real-world situations.
An employee in your average bar is routinely be exposed to airborne concentrations of carcinogenic alcohol fumes. In fact, these concentrations are up to 2,000 times greater than the combination of all human carcinogens present in SHS they would be exposed to. So considering the quantity of alcohol fumes in your average bar or restaurant to be safe requires considering secondhand smoke to be 2,000 times "safer."
"There are no body bags filled with those who have developed tumors or heart disease as a result of second-hand smoke. The body bags are filled, however, with scientists and physicians who dare go against the anti-smoking lobby and state the obvious – the science isn’t there."
--Dr. Terry Simpson
Astonishingly, the "Five-Year Strategic Plan for Tobacco Use Prevention and Reduction 2008-2013," currently available on the Michigan Department of Community Health's own website, claims that 1,700 Michigan residents are killed from secondhand smoke exposure every year! Or to put it another way, that smokers are killing 1,700 Michigan residents per year.
That's an astronomical figure if you consider the EPA's rejected assertion that SHS kills 3000 yearly in the entire country. This would mean 57% of everyone who dies from SHS in the United States are Michigan residents! Too bad nobody--from anti-smoking activists to The American Lung Association--can even name three of these phantom victims.
Nowhere in the world does a death certificate exist stating the cause of death was secondhand smoke. Physicians, at least, are aware of the legal difference between "cause of death that is known with reasonable certainty" and "misleading propaganda designed to drum up support for smoking bans." Anti-smoking groups know the difference, too--but they have to use deception to "foster an atmosphere where it was perceived that active smokers would injure those around them."
In actuality, the "death tolls" used to intentionally scare the public against smokers are not "death tolls" at all; they're simply figures made up through arbitrary statistical computer models, the results of which can be whatever the person feeding data to the computer desires.
That's why anti-smoking organizations won't hazard to name any of these phantom victims. When asked to name three victims of secondhand smoke, for example, The American Lung Association responded:
"We do not have names, however, we do have scientifically proven studies that document that secondhand smoke exposure has been direct!"
--The American Lung Association
Source for this section: 1
As we mentioned earlier, alcohol fumes could easily be considered "2000 times more dangerous" than secondhand smoke, because the "dangerous" ingredients in alcohol fumes are that many more times concentrated. Epidemiologic studies have been conducted on all sorts of things--so what else could be considered more risky, and how much riskier might they be?
Are the above numbers true? Only if you're confident in the sorts of methodology used to scare the public about secondhand smoke.
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), under pressure from the anti-smoking movement (who wanted OSHA to ban smoking from all American workplaces), set about studying the individual components of SHS to find out if they were dangerous. OSHA, a government agency with a reputation for strict guidelines on workplace safety, had this to say:
"Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS) as referenced in the air Containment Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)."
OSHA determined permissible exposure limits for each of the "bad" components in (and theorized to be in) secondhand smoke. Air quality tests from around the globe have confirmed that the materials in SHS in real-world environments are thousands and even millions of times lower than OSHA's danger levels, even in the smokiest, most un-ventilated bars.
University of Washington Study
This University of Washington study tested 20 Missouri smoking establishments and found that secondhand smoke levels in ALL 20 bars & restaurants tested ranged from 110 to 877 times safer than OSHA workplace air quality standards require.
Johns Hopkins Study
This Johns Hopkins University study shows secondhand smoke levels at bars and restaurants in Baltimore, MD are 29.6 (500 divided by 16.9) to 238 (500 divided by 2.1) times safer than OSHA regulations.
Johns Hopkins Study
This British Medical Journal study tested European smoking establishments and found that secondhand smoke levels in ALL of the bars & restaurants tested ranged from 4,000 to 5,000 times safer than OSHA workplace air quality standards require. Yet the authors of the study conclude their results show smoking should be banned in more public places!
The American Cancer Society Study
This American Cancer Society sponsored study tested Western New York smoking establishments and found that secondhand smoke levels in all of the bars & restaurants tested ranged from 532 to 25,000 times safer than OSHA workplace air quality standards require. Yet the author of the study concludes secondhand smoke should be banned in more public places.
The St. Louis Park, MN Study
This St. Louis Park, MN. Environmental Health Dept study tested 19 Minnesota smoking establishments and found that secondhand smoke levels in ALL 19 of the bars & restaurants tested ranged from 15 to 500 times safer than OSHA workplace air quality standards require.
So according to OSHA guidelines, under normal circumstances (i.e., a restaurant with a smoking section full of smokers) the compounds found in SHS are not sufficient enough in quantity--even to full-time workers in the restaurant industry--to be a risk to the health of those workers, or to patrons.
So why aren't bans up to OSHA? Because OSHA wouldn't ban smoking from the workplace. The anti-smoking movement attempted to counter OSHA, not with science of their own--but by suing them. OSHA's response to this litigation was to offer to set some official standards for permissible, safe levels of smoking in the workplace.
Ban advocates' response is telling: they dropped the lawsuit. A government agency officially declaring that there are safe levels of SHS--and even worse, translating this fact into law--is the last thing they wanted. More information on anti-smokers vs. OSHA can be found here.
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