Monday, May 16, 2011

New York smoking ban; a ban too far

A recent New York Times op-ed piece by Dr. Michael Siegel has drawn over 400 comments to the online version of the article. Dr. Siegel is a professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health and an enthusiastic anti-smoking advocate.

In his article, Siegel expresses his opinion that the smoking ban in city parks and on city beaches, which becomes effective May 23 in New York City, is carrying things a little too far. And, in that at least, he's right.

Smoking is still a legal activity. Smokers are taxpayers too and have as much right to use the parks and beaches as anyone else. And, there is scant scientific evidence to justify such a ban on public health grounds. Even anti-smoking activist Siegel admits: “. . . no evidence demonstrates that the duration of outdoor exposure - in places where people can move freely about - is long enough to cause substantial health damage.

But Siegel's opposition to the New York City smoking ban is not based on the injustice to smokers which it represents. Instead, he is concerned that the reasoning used to justify the outdoor ban “runs the risk of a backlash that could undermine the basic goals of the anti-smoking movement.” Uh-huh.

For example, Michele Bonan of the American Cancer Society says “We think the risk is greater than Siegel implies” and asks why “we” should take any risk at all. After all, she notes: “more than 80 percent of New Yorkers don’t smoke, and two-thirds support outdoor smoking bans”.

Of course, following that logic means that as long as two-thirds of non-smokers support herding smokers onto box cars and shipping them off to re-education camps, then it's a perfectly acceptable solution to the smoker problem.

The City's Health Commissioner, Thomas Farley, notes that: “Parks and beaches are special places, built and maintained with tax dollars for the benefit of all New Yorkers. Glass bottles that can break, amplified sounds and alcoholic beverages are prohibited, not because this would save lives, but to keep parks and beaches safe and enjoyable for everyone. Smoking doesn’t belong there either.”

So, the smoking ban isn't meant to save lives, but to protect some non-smokers from something they perceive as an annoyance; and an opportunity to punish smokers for their reluctance to submit to the tyranny of the majority and give up their habit. Parks and beaches are special places; special places that are to be reserved for non-smokers.

Other reasons enumerated to support the ban are equally frivolous. Thomas Farley: “Children in parks or on beaches should be learning how to play baseball, bike or swim, not how to smoke.”

So children are to be protected, not from any real hazards of secondhand smoke exposure in the great outdoors, but rather, from the very sight of a smoker. Like watching a character smoking a cigarette in a movie, a child seeing a smoker light up in a park might be lured into a lifetime of sin and depravity. Watching wanton acts of violence or sexual promiscuity, on the other hand, have no affect and are perfectly permissible.

Such anxieties are not driven by real science; they are founded on an irrational fear of cigarette smoke and unbridled hatred of smokers; fear and hatred encouraged and blatantly promoted by the Holy Church of the Anti-smoker which perceives smoking as an immoral act.

But, it is neither the vilification of a sizable minority of the population, nor the malicious persecution of smokers which apparently disturbs Dr. Siegel. “To make matters worse, in trying to convince people that even transient exposure to secondhand smoke is a potentially deadly hazard, smoking opponents risk losing scientific credibility.”

The Surgeon General's claim that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke is absurd. Even the discredited EPA report released in 1992 is predicated on an assumption of a lifetime of chronic exposure to secondhand smoke. Transient exposure such as might be encountered in a park or on a beach has never been demonstrated to be a health hazard; simply a nuisance to some non-smokers.

Thus smoking bans in the outdoors are based on scientific evidence which has likewise been manipulated to the point of absurdity.

Dr. Siegel's real fear is that the public, confronted with this outrageous persecution of smokers, might recognize the absurdity of smoking bans in outdoor environments and begin to question not just the science behind the fatuous smoking bans in outdoor environments, but the entire body of evidence supporting smoking bans in general.

And, they may find out that his claim that the anti-smokers have science on their side is a distortion of the truth; that the scientific evidence is neither as clear nor unequivocal as he implies.

To be fair to Dr Siegel, it should be noted that he has criticized many misrepresentations of fact from tobacco control researchers on his blog, The Rest of the Story. And he has been vilified by his colleagues in the tobacco control movement for doing so. The “movement” does not tolerate dissension within its ranks.

In this instance, however, I must question his motivation.

And, if protecting the public from the health consequences of secondhand smoke was the objective, then there were (are) compromises available which could have achieved that result without the blatant bigotry directed at smokers. But smoking bans are not intended to protect public health; they are intended to punish smokers.

The problem was (is) that the High Priests of the Holy Church of the Anti-smoker demand capitulation, not compromise.


Anonymous said...

im so tired of enduring these anti-smoking extremists' attitudes and philosophies and the systematic thievery of the civil rights of smokers. here in nyc, the anti-smoking television ad campaigns have methodically become so rightous and full of their own agenda that the truth doesnt even matter anymore! we have ads stating (with unsubstantiated authority that second hand smoke is toxic and can seep into your apt. through floorboards, cracks in the floor and ventilation systems. it's not enough that these extremists squeeze the viewer to stop smoking, oh no, theyre now pressuring the viewer to join their cult and start squeezing their neighbors to stop smoking too with their manufactured propaganda! this is out of control! as i said, this whole campaign is so full of themselves and their own agenda, the truth doesnt even matter anymore. i expect that it wont be long before some group of animal haters start a campaign insisting that their neighbors get rid of their pets because the microscopic dander is floating into their apartments too! after all, according to most allergy websites....

What you should know about Animal Dander

What is animal dander?
Animal dander is not the hair or fur of the animal, but is old skin scales which are constantly shed. Older animals produce more dander than young ones because their skin is drier. Animal dander is extremely light weight and tiny in size, (approx. 2.5 microns) and can stay airborne for hours. (1 micron = 1/25,000 in.)

are any of your neighbors willing or able to prove otherwise? what about people who are deathly allergic to peanuts? its frightening to think that the neighbor might be cooking with peanut oil and it might waft into a neighboring apartment, no? if these things arent significant enough to cause health concerns, why such a panic and urgency about imagined second hand smoke if not to fulfill some elevated idea of self importance or exaggerated concept of personal empowerment? this whole campaign would have never gotten off the ground if smokers werent essentially passive people. this whole "movement" is the classic, "give me an inch and i"ll take a mile" phenomenom while smokers quietly minded their own business, agreeing to compromise, first in city buildings, then office buildings, now in outdoor parks, at beaches and soon in our own homes!

Anonymous said...

here's a true example of the typical anti-smoking extremist: while acting as general manager of the busiest music supper club in nyc, during the end of the first set, i grabbed a cigarette and took the list of reservations for the second show outside to check in the long line of people winding around the block and waiting for admission to the next set (which was sold out). as i approached each party standing outside with my list and clipboard, asking for the name on the reservation, i held my clipboard, pen and cigarette. suddenly, as i approached, a woman in line began furiously waving her hand in front of her face, dramatically coughing/choking and backing away from me. i looked at her quizically. "are you having that strong a reaction to my cigarette?" i asked. "YES!" she emphatically proclaimed with an almost comical disgusted expression. in response, and with great personal relish, i said, "but it's not even lit!"!!! [asshole] but by then, the woman had already worked herself up into such an anticipated indignation that she couldnt even recognize the enormity of her irrational extremism! put the shoe on the other foot and when, given any time or place can anyone visualize a smoker behaving with such blind, utter distain because they were in a situation with a non-smoker? even if the cigarette had been lit, we were outside, on the sidewalk in nyc, walled in by cars, buses and exhaust. give me a break. sitting in a room alone, the methane from that woman's own farts probably had a bigger effect on her health than my cigarette would have had it been lit. these anti-smokers are completely out of control and apparently their thirst for the oppression of others has taken on a life of its own.