Essays on the Anti-SmokingMovement

by Joe Dawson (

Copyright (c) 1994, 1995 by Joe Dawson. All rightsreserved.

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  • What Issues?
  • Secondhand Smoke: The Big Lie
  • "Social Cost" of Smoking
  • Addiction
  • Advertising
  • Persecution of Smokers
  • Smokers Rights: What You Can Do

  • Anycomments or suggestions to the author.

    What Issues?

    Imagine for a moment that a sick bigot published an adinsulting blacks, Jewsor homosexuals. We might debate the scope and limits of the first amendmentand the freedom of individuals to say what they please, so long as theyplease the lynch mobs.

    But what if the government ran it?

    Nazi Germany in the thirties? No, America in the nineties. The onlydifferenceis that the group out of favor today is smokers. Anyone who dismisses the comparison has not been reading the news. Smokers are banned from universities, libraries, most places of business and the halls of government.They have been denied employment and fired from their jobs for smoking at home. They have been fined and thrown in jail. And the anti-smoking campaignis just getting warmed up: what lies ten years ahead?

    There are two fundamental problems here. First, there seems to be a generalacceptance that a majority can do anything it likes to a minority. If you areunconcerned or even happy about the present plight of puffers, you shouldremember that in one respect or another everyone belongs to some minorityand that one day, your turn will come.

    Second, and more seriously, our government, which was elected to serve(not rule!) us, is now in the business of bashing the politically incorrect.That phrase, once used humorously, is now starting to acquire the sinistertone that it carries in China. Once we allow the state the power to coerce"correct" behavior, it is only a matter of time, given present trends,before we are all clad neck to toe in severe black garments and addressingeach other as "thee".

    But some states (notably California and Massachussets, with others sure tofollow) have a special indignity reserved for smokers: They must pay fortheir own persecution. In California, an additional 25 cents per pack tax oncigarettes was passed in 1988 to be used for cancer research, 5%;wetlands(!),5%; indigent medical care, 40%; and "education" - read anti-smoker campaign -50%. If you have no problem with that, try switching minority groups and seehow well it sits. What about 5% for sickle-cell anemia research and 50%for an anti-black campaign, to be funded entirely by taxing blacks?

    The argument that this is being done "for smokers' own good" is demeaning:our bodies are not government property. The argument that smokers costsociety money is specious: about one third of us considerately die beforecashing in on social security. The argument that smoke is harmful to othersis nothing but a subterfuge: the risk of second-hand smoke exposure has beenso outrageously distorted that it amounts to an outright lie.

    For over twenty years I have watched the growing persecution of a minoritywith discrimination, harrassment, demeaning propaganda, unfair taxes andlaws that fly in the face of our country's constitution. This has been madepossible by smokers who are, by and large, apathetic and apolitical. Thetime is long overdue for smokers to stand up for their rights: to becomeaware of the issues, armed with facts and willing to work to restore theirfreedom, their dignity and their rightful place in society.

    Secondhand Smoke: The BigLie

    Anti-smokers have long tried to restrict smoking on the grounds that it wasbad for smokers' health. But this sort of paternalism, while it has manyadherents, is not very effective when it comes to getting laws passed. Atleast not in this country. In recent years, however, they have made greatprogress using the theory that smoking is bad for the health of others: thatEnvironmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) can, in fact, be deadly.

    The principal ammunition used in the war on smokers consists of theseclaims:

  • The EPA says secondhand smoke causes 3,000 cancer fatalities inAmericans each year.
  • The American Heart Association says that secondhand smoke causes50,000 fatal heart attacks in Americans each year.
  • An unspecified number of Americans are dying each year from"respiratory illnesses" attributable to secondhand smoke.
  • All of these falsehoods depend for their general acceptance on thecredibility of those disseminating them and upon the inability of thetypical listener to perform simple sanity checks using common senseand arithmetic. The simplest is this. It takes 20 years or more for damageto manifest itself in a smoker. ETS is hundreds of times more dilute thanmainstream smoke. Non smokers would have to live with ETS for upwards of2,000 years to incur the same damage. Here's another. Smoke from charcoalcontains many of the same components as those most feared in tobacco smoke(carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, carcinogens and so forth). A ten pound bagof charcoal produces as much smoke (and harmful chemicals) as 160 packs ofcigarettes. Are you going to quit barbecuing? Probably not. Yet the slightestwhiff of tobacco smoke gives many anti-smokers apoplectic fits. Are theybeing hysterical? Read on and decide for yourself.


    The reason science enjoys such weight and credibility is that it hasgenerally been structured so as to encourage a wide scrutiny of methods,data and findings, peer review and a healthy debate from all viewpoints.In the end, faulty data and fanciful theories are laid to rest, and truthemerges the winner. Usually.

    Scientists, like everyone else, are subject to personal bias. They can setout to prove a pet theory, they can ignore data which contradicts a favoredhypothesis, and they can read into data facts which simply aren't there. Inaddition, and perhaps more importantly, their employers can be biased.Employers can put pressure on researchers or even research firms to validatea preordained position or to produce a desired result. Not that they reallyhave to, since it is much easier to hire or retain investigators who agreewith them to begin with. And even that is not necessary, since the employergets to write conclusions and recommendations. Scientists who dissent caneffectively be buried simply by not publishing what they have to say.

    In an open and honest world, all of this would amount to little, since allsides would have their say and we could count on disinterested observers to wade through the fancy and glean the facts. In the case of secondhand smoke,however, it is near impossible to find anyone who is both disinterested andof sufficient standing to be heard. What we have instead is a war ofcredibility over conflicting interpretations of biased reports. What we haveis politics.

    On one side are anti-smokers and the EPA. On the other, smokers and thetobacco companies. At this moment, the antis and the EPA clearly have theupper hand, enjoying as they do a credibility which is just as clearlyundeserved. No one is surprised that the tobacco companies have a financialagenda. The same people, on the other hand, express astonishment at thesuggestion that the government might actually have a political agenda. Or atthe fact that the government, too, is an employer, with more power than mostto select and pressure the scientists it employs and to bury the ones thatdissent. Nowhere is this power more abused than on the subject of ETS. Lastyear's EPA report on ETS, the cornerstone of the anti-smokers' arguments, isworse than just bad science.

    It is corrupt.

    Corrupt science has two salient characteristics. First, instead of startingwith a hypothesis and data and deriving from that a conclusion, it does justthe opposite: starting with a desired conclusion, it then selects data inorder to support the hypothesis. Second, it stifles dissent by excludingdissenters from the process of review and by using ad hominem arguments toquestion their character and motives. The EPA is guilty on both counts.

    Of the 30 studies on spousal smoking referred to in the EPA report, only 6found any statistically significant association between ETS and cancer innonsmokers married to smokers, and none found a strong relative risk. Thestudies actually used by the EPA were limited to 11 studies done in theUnited States. Using the EPA's own Guidelines for Carcenogenic RiskAssessment, none of these showed a statistically significant risk. Theseguidelines call for a 95% Confidence Interval. By lowering it to 90%, onlyone of the 11 studies showed a statistically significant risk. Moreimportantly, the two largest and most recent studies, one of which waspartially funded by the National Cancer Institute, were omitted fromconsideration altogether. Had these two been included, no statisticallysignificant risk would have been found even after lowering the ConfidenceInterval to 90%. Even after violating its own guidelines, in other words,the EPA could still show no statistically significant risk without selectingdata to fit its hypothesis. This cooked data is the EPA's only basis fordeclaring ETS to be a "Group A" carcinogen. ("Group A", incidentally, doesnot mean "extra deadly". It simply means "human".)

    The EPA's studies on ETS operate under a "zero threshold" hypothesis, or theassumption that if huge quantities of something are dangerous, thenmicroscopic quantities are dangerous also. The data they used, however, failsto bear this out: virtually all of the studies used either found no risk atall or a risk so weak that it would not be considered significant if appliedto other subjects.

    A "strong" risk is one with an "odds ratio" of 5 to 20 - reflecting anincidence of the problem five to twenty times higher in a group that wasexposed to something than in a control group that wasn't. 5 in a populationof 100,000, say, compared to 1. (Or 500 vs 100, or 5 in a million vs 1; sinceit is a ratio, it indicates nothing about the size of the risk itself. Onlythe relative risk.) A ratio of 1 indicates no risk at all. Odds ratios under3 are usually considered so low as to be the possible result of randomvariation or margin of error. The odds ratio of contracting cancer fromchlorinated tap water, for example, has been calculated by the EPA to be1.5 - not enough to worry about, in other words. Yet the EPA used an oddsratio of 1.19 - considerably smaller than that of chlorinated tap water -to classify ETS as a human carcinogen.

    One of the largest and most recent studies of ETS is the Brownson study,partially funded by the National Cancer Institute. This study found oddsratios varying from .7 in non-smoking spouses of smokers exposed for fewerthan 40 years, to 1.3 in those exposed for over 40 years. .7 is anegativecorrelation, meaning that those exposed to ETS for less than 40 yearsexperienced fewer cancers than the control group. Since theimplication thatETS actually protected those subjects from cancer is biologicallyimplausible,the only other conclusion that can be drawn is that the study's margin oferror, caused by random variation, is .3 or higher. This means that the 1.3figure is equally suspect. The total risk for all groups averages out toexactly 1, or no risk at all.

    The Brownson study was available to the EPA, but was not used in its report.Had it been included, the conclusions would have had to have been reviseddownwards to show no risk.

    Though the EPA claims a "19% increase in risk", the actual order of magnitudeis less than intimidating. Even if the odds ratio of 1.19 is eventually foundto be accurate and not the result of random variation, what this would meanis that instead of the 6 lung cancers per year normally expected in apopulation of 100,000, we might find 7. Put another way, the average lifetimerisk of dying from exposure to ETS (as opposed to eventually dying ofsomething else) would be about 1 in 700. Furthermore, the risk (if real)is concentrated among the non-smoking spouses of smokers exposed to ETS(a heavier exposure than that found elsewhere) for upwards of 40 years,and cannot be extrapolated to include the general population. By way ofcomparison, the December, 1989 study by the Department of Transportationestimated the probability of contracting cancer from the cosmic radiationat cruising altitude as being some 2,000 times greater than the risk posedby ETS while on the aircraft. The question is, is this sufficient grounds tojustify the subjugation of 50 million people? Before you answer, considerthis: driving across town to your favorite restaurant entails a risk manytimes higher - 17 to be exact - than inhaling any secondhand smoke once youget there. If you include the risks associated with the food and drink youare likely to consume there, that multiple rises to over 450. And if youchoose one of the many non-smoking restaurants provided by a free market,you get no exposure at all.

    A look at the people who worked on this study explains this twistedmethodology. Leading anti-smokers pervade both the EPA and the ScienceAdvisory Board responsible for reviewing its analysis, and some of thework was contracted to the founder of a prominent anti-smoking group. Itshould come as no surprise that the EPA's Workplace Policy Guide was writtenwell before the ETS risk study was completed.

    The underlying philosophy at work here is that the end justifies the means;that since a smoke-free society is deemed to be a worthy goal, manipulationof data and even lies are permissible in achieving it. The EPA officialresponsible for the report admitted in "Science" magazine (7/31/92) that"she and her colleagues had engaged in some fancy statistical footwork" inorder to arrive at the indictment of ETS. The opinions of dissenting EPAscientists were ignored, and references to works not in accordance with theEPA position were omitted from the bibliography of the report. Finally, thosegainsayers who actually manage to make themselves heard are refuted not withdata and reason but with character assassination.

    Corrupt scientists have always been eager to ride the bandwagon of popularopinion. Early in this century, Russian scientists drew diagrams purportingto show that the skulls of Jews were smaller than average, reflecting asmaller brain and therefore a lowered intelligence and moral sense. This"justified" the pogroms. In our own country, studies claiming a lower IQamong African Americans (referred to in the studies as "Negroes") "justified"segregation. The damage done by these studies took decades to undo, whilemillions suffered. Both conclusions share an insidious and horrifyingcircularity: if the subject of the slur has the temerity to question theevidence, the response is "You can't believe him, he's stupid. Look: mycharts prove it!" And that is exactly what is being repeated today. Usingcorrupt science, the EPA has manufactured a conclusion which states, ineffect, that smokers and the tobacco companies are killing 3,000 Americanseach year and are by implication morally corrupt. When anyone disagrees, theanti-smokers have the perfect counter argument: "You can't believe them,they're morally corrupt. Look: the EPA report proves it!"

    "Political science" has taken on a whole new meaning.

    Heart Disease

    With the appellation of "Doctor" and his little black bag of anti-smokingcalculations, Dr. Stanton Glantz is generally assumed to be a medical doctor.Nor is he eager to dispel that notion among his listeners. Actually, he hasa PhD in Mechanical Engineering, and no medical training at all. His fieldof expertise notwithstanding, he gets paid handsomely for doing what heloves most: slandering smokers.

    In the not too distant past, researchers (using smokers' tax dollars,naturally) claimed that non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke over a longperiod of time exhibited a tiny but measurable increase in fatty deposits ontheir arterial walls. Given the bias of such researchers, their tendency tomake leaps of faith when interpreting inconclusive data and the difficultyof eliminating confounding factors, one cannot accept with any degree ofcertainty that what they claim is true. However, let us assume for the sakeof argument that the phenomenon is real, and proceed.

    The arterial deposits in question are caused by diets rich in fats andcholesterol, and by lack of exercise. When coronary arteries become soclogged up that sufficient blood can no longer pass, a fatal heart attackcan result. Clearly, this does not happen until a critical degree ofobstruction, or "threshold", has been reached. A microscopic buildup inan otherwise healthy person is simply a curiosity, nothing more.

    Enter Stanton Glantz, PhD. Each year some 1,000,000 Americans die from heartdisease. Ignoring the concept of a threshold, Glantz "reasoned" that if thefatty buildup claimed by the researchers to be attributable to ETS was onlyone-twentieth as thick as that required to produce a heart attack, thensurely it must be producing a twentieth of the heart attacks, or 50,000 ofthem. He then wrote a thick paper saying so. This is like saying that if amillion people cross a body of water ten feet deep and 100,000 drown, then1,000 would drown if the water were an inch deep. This claim is not justabsurd. It is pure fantasy.

    Stanton Glantz knows this.

    No matter. His paper was his ticket to the lucrative anti-smoker lecturecircuit, where his adoring audiences hear what they most want to hear,namely that smokers are killing people. He also found a receptive audiencein the American Heart Association, which acts as a sort of wholesaledistributor for his misinformation. AHA representatives are to be seen andheard at every City Council hearing on proposed anti-smoking ordinances,where they parrot this pernicious poppycock ad nauseum.

    Doubtless the more educated members of the AHA realize what is going down.Perhaps they justify this to themselves by rationalizing that the claim isnot really theirs, but rather the "work of a credible expert". Warranties,in other words, are the responsibility of the manufacturer, not thedistributor. And since smoking itself is associated with heart disease,and since the goal of the AHA is to get smokers to quit, by outlawingtobacco if necessary, the end justifies the means. Doesn't it?

    Respiratory Illnesses

    The phrase "respiratory illnesses", when used in connection with ETS, isusually found appended to a list of other claims, as in "cancer, heartdisease and ...". It seems to round off the list nicely and is purposelyleft vague. If pressed, anti-smokers will, as if by rote, recite "... suchas asthma, colds, influenza and pneumonia". But none of these ailments iscaused by smoking, much less by ETS. Pressed further, the antis willbackpedal to the claim that ETS "aggravates" these conditions. The degreeof this "aggravation" I shall examine in a moment. First, however, someinteresting numbers bear looking at.

    Since 1979, the number of smokers has declined significantly, from about33% of adults, or higher, to a proportion varyingly reported as being from20% to 25%. During the same period, a host of anti-smoking laws havedramatically curtailed smoking in public places. Today, exposure to ETSis not one tenth of what it was in 1979. Yet, according to an article in theSan Jose Mercury News (October 12, 1993), fatal asthma attacks have nearlydoubled in that time. More than 5,100 Americans suffered fatal asthma attacksin 1991, up from about 2,600 in 1979. Clearly, some scapegoat other than ETSwill have to be found.

    So where are the mystery deaths caused by "respiratory illnesses" that canbe blamed on ETS? There aren't any. The diabolical innuendo of the phrase"... cancer, heart disease and respiratory illnesses" causes many to believepeople die this way and to repeat the rumor. But it is akin to saying"nuclear bombs, biological warfare and firecrackers."

    So far, in this country anti-smokers have enjoyed free rein to make wildclaims about ETS without having to back them up with rigorous evidence inan objective, impartial setting such as a court of law. With the pendingchallenge to the EPA's report, that is about to change. For a preview ofthe truth likely to emerge, we have only to look at a recent Australiancourt case in which the Australian Department of Occupational Health,Safety and Welfare was pressing a complaint against a casino in an attemptto enforce a no-smoking law.

    The question of "respiratory illnesses" quickly became a question of whetherthe effect of ETS should more properly be characterized as an "irritation"[the defense] or an "inflammation" [the prosecution]. After considering theevidence and witnesses from both sides, the judge likened it to "theexperience of ordinary people who sneeze, or whose eyes water when peelingonions." The infamous "respiratory illnesses", in other words, were boileddown in the crucible of truth to simple runny noses.

    In addition, the prosecution introduced as part of their evidence theJanuary '93 EPA report on lung cancer and ETS. About this report the judgehad these words: "I would have thought that these reports would be thosewhich supported the prosecution case most strongly, but they appear not to.One of these reports is the American EPA report... Chapter 7.9 of the reportcovers passive smoking and respiratory symptoms and lung function in adults.Table 7.11 tabulates 6 studies and their results, which really show thecontrary to what the prosecution witnesses say." The decision, handed downin Perth on September 17, 1993, concluded: "Whilst ETS is annoying and ofdiscomfort to non smokers it has not been proved at the required standard,or at all, that it is a risk to the health of the employees at the Casino."

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