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Advertise on the Tentacle

April 24, 2007

Like Lemmings to the Sea

Farrell Keough

“In this hard hitting piece of journalism, Farrell Keough, winner of the Mercurial Award for Writing, takes on both Big Government and Big Tobacco! You think Jack is something on “24? Just wait until Farrell hits the streets.” XYZ News Service International

In my mind, this is how the big news outlets will promote this column – in truth, maybe not. In this multiple part column, I hope to get across two things:

1) Maryland’s new smoking ban on business was not so much based upon science as a shift in public opinion; a shift which is allowing government to infringe upon business practices, something totally antithetical to capitalism.

2) More importantly, this shift was due to a concerted effort by groups who have an agenda. This methodology can and will be used for government to limit other behaviors of business which should remain a “choice” by the business and buying public. To wit – banning of transfats, banning of Mc-Everything, etc.

I realize this column comes too late to affect the smoking ban, but it was a common discussion topic in many places, so I wanted to throw in my two cents. I need to point out some important points beforehand:

1) I am not anti-science or against good preventative approaches in life. I simply have a serious problem with science “used” to achieve a political end.


In general, smoking directly around people eating food has been limited and in my opinion should remain this way. Restaurants realized on their own, (no government involvement) that most patrons prefer to eat without the smell of cigarette smoke in their vicinity.

3) Smoking in enclosed places around children should never occur. Regardless of the real or perceived health effects, it is my opinion that everyone can and should remove themselves from the presence of children if they are going to smoke.

4) Restaurants with bars should have the choice as to how they want to handle their smoking clientele. Some banned smoking from their facility in advance of this law, others have a filtration system in place, and, finally, others have decided that their base of clientele is predominantly smokers and they want to retain this group. Smoking very often is done while consuming alcohol, thus restricting a business for use of a legal product conjures up serious ethical problems.

How did all of this happen?

In 1993, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put together a study that changed the way American’s looked at smokers and the smoke they exhaled. The EPA is not generally known to promote studies and actions on individual activities, but as I stated, these studies are pushed by groups with an agenda; and it so happens the EPA accepted that agenda. While the study was “proven” in a court of law to be intentionally flawed(!), it had such a dramatic impact on our society that few are even aware of this result. Smokers became the new lepers of society.

"[I]n North Carolina, the federal judge in the case sided with the industry, saying the EPA made serious mistakes five years ago in evaluating the risk of second-hand smoke. In his ruling, Federal District Judge William Osteen said the ‘EPA publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun’ and the ‘EPA disregarded information and made findings on selective information.’ "

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript

The press will often pick and choose “scientific” papers and portray them as fact; note that PBS determined the judge “sided” with industry, (Fair and Balanced). The general public cannot begin to walk through all the information and determine what is a true portrayal and what is hype.

Yet, even as noted in this article, this biased study had a tremendous effect on business and people’s personal choices – even though it was openly flawed.

But, once the idea was spawned, there was no stopping it. I cannot stress enough how important this transition was! Once the public accepted this, then the gates were open to “political” changes with reference to science; even if it was not good science!

“No one is surprised that the tobacco companies have a financial agenda. The same people, on the other hand, express astonishment at the suggestion that the government might actually have a political agenda. Or at the fact that the government, too, is an employer, with more power than most to select and pressure the scientists it employs and to bury the ones that dissent.”

Secondhand Smoke: The Big Lie

With that in mind, let’s move onto correlative science and statistics. This is somewhat complicated, but very important; especially for later studies, (e.g., those used by the State of Maryland to ban smoking in enclosed facilities).

“One of the largest and most recent studies of Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) is the Brownson study, partially funded by the National Cancer Institute. This study found odds ratios varying from .7 in non-smoking spouses of smokers exposed for fewer than 40 years, to 1.3 in those exposed for over 40 years. .7 is a negative correlation, meaning that those exposed to ETS for less than 40 years experienced fewer cancers than the control group. Since the implication that ETS actually protected those subjects from cancer is biologically implausible, the only other conclusion that can be drawn is that the study's margin of error, caused by random variation, is .3 or higher… The total risk for all groups averages out to exactly 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 revised downwards to show no risk."

Secondhand Smoke: The Big Lie

We need to recognize that correlations are not proof, but a ratio of risk. To that end, it must be determined how serious the “risk” can be. We seem to have lost all perspective of this in today’s society – zero tolerance, birth-to-grave government, no one is responsible for their actions, etc.

Correlative science gives a possible indication that the presence of one thing “may” cause another. It is by no stretch a proof that one chemical or action will cause another. While any death or injury is terrible, we all drive and accept that we can be in an accident. It is the “risk” of these occurrences that are problematic and for the government to determine we do not have the capacity to decide upon this risk is repellant.

Tomorrow I will explore the study the State of Maryland used to determine the Smoking Ban.

Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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