Critique of Council Testimony Favoring A Smoking Ban
Presented to Philadelphia City Council, April 3, 2006 by Michael J. McFadden
Out of respect for the Council’s and attendees’ time last Monday I limited my testimony largely to what I had previously prepared.
However I feel it is important to make at least some official response to several pieces of often repeated but grossly inaccurate testimony by those who spent three hours promoting the smoking ban legislation through their testimonies.
In my testimony I spoke of how those promoting bans are skilled at taking tiny pieces of truth and expanding, distorting, twisting and torturing those pieces until their statements simply become, in all reality, lies… as you’ll see below.
* * * *
“69 known carcinogens”
You heard four ban supporters, including two high ranking officials from the heart and lung associations who surely knew better, testify that tobacco smoke has 69 “known carcinogens” in it and that there is “no known safe level of exposure” to it.
First of all, since they were speaking of human workers’ exposure to smoke, they certainly were talking about known human carcinogens. There would be no point in bringing up goldfish or hamster carcinogens. And there quite simply are NOT “69 known human carcinogens” in tobacco smoke. According to the most widely accepted report, that of the California EPA 1997, there are SEVEN “known human carcinogens” in such smoke: Nickel, chromium, arsenic, vinyl chloride, 2-naphthylamine, 4-aminobiphenyl, and benzene.
Even if the “experts” who kept repeating this misinformation had had their facts straight, they would have been giving the Council a serious misimpression of what the presence of such carcinogens means. Let me take one example and quote a passage from my book on it. I’m speaking of arsenic, something that we all know is quite deadly. TheTruth.com has even run ads showing human sized rats crawling up from subway tunnels in the midst of death throes from exposure to this “secondhand smoke element.” The following is from pages 64 and 65 of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains” :
To return to the case of our nonsmoker, and to take one particular element that is often pointed to in Antismoking publications, let’s look at the toxic chemical “arsenic.” … (The EPA’s) proposed new stricter standard of arsenic in drinking water… allows for 10 nanograms (billionths of a gram) of arsenic to be present in one gram of “safe” drinking water.
Ten nanograms per gram equates to about 5,000 nanograms for a sixteen-ounce tumbler of water. Now, in 1999 a (study was done) under the coordination and according to the standards of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health… Measurements of total arsenic in the smoke output of their average brand style gave a value of 32 nanograms. In most well ventilated smoking situations our nonsmoking water drinker would inhale no more than about 1/1000th of this: an amount equal to about three hundredths of a single nanogram… (The 1999 Massachusetts Benchmark Study. Final Report. 07/24/00).
Thus our nonsmoker would have to sit in a room with a smoker while that smoker smoked more than 165,000 cigarettes to get the same “dose” of arsenic that he or she would get from their government-approved watery beverage! Actually, under 20th century standards of 50 ppb for safe water the smoker would have to smoke 825,000 cigarettes. So is it correct to say that the nonsmoker is “threatened by toxicity” from ordinary levels of exposure on this basis? Of course not… unless we want to completely redefine the concept of threat so that we’d all flee in blind stumbling panic from a glass of water!
The same sort of argument can be made for the other six “known human carcinogens.” Very few, if any, of these “toxic” compounds would ever be present in quantities that would form even the lowest levels of threat to a nonsmoker if we use normal EPA and OSHA safety guidelines as standards.
“No known safe level of exposure”
Speaking of the “lowest level of threat” brings us to another repeated facet of testimony, the statement that “there is no known safe level of exposure” to secondary smoke. There is also “no known safe level of exposure” to sunshine or to alcohol. Using “no known safe level of exposure” as our guide City Council would clearly have to outlaw patio dining and perhaps even the service of alcoholic drinks in enclosed locations. As argued clearly in a Rapid Response to the British Medical Journal the actual “amount” of specific Class A “known human carcinogen” emitted into the air by a standard martini in the space of an hour is roughly 2,000 times that of a standard cigarette’s emission of the combined 7 carcinogens noted above. (http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/eletters/330/7495/812#105082)
The testifying experts were quite aware of this, but pointedly chose to ignore it in their presentations to Council. “No known safe level” is a wonderful propaganda phrase but ASHRAE experts themselves have been quoted as saying “…a zero tolerance for smoke. That just isn't realistic. First of all, it's not scientifically good. It's obviously politically correct...,”
(Engineered Systems Magazine, 3/31/02)
Several testifiers spoke of the relation of secondary smoke to sudden infant death syndrome, pointedly intimating to Council that if they voted against a ban that they’d be responsible for mounds of dead infants. Quite aside from the fact that a ban in bars, restaurants, and strip clubs is likely to have little effect on exposures of infants in their cribs (other than possibly INcreasing as smoking parents stay home and smoke in the house more) there’s the problem that one of the newest and most carefully done SIDS studies presented to the medical community indicates that 95% of all SIDS cases seem to be due to suffocation, disease, or medication… leaving only five percent to be due to all other causes. The usual numbers cited by ban supporters who speak of SIDS assume that up to two thirds of SIDS deaths are related to tobacco smoke. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/story/0,,1718723,00.html )
“Bar/Restaurant Worker Lung Cancer”
Several testifiers referred to a 50% higher rate of lung cancer among bar and restaurant workers as evidence that a ban is needed. This claim is based on a study by Dr. Michael Siegel, a longtime antismoking activist and researcher who has recently come out as extremely critical of the sort of hype that was presented to the Council Committee hearing. While he still supports some level of smoking bans he has joined other respected independent figures in the medical community (e.g. Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health) in calling for an end to such promotion of public policy based on falsehoods. (http://tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com/)
Dr. Siegel’s study, done in 1993, has been severely criticized for cherry picking subpopulations and ignoring such confounding variables as hospitality workers’ tendency (supported in other testimony before you on Monday) to have higher smoking rates or higher use rates of alcohol and illicit drugs, all of which would tend to contribute to higher lung cancer levels. Dr. Siegel himself has come out strongly in defense of one of the main critics of his work, researcher Martha Perske, after antismoking groups sought to smear her credibility by accusing her of tobacco industry ties.
In sum, his study, the study upon which those testimonies were based, is certainly not adequate as a foundation for public policy formation, particularly when such policy involves the degree of social disruption and threat to livelihoods that a universally mandated smoking ban would create.
“Childhood Asthma and Secondary Smoke”
Just as with the SIDS example above, antismoking proponents played upon and abused our love for our children by repeatedly citing childhood asthma as a reason for a smoking ban. This argument not only ignores the fact that the only children to be found at Delilah’s Den are those entering their second childhood, ignores the likelihood that a smoking ban would increase smoking at home around children, and ignores the fact that asthma rates among children have skyrocketed in the past 30 years at the same time that childhood exposure to secondary smoke has gone down by close to 80% !
Pulling out the children, giving them signs to wave, dressing them up as diseases and chemicals and parading them in front of City Council to point fingers and plead for a smoking ban, things done both at past hearings and at the one last Monday, are tricks performed at the level of Saddam Hussein posing with little American hostages and patting them on the head for TV cameras. This nasty little piece of theatrics alone should be enough to make any decent Councilperson reconsider their vote in support of those who used our children this way.
(Addendum: while I didn’t know it while writing this, on that same day, April 3rd, the day a vote was expected in City Council, the local Antismokers, supported by the largess of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, mounted a major rally in front of Philadelphia’s City Hall. They dragged in tons of children who constructed a “mountain” of children’s sneakers, showing all the children who would die unless Philadelphia’s City Council quickly enacted a ban on smoking in bars, strip clubs, and everywhere else. Of course CTFK et al claimed they weren’t “lobbying” … this was just an “educational” event. Nice the way they get around those nasty anti-lobbying provisions of non-profit laws, eh?
Dana Reeves was barely in the ground before antismoking extremists began appearing on TV commentary shows and in newspaper columns decrying her “death due to secondhand smoke.” The claim was repeated several times at Monday’s hearing. Those making the claim ignored the fact that even if one were to fully accept the heavily criticized EPA report as completely valid, and even if a person spends 30 or 40 years performing in smoking restaurants and bars, even then all that a doctor could say would be that the person’s chances of getting lung cancer increase from four in a thousand up to five in a thousand. Given that Dana certainly did not perform for 30 or 40 years in such places, even that claim couldn’t be made. But just as with “parading the children”, those making such a claim feel safe in finding shelter in the shadow of someone seen as injured and defenseless.
To their credit, most witnesses did not try to bring up the “Great Helena Heart Miracle” study, but the one who did, Dr. Charles Bridges of the American Heart Association, deliberately ignored the facts that have come out about the study since its original presentation. The Helena study did NOT measure secondary smoke exposures, did NOT analyze heart attack rates in nonsmokers, did NOT correct for recreational migration due to the ban, did NOT acknowledge the widespread lack of enforcement of the ban, and, most pointedly, did NOT find that heart attacks rebounded only AFTER the ban… as Dr. Bridges clearly claimed in his testimony.
It is hard to imagine that he could have been ignorant of all this given his position and given the care with which he presented details about both the Helena and Pueblo studies. It is hard to imagine that he could possibly have been unaware of those facts or of the fact that a new study, one literally 1,000 times larger than Helena, presented in outline in the online British Medical Journal as a Rapid Response to the Helena study, directly contradicted the Helena findings.
We are forced to accept though that he was indeed ignorant of all that information… or we would be forced to conclude that he deliberately misled the Council in his testimony.
Finally, while I want the bulk of this Critique to be aimed at root justification for the smoking ban, the health effects of secondary smoke on nonsmokers, I would like to close with a brief examination of one of the most heavily repeated and blatantly false assertions that Council heard in many different forms on Monday: namely that smoking bans do not hurt bar business and have almost universally been shown to increase it. Ban proponents routinely sling mud at studies that say differently by implying they are “funded by Big Tobacco”, usually achieving this by stringing together the phrase “by the hospitality and tobacco industries.” What is overlooked is that almost every study that has found no economic harm from smoking bans has been funded by groups openly dedicated to promoting such bans and that most such studies seek to muddy the waters by mixing in such things as fast-food-takeout sales with the plight of Joe’s Bar down on the corner.
Repeatedly cited was Mayor Bloomberg’s claim that bar-restaurant business in NY was up 8.7% in the year after their smoking ban. That claim, done with partial and cherry picked figures, has been quite publicly shown to be false by figures presented during the NY Mayoral race by Audrey Silk, a retired Brooklyn policewoman and independent researcher who ran for NY Mayor on the Libertarian ticket. Her study is based on publicly available NYS Department of Taxation figures and is appended to this Critique. It clearly shows that despite an expected rebound after the disaster of the World Trade Center that New York City’s bar business took a significant hit: an absolute 3.5% loss even without factoring in inflation.
Wider research, conducted by Missouri researcher David Kuneman and myself and currently being readied for submission to a medical journal, uses fully public and verifiable Bureau of Labor figures and indicates that states like California, Massachusetts, and Vermont have all suffered staggering economic losses in the wake of their bans. Applying a reasonable extrapolation to the figures gathered and presented in that study one comes to the absolutely incredible conclusion that California alone in the last ten years may have lost as much as One Hundred Billion Dollars to its economy due to its widespread smoking bans.
Council, despite the hours of impressive testimony you have heard in support of smoking bans I hope the analysis above gives you reason to pause before inflicting such a ban upon Philadelphia. There really is not any sound basis in terms of “protection of nonsmokers” for enacting such a ban. Ban proponents may argue that a ban will improve public health in the long run by reducing smoking rates, but even that claim is questionable: California began to get serious about raising taxes and enacting smoking bans around 1990. In 1990 California’s smoking rate among young adults, 18 to 34 years of age, stood at 19.1% . In the year 2001, three years after their universal ban took place and after hundreds of percent increases in cigarette taxes, the smoking rate for this same important group stood at 19.5% . Clearly even extremist smoking bans and taxes have little influence on the choice of youth to smoke. (http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/brfss/Trends/agechart_c.asp?state_c=CA&state=US&grouping=1&qkey=10000&SUBMIT1=Go) (It should in fairness be noted that the figures for 2002 took an unusual and unexplained downward jig to 17.4%, but such a quirk, similar to a quick dip to 15.3% in 1995, are meaningless statistically.)
even if it was shown that bans reduced smoking, such social engineering is not proper in our country, and certainly not proper in its birthplace, Philadelphia. Without such a demonstration, and given that in fact there has never been a single scientific study showing that the low levels of secondary smoke normally encountered in any decently run modern bar or restaurant has ever killed anyone there is only one way you should vote on this ban: and that is clearly to vote it down.
Michael J. McFadden
Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”
President of the Pennsylvania Smokers Action Network
Mid-Atlantic Director of TheSmokersClubInc.com (a completely unpaid position with a non-profit and non-tobacco-funded group)