Saturday, November 1, 2008

SHS – dishonest science, disreputable journalism

Earlier this month I commented on an article in the Toronto Star regarding the campaign to coerce smokers into quitting by putting their housing in jeopardy. This week, the anti-smoker fanatics have taken their dog and pony show to Nova Scotia. So, as an expatriate Cape Bretoner, we’ll have another look.

In the October 27 on-line edition of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, there’s an article by staff reporter Kristen Lipscombe. It’s a brief article, only 500 words, about a “public” meeting arranged by Smoke-Free Nova Scotia to discuss the ways and means of making multi-unit dwellings smoker free.

Ms. Lipscombe says in her article: “From property owners to tenants, a group of about 30 people are expected to gather in Halifax today to talk about tobacco use in apartment complexes.” Scheduled presenters included Pippa Beck of the Canadian Smoke-Free Housing Coalition, Mike DeRosenroll of the local Canadian Cancer Society division and, presumably, several other members of the anti-smoker crusaders club.

So, basically, what we have is a group of thirty individuals, who don’t like cigarette smoke or smokers, getting together to decide how to force users of a perfectly legal product to quit. Thirty like-minded radicals who will then declare there is consensus that the vast majority of Bluenosers think smokers are scum who don’t deserve a decent place to live unless they submit to the dictates of the anti-smoker brigade and give up their nasty habit.

No civil liberties group or smoker’s groups, to the best of my knowledge, were invited to attend or make a presentation at the meeting. This handful of hate-mongers will be free to promote their campaign of de-normalization and dehumanization of smokers without opposition. The predetermined outcome of the meeting will then be used to pressure government into passing blatantly discriminatory legislation based on deception and lies.

This type of propaganda operation is expected from anti-smoker activists. And, unfortunately, the press, in large measure, has elected to support the anti-smoker crusade in the role of cheerleader. The author of this piece seems to have relied heavily on the press release announcing the meeting, and, possibly a phone conversation with Sharon MacIntosh, President of Smoke-Free Nova Scotia.

The bias is evident beginning with the headline of the piece: “More renters may be asked to butt out.” The objective of this exercise is not to “ask” smokers to butt out. It’s meant to issue an ultimatum; either quit smoking or we’ll throw you into the street.

Nor is the meeting “a public consultation to look at opportunities to increase access to smoke-free housing”. Public consultations are held by governments at all levels to hear both sides of an issue; to listen to the concerns of all stakeholders and to make an informed decision which will benefit the majority while protecting the rights of the minority.

This lopsided affair totally ignores smokers, the 20% of the population most affected by the proposals. And, the reporter apparently felt no need to seek input from any source other than Smoke-Free Nova Scotia.

Ms. Liscombe quotes from a poll commissioned by Smoke-Free Nova Scotia for presentation at a meeting called by Smoke-Free Nova Scotia. This is not a report that most people would consider unbiased. No details on the poll are provided other than the fact that 400 people were polled and the poll was considered accurate within five percentage points 19 times out of twenty. None of the questions asked in the poll were given, so there is no way to determine the full extent of the bias.

That 62% of renters would back a smoking ban in their building is not surprising since roughly 80% of the population would likely be non-smokers.

Ms. MacIntosh is quoted as saying: "We’re looking for a non-legislative approach. Our goal is not to bring in a law to make it illegal to smoke in your home. It’s to increase access to smoke-free homes.”

But, at a similar conference held in Ontario, the participants noted a number of impediments to convincing landlords to go smoke free. The resulting report, stripped of the Orwellian newspeak, left little doubt that the anti-smoker crusaders are indeed looking for a legislative solution to force smokers to butt out.

Some examples: “Need definitive legal opinions, at least one per province, that landlords can enforce a no-smoking clause in a lease. Need to amend provincial tenancy law to make no-smoking clause in lease enforceable. Landlords don’t want to repeat no-pet clause fiasco (Ontario). Tenants not required under law to renew lease, can instead go on month-to-month agreement under terms of initial lease i.e. existing tenants cannot be forced to comply with a new smoking ban in building.”

No smoking clauses obviously need changes to existing legislation to make them enforceable. Claiming otherwise is deceptive and misleading.

But, the most blatant, and egregious, display of bias in the article is the quote from Sharon MacIntosh: "It’s (about) enabling people to make a choice to protect their health from a known health risk."

Had Ms. Lipscombe made any attempt to corroborate the veracity of that claim she would have found there is still a great deal of controversy within the scientific community over the issue of secondhand smoke. The fact is that the alleged hazards are neither definitive nor indisputable. In reality, for every study claiming that secondhand smoke is a major health hazard, there are six which show no such hazards exist.

Anti-smoker crusaders go to great lengths to suppress any scientific study which conflicts with their version of the truth. And, when they can’t challenge the science, they attack the personal integrity of those conducting it.

Thankfully, more and more scientists on both sides of the issue have begun to speak out about the bias in the research and the deliberate muzzling of many in the scientific community. Unfortunately, most of the criticism is confined to medical and scientific journals. For whatever reason, the press routinely ignores all such criticism, no matter how respectable the source.

A complacent, perhaps even complicit, press contributes significantly to the deception of the anti-smoker brigade. And, by doing so, they do a disservice to both the public they purport to serve and their chosen profession.

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