Thursday, November 19, 2009

Should you trust some guy with a blog? Hell, no.

MOH's in Ontario have a statutory duty to undertake efforts such as this to protect the public's health. Peel's MOH has specifically stated that measures such as those proposed in the report are a matter of balancing public health and personal autonomy (as are most smoking-related proposals).

You are of course entitled to make conclusions based on as much non-empirical evidence as you like. But I would caution you against impugning the credibility of public health officials.

"Trust me, I'm a doctor." Yes I think I will trust a public health physician who has spent a career protecting the public's health, thank you very much. Or should I trust some guy with a blog? That, sir, would truly be "lunacy".

The above comments were posted in response to my last two columns.

In those columns, (prior to a brief and unexpected hiatus), I commented on a report prepared by public health officials in Peel Region (Toronto's neighbours to the West and Northwest) calling for a province wide ban on smoking in apartments and condos. The objective of the ban was, allegedly, to protect non-smoking residents in multi-unit dwellings from exposure to second-hand smoke.

I opined that there were measures short of an outright ban that might be used to mitigate the grossly exaggerated hazards associated with exposure to secondhand smoke seeping through electrical outlets and through the plumbing.

The problem, of course, is that there was no effort whatever to balance the issues of public health and personal autonomy. The authors of the report assumed the position that secondhand smoke wiggling through cracks in walls and floors of multi-unit dwellings was a health hazard of such significance that it warrants stripping smokers of any right to personal autonomy in their own homes. No other potential solutions were considered.

Let's look at the facts.

According to the October 19, 2009 article by Madeleine White for Torstar News Service, the report was compiled because Peel region “had been receiving an average of five calls a month from tenants complaining about second-hand smoke seeping into their dwellings from other units and open windows”.

There is no indication that health officials investigated the validity of any of the five complaints a month. How old were the buildings from which the complaints originated? What type of construction was involved? What kind of ventilation/heating system was installed? Was there any attempt to quantize the alleged problems? How much secondhand smoke were non-smokers being “forced” to inhale on a daily basis?

Were the complaints related to legitimate health concerns as opposed to the simple nuisance of what many non-smokers consider the “obnoxious smell” of secondhand smoke?

The point of my columns was to show that the extent of the alleged hazard will vary, depending on the age of the building, method of construction, ventilation , etc. In addition, there are a variety of methods available to alleviate the problem of smoke migrating from one apartment to another. There is no demonstrable need for draconian and discriminatory smoking bans.

And, I'm not alone in my observations. Hazel McCallion, the Mayor of Mississauga, the largest municipality in Peel Region, has suggested building code changes are among measures that could be taken; changes that would require retrofitting ventilation systems in old buildings and ensuring that new ones are capable of filtering out second-hand smoke.

The report from Peel Region health officials appears to have ignored all other potential solutions in favour of a blanket policy which would dictate what behaviour individuals would be permitted in the privacy of their own homes; a gross infringement on personal autonomy. And, their one size fits all solution, in the form of a province-wide smoking ban, is being promoted by anti-smoker activists despite the fact that there is absolutely no definitive evidence that any significant health hazard exists.

When groups formulate policy recommendations without addressing the science, it makes their motivation suspect. And, that has a negative impact on the credibility of their policy recommendations.

In fact, the evidence that secondhand smoke in any quantity represents a significant health risk to non-smokers remains open for debate. The anonymous commenter to my columns asks whether he (she) should trust a public health physician who has spent a career protecting the public's health or some guy with a blog?

My suggestion is that he (or she) should conduct a little research and trust the evidence. Start with a few of my previous columns. (The WHO Study (Part 1)), The WHO Study (Part 2), Faulty science from EPA) Then read about the secondhand smoke study conducted by professors James Enstrom and Geoffery Kabat on Enstrom's web site, the Scientific Integrity Institute.

Perhaps he/she may gain some insight as to why I question the credibility of many public health officials.

The Regional Municipality of Peel has a population of roughly 1.15 million people. Health officials claim to receive 60 complaints a year about secondhand smoke seeping into their apartments. On that basis those officials are now recommending that hundreds of thousands of smokers across Ontario be deprived of their right to use a perfectly legal product in the privacy of their own home.

Sorry, neighbour. The report from Peel Region should be filed under the category of bullshit and bafflegab.

1 comment:

Elegant Homes in West Toronto said...

What a fun and realistic post

Bafflegab must be the legal term.

Laws cannot be in conflict or your property rights to do whatever you want within your own property.

Having said that; It would be possible to create a condo corporation that is smoker free as a choice.

Can Child free buildings be next?

David Pylyp
Living in Toronto