Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Winnickoff: one smoker pollutes entire building

"Research shows that those living in multiple-unit housing are being exposed to toxins from tobacco smoke. Even if you are not a smoker and don't smoke inside of your own apartment, if you have a neighbour who is smoking inside of his, the entire building is contaminated," says Jonathan Winickoff, lead author of a new “study,”Regulation of Smoking in Public Housing (Published in the New England Journal of Medicine)

Winickoff, if you're unfamiliar with the name, is the inventor of the last great menace to the health and safety of our kids, third hand smoke. When announcing his new invention last January, Winickoff said: “Third-hand smoke is what one smells when a smoker gets in an elevator after going outside for a cigarette or in a hotel room where people were smoking. Your nose isn’t lying, The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: ’Get away.’” Uh-huh.

I wonder why the majority of those actually living in these types of buildings didn't know they were in such mortal danger? 64% of respondents in a Decima research poll conducted for Health Canada said they had never experienced secondhand smoke drifting or seeping into their apartments; another 15% said it happened only rarely.

And, it would be interesting to know how Winickoff reached the conclusion that “if you have a neighbour who is smoking inside of his [apartment], the entire building is contaminated.” I mean, really. The whole fucking building?

Of course, the scary part is that many people will actually believe this drivel. Even more scary is the thought that some of them may be politicians with the power to pass laws based on this propaganda..

I live in a 123 unit, 13 story high-rise co-operative housing complex. I wonder how many cigarettes I'd have to consume to coat the entire building in a film of third hand smoke? Uh-huh. I'd probably need a whole lot of help. Like maybe the entire second battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. If they're not too busy in Afghanistan.

But wait . . . I forgot about the magical, mystical properties of secondhand smoke. “It can move along air ducts, through cracks in the walls and floors, through elevator shafts, and along plumbing and electrical lines to affect units on other floors”. In fact, some say it's been trained to seek out and destroy non-smokers wherever they may be.

No, it is not nonsense. It's been scientifically proven. Hasn't it?

And, if it can do all those things, it could probably breed and multiply while it migrates from a smoker's unit on the first floor, down the hall and up the elevator shaft, depositing offspring on every floor along the way until it runs out of elevator shaft, at which point it envelops the 13th floor in a veritable cloud of deadly secondhand smoke . . . which would then mutate into the even more sinister threat of third hand smoke.

Well, it could! Remember: “Impossible is a word found only in the dictionary of fools.”

The paper by Winickoff also claims that: “Numerous epidemiologic studies show that exposure to tobacco smoke can cause lung cancer and cardiac disease in nonsmokers, and the Surgeon General's report on involuntary smoking concluded that there is no safe level of exposure.”

Wow. Numerous epidemiological studies. I guess that's a lot, huh. I wonder why he doesn't mention that for every study concluding that secondhand smoke is associated with lung cancer and heart disease there are “numerous” studies which find no such association. In fact, the last time I looked, studies finding no correlation between SHS and those diseases outnumbered those which did by roughly 6 to 1. A minor detail, perhaps. No sense letting science interfere with a scientific study.

As for the Surgeon-General's contention that there is no safe level of exposure . . . have I used the catch phrase “bullshit and bafflegab” in this piece yet?

OK. I've been treating this latest propaganda effort by the anti-smoker zealots with a measure of sarcasm and levity; the health hazards of secondhand smoke as presented in this “study” seemed to call for it.

But there are parts of this paper which, if adopted, would seriously impact the welfare of some of the most vulnerable segments of society; the elderly, those on fixed incomes, low wage earners, single parents, etc. who depend on social housing to provide decent housing at a price they can afford.

If you haven't read the document, do so. Especially those parts which appear to have been written by the proverbial Philadelphia lawyer. Or, maybe a John Banzhaf.

“Tenants in multiunit housing have few alternative legal remedies for the problem of tobacco smoke exposure. They can sue their landlords, claiming that tobacco smoke constitutes a nuisance or violates the warranty of habitability and the covenant of quiet enjoyment of housing, but litigation is an unreliable and arduous strategy.”

In other words, those offended by the smell of secondhand smoke or those claiming they are being subjected to a health hazard already have access to legal remedy. But legal action takes both time and money. And, judges have a tendency to make their decisions based on fact, rather than emotion.

And, even if landlords could be intimidated into evicting a smoker under threat of legal action, they would, in turn, have to prove their case in a court of law. This makes it difficult for the anti-smoker crowd to convince landlords, private or public, to adopt and enforce no smoking policies.

“The greatest disincentive for PHAs (Public Housing Authorities) to implement smoke-free policies may be the challenge of enforcement. Effective mechanisms for monitoring and for reporting noncompliance would need to be established, along with sanctions for residents who do not comply.”

What they are attempting to do is deny any legal recourse for those smokers who can't, or won't, give up the habit and who may be evicted for their failure to do so. The study goes to some lengths to justify this morally offensive tactic, directed at some of the most vulnerable members of society.

Co-author of the study, Michelle M. Mello, is quoted in the press release announcing the study. "Rather than prohibiting smokers from inhabiting public housing units, prohibiting the act of smoking on the premises would minimize the ethical concerns relating to a smoking ban. This type of policy would encourage smokers to quit, since only those who continued to smoke on the premises would be required to move out." Uh-huh.

Mello apparently believes that this Hobson's choice will disguise the distasteful ethics and the bankrupt morals inherent in using this kind of strategy against those least able to defend themselves.

Unbelievable. A solitary smoker can contaminate an entire building. Does that mean smokers are weapons of mass destruction?

PS: For those of you who may not be unfamiliar with the term, a “Hobson's choice” is a choice in which only one option is offered in a take it or leave it proposition. In this case, the choice is to quit smoking or not. But, to choose not to give up the habit raises the prospect of sleeping in the street. It's really no choice at all.

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