Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fighting the haze of secondhand smoke drivel

A special feature in the Toronto Star titled “Smoke get in your eyes - and lungs” was published on Saturday. The on-line edition declares “Tenants and condo dwellers fighting haze of second-hand smoke.” Uh-huh.

“Fighting a haze of secondhand smoke.” Such colourful language. You can almost see the vast cloud of secondhand smoke ferociously forcing its way through solid walls to prey on unsuspecting non-smokers, making life miserable and putting their very lives in jeopardy.

I was out of town over the weekend and I didn't see the Star article until I was handed a copy at a meeting in our own co-op last night.

The article, by Laura Eggerton, begins: “Pamela Schuller thought she was moving her children to a healthy, family-friendly environment when she moved into the Bain Apartments Cooperative in Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood.”

But then, in 2003, one of those filthy smokers moved into the lower unit of her stacked townhouse. And her children began complaining the apartment “stunk of smoke and they couldn’t breathe.” Naturally, Schuller became concerned about her health and the health of her children.

And, although she'd heard about such problems, “it was the first time Schuller realized the smoke was putting her health and that of her children at risk.” So, she joined an anti-smoker campaign.

The article goes on to note: “For the next five years, as a member of the Smoke Free Living Initiative at the Bain Coop, Schuller did what a growing number of tenants and condo dwellers are doing across Canada — she fought to get a non-smoking policy in her building. A year ago, with the help of others in the cooperative, she succeeded.”

So the tenants at Bain passed a bylaw stating that whenever both households in a stacked pair of units agree to non-smoking status and submit their request for that designation in writing to the co-op office, the units will be declared smoke-free. A completely voluntary approach to resolve the issue? Or, is it?

If both parties could agree voluntarily that the units should be non-smoking, why was there a need for a by-law? And, what happns if both tenants agree that the units should be designated smoking units?

One interesting thing about the the Star article is that it does not explain how the by-law resolved Schuller's concerns for the health of her children, or if, in fact, the problem was resolved. Did she reach some kind of agreement with those offensive smokers? Did the nasty smokers move out? Was her unit sealed against the diabolical intrusion of secondhand smoke into her personal space? How was the health of her children compromised in the first place? Did they suffer from some preexisting medical condition which made them especially sensitive to tobacco smoke? Is she still being inundated by secondhand smoke?

The article addresses none of these questions. Schuller had served her purpose as a lead-in to a propaganda piece about the healths hazards of secondhand smoke and the need for legislation to protect poor unfortunate non-smokers. Legislation which would make it easier to throw 88-year old seniors into the street.

At no point in the article does the author question the alleged health hazards of secondhand smoke. They are simply assumed to exist. And, a veritable who's who of Canadian anti-smoker activists are quoted, starting with Neil Collishaw, the research director at Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

Can you guess what his quote was? Sure you can. “There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke,” said Collishaw.

“There’s going to be a lot of work done by many at the local level to encourage social housing landlords and other landlords to go smoke-free,” said Michael Perley, director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco. Perley was a member of the Tobacco Strategy Advisory Group which recommended that the Ontario government amend the Residential Tenancies Act so landlords could more easily enforce no-smoking clauses in leases.

“I think we’ve gone as far as we’re prepared to go right now,” said Premier Dalton McGuinty. “There’s only so much government can and should do.” Of course, he's facing an election campaign in the coming year and he's a little concerned about the Premier Daddy nickname he's already earned.

“It’s a sensitive issue when you’re talking about people’s homes,” said Pippa Beck, a policy analyst with the Non-Smokers Rights Association. Beck has been touring the country for the past couple of years trying to convince landlords that no smoking policies are perfectly legal and they don't have to worry about discriminating against smokers.

“You don’t need to go very far to find out about the dangers of smoking,” says Evelyn Robertson, a nurse and president of Newtonbrook United Church/Taiwanese United Church Non-Profit Homes in North York, which bans smoking anywhere on the property. “We believed it was our responsibility, as a board, to set a policy that would create a healthy environment.”

But, while the article is heavy on quotes from anti-smoker fanatics, it's completely devoid of any real evidence. And, the reason for that is simple. There is none. Not a single shred of evidence to suggest that the amount of secondhand smoke which might penetrate solid walls or otherwise migrate from one unit to another represents a serious health threat to non-smokers. In fact, the evidence that secondhand smoke presents a serious health threat in any situation remains highly controversial.

Nor was any evidence presented as to the extent of the problem. How many people are affected? Under what conditions? Was any thought given to alternate measures to resolve the problem?

Instead, the author relies on quotes from fanatics that there is broad public support for no smoking policies, as if that were justification for the campaign of discrimination directed at smokers.

And, if you don't believe this kind of lopsided, yellow journalism appeals to the hate mongers, consider this quote from the comments section following the on-line version of the article.

“I would say . . . lets have dedicated rent building just for smokers and other building dedicated for non smokers only. The government should take all taxes off cigarettes/tobacco products and give smokers a deduction for smoking on their income tax filing. This would be in Canada best interests to give them every opportunity possible to Kill themselves. I would sit back and have the time of my life watching them die.”

The only difference between that comment and Eggerton's article is one of degree. And the fact that Eggerton uses slightly better grammar.


Michael J. McFadden said...

It's been amazing, sad, and scary watching how quickly these attitudes and beliefs have become accepted over the last five to ten years. When I was writing Brains I wanted to put something in there about a threat to co-ops and apartments or even outdoor patios in the future and early friends/readers told me that if I did then no one would ever take the book seriously. :/

Excellent article as always Rambler!

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

Richard 23 said...

But will she protest at the funerals and say that they deserved it and how fun it was to watch as day by day they slipped away and how sublime and sweet the death rattle was. That's what separates the men from the boys.

And why not torture? Come on. Passively watching is neat and all but why not take an active role rather than being a creepy voyeur? I question this woman's determination.

I question my own government's resolve after the cheap and amateurish cigarette packs that have been put on display by the FDA. They suck on wheels. America created marketing and at one time dedicated valuable resources to informing Americans how to spot propaganda. Now her civil servants, the cream of the political class HA, reveal that their idea of a winning poker strategy doesn't even include a hand of cards.

How do you bluff when you have nothing to play? It doesn't even work as parody. Just burn the damn money and blame the smokers. Or just shut the hell up.

I personally have dreamed up any number of awful campaigns that would produce a torrent of projectile vomit or at least turn some stomachs. Even Google can help with that. Dig up a corpse. Chop a live fluffy bunny in two revel in it. Imagination: none. Lights are on and nobody's home.

New World Order, my ass. Nothing but net, Rambler.

Anonymous said...

I live in a different co-op but we face similar issues around smoking in people's apartments. There has been talk of designating some building as non-smoking buildings.
The public areas are non-smoking now but people's individual apartments can still smoke.
I was born a smoker. My mother smoked with me in her womb.
I became re-addicted, at the age of fourteen when I began smoking with my peer group.
I quit for five years a few years back,and started again.
Now, I have quit once more.I hope this will be the last time.
This is a life long struggle.