Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A smoker-free army in twenty years

A soon to be published report by the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) seems to suggest that smokers are unfit for military service. Uh-huh. Apparently, in the US military, as well as contributing to a host of tobacco related diseases, smoking is associated with hearing loss, motor vehicle collisions, physical injuries and hospitalization.

The report, compiled by the IOM on behalf of the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA), is called ‘Combating Tobacco Use in Military and Veteran Populations’. According to the report, the IOM was asked “to convene a committee to recommend ways for the two agencies to work together to improve the health of active duty and veteran populations with regard to tobacco use initiation and cessation.”

According to the report, smoking “adversely affects combat readiness, harms the health and welfare of military families, and costs millions of dollars in health care and lost productivity.”

Of course, getting shot at also has its drawbacks, especially if the rounds being fired in your direction make contact with flesh and bone. Over 5,000 American fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan; 30,000 plus wounded. And, the anti-smokers appear ignorant of the fact that wars that cost hundreds of billions of dollars dwarf the alleged costs of tobacco use.

The report notes that smoking prevalence in the military, at 32%, is considerably higher than in the civilian population at 20%. And, smoking prevalence, they say, has been increasing in the military over the past decade, especially in combat zones. “The prevalence of smoking is over 50% higher in military personnel who have been deployed than in those who have not, and an increasing number of service members use smokeless tobacco.”

And, how about this little gem: “Many military personnel and veterans have been deployed to war zones or participated in peacekeeping missions in conflict areas, and those experiences may influence tobacco use.” Duh.

How perceptive of them. I wonder how long it took to reach that conclusion. Did they conduct one of their “scientific studies” or was it an intuitive observation; an epiphany perhaps?

For young men and women carrying a weapon, knowing that at any given time they may be required to take the life of another human being or face the prospect of having theirs ended creates intense, sometimes unbearable, levels of stress. Smoking reduces anxiety and stress. In addition, many studies have concluded that nicotine also enhances many cognitive and motor functions.

Incredibly, the report notes that “Nicotine withdrawal can also impair performance as a result of irritability, restlessness, anger, difficulty in concentrating, anxiety, depressed mood and decreased performance on cognitive tests.” Yet they recommend that all branches of military service become smoke-free within the next twenty years.

Admittedly, I’ve read only the preface to the 260 page report. And, as a smoker and a veteran, it’s difficult to read such a report with any degree of objectivity. What kind of Alice in Wonderland world are these people living in?

Do they really intend to use the same tobacco control tactics to create a smoke-free military that they use in the civilian population? Will they push the concept that soldiers have as much to fear from a mate’s secondhand smoke as they do from the enemy?

These young people place their very lives in the hands of their mates. Do they really want them believing that, if the man/woman covering their ass smokes, he/she is some sub-human species who is both undependable and irresponsible?

Do they understand the possible consequences of creating that kind of dissension in the ranks?

Fortunately, they didn’t make reference to smoking causing premature or preventable deaths, at least in the small portion of the report I read. Such reference would likely have raised my blood pressure to life-threatening levels.

It’s bizarre. How will they sustain recruitment which is already at dangerously low levels? Will they really try to convince people that, if only they could get rid of the smokers, the non-smokers will flock to the recruiting stations? Like they did to non-smoking bars?

What will the new recruitment campaigns look like? Will they encourage enlistment with the admonishment that “The Army protects your health by prohibiting tobacco use. Enlist to-day, you may get your ass shot off but you’ll die smoke-free, smelling like a rose.”

The answers to these and other questions are likely contained in the body of the report. And, I will get around to reading it, just as soon as I get my blood pressure under control.

Of course, there’s a slim chance I’ll wake up and find this is really some kind of surrealistic nightmare.

Note: You can read Colin Grainger’s take on the report at Freedom2Choose where I found the link to this perfidy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Smoking, lung cancer and anti-smoker fiction

Complacency is defined as a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger, trouble, or controversy. And, complacent is the word which best describes the attitude of non-smokers towards the de-normalization of smokers.

Science has demonstrated a statistical association between lung cancer and literally dozens of potential risk factors, including radiation, asbestos, smog, diesel fuel, automobile exhaust, alcohol, dietary habits and even whole milk.

Smoking is also a likely risk factor. In fact, the anti-smoker crowd claims it’s the leading cause of the disease. However, it is also very likely that the number of lung cancer deaths attributed to smoking is grossly inflated to support anti-smoker propaganda and promote their efforts to de-normalize smokers.

Anti-smoker crusaders have focused so much attention on smoking that the public has given little or no consideration to other potential causes. The media perpetuate the myth created by anti-smoker activists, repeating their suspect statistics continuously, and without question, in news articles. And, a complacent public ignores an immoral crusade against smokers, oblivious to the very real discrimination directed at 20% of the population.

For example, of the 13,401 lung cancer deaths attributed to smoking by Health Canada, 55% were past the age of 70; over 30% were 80 years of age or older, exceeding average life expectancy. So, one could legitimately argue that old age may contribute as much to lung cancer as smoking.

The anti-smoker crowd insists that as much as 85% to 90% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking. But, is this a realistic estimate of the number of smokers dying from lung cancer? This suggests that smoking is almost nine times as potent as all other risk factors combined.

Health Canada has identified exposure to radon gas as the second biggest risk factor for lung cancer; responsible for 2,000 deaths (roughly 12% of lung cancer deaths) in Canada annually. Air pollution is believed to cause another 5% of lung cancers. That doesn’t leave many lung cancer deaths to be distributed among the remaining established risk factors.

As a matter of fact, it doesn’t leave any.

But, there’s more. From Japan comes a study which finds that: “1 in 8 patients with lung cancer show asbestos exposure”.

The June 1, 2009 article in the Yomiuri Shimbun says: “Pleural plaques, or a thickening of lung membranes due to asbestos exposure, were found in one in eight lung cancer patients, according to medical research papers jointly released Monday by 12 medical institutions in Japan. The research team said the number of people who died from asbestos-related lung cancer might amount to several thousand people a year.”

According to a study panel of the Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, asbestos exposure is the sole cause of pleural plaques.

That figure of 1 in 8 raises the spectre of asbestos exposure being responsible for up to 12% of lung cancer deaths in Japan. If that figure were applied to Canada, then, combined with deaths attributed to radon gas exposure and air pollution, that means something other than smoking is implicated in as many as 29% of lung cancer deaths.

But, wait a minute. When you add up all those percentages, you get considerably more than 100%. And, we haven’t even taken smog, diesel exhaust, alcohol, diet, occupational exposure to carcinogens, old age or dozens of other potential causes of lung cancer into consideration.

How is that possible?

In addition, some recent studies have implicated HPV in the development of lung cancer. “Overall, the mean incidence of HPV in lung cancer was 24.5%”. That doesn’t mean that a quarter of lung cancers were caused by HPV. But it does strongly suggest that HPV may be the cause of many lung cancer deaths, independent of smoking.

So, we have considerably more statistical deaths than actual deaths. So is it not reasonable to suggest that such a scenario is highly improbable and lung cancer deaths attributed to smoking have been grossly exaggerated?

The truth is, a small minority of anti-smoker zealots are leading a campaign to denigrate and demean a sizable part of the population. And, in large measure, they are succeeding. Smoking bans, punitive taxation, open discrimination in employment, housing and health care; all tactics designed to pressure smokers into quitting.

And, John Q Public, for the most part, ignores the debate, with little or no understanding that the deceptive tactics being used to marginalize smokers will soon be used to target other segments of society; the obese and overweight, and those who partake of the “demon rum”.

Will the non-smokers remain so unquestioning, so complacent, when the anti-smoker rhetoric turns to anti-fat or anti-booze rhetoric?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Smokers grow old too

OK. It’s official. I am now a senior citizen. I have reached the age after which roughly 72% of deaths occur. I am (blubber, blubber. sob, sob.) growing old.

Growing old, in many ways, can be a pain in the ass. And, unfortunately, the process of aging can’t be halted. OK, there is a way it can be stopped, but I would argue that dying is not a suitable alternative to the inconvenience of growing old. In my opinion, suffering a few additional aches and pains as I wake up and crawl out of bed in the morning is preferable to not waking up at all.

Growing old, after all, is an unavoidable phase of the life cycle; you’re born, you grow old, you die. Unless, of course, you skip the growing old part and die prematurely. And, that brings us to the real focus of today’s ramble.

The anti-smoker cult tends to believe that smokers die prematurely even if they follow the natural progression of the life cycle and grow old before they die. For example, if a smoker dies at the age of 90 from a smoking related disease, he (or she) is considered to have died prematurely. If he gets hit by a bus, well . . . that’s merely unfortunate. And, if a non-smoker dies at age 90 from the same smoking related disease, it’s a mystery; at least to the disciples of the anti-smoker cult.

I have this information on good authority. Health Canada reports on their website that: “More than 37,000 people will die prematurely this year in Canada due to tobacco use”.

That’s a pretty sobering statistic, until you take a closer look at the data. For example, of the 40,000 plus Canadians who died from IHD (Ischemic Heart Disease) in 2002, over 21,000 deaths occurred after the age of 80. Yet, only the 1,400 deaths past the age of 80 attributed to smoking, were classified by Health Canada as premature and preventable.

This naturally raises the question of what they mean by “premature”.

Most dictionaries define premature as “occurring, growing, or existing before the customary, correct, or assigned time; uncommonly or unexpectedly early.”

So has Health Canada solved one of the great mysteries of life? Have they designed a computer program that can determine the customary, correct or assigned time of death? Is their much vaunted SAMMEC program capable of assigning a “Best Before” date to smokers?

Well, no; not really. They just decided that everyone who dies from a smoking related disease which can be statistically attributed to smoking dies prematurely.

So when old Uncle Bob buys the biscuit at 105, with a beer in one hand, a smoke in the other, and some twenty-year old beach bunny giving him a full body massage, they’ll say, “Yep, if only he’d only quit smoking at 104, we could have prevented his death.” Uh-huh.

But, the good news for smokers is that smoking attributable deaths are also classified as preventable, suggesting smokers have a chance of survival. Non-smoker deaths, on the other hand, are, apparently, not preventable, so they’re just plain screwed. One day they‘ll wake up on the wrong side of the grass, having their mail delivered by a mischievous gopher and wondering what in hell happened to them.

Maybe then they’ll understand that, sooner or later, all God’s children take their place in the choir.

And, just in passing, super-centenarian Henry Allingham turned 113 earlier this month. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Mr. Allingham is now the the world’s oldest man. He attributes his long life to cigarettes, whisky, wild women and a healthy sense of humour. Uh-huh.

I figure I’ve got three of those four criteria working in my favour. I had to give up the wild women forty odd years ago when I got married. I had no desire to die a premature death.

But, I wonder . . .

When the venerable Mr. Allingham departs this mortal coil, as we all must, will Health Canada try to convince us his death was both “premature and preventable?”

Monday, June 15, 2009

More smoke and mirrors

On June 11, 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, was approved by the US Senate. The legislation effectively places tobacco under control of US FDA (Food and Drug Administration). A similar bill was passed in the House of Representatives last year. All that remains is for Congress to merge the two pieces of legislation and have it ratified by President Barack Obama.

The general consensus is that the legislation could turn out to be the nail in the coffin of the tobacco industry. The reality may be something else.

The bill gives the FDA the authority to limit advertising, require a more prominent display of health warnings on cigarette packs, reduce, but not eliminate nicotine content in cigarettes, and initiate a host of other regulatory measures designed to control the industry. Senator Ted Kennedy, a co-sponsor of the bill, claims that: “FDA action can play a major role in breaking the gruesome cycle that seduces millions of teenagers into a lifetime of addiction and premature death.”

But, although both the House and the Senate approved the bill by overwhelming majorities, not everyone is convinced that the legislation will have the desired effect of controlling the tobacco industry and reducing smoking prevalence.

Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University School of Public Health has opposed the bill from the start. He notes that the FDA will not be able to eliminate the addictive substance (nicotine) from cigarettes. They can only reduce the amount of nicotine which will, in turn, force people to smoke more to satisfy their addiction.

Say Siegel: “ . . . it is inexcusable - in my view - for a politician to support such a bill and then to have the political gall to get up in front of the American people and tell them that he has done something to protect future generations of children from addiction and to help millions of smokers to quit.”

Siegel has written a number of articles on his blog, Tobacco Analysis , pointing out what he believes are the shortcomings of the bill. He appears to be especially outraged by the fact that the bill was a collaborative effort by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and Philip Morris, the leading cigarette manufacturer in the US.

In one article, he suggests that Philip Morris hoodwinked the politicians and the anti-smoker cartel supporting the bill to the detriment of public health. Siegel may well be right in that the bill mayl not benefit public health. But, whether anyone was hoodwinked, except maybe the public, is debatable.

Anti-smoker advocates claim there are roughly 450,000 deaths annually attributable to smoking in the US alone. Yet, the strongest response to these alleged smoking deaths is to increase already punitive taxes on tobacco, impose draconian smoking bans and generally make the lives of smokers miserable.

In contrast, the World Health Organization recently declared Swine Flu a pandemic. The world's death toll is roughly 100 from the virus that has sickened some 12,000 people.

The facts? In 1998, an agreement was hammered out between state attorneys-general and the tobacco companies. The tobacco industry agreed to pay roughly 250 billion dollars over 25 years to compensate state governments for the health care costs allegedly resulting from cigarette smoking. The payments are directly dependent on cigarette sales and the cost was passed on to tobacco consumers, meaning the agreement cost the tobacco companies nothing.

Other than the states who used the money to build roads, bridges and golf courses, the biggest beneficiaries were the anti-smoker groups who receive huge sums of money to sustain a de-normalization campaign against smokers.

More recently, President Barack Obama expanded a children’s health care initiative called SCHIP. The expanded program is expected to cost an additional 33 billion dollars annually. And the federal government is to fund it with an increase in tobacco taxes which has already taken effect.

Governments at both the state and federal level have, over the past decade, made themselves dependent on the tobacco industry for tens of billions of dollars annually in tobacco taxation. So, it should come as no surprise that there are many who believe the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act is simply so much window dressing.

The truth is, if smokers are addicted to tobacco, then governments are addicted to the revenue generated by tobacco taxation. But, could that addiction be strong enough for government to overlook the immense harm allegedly caused by smoking? Could any government really be that callous and irresponsible?

In the smoke and mirrors world of big government, the FDA legislation is unlikely to have any real impact on tobacco sales or consumption. That’s simply not in the best economic interests of the government. But the public perception is that the FDA legislation is a heavy-duty weapon in the undeclared war on smokers.

As Siegel said in one article, “All that matters is what the public thinks the bill will do. It's about political propaganda, not about a true concern for the protection of the public's health.”

But, I think he’s wrong in believing that Philip Morris conned both the government and the anti-smoker groups who supported the bill. I suspect all three factions bear equal responsibility for the perpetration of what appears to be a fraud on the American people.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Look Ma . . . no hands

Bela Kosoian is a 38 year old multi-lingual immigrant from Russia. She’s currently working towards a BA in international relations at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Last month she was riding the down escalator at Laval's Montmorency metro station, north of Montreal, while rummaging through her purse.

A vigilant transit cop, observing her irresponsible and illegal behaviour, demanded she hold onto the railing of the rapidly moving carpet, er . . . stair, . . . whatever. A citizen jeopardizing her own safety in such wanton disregard of the law is simply unacceptable in the true north strong and free; at least to some people. And, it was, after all, the duty of the handrail police to ensure that the rules were enforced.

The rather diminutive mother of two paid no attention to the security guard’s admonition and continued to ignore the law, pointing out the obvious: “I don’t have three hands.” she told him.

So, the security guard took the only option available to protect society from this blatant breach of the law. He summoned a cop. And, the cop slapped the cuffs on the uncooperative Kosoian and took her to a detention area in the subway station where she was held for 20 minutes, presumably while the cop wrote out two tickets. Uh-huh.

The first ticket was a $100 ticket for not holding onto the handrail, and the second, a $320 fine for obstructing police work.

OK, so that’s one story. But, this story has been bandied about so much the truth may be lost forever. It’s been e-mailed, g-mailed, twitted and tweetered around the globe. But, regardless of the exact circumstances there is no dispute over the fact that she was handcuffed, detained and fined for the egregious (possibly criminal) action of failing to hold onto a handrail.

According to police, Ms. Kosoian became belligerent on being told by officers to hold onto the escalator handrail, refused to provide ID and created a scene, so she was handcuffed and escorted to a detention room. Fortunately, the SWAT team was not required and police did not have to resort to use of their tasers. And, they insist, officers were perfectly right in taking the actions they did and issuing the tickets. The law must be enforced. Without rules society will collapse.

So, according to police, the woman brought the full weight of the law down on herself by refusing to follow the instructions of police, or as a police spokesperson put it, “jumping in their faces right away.”

But, to the best of our knowledge, there is no law against not holding the handrail on an escalator. The actual citation was for "disobeying a directive or pictogram". An STM (Société De Transport de Montreal) bylaw states: "It is forbidden for all persons to disobey a directive or a pictogram posted by the Société."

suppose the STM has a scientific study somewhere showing that failing to hold the handrail is a serious health hazard which warrants a $100 fine for non-compliance. There usually is.

The only thing that really puzzles me, is where they found a vacant space to put those pictographs with all the "No Smoking" signs.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Japanese smoking paradox

It’s been known for many years that lung cancer among smokers in Japan was significantly less in comparison to smokers in North America. In fact, a 2001 Japanese/American study has shown the relative risk is about 10 times higher in North America than in Japan. And, this is despite the fact that smoking prevalence is much higher in Japan than it is in the US or Canada.

It’s a phenomenon that’s come to be known as the Japanese smoking paradox. And, it’s a circumstance that’s puzzled scientists for decades. It’s also a contradiction of the evidence which the anti-smoker cult would like to ignore.

The very existence of this paradox brings into question the association between smoking and lung cancer. If smoking causes lung cancer, then smokers in Japan should experience the same relative risk as North Americans. They don’t.

And the reason for the difference is unlikely to be genetic. Other studies have shown that Japanese men raised in the US approximate the relative risk of white males. So, what causes the extraordinary difference in lung cancer rates and relative risk between Japan and North America?

According to a study conducted in 2007: “The main factors likely to have brought about the difference in the odds ratio/relative risk between Japan and the USA (and perhaps other Western countries as well) are: lower alcohol consumption by Japanese males; lower fat intake by Japanese males; higher efficiency of filters on Japanese cigarettes; lower levels of carcinogenic ingredients in Japanese cigarettes; and lung-cancer-resistant hereditary factors among Japanese males.”

All of these may be legitimate reasons for the difference. But, if lower alcohol intake, or lower fat intake are the reasons for the disparity in lung cancer rates, then we’re dealing with three separate risk factors. And, North American men should be strongly advised to reduce alcohol consumption and alter their diet as well as give up the fags.

Instead, the emphasis is on forcing smokers to quit . . . for their own good, of course. But, if changes in drinking habits and diet can reduce cancer incidence by 90% then concentrating on smoking cessation as a means of preventing lung cancer is disingenuous.

And, according to the American/Japanese study, the leading brands of US cigarettes deliver 35% more benzo(a)pyrene and 170% more NNK than do the leading Japanese brands, despite similar deliveries of nicotine. And, more than two-thirds of cigarettes sold in Japan have charcoal filters, compared with less than one per cent of cigarettes sold in the United States.

But, the contention that the difference could be attributed to lower levels of carcinogens in Japanese cigarettes, or more efficient filters, is also problematic. This would suggest that less hazardous cigarettes (LHCs) are not only feasible, but already exist. Anti-smokers have opposed the promotion and the development of LHCs in the US for decades.

Dr. Gio Gori is a former deputy director of the Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention at the National Cancer Institute, where he directed the Smoking and Health Program aimed at developing less hazardous cigarettes. Gori firmly believes that developing a less hazardous cigarette could result in significant harm reduction to those who can’t or won’t quit smoking.

But, the search for LHCs was dropped circa 1980 in favour of an all out war on smokers when the anti-smoker cabal insisted that smoking (and smokers) could be eradicated. The prohibitionists were concerned that LHCs might tempt some to take up the habit, or diminish the motivation for smokers to quit. Most regard LHCs (at least publicly) as a pipe dream.

But, if the tobacco blends and charcoal filters available in Japan are even partly responsible for the Japanese smoking paradox, then the anti-smoker cartel has done a disservice to smokers around the world. And, they may be complicit in the deaths of millions of smokers who otherwise might have benefited from the introduction of safer tobacco products into the markets of North America and Europe.

The real question is why the risk of smokers getting lung cancer is ten times greater in North America and Western Europe than it is in Japan.

And, the answer may be that in North America the real risk associated with smoking and lung cancer has been grossly exaggerated. Maybe the relative risk of smoking in the US has been inflated to such incredible numbers by simply ignoring or deliberately underestimating the effect of the dozens of other risk factors associated with lung cancer, including alcohol consumption and diet.

The Japanese/American study focused on smoking. But what other lifestyle, occupational and environmental variables exist between the two countries? How much effort has been put into investigating the possibility of LHCs?

Is anybody looking for an answer? Or are they content to simply crucify smokers?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Are smoking bans really bad for business?

“All of the best-designed studies that were not funded by the tobacco industry found that smoke-free restaurant and bars laws had no negative impact on revenue or jobs.”

“Almost all of the studies that found a negative economic impact of smoke-free policies had been funded by the tobacco industry.”

Both of the above statements come from the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion web site. But, the same sentiment is echoed by the anti-smoker establishment to support smoking bans in restaurants and bars across the country and around the world.

If an economic impact study is funded by the tobacco industry, it is pronounced worthless no matter how well conceived the methodology or convincing the outcome. Those done on behalf of the hospitality industry are likewise suspect, since they are considered to be little more than tobacco industry stooges by the anti-smoker cult.

But, if only studies conducted or approved by anti-smoker concerns are considered legitimate, and only those studies are taken into account by politicians during the decision making process, then the entire process becomes little more than a charade. If only one side of the argument is heard, a realistic, unbiased assessment is impossible.

But, what about those studies done by the anti-smoker element in public health; the ones on which politicians seem to rely to provide unbiased, factual information? They’re dependable, aren’t they?

Well they’re believable, but only if you also believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

Smoking bans in the US have apparently been running into some resistance lately, with the opposition due primarily to concerns over the economic impact on bars and casinos. So, one anti-smoker group, ClearWay Minnesota, funded a study to demonstrate there was no adverse effect due to smoking bans. (Isn’t it strange how so many of their studies start with a pre-determined outcome?)

The study was conducted by the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health. The lead researcher was Elizabeth Klein, Assistant Professor, Health Behavior and Health Promotion, Ohio State University. And, by pure coincidence, the study was released to coincide with efforts in the Ohio legislature to exempt small family run bars from the state’s smoking ban.

It was released with great fanfare and bold headlines proclaiming that smoking bans didn’t hurt the bar business. But, although the purpose of the study was to assess the impact of smoking bans on freestanding bars, it included data on restaurants, thus skewing the results.

Restaurants are a far different business from bars. The former relies on sales of food and a family atmosphere, the latter depends on sales of alcohol and a hospitable environment. And, that hospitable environment, to smokers, includes being able to light up while enjoying their favourite beverage.

And there are other differences as well, as pointed out by author Michael McFadden. In a recent issue of the Smoker’s Club newsletter, he takes exception to the methodology of the study by Ms. Klein.

Says Pat Carroll, President of the Buckeye Liquor Permit Holders Association, who also believes the study was slanted: "It's obvious why it was done this way. It's to distort the truth. You can't lump bars and restaurants together. We have entirely different customers and provide different atmospheres.”

Of course, Carroll is affiliated with the bar business and therefore, according to the rhetoric of the anti-smoker cult, a stooge for the tobacco companies which makes her assessment invalid. But, a study funded by a zealous anti-smoker organization (in turn funded by money extorted from smokers through the MSA) and intended to support the war on smokers is considered unbiased and above reproach. Strange logic.

Only studies conducted or approved by the anti-smoker cult are valid, whether they deal with the science on the alleged health hazards of secondhand smoke or the adverse socio-economic effects of smoking bans. Contradicting the anti-smoker’s articles of faith, of course, is blasphemy.

But, there’s evidence that some politicians may finally be seeing through the bullshit and bafflegab promoted in the anti-smoker playbook. For example, earlier this week the Louisiana state legislature voted against a bill that would have banned smoking in bars and casino’s throughout the state.

The proposed legislation sought to extend a ban on smoking in restaurants that was implemented in 2007. Rep. Gary Smith, who introduced the measure, and supporters of the bill, claimed the amendment would create a level playing field between restaurants, bars and casinos.

A majority of Louisiana’s politicians could not be persuaded that the proposed legislation would not hurt the economy and the bill was defeated in a 29-71 vote.

The question is why bars and restaurants who honestly believe that their business will not suffer as a result of a smoking ban don’t simply make their business establishment non-smoking. Why do they need legislated smoking bans to “level the playing field?”

The answer is, they know a smoking ban will adversely affect their business. They understand that a bar which allows smoking will have a competitive advantage and they need a legislated ban to weaken that advantage.

And, the authors of the Minnesota study must also recognize the truth. Otherwise there would be no need for the deception inherent in the study.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

No Smoking – does indoors mean outdoors?

What happens when a university chancellor can’t tell the difference between indoors and outdoors? Well, you get a student protest, a union grievance and end up looking like a schoolyard bully.

The Pennsylvania Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect on September 11, 2008. The legislation, ostensibly designed to protect non-smokers from the alleged hazards of secondhand smoke, defines a public place as "an enclosed area which serves as a workplace, commercial establishment or an area where the public is invited and permitted and included education facilities."

So when the smoking ban legislation was approved by the state legislature, Chancellor John Cavanaugh of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education seized the moment and decreed that the system’s 14 university campuses should be smoke free, both indoors and out.

Cavanaugh figured that, although the campus wasn’t an “enclosed space”, some classes were held outdoors. Therefore, he was merely complying with the legislation by making the entire campus smoke free.

Now, there was ample time to consult with the student body and the unions representing employees before implementing the campus wide bans. But, smokers were apparently not provided an opportunity to take part in any consultations which may have taken place. And, since the campus ban was apparently imposed within hours of the act being passed in the state legislature, it suggests that some discussion of the proposed smoking ban took place before it was announced.

At any rate, some student activists at one of the university campuses, Shippenberg, protested the ban. Nothing as drastic as what might have occurred back in the sixties, mind you; no one occupied the chancellor’s office and the National Guard was not needed to restore order, but it appears there was more opposition to the ban than was anticipated by the administration.

And, at last word, smoking students had won some (dreadfully) small concessions. There will apparently be some smoking areas set aside on campus . . . outdoors, with no shelter from the wind, rain or snow. And, the weather in the Quaker state can be inhospitable at times during the school term.

But, then when you’re being treated like a dog, any bone thrown your way is welcome.

And, one of several unions representing employees at the various universities filed a grievance on behalf of their smoking members. By interpreting the new legislation as encompassing outdoor areas, employees were left without access to any area on campus where they could light up.

Last week, the state Labor Relations Board ruled in favour of the union, saying the university system committed an unfair labor practice against the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties with its interpretation of the legislation and putting the policy in place without union consultation or approval.

The contention that an outdoor, campus wide smoking ban was needed to promote a safer, healthier learning environment was simply a feeble excuse to punish smokers, whether they were members of the student body or employees of the university. It was a petty, vindictive and mean spirited attempt to force those who smoke to relinquish their freedom to choose.

Those who fought the ban have won a minor skirmish in the war on smokers, but it was a victory none-the-less.

Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for the university system, said: "We believe the action we took was still appropriate in accordance with the law." How sad.

The anti-smoker cadre will, of course, appeal. Even sadder.