Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Secondhand smoke and multi-unit dwellings

In my last post I commented on allegations by the anti-smoker crowd that secondhand smoke possessed supernatural powers. These otherworldly properties allow it to travel against the wind, drift downwards instead of up, and flow through minute openings in electrical outlets to attack non-smokers.

For the most part, these assertions by the anti-smoker crowd are pure nonsense. Modern methods of building construction already negate the likelihood of secondhand smoke migrating to a neighbour's apartment through most of these routes.

Drywall joints, for example, are taped where individual sheets abut, at corners and along ceiling joints. Drywall compound is added to give the walls a seamless appearance. The housing co-op in which I live was completed in 1993. I have never found a crack of any kind in the walls, let alone one that would allow secondhand smoke to migrate to a neighbour's unit.

And, even in much older buildings, there are inexpensive construction techniques that can be used to resolve such issues.

Older buildings, for example, may have used crown moulding to seal the joints where the walls meet the ceiling. A similar condition might exist along the baseboards, where the walls meet the floor. The simple remedy is to remove the moulding or the baseboards, fill the gaps with any of the dozens of products available for the purpose (silicone, expanding foam, etc.) and replace the moulding or baseboards. Problem solved with very little cost or effort.

Smoke traveling through drains is a non-starter. All drains are equipped with a P-trap (unless you're living in the bush and still have to make the trot to the little old shack out back). The P-trap holds standing water and is designed to prevent sewer gases from entering the home. And, if the sewer gases can't get in, smoke is unlikely to get out.

These days, special care is taken in the construction of bathrooms and kitchens, especially around plumbing fixtures. Care is taken, not because of potential problems with secondhand smoke, but because of the possibility of water damage from leaking water lines or drains. That's why, if you look closely, you will see fine beads of silicone around bath tubs, toilet bowls, counter tops, etc. And, if water can be prevented from seeping into walls, secondhand smoke doesn't stand a chance.

And, once again, in older buildings, solutions are inexpensive and really quite simple.

In my co-op, most of the apartments have only one door to a common hallway, although some multi-level units have two. So is it possible that smoke could travel through a crack under the door, into the hallway, then travel back into my neighbour's unit?

I decided to check it out. The idea was to have someone stand in the hallway while I stood in the apartment, close to the closed door, puffing merrily away on a Putter's Lights (and taking an occasional sip from a cold can of Keith's Ale). The observer in the hall would try and determine how much smoke was escaping into the hallway.

I lit up a fag, with the door wide open and advised the hallway monitor (my wife) to keep a close eye on what happened after I closed the door. I knew immediately it wasn't going to work. As I exhaled after a lengthy drag, a cloud of smoke blew back into my face.

The air make-up fans draw fresh air from the roof and force it down into the hallways, thereby equalizing the air pressure inside the building with the air pressure outside. Theoretically, if the air pressure outside exceeds the air pressure inside, the building could implode. And, as long as those fans were running, there was no way cigarette smoke from my apartment was going to get past the threshold of the door (and the current of air from the air make-up fans) and into the hallway.

Of course, if you smoked in the hallway, the smoke would seep into the apartment through the crack under the door. But, it could only seep in through under the door because there was weatherstripping on both sides of the door frame and along the top, creating a tight seal.

The solution to the problem could be as simple as adding weatherstripping along the underside of the door. Or, to prohibit smoking in the halls and common areas (already in effect), not in the member unit. And, I had to ask myself how many tenants stand in the hallway smoking cigarettes at any rate.

One area where the anti-smoker control freaks might have a legitimate grievance is from smoke migrating to an adjacent unit through duct work. I share a common wall with one neighbour who told me he could smell smoke in a bedroom on the shared wall through an air duct. I asked why he hadn't mentioned it over the five years he had lived next door. He gave me a puzzled look and said: “No big deal, Matt. I fixed it.”

Knowing the man has a degree in mechanical engineering, I was curious about how he'd resolved the problem. His hi-tech solution: he'd cut a piece of cardboard to fit the 6” X 10” vent, used duct tape to secure it to the inside of the vent cover and put the vent cover back in place. That's why he makes the big bucks.

In the case of older buildings, some legitimate concerns might be raised, but the remedies are usually inexpensive and are not labour intensive.

And, the problems are by no means universal.

For example, not all buildings use forced air heating which might allow secondhand smoke to move from one unit to another through the duct work. There are thousands of older, two and three storey walk-ups in the city that still rely on hot water radiators to heat their unit. The semi-detached townhouse units in my co-op use electric baseboard heating. In those situations, there's little probability of smoke migrating from one unit to the next via duct work.

The proposition that secondhand smoke seeps into a neighbour's unit through “electrical outlets, plumbing, duct work, ceiling light fixtures, cracks in walls, floors or doors and through common areas, such as hallways,” is a classic example of the scare-mongering tactics employed by the anti-smoker crowd.

And, with the fear, rational consideration of the problem and the common sense solutions which are readily available go out the window.

The anti-smoker brigade proposes a one-size-fits-all solution: impose a blanket smoking ban in multi-unit buildings. They would deprive millions of Canadians of their right to personal autonomy and choice. They would allow police, or other authorities, the right to intrude on the privacy of Canadians engaged in a perfectly legal activity. And, they would do it without a single shred of evidence that a problem of any proportion exists and without exploring other, less intrusive options.

More bullshit and bafflegab from morally bankrupt anti-smoker fanatics.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Secondhand smoke travels through solid walls

Peel Region (west of Toronto) has apparently been flooded with complaints about secondhand smoke seeping into the dwellings of non-smokers from other units and open windows. OK, so maybe it's not a flood, but the five complaints a month that have been pouring in were serious enough for Commissioner of Health Services Janette Smith, and Dr. David Mowat, Peel's medical officer of health to call for a smoking ban.

The region's public health officials have compiled a report suggesting Peel council demand that Queen's Park (the provincial government) enact a province wide ban on smoking in apartments and condos. The objective, of course, is to protect non-smoking residents in multi-unit dwellings from exposure to second-hand smoke.

The dynamic duo of healthscare professionals claim in their report. "Tobacco smoke can seep from various openings in a multi-unit dwelling, including electrical outlets, plumbing, duct work, ceiling light fixtures, cracks in walls, floors or doors and through common areas, such as hallways. Some units may share ventilation or heating systems, which can further spread the smoke throughout a building." Uh-huh.

I have read of the mystical powers of tobacco smoke; its ability to travel great distances against the wind, to pass through solid walls, to worm its way through electrical fixtures, etc., but I've always remained a skeptic. Could the deadly concoction of chemicals from the lit end of a fag really migrate from one apartment to another in sufficient quantities to cause death or serious illness? Through the plumbing?

Now, I have heard that some people like to browse through the latest edition of Popular Mechanics when they, er . . . do their business. I do not keep magazines in my bathroom. It's strictly an in and out affair. And, smoking in the shower is the next best thing to impossible; fags are very hard to light when they're all wet and soggy.

But, does the smoke from the living room travel the 22 feet down the hallway to the bathroom, turn the corner, navigate to the bathroom sink, resist the tendency to travel upwards, make its way down the drainpipe, past the P-trap, and enter my neighbour's unit through the drain of his bathtub? Are these people serious?

My old English teacher used to have a sign above the blackboard that read: “Impossible is a word found only in the dictionary of fools.” (I've often wondered if Bonaparte uttered those immortal words before or after Waterloo.)

At any rate, I hesitate to use the word impossible lest I be branded a fool. But, it's highly improbable that secondhand smoke could make such a journey. Unless, of course, it's possessed by evil spirits with a grudge against my neighbours.

In my bathroom, I found no gaps where the walls met the ceiling. They had been sealed with drywall tape and several layers of drywall compound during construction. There was a neatly laid bead of silicone around the back of the bath tub; another along the floor at the foot of the tub. The silicone is meant to prevent water damage inside the walls or along the floorboards. But if water can't get through, how can smoke?

In addition, the bathroom exhaust fan is tied into the light switch so that when you turn on the lights, you also activate the fan which vents directly to the outside. So, unless someone was perched on the throne, reading Popular Mechanics by candlelight while smoking up a storm, my neighbour is not likely to be bothered by secondhand smoke intruding on the “quiet enjoyment” of his premises. And, even then it's a stretch.

Bullshit and Bafflegab. On to the kitchen.

After a thorough investigation, I determined that it was unlikely smoke could move from one unit to another via the drains. The smoke would have to travel downwards, penetrate the standing water in both my P-trap and the neighbours. So that conduit was ruled out.

But, it might get through the openings where the pipes enter the wall. If the smoke traveled downwards, made its way through the rear of the cupboards, seeped through a similar opening on my neighbours side of the wall and into his unit. As noted previously, nothing is impossible.

So I removed the basket of cleaning material and the cute little garbage containers from beneath the sink. I lit up a fag, poked my head into the cupboard and prepared to bombard my neighbour with 4,000 deadly toxins.

Shit. Like in the bathroom, someone had plugged the opening around the pipes with silicone. No way any smoke was getting through there, even if it was anorexic. I withdrew from the confined space which was rapidly filling with smoke and making my eyes water.

OK, I thought, maybe the smoke could force itself through a gap between the countertop and the wall, down to the floor, find a crack where the floor meets the wall and steal into my neighbours unit? Nope. Along the ledge between the countertop and the wall behind it, was another neatly laid bead of silicone.

Even if I wanted to terrorize my neighbour with secondhand smoke, I couldn't. Unless, of course, I was prepared to spend some time with a brace-and-bit and make a mess of my walls. And, I suspect he might be more pissed off about the holes drilled in his wall than secondhand smoke.

How much smoke is likely to escape into a neighbours apartment through “cracks in walls, floors or doors”. Think about it folks. When drywall is installed, gaps between individual sheets and along the ceiling are sealed with drywall tape and two or more layers of drywall compound. The same technique is used in corners.

And, just how much secondhand smoke is actually going to seep through a ceiling fixture or an electrical outlet? Use a little common sense. If you were trapped in a sealed room and about to run out of oxygen, just how long do you think you'd last if the only source of air was coming through a light switch or a wall receptacle?

Yet, the anti-smoker crowd want people to believe that vast quantities of secondhand smoke are pouring into their neighbour's apartment through plumbing, cracks in the walls and electrical outlets. It's insane.

Let's be clear. There are ways that smoke can enter your neighbour's unit. But wall receptacles and cracks in the walls are not likely to be among them.

I'll have more to say on this lunacy in my next post.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Smoking bans, heart attacks & scientific fraud

“Smoking ban benefits come swiftly,” read the headline, “A new study at Kansas University found that smoking bans reduce the number of heart attacks each year by as much as 26 percent.”

But as noted in a previous blog, that “scientific study” by Dr. David Meyers at Kanas University was, er . . . somewhat less than credible. In that blog post, I quoted Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University School of Public Health: “The rest of the story is that anti-tobacco researchers and groups are making ridiculous, highly exaggerated, and scientifically unsupported claims in order to try to justify smoking bans.”

That's tough talk from an anti-smoking advocate like Dr. Siegel. In fact, some people might refer to studies such as Meyers' as unequivocal scientific fraud and propaganda.

Then, on October 15, Siegel reported some serious misgivings with a new report on the same subject matter; this time from a committee of experts at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in the US. In that article, he asserts that the conclusions reached by the experts contradicted the contents of the report itself; noting that most of the studies looked at by the committee were not only badly flawed, but that the committee was aware of the flaws.

Said Dr. Siegel: “The committee recognizes that the existing studies are so seriously flawed that one has no confidence in being able to judge the effect size. But, instead of concluding that the evidence is insufficient, they go ahead and conclude that smoking bans significantly reduce heart attacks anyway.”

What the committee did, in fact, was draw conclusions which were not supported by the evidence. And, what was even more egregious, they distributed their unwarranted assertions to the public as fact.

Staunch anti-smoking advocate that he is, Siegel stopped short of criticizing the committee of experts: “Finally, I want to make it very clear that I am not impugning the integrity of the committee or any of its members. I don't think they've done anything wrong. I just think that the report is biased and that subconsciously, there was some sort of pressure operating which led to the report drawing conclusions that were not appropriate given the report's own assertions and review of the evidence.”

So, the report issued by the IOM was biased, drew inappropriate conclusions and misled the public, but the experts who compiled the report did nothing wrong? The disingenuous report was merely the result of some unstated, subconscious pressure being exerted by some unidentified force. I wonder what a deliberate attempt to mislead would look like?

On October 16, Siegel commented on the subject again, noting that the IOM report failed to include data that found no effect of smoking bans on acute coronary events in three countries; England, Scotland and Wales. In other words they ignored data which was contrary to the unsupported conclusions of the committee.

Said Siegel: “These data are all national data which include all hospital admissions at all hospitals in these countries. Thus, they represent a better source of data than what was used in some of the published studies (which only included a sample of hospitals). Moreover, they cover large populations, with a sample size greater than that of all other studies combined. Thus, the data from these countries are critically important and carry much weight in the overall analysis.”

An oversight perhaps? The committee could hardly be expected to be aware of unpublished studies, especially if they failed to make the morning news. And, that's essentially what the IOM committee claimed in their report: “"no such (unpublished) studies were identified."

Unfortunately, those studies did make the news; big time. And then there's this from Dr. Siegel: ”I find this difficult to believe, especially since I was a reviewer of the report and I made the committee aware of several unpublished analyses which documented no significant effect of smoking bans on heart attacks.“

Whoops. Nothing like a little inside information to set the record straight.

One of the most definitive studies to date, an NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) working paper, “Changes in US Hospitalization and Mortality Rates following Smoking Bans,” found no statistical evidence that smoking bans reduced heart attacks. “In contrast with smaller regional studies, we find that workplace bans are not associated with statistically significant short-term declines in mortality or hospital admissions for myocardial infarction or other diseases.”

This study was also ignored in the IOM report.

But then, presenting both sides of the argument might have detracted from the anti-smoker message.

How could the experts at the Institute of Medicine ignore all the contradictory data and conclude that smoking bans result in fewer heart attacks? How could a committee of experts acknowledge that they couldn't confirm the extent of any positive effect from smoking bans, yet insist that the effect exists nonetheless? Why the compulsion to manipulate scientific studies and data to score political points? Is this what science has become: an exercise in political propaganda devoid of honesty?

Could it be that science has become subordinate to the anti-smoker crusade in the Orwellian world of tobacco control? More and more, it seems, scientific integrity is being sacrificed to further the cause of smoker denormalization. Bullshit and bafflegab are the order of the day.

It's unfortunate. Science and medicine were once such noble professions.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sue the tobacco companies, smokers will pay

On September 29, the Ministry of the Attorney General (Ontario) issued a press release announcing that the province had filed a lawsuit against a group of tobacco companies seeking damages “for past and ongoing health care costs linked to tobacco-related illness”.

The 50 billion dollar lawsuit was launched under the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act, passed earlier this year. The legislation was approved unanimously by Queen's Park, meaning all parties are on record as supporting the lawsuit. Six other provinces have indicated their intention to initiate similar legal actions, although only two have actually filed .

According to the press release, Ontario is seeking $50 billion in damages, representing health care costs borne by Ontario taxpayers since 1955. It claims that tobacco-related health care costs are now estimated at more than $1.6 billion per year in the province.

The lawsuit is a transparent attempt to emulate a similar government cash grab in the US where over 40 states collectively sued the tobacco companies over similar issues. The result of that action was an out of court settlement called the MSA (Master Settlement Agreement). The tobacco companies agreed to pay roughly 250 billion dollars over 30 years from future earnings based on annual sales. The annual payments were apportioned among participating states.

The MSA cost the tobacco companies nothing, of course, since the deal allowed them to increase tobacco prices and pass the costs on to the consumer. Although it was hailed as a major victory against tobacco companies, it was, in fact, an agreement to indirectly tax tobacco consumers. The tobacco companies simply collected the tax and passed it on to the individual states.

Canada's smokers should not expect any better treatment from their governments. They will not force the tobacco companies into bankruptcy; not with billions of dollars in tax revenue at stake. So that means tobacco consumers will wind up footing the bill, just as they did in the US.

But, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the lawsuit is the blatant hypocrisy of the government action.

Both the provincial and federal governments profit handsomely from the tax revenue generated by the sale of tobacco products. When this rather well-known fact was pointed out to Ontario's Attorney General, Chris Bentley, he responded: "Even if we related the two, the amount paid out in health-care costs far exceeds the amount any government has collected for taxes."

Mr. Bentley has his facts wrong.

According to figures provided by the anti-smoker group, Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada, the total cost of medical treatment for smokers nationwide was $4.36 billion in 2006. That’s a hefty chunk of money.

But, for the 2005/2006 fiscal year, revenue collected by federal and provincial governments was $7.09 billion from taxes on tobacco products, not including sales taxes. Health care for smokers cost the “taxpayer” nothing.

But, smokers are taxpayers too. And, ignored is the the fact that smokers, in addition to the punitive tobacco taxes extorted by their government, make the same contributions to health care costs as any other Canadian.

And, just for the record, while the anti-smoker cartel and their puppets in government moan about the billion dollars plus in profit posted by the tobacco companies, government is making those profits look like chump change. In 2003, Canada's three largest tobacco companies made an estimated 1.53 billion dollars in profit. Combined government tax revenue was 7.05 billion dollars for the same year; over four and a half times the profit earned by the three tobacco companies combined.

The government's greed is mind boggling.

First, they extort tens of billions from smokers in tobacco taxes which they spend like drunken sailors on everything but health care. Then they demand that tobacco companies pay them billions more in compensation for health care costs; money that can only come from the same smokers who have already been forced to pay usurious levels of tobacco taxes for decades.

For decades, the tobacco companies have been vilified for putting profit before public health. But, government has been even more guilty of exploiting tobacco addiction for financial gain than the tobacco companies.

And, there's one more incontrovertible fact. If government was really convinced that smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke causes tens of thousands of deaths annually, they could have stopped it at anytime over the past half century. They could have passed a law.

They chose not to do so. Instead, they took the cash.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Smoking & heart attacks, another suspect study

According to a meta-analysis conducted by Dr. David Meyers and his team at Kansas University Medical Center, smoking bans have an immediate impact on heart attacks, reducing admissions to hospital by as much as 26%. In addition, Meyers claims a nationwide smoking ban could prevent as many as 154,000 heart attacks annually.

Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University School of Public Health disagrees with the conclusions of Meyers' study. In fact, he suggests that both the meta-analysis and the individual studies used to compile it are badly flawed junk science. Siegel is an anti-smoking advocate who strongly supports smoking bans. But, even he notes: “Nevertheless, I believe they should be supported based on valid scientific conclusions, not on junk science conclusions such as those in this article.”

As a smoker, and admittedly prone to bias in my interpretation of these “scientific studies”, I believe most of what is passed off as science by the anti-smoker crowd these days is junk; propaganda, pure and simple.

For example, one troublesome aspect of Meyers' study is the use of heart attack admissions as a gauge of the beneficial aspects of smoking bans. According to study authors, heart attacks were used as a measuring stick because, unlike cancer, they don’t take years to develop.

But, why measure only admissions to hospital?

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) website claims: “Of the people who die from heart attacks, about half die within an hour of the first symptoms and before they reach the hospital.”

If Meyers and his team counted only admissions, then they didn't account for the true incidence of heart attacks since roughly half would be DOA (Dead On Arrival). There would be no need to admit them for treatment. Was this a simple oversight; or a deliberate attempt to mislead? Was the possibility accounted for in some other way in the study?

Again, why measure only admissions?

The same NHLBI website claims: “Each year, about 1.1 million people in the United States have heart attacks, and almost half of them die. CAD (Coronary Artery Disease), which often results in a heart attack, is the leading killer of both men and women in the United States.”

The Womens Health Foundation sets the number of heart attacks at 1.5 million each year with 500,000 deaths.

But, if one-third to one-half of those experiencing a heart attack will die, why not simply count the number of deaths from heart attack? Wouldn't this give a far more meaningful statistic than admissions? After all, if smoking bans can prevent as many as 154,000 heart attacks annually, as claimed by Meyers, wouldn't that mean that one-third to one-half that number of heart attack deaths would also be prevented?

Is it really plausible that smoking bans could reduce the number of heart attack deaths by 50 to 75 thousand annually? Wouldn't that eliminate all deaths currently attributed to secondhand smoke?

Smokers, according to the anti-smoker cult, will die from heart attacks as a result of their smoking. Logic dictates that they will die whether they smoke in public or private, since it is the habit that allegedly kills and not the location where the habit is practiced.. So, is it logical to expect a decline in heart attack incidence among smokers without a corresponding decrease in smoking prevalence?

And, if a decrease in heart attack admissions can't be linked directly to either smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, how can it be attributed to smoking bans?

According to study authors: "Heart attacks are caused in large part by blood clots. With 20 minutes or so of tobacco smoke exposure, people’s blood becomes hypercoagulable and sticky and clots easily, and bam, you have a heart attack."

That's right folks. Twenty minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke and non-smokers start dropping like flies. Can't you remember the bodies being removed en masse from bars, restaurants and the local legion hall before the smoking bans? Aren't non-smokers keeling over from the effects of exposure to SHS in those jurisdictions where bans have not yet been implemented?

Dr. Siegel points out that brief secondhand smoke exposure is likely to trigger a heart attack only in people with severe existing coronary artery disease, saying: “The same hypercoagulability and endothelial dysfunction is also caused by eating high-fat foods and even by mental stress. It doesn't follow that you are going to prevent this person from having a heart attack merely by asking them to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.”

David Meyers says the research should put to rest the debate about the health benefits of smoking bans. “The argument — that this is bad science — has now been put definitively to rest.”

And, therein lies the problem.

If (when) this story is picked up by the national media, it is not likely to include a rebuttal from Dr. Siegel (or anyone else for that matter). In fact, media coverage is unlikely to contain any dissenting opinion on the study. The public will be left with the perception that it has been scientifically proven that smoking bans reduce the incidence of heart attacks. Dr. Siegel, and others who contest the findings of Meyers' study, will be branded denialists; their voices silenced.

The perception rather than the reality will become entrenched in the public mind. Which, I suspect, is exactly what was intended by the authors of the study. For it appears that this study is not simply bad science, but a propaganda effort deliberately designed to mislead the public. The anti-smoker cult wants desperately to justify the growing number of smoking bans around the world.

Concludes Dr. Siegel: “The rest of the story is that anti-tobacco researchers and groups are making ridiculous, highly exaggerated, and scientifically unsupported claims in order to try to justify smoking bans.”

Just one more question before I sign off. If researchers are willing to use this kind of dishonesty and deception to convince the public of the hazards of smoking and SHS exposure, just why in hell should anyone believe anything the public health community has to say on the subject?

The bullshit and bafflegab is coming thick and fast.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Helping smokers quit, the anti-smoker way

According to supporters, the electronic cigarette (aka the personal vapourizer) is a modern marvel; an innovative invention that allows smokers to engage their vice while avoiding the health concerns associated with tobacco. And, there are many in the public health community who agree with that assessment.

Dr. Michael Siegel, of Boston University School of Public Health, has written a number of articles on his blog, Tobacco Analysis, chastising anti-smoker groups for their efforts to suppress (read ban) use of the e-cig. He believes that the e-cig does help smokers kick the habit. And, Siegel stands ready to support almost anything that will get smokers off that wicked weed (tobacco, not that other wicked weed). Whether they want to or not.

The anti-smoker fanatics, on the other hand, have launched a full-scale assault on what they claim is a deadly new device designed to, among other things, ensnare children and turn them into nicotine addicted misfits.

The e-cigs are marketed to kids, according to anti-smoker cultists, by providing flavoured nicotine cartridges; strawberry, menthol, cherry, chocolate, etc. Dr. William Bailey, medical director of the UAB Lung Health Center, asks : “Who's going to want a chocolate cigarette but a kid?”

Geez, Doc, I don't know. A chocoholic smoker, maybe?

But, really, how many kids can afford fifty to a hundred bucks for a chocolate flavoured, make-believe cigarette? If it's the chocolate they're after, wouldn't it be much cheaper to spend a buck on a candy bar at the local corner store.

A recent FDA study, and I use that term very loosely, raised only two health concerns with e-cigs: they contained known carcinogens in the form of nitrosamines and one out of 19 cartridges tested contained di-ethylene glycol. The nitrosimamines were, in fact, present in only trace amounts, at levels similar to those found in nicotine replacement products; the gum, the patch and the nicotine inhaler.

And, as Dr. Siegel pointed out in one of his blog posts, “pharmaceutical grade propylene glycol is readily available and contains no appreciable amount of di-ethylene glycol, this problem is most likely not a widespread one.” In fact, it's likely a quality control issue confined to one brand of e-cig rather than a serious health concern inherent in the product itself.

Ellen Hahn, Director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, claims in an article on the
Public News Service, that “e-cigarettes could actually end up creating new customers for tobacco in a state where adult and youth smoking rates are at epidemic levels.”

We'll ignore the fact that despite decades of smoker-bashing, smoking bans, punitive taxation and discriminatory action of all kinds directed at smokers, Kentucky is still in the grip of a tobacco “epidemic.” And, we won't ask what Ms. Hahn and her colleagues have been doing with their time and money.

Ms. Hahn says “it would be a bad idea for Kentucky smokers, who are trying to quit their habit, to get hooked on alternatives to smoking.” Uh-huh. What she means is that it would be a bad idea for Kentucky smokers to get hooked on the wrong alternatives to smoking.

The nicotine patch, nicorettes and the inhaler are perfectly acceptable. But e-cigs are a no-no which must be fought tooth and nail, despite the fact it has been used by hundreds of thousands of smokers to cut back and/or quit. So why would the anti-smoker crowd want to deny smokers use of a device which helps them fulfill their mission?

They are claiming, after all, that they want to “help” smokers kick the habit; for their own good, of course. They are claiming that they want to protect non-smokers from the alleged hazards of secondhand smoke. They claim that they are protecting the public purse by reducing the alleged high health care costs posed by smoking real tobacco.

So, why are they trying so desperately to persuade the FDA to ban the electronic cigarette; a device with the potential to address all three of those concerns? Why are they trying to vilify the product in the eyes of the public; to dissuade it's use. Isn't that counter-productive?

Unless, of course, the whole charade was never about public health in the first place. Unless, the pretext of protecting public health was merely an excuse to conduct a moral crusade against smoking. Unless they're more concerned about protecting their funding sources in the pharmaceutical industry and from the government (through the legalized extortion known as tobacco taxation).

At any rate, since I've commented on the electronic cigarette several times on this blog, I figured it was about time I invested in one. There's one slight problem of course; getting them into Canada. Health Canada has decided to follow the FDA lead and is apparently stopping shipments into the country.

But, what the hell. I'll wind up with the material for a blog whether it gets throug
h or not.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Health Canada subterfuge embarrasses government

The anti-smoker cartel has been effectively setting public policy on tobacco control for many years. Governments appear to have abdicated responsibility in this regard, content to rubber-stamp whatever legislation the fanatics demand with little or no critical evaluation of the potential social or economic consequences.

The extent of anti-smoker influence on public policy became very clear with the passage of Bill C-32 in Canada's House of Commons earlier this year.

Staff at Health Canada were charged with drafting legislation to fulfill a campaign promise made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last September. He promised to ban “candy-flavoured” cigarillos allegedly being marketed to children. The legislation, Bill C-32, is called “The Cracking Down on Tobacco Marketing Aimed at Youth Act”. The title itself makes the government's intention pretty clear.

Harper, at the time, flourished colourful packages of candy flavoured cigarillos to emphasize the need for such legislation; a seemingly graphic example of the Prime Minister's intention.

Policymakers at Health Canada, however, had a somewhat different interpretation of what was needed. And, thanks to language used in the bill, it went far beyond anything the government intended. Health Canada appears to have substituted their own more restrictive policy for the the one Harper had promised.

The language used by Health Canada apparently bans all flavoured cigarettes, including such well known American brands as Marlboro, Camel and Winston, as well as some European brands. But, the flavouring used in American cigarettes are not candy flavours meant to entice children; they're flavourings and sweeteners used to make the harsh taste of burley tobacco used in American blend more palatable for adult smokers.

The anti-smoker element at Health Canada acknowledge they were aware of the implications of the language. They argue that it's impossible to ban candy flavoured cigarillos, and not Marlboros. Said Paul Glover, assistant deputy minister of Health, "a product that is easier to smoke and less harsh is easier for youth to start." Uh-huh.

Says Health Canada spokesperson Christelle Legault: “The intent of Bill C-32 is to prohibit the use of flavorings, except menthol, and appealing additives in all cigarettes. We know that the addition of flavours and additives makes them more appealing to youth and this is exactly the kind of tobacco industry marketing tactic that we want to prevent in order to protect our vulnerable youth."

But, it was not the intent of parliament, at least not the publicly stated intent. Harper promised merely to prohibit candy flavoured tobacco products which might encourage young people to experiment with tobacco, not all cigarettes containing any flavouring or additives.

MP's, anxious to appear tough on smoking and perhaps score some cheap brownie points with constituents, passed the anti-smoker legislation with something less than due diligence. They either failed to read Bill C-32 or totally misunderstood its implications. Or, of course, they could have simply misled the public about the legislative intent.

The significance of the wording was not lost on US politicians or trade groups, however, especially those in the tobacco growing regions of the US. They pointed out, quickly and forcibly, that banning American blends of tobacco, but not Canadian varieties, violates NAFTA and sets the stage for a potential trade dispute with Canada's largest trading partner. Protests have been sent to Ottawa and some US politicians have demanded reciprocal action be taken by the US.

And, the chagrined Conservative caucus in Quebec took the unprecedented step of recanting their prior votes, threatening to withdraw support for the legislation unless it's amended. It seems a Rothman’s factory in Quebec City, which produces American brands for the export market, is threatened with closure and the loss of over 300 jobs because of the language ostensibly slipped into the legislation by Health Canada.

Officials at Health Canada claim there was “nothing covert” in their actions, they just wanted to make sure there were no loopholes in the legislation (except for menthol, of course) for those nasty old tobacco companies to squeeze through.

What they fail to acknowledge is that the legislation as written ignores the stated intent of the government. The publicly stated intention was to ban candy flavoured cigarillos which might entice young people to experiment.

Did the anti-smoker zealots at Health Canada attempt an end run around parliamentary authority? Or has the government been lying to the public about their intentions all along?

Luc Martial (of Casa Cubana, a Montreal-based importer of cigar products, including flavoured cigarillos) says the legislation is based “on a premise of fear, not fact – hate, not health.” He points to the lack of any real research on the subject.

Martial, formerly with the Non-Smokers' Rights Association and the Tobacco Control Programme at Health Canada, claims Health Canada conducted “no specific research on the use of flavours in tobacco products; the market for flavoured little cigars/cigarillos and the industry itself.”

In addition, says Martial, “The Government chose not to consult in an honest, meaningful, transparent and open manner with the thousands of legitimate private sector stakeholders whose businesses and jobs will be devastated by Bill C-32.”

He's right. They didn't. Of course, the anti-smoker crowd has never needed evidence to convince the government to pass anti-smoker legislation. And consulting with the business community regarding the economic consequences of anti-smoker laws has never been part of their standard operating procedure.

Bill C-32 was approved by the House of Commons, with little debate and no objection. It is now under scrutiny in the Senate. During Senate hearings, Senator Michel Rivard compared Bill C-32 to “crushing a fly with a bulldozer”. Senator Hugh Segal was prompted to ask witnesses to explain what Health Canada was up to.

The anti-smoker crowd, in turn, claims resistance to the bill comes only from the tobacco industry and politicians in Quebec who are concerned about the possibility of losing a few jobs. And, thanks to a strong lobby effort by the anti-smoker crowd, it appears the Senate will knuckle under and approve the bill.

But, the anti-smoker brigade, and their cheer-leading allies in the press, seem determined to avoid discussing the unethical conduct of those involved. Either the policy makers at Health Canada subverted the parliamentary process by including language that the government never intended; or, the government misled the Canadian public about the intention of the legislation.

A little incident in the grand scheme of things, to be sure. But, those adults who choose to use a legal product, and those who make their living from the legal sales of those products, are being buried under a mountain of bullshit and bafflegab.