Against Smoke Free
March 7, 2011 § 3 Comments
Dear Mr. Smith,
I read the article in the latest Plainsman regarding the movement apparently headed by you to make the Auburn University campus entirely smoke-free. Congratulations; I am sure you will succeed, simply because smokers are outnumbered by non-smokers and there seems to be no shortage of hysterical anti-smokers who feel that they are doing us smokers a favor by making it difficult if not impossible to smoke. But first of all, please clear up some confusion… it is not clear to me if the reasoning behind this is because of the dangers of second hand smoke or does it have to do with “helping” smokers? If it is the latter, then please go away, I don’t want your help… I will decide if and when I will stop smoking; it is really none of your business in a free society. Smoking is legal. So is over-eating. As far as I’m concerned, democracy, in this particular case, is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for lunch. And if liberty is a well-armed sheep… then think of me as a sheep armed with facts. In the article, you asked non-smokers to educate themselves about the hazards of second hand smoke. So, maybe you could enlighten me as to the evidence showing that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) outdoors is harmful. And while you’re at it, instead of quoting the tired old line about the number of harmful compounds in ETS, please provide the actual doses of each so that people won’t be misled into thinking that there is something uniquely dangerous about cigarette smoke (as compared to wood fires or auto emissions for instance). When discussing toxicity, it’s always all about the dose. So this becomes a fallacious argument when one considers the quantities of the compounds released from cigarettes when compared to the amounts a person is normally exposed to or ingests. For example, it would take 70 trillion cigarettes to produce the amount of benzene from one year’s worth of auto emissions in California (benzene is, by several orders of magnitude, the most concentrated of the toxins in cigarette smoke). By the way, 70 trillion cigarettes is equivalent to 9.5 billion “pack-a-day” smokers (about twice the earth’s population). So, if you want to ban smoking outside on campus, then you ABSOLUTELY must also, in good faith, ban automobiles, which produce ridiculous amounts of pollutants compared to cigarettes.
I am aware of the arguments made by those who wish to see smoking totally banned even in wide open outdoor areas. The largest study in the U.S. (a meta-analysis) was the flawed and biased study by the EPA in 1993 (basically junk science) in which second hand smoke is treated differently and with a lower threshold than any other environmental toxin ever tested by the EPA. This study had to re-define universally accepted methods of statistical analysis to “prove” a weak association. On the other hand, a much more legitimate scientific study sponsored by the World Health Organization showed no statistically significant correlation between environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and lung cancer (the only statistically significant finding of that study was a mildly positive effect on children of smokers, i.e. less incidence of lung cancer). Not surprisingly, WHO did not want the results of this study publicized, since it obviously did not confirm what they wanted to show. So you don’t hear much about it. And keep in mind that these studies were concerned with exposure to indoor ETS.
It seems to me that this whole argument boils down to the fact that anti-smokers find the smell of smoke unpleasant and are repulsed by smokers, seeing them as weak people who need rescuing from themselves. So it’s OK to fudge the data to get the result they want. I agree that ETS is unpleasant (even I don’t want to smell smoke while I am trying to eat). Therefore, as a considerate person, I always smoke as far away from entrances to buildings and other people as I can. I have no problem at all with buffer zones, but I suspect that is not going to be good enough for some people… even though there is no evidence to support that outdoor ETS causes actual harm to innocent bystanders or passers-by. Interestingly, people that pass by me outside usually don’t realize that I am smoking… maybe their sense of smell is overwhelmed by exhaust fumes. This is a university, so I understand that politically correctness sometimes outweighs facts. But it would be nice to show some believable scientific data and logical arguments to back up an all-out ban, other than a “report” from the surgeon general (which is merely an opinion). I challenge you to provide proof that ETS from people smoking outdoors is a health hazard to others. Being offended by the smell of smoke does not qualify… I am offended by the smell of some perfumes, diesel exhaust fumes, public restrooms (sometimes), and the body odor of some people. As for me, I will not comply with a ban on smoking on campus, and I suspect that I will not be alone. I have been smoking a long time and have tried unsuccessfully to quit, so force isn’t going to work with me. Besides, I don’t bother anyone and I have always gone out of my way to make sure that I don’t. The reality is that a ban on smoking outdoors on this campus will simply create a new, angry class of “outlaws”.