Monday, July 17, 2006

Doctor Exposes Junk Science Fueling The Indianapolis Anti-Smoking Ordinance

Special Note: If you live within the boundaries of the Municipality of Anchorage, and you're opposed to the new anti-smoking ordinance, click here to go to the Stomp the Ban website to sign a petition urging your Assembly Member to vote against the ordinance.

While executing a Google Blog Search for blogs discussing anti-smoking legislation, I discovered a blog operated by Dr. Michael Siegel. I highly recommend this entire blog for those interested in rebutting the hysterical "Chicken Little" claims of the anti-smoking fascists; in multiple posts, Dr. Siegel ruthlessly exposes the manipulation of science and the exaggeration of effects employed by the anti-smoking lobby to psychologically browbeat deliberative bodies into enacting these draconian bans, much in the same fashion as the gay rights lobby browbeat the American Psychological Association into legitimizing homosexuality in 1973.

In his latest post on July 17th, he discusses the Marion County (Indianapolis) smoking ban enacted last year, and reveals how it was apparently supported in part based on misleading and unsubstantiated information provided to the City-County Council, presumably by anti-smoking groups. Two of the Councillors who sponsored the ordinance published a letter to the editor on March 13, 2005 in which they explained their reasoning for supporting the ordinance as follows:

"Secondhand smoke stiffens your aorta within five minutes, increases the clotting in your blood within 20 minutes, and can cause a heart attack in as little as 30 minutes. These are not problems that take many years to develop only after repeated exposure."

Here's how Dr. Siegel responds to this allegation in his post:

To me, the statement by the City-County Council members implies that a person is at risk of a heart attack after being exposed to secondhand smoke for just 30 minutes. The councillors did not qualify their statement by noting that the claim holds only for those who already have severe existing coronary artery disease to such an extent that any possible insult to their cardiovascular system could put them over the edge and trigger a myocardial infarction.

However, it is the case that the statement is accurate only for such a narrow part of the population (for whom even eating a hamburger could, by the same logic, trigger a heart attack because it causes damage to the lining of the coronary arteries and could be just enough to put the person over the edge). Moreover, this claim is unsubstantiated, even for people with existing coronary artery disease. There is no study of which I am aware that demonstrates that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure can trigger a heart attack in an individual with coronary artery disease, and I'm not aware of any evidence that such an event has ever occurred.

As far as the rest of the population goes, the statement is just plain false. There is no possible way that a person can develop coronary artery stenosis from just a 30 minute exposure to secondhand smoke. As we know, a person doesn't develop heart disease from just 30 minutes of active smoking. How could 30 minutes of passive smoking do the trick?

Thus, at very best, the claim made to support the Indianapolis ordinance is misleading and unsubstantiated. At worst, it is blatantly false (and this is likely how the statement was interpreted by the other city council members and by the public).

The worst part of the story, however, is not that the fallacious claims of anti-smoking groups were successful in getting Council members to support legislation based on misleading or false scientific claims.

The worst part of the story is that the Council, accepting the "fact" that even a 30-minute exposure to secondhand smoke could cause a heart attack in an innocent bystander, chose to risk the lives of workers in restaurants with a liquor license that chose to become adult-only establishments. In other words, the Council defended its ordinance by arguing that secondhand smoke is so dangerous that even a half hour of drifting smoke can cause a heart attack, yet apparently they don't view it as being so dangerous that people who work 40 or more hours per week in a smoky bar or adult-only, alcohol-licensed restaurant need to be protected.

That hypocrisy is mind-numbing.

You can't have it both ways. You can't exaggerate and distort the science to unduly scare people into thinking that they are going to suffer a heart attack from a mere 30-minute exposure to secondhand smoke and then support a policy that exempts workers based on a decision by their boss to exclude children from the establishment. That's a public health non-sequitur. It's pure public health nonsense.

When I stated back in May 2005 that the enactment of the Indianapolis smoking ban represented a sad day for clean indoor air in Indiana, I didn't even realize at the time how sad a day it was. Not only was it a day that the Indiana tobacco control movement demonstrated its hypocrisy; it apparently was also a day that the fallacious statements of the anti-smoking groups resulted in the public policy being supported based on misleading, unsubstantiated, and perhaps even false scientific information.

That's not something to be proud of. It's really a shame when public policy is made based on false scientific claims. And that goes not only for making policy based on misleading tobacco industry claims. The knife cuts both ways.

And in two separate posts, here and here, Dr. Siegel reveals a lengthy lists of organizations preaching this hysteria. We know the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society have a vested financial interest in exaggerating and sensationalizing the effects of second-hand smoke in order to perpetuate and promote a more vigorous flow of grants and donations into their organizations. The information presented by Dr. Siegel should be considered for public testimony at the upcoming Anchorage Assembly Meeting on Tuesday July 25th. Testimony will begin no earlier that 6 P.M.

Dr. Michael Siegel, a physician who specialized in preventive medicine and public health, is now a professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, Boston University School of Public Health. He has 20 years of experience in tobacco control, primarily as a researcher. His areas of research interest include the health effects of secondhand smoke, policy aspects of regulating smoking in public places, effects of cigarette marketing on youth smoking behavior, and the evaluation of tobacco control program and policy interventions. Despite these qualifications, anti-smoking trolls have already posted comments on his blog, not to rebut the evidence presented, but to accuse him of being in the back pocket of the tobacco industry. That's a common tactic of fanatics - attack the messenger.

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