Dr. Michael Siegel is a physician and professor at Boston University who has devoted more than 20 years to research and study of the effects of smoking. He posts comments on tobacco policy on his blog "The Rest of the Story" at TobaccoAnalysis.blogspot.com.
A particularly relevant post was pointed out to me from August 13, 2008, in which Siegal comments on the Bernard Parks motion to ban smoking almost everywhere in Los Angeles. This is an excerpt from a much longer post, but it’s worth reading carefully:
The ordinance would ban smoking in every outdoors location where people "reasonably congregate." Essentially, this means that there would be no outdoors smoking anywhere, with the exception of some dark deserted alleys. If enacted, this would be the most restrictive smoking ban in the nation.
The Rest of the Story
I now understand why anti-smoking advocates and groups are distorting the truth. Because they are promoting such extreme proposals that go far beyond the documented scientific evidence that they need to create their own facts in order to justify these proposals.
You can't credibly argue that smoking needs to be banned everywhere outdoors to protect the health of nonsmokers using the actual truth about the severity of health risk from secondhand smoke exposure. There simply is no evidence that a few wisps of secondhand smoke, as one might encounter from someone smoking on a sidewalk or in a street, parking lot, or park puts people's health at risk and represents a significant public health problem.
The only way to advance these policies, then, is to artificially build up the severity of the harms of secondhand smoke so that you can convince people that any exposure - even a few wisps of smoke - is a severe health hazard.
This, I now realize, is the impetus behind the widespread fallacious claims that are being made by over 100 anti-smoking groups about the cardiovascular effects of brief secondhand smoke exposure.
I no longer believe that this distortion of the science, which goes right up to the level of the Surgeon General (who claimed that brief secondhand smoke exposure was sufficient to cause heart disease and lung cancer), represents a simple, innocent mistake.
It is now clear that this is part of a new agenda (one that I never thought was part of the movement) to extend smoking bans beyond workplaces, restaurants, bars, and other places where there is substantial exposure. The movement is now to virtually ban all smoking outside of the home, so that no nonsmoker ever has to even see a smoker in public.
There simply is no credible alternative explanation for claims - like this one - which are so absurd that they are patently false on their face. You need only think about it for about 3 seconds before you realize that secondhand smoke exposure cannot possibly be more harmful than active smoking.
The epidemiologic evidence obviously does not support such a conclusion. The relative risk of lung cancer associated with chronic active smoking is about 17. The relative risk for lung cancer associated with chronic secondhand smoke exposure is about 1.3. That's a 13-fold difference. It is intuitively clear that smoking is worse than breathing in secondhand smoke. This isn't an example of stretching or exaggerating the facts - it's an example of creating (i.e., fabricating) them.
I should point out that if you take this message seriously, then a rational nonsmoker might actually start smoking. After all, according to the message, it's better to smoke yourself than to be exposed to secondhand smoke. The message truly undermines the severe health effects of active smoking because it states that active smoking is less harmful than secondhand smoke exposure. Thus, the statement is not only fallacious, but it is a dangerous one which undermines years of education of the public about the severe harms of active smoking.
While the main reason why I object to the fabrication of the science is that I view it as unethical, I wish to point out that I also think it undermines our cause of protecting nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. It gives the public the impression (rightly so, apparently) that our goal is not just to save lives and prevent serious medical conditions but instead, that our goal is simply to protect nonsmokers from ever having to breathe in a wisp of secondhand smoke or see a smoker. It makes it appear that we are trying to prohibit smoking through the back door and that de facto prohibition is our real agenda, rather than a legitimate public health interest in protecting nonsmokers from a severe health threat.
To use a half-marathon analogy, I feel like I have been running a half-marathon and I get to the finish line and stop, but everyone else keeps running. I thought the goal was to provide a safe working environment for all employees and to protect nonsmokers from a substantial health hazard in certain outdoors locations where they cannot easily avoid tobacco smoke exposure. Instead, the movement just keeps on going, trying to ban smoking in every possible outdoors location and even starting to infringe upon the private home.
I feel all alone at the finish line, wondering where everyone has gone.
The rest of the story is that I have come to the conclusion that the distortion of the science by anti-smoking groups is not merely an innocent mistake or an uninformed interpretation of scientific evidence. It is, instead, a deliberate attempt to promote an extremist agenda by fabricating scientific evidence that will support an agenda that is simply not supported by the scientific truth.
The entire post goes on for a while, but it’s worth reviewing as it rips the cover off of the anti-tobacco movement now at work in Los Angeles.