When we first started CAGE, we warned that indoor smoking bans on private property (including privately-owned bars, restaurants and cafes) were 1) Based on extremely exaggerated claims regarding the dangers of second-hand smoke; 2) A violation of private property rights and a violation of the principle that individuals’ are free to choose what kind of venues they want to own, work in and patronize; and 3) Actually part of a worrisome government and special interest group strategy of harassing people who smoke rather than protecting the non-smoking public.
The real evidence that this is not about protecting non-smokers, but rather about harassing people until they conform, can be found in the increasing number of outdoor smoking bans now being advocated and even enacted in some places. In California, for example, the town of Calabasas enacted such a draconian ban that if a smoker is walking down the street, he or she can smoke as long as there is no one within 20 feet. But if someone suddenly enters that 20 foot zone, he or she must immediately extinguish the cigarette, unless that person is also smoking, or unless they quickly ask that person for permission and permission is granted. This ban was justified with statements such as ‘’it is to protect the public from smoking and tobacco-related litter and pollution’’, ‘’to affirm and promote the family-friendly atmosphere of the City’s public places.’’ All the while, the ‘’Commons’’ shopping center where large crowds congregate are exempted from this ban (the city does not want to discourage shopping…).
There seems to be no end to this kind of pettiness that over-paid activists appear willing to engage in. For example, in the town of Bridgewater , Nova Scotia , councilors who are in favor of a total outdoor ban justify it with statements such as: “secondhand smoke is a danger not just indoors, but also at places such as parks, sidewalks, and roads, even while in a car.” Kevin Marlin, the councilor who proposed the bylaw, states that "secondhand smoke, if it's in a public place, will be on the sidewalk in most cases. People are walking right through that." In an effort to eliminate smoking from movies, the Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails reports that 340 young people die from smoking per day. This is patently absurd, since according to the CDC, there are NO deaths attributable to smoking among persons under age 35, let alone 340 per day!
The outright lies and absurd claims also make us worry about the fate of science in the public interest: it really requires a complete suspension of disbelief to accept claims of some scientists like Georg Matt, a professor at San Diego State University, who suggests that ‘’ babies may take in nicotine and other chemicals just by hugging their mothers — even if their mothers never light up next to them’’. The absurdity of such claims might seem comical, yet some judges are now awarding custody of children based on which spouse smokes. People’s lives are being ruined on false pretenses.
This kind of nanny-statism is paid for with our tax dollars, it distracts us from more appropriate issues that governments need to address, and it should worry all of us. We should also have no doubt that a very slippery slope exists. Tobacco control has already set a number of precedents now being applied to the “obesity epidemic”, “alcohol control”, and other issues. A perusal of this website’s sections for the other issues CAGE is concerned about, particularly alcohol and obesity, will make this crystal clear.
We at CAGE would like society to go back to a system that was working quite well when it comes to reducing tobacco use: Warning people of the true non-hyped health risks of tobacco use, and helping those who want to quit do so. Since we began this approach in the 1970s, tobacco use has steadily declined. Thanks to the natural influences of a free market, many restaurants, cafes and bars were already either non-smoking or extremely well ventilated. In other words, if allowed to continue functioning normally, the free market would have left just the right amount of smoking and non-smoking venues, without pushing people out of business, using up tax dollars for public demonization and scare campaigns, or forcing smokers (including people like the war veterans of Canada ’s Legion Halls) out into the cold.
Society took a wrong turn in the 1990s, when many of the more radical health activists, taking directions from the World Health Organization and partnering with the pharmaceutical industry, decided that the “carrot” of educating people honestly wasn’t yielding the results they wanted. So they decided we needed the “stick” of government coercion, of harassing people until they conform. There’s simply no other way to describe outdoor smoking bans in places like automobile-plagued California . The hypocrisy stuns us. The new “health professionals” somehow never produce any studies showing that second-hand smoke isn’t dangerous, that bans hurt businesses, that smoking in movies isn’t why teens start smoking, or that a safe-level of exposure to tobacco smoke can conceivably exist, and yet media pretends that they are objective experts on the issue. Most of society still accepts everyone who works in tobacco control as credible, and governments still throw as much public money their way as they can catch.
For those people interested in the exaggerated danger-to-health claims, a great many more able and credible scientists than ourselves have pointed this out, and we would refer you to the following sources: Environmental tobacco smoke revisited: the reliability of the data used for risk assessment , Defending Legitimate Epidemiologic Research: Combating Lysenko Pseudoscience. , Lung cancer due to passive smoking--a review , Toxic Toxicology: Placing Scientific Credibility at Risk , Revisiting the Association between Environmental Tobacco Smoke Exposure and Lung Cancer Risk , The Bogus 'Science' of Secondhand Smoke , CRS Report for Congress Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Lung Cancer Risk , Lifetime Cumulative Exposure to Secondhand Smoke and Risk of Myocardial Infarction in Never Smokers , Warning: Anti-tobacco activism may be hazardous to epidemiologic science , Secondhand smoke and statistical analysis , Secondhand data on secondhand smoke (There's no way we have the peoplepower to monitor all these sites all the time, however, so we don't necessarily endorse every single statement in every one of these sources; nonetheless, collectively these sites provide a corrective “rest of the story”).
We should add that despite the hundreds, if not thousands of studies on second hand smoke (SHS), none of these studies found a risk ratio of 3.0 or above (a common threshold for establishing a significant correlation – for example, studies have established a risk ratio of 1.5 for chlorinated water and 2.5 for whole-milk, compared to 1.19 for SHS ). They failed to come up with significant risk ratios even using the common focus group of long-time spouses of smokers (rather than people exposed more casually). So when anti-smoking activists then claim that “thousands of studies have found a link between second-hand smoke and various ailments,” they fail to mention that none of these studies were statistically significant. In our minds, the continuing inability of these people to produce a statistically significant study makes it more clear that there is no significant risk from second-hand smoke (which smokers are exposed to all the time, in addition to primary smoke, yet smokers themselves may only develop health problems after 30-40 years). If SHS were a real, significant threat to health (similar to asbestos, or similar to anything that meets the scientific community’s usual standards of 3.0 risk ratios and 95% confidence intervals), we wouldn’t oppose bans at all. In this case, the more statistically insignificant studies the health activists produce, the more certain we are that SHS is not a health risk... And when some activists insist that “the evidence about the danger of SHS is indisputable,” then we really know they’re lying – epidemiology doesn’t work that way.
The business of disease prevention and health intervention is also a livelihood for the pharmaceutical industry, lobbyists and government employees alike. No health crisis means accepting that we are living longer, healthier lives than we have ever lived before. This is difficult for these people to accept if it means there is little left for them to do. This is also why the smoking ban will not be the last crusade in which these militants engage.
Harassing smokers also forms a relatively easy political agenda. While issues such as air pollution, banning cars from the downtown or enforcing low fuel emission standards might be more pressing, they were until very recently much more difficult to present to the public. Instead, banning smoking became a milestone in the battle to "keep up with the Joneses" on an international scale.
We at CAGE cannot accept such self-righteous government legislators with no respect for individual freedoms. Whatever one might think about smoking or other lifestyle choices, individual rights must come first. To borrow from a related question, free speech means supporting someone’s right to say something “unpopular” – otherwise the concept is meaningless. The whole fundamental basis of western civilization – individual rights – must likewise mean supporting people’s right to make life choices that might seem “stupid’’ to others, without being harassed by government. Otherwise it’s all meaningless.
A few people tried to vilify C.A.G.E. for speaking out on this issue. Too thick or unwilling to recognize a perspective coming from consistent, classic individual rights liberalism, they accused C.A.G.E. of being a front for tobacco companies, and then when confronted with the fact that they had zero evidence of such, the accusation became "acting like a front group" [http://www.nsra-adnf.ca/cms/index.cfm?group_id=1222] -- The "attack the person not the argument" approach mastered by many in the tobacco control industry. As if just because tobacco companies deployed the individual rights argument, the argument isn't valid or permitted to others. This is like saying, "Oh, you want to help the poor! Communists justified all the evil things they did in the name of helping the poor, so you must be a communist." So let's be clear -- 1) we are not funded by tobacco companies; 2) we're all unpaid volunteers -- civil society at its best; 3) we think the previous non-coercive approach to tobacco reduction was steadily achieving results; and 4) we don't care who else pointed out the slippery slope of coercive tobacco control -- it exists, both inside the tobacco control movement and across to other health issues. That's how we went from exaggerating the risks of SHS in a smoky bar to judges taking away child custody from the smoking parent in a divorce case, and then new studies suggesting that now obesity is somehow contagious. We think that's enough to be very concerned about, however you feel about whatever unhealthy lifestyle choice.