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HOW HE SEES IT Fudging science to make a point

Monday, February 21, 2005

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised at my reception at a recent Lakewood, Ohio, hearing on banning smoking in restaurants and bars. Such events tend to bring out the penny-ante dictators. After all, when customers can readily find smoke-free facilities and nobody's forced to take a job, such bans are inherently authoritarian. But these people made Mussolini look like freedom's friend.
The nine-member commission appointed to advise the city council on the ban originally arranged to have six witnesses testify. Three for and three against, right? Try six for and zero against. Then they relented and deigned to allow one witness on the other side -- until they discovered it was me.
Specifically, those behind the national jihad against so-called "passive smoking" insisted I must not speak. One e-mail labeled me a "shock jock" -- an interesting metaphor considering I've never even guest-hosted a radio show. (Note to broadcast producers: Not that I have anything against it. Ahem!)
Hours before my flight I got the word that the panel had, under the threat of civil disobedience from the Small Business Coalition of Cleveland, again relented. That is, so long as I went last after the media and bored audience members would be gone. My time was also cut by a third at the last minute, but I rather saw that coming.
So did I shock them? I hope so. Somehow the multitude of studies I discussed had been "overlooked" by the throng of witnesses before me.
I informed the panel that the study that began the crusade, published in 1993 by the Environmental Protection Agency, had actually found no statistically significant link to lung cancer, requiring them to use a new standard for significance to get the "proper" results.
At that, the EPA also found a mere 17 percent increased risk. Yet the National Cancer Institute has said that even a 100 percent increase is "considered small" and is "usually difficult to interpret."
I noted that the other "authoritative" study linking passive smoke to lung cancer, commissioned by the World Health Organization, actually showed a statistically significant reduced risk for children of smokers and no increase for spouses and co-workers of smokers.
And I told them that the largest of the passive smoking studies (35,000 participants) and longest (39 years) found no "causal relationship between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (passive smoking) and tobacco-related mortality."
I was going to say that smoke-ban crusaders had attempted to link virtually every disease known to passive smoking "with the possible exception of herpes, hangnails, and hemorrhoids." But lo! One of the previous witnesses was a pediatrician who claimed passive smoke did cause herpes.
Fancy that, a virus spread by smoke. It's impossible to satirize these zealots, nor to exaggerate their arrogance.
"Passive smoking" is not a scientific term but a propaganda one. A 1975 New England Journal of Medicine study found that even back then, when having smoke obnoxiously puffed into your face was ubiquitous in restaurants and bars, the concentration was equal to merely 4/1000s of a cigarette per hour.
And while obviously you can inhale smoke from others' cigarettes, we also know "the dose makes the poison." Thus we are constantly bombarded by such human carcinogens as ultraviolet radiation and estrogens but in such small amounts the body's defense systems ward them off. We weren't built to defend against several cigarette packs daily.
None of which matters to the activists, to whom any means justifies the end. Having made all the progress they can with "Your smoking will kill you," they changed tack to "Your smoking will kill others." Or at least give them herpes.
Former Surgeon General David Satcher essentially admitted as much at a Washington, D.C., hearing when he said a ban on workplace smoking would "be effective in creating a new social norm that discourages people from smoking."
Smoking -- real smoking -- is both vile and deadly. I fully sympathize with those who want to see it go the way of the mastodon. But they lose me when they slip on the jackboots and fudge the science.
So now you know why there was so much fuss and feathers over my impending testimony. It wasn't the Fumento they were afraid of; it was the facts.
X Michael Fumento is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute.