In an opinion piece published in The Australian on Tuesday, Dr. Simon Chapman, a prominent tobacco control researcher and practitioner who is a professor in the University of Sydney School of Public Health and editor of the journal Tobacco Control writes that the anti-smoking movement is going too far in its recent push for widespread outdoor smoking bans as well as policies that deny employment to smokers.
Dr. Chapman suggests that in promoting these extreme policies, which aim to prevent nonsmokers from breathing in even a whiff of tobacco smoke or coercing smokers into quitting in order to obtain employment, the tobacco control movement is losing its scientific base and crossing the line into moralizing and unenlightened paternalism.
Dr. Chapman points out that there is no scientific basis for regulating all exposure to secondhand smoke outdoors because there is no evidence that merely a brief exposure represents a health threat to all but those exquisitely sensitive:
"Some experimental work has shown that even brief, acute exposure to second-hand smoke can cause measurable physiological changes in those exposed. This evidence has been important in demonstrating the basis on which cumulative exposure is pathogenic. But the evidence of acute exposure being harmful to all but the most exquisitely sensitive is poor."
The piece goes on to suggest that tobacco control is in danger of harming its own integrity and credibility by disrespecting the science and pursuing an agenda that is removed from the science base:
"The evidence base for public health policy must be vigilantly respected and the arguments for tobacco control never allowed to haemorrhage into the moralism that characterised tobacco control of previous centuries. For enthusiasts of untethered paternalism that abandons respect for smokers' choice to harm themselves, their hubris awaits its inevitable fate."
The Rest of the Story
Congratulations to Dr. Chapman for having the courage and integrity to tell it like it is and call the movement on its procession past the bounds of science-based public health practice and into a moralistic and paternalistic crusade against smokers.
It can't be said that I'm the only one within the movement who is disturbed by the recent trends in which anti-smoking groups are supporting widespread outdoor smoking bans (such as that in Calabasas and that proposed in Belmont) and policies that preclude smokers from seeking or maintaining employment.
However, I am still not aware of more than a single U.S. anti-smoking group that has publicly stated its opposition to these policies and criticized the movement for going too far. My sense is that the McCarthyism-like element in the tobacco control movement is stronger in the U.S. than it is elsewhere, perhaps because the movement has been around longer and has had more of a chance to devolve into a science-devoid crusade.
After all, you really can't say anything unfavorable to the anti-smoking cause in this country without becoming the victim of a witch hunt - strung up and hung up to dry.
Look at what happened to Dr. Enstrom for publishing the results of an epidemiologic analysis which reported that there was no significant link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer. Look at how I was attacked on this blog itself simply for opining that car smoking bans are not justified because they represent an unwarranted intrusion into parental privacy and autonomy and distract attention from the real and most important cause of childhood illness due to secondhand smoke exposure. It was only a few days ago that one of my readers suggested that it may be that I receive tobacco industry funding to express such opinions.
While both Dr. Chapman and I may be heavily criticized for taking this position, we are actually standing up to try to strengthen and improve, not weaken the tobacco control movement. Our fear is that because the evidence base for tobacco control is no longer being respected and the arguments have 'hemorrhaged' into moralism and 'untethered paternalism,' the movement may face an unfortunate and inevitable fate.
We're trying to save the movement from this, not harm it. In our view, it is the groups which are pushing for these extreme policies that are the threat to the movement, not those who are willing to speak out for what they believe.