Thursday, March 26, 2009

Major National Anti-Smoking Group Supports Bans on Smokers in Certain Public Places and Workplaces

On Tuesday, I reported that Royal Oldham Hospital apparently instituted the first policy of its kind - a ban on smokers (not just smoking) in the maternity waiting room. Dick Puddlecote's blog captured a picture of the sign outside the waiting room, which states: "In the interests of others, smokers are not allowed in this room."

Today, I report that a major national anti-smoking organization - Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) - is actually supporting the idea of banning smokers from certain public locations because of the alleged health threat of thirdhand smoke.

In a press release issued yesterday, ASH states: "SmokERS -- not just smoking -- have been barred in a public area at a major hospital, a restriction likely to spread to other areas of the hospital as well as to other hospitals, says Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a national organization leading the fight to protect nonsmokers from thirdhand tobacco smoke. Public interest law professor John Banzhaf of ASH notes that many steps are being taken to protect nonsmokers from thirdhand tobacco smoke: ... ASH recently forced a major university to stop an employee, who took smoke breaks outside his smoke free office, from working in the same office with a women whose health -- and the health of her unborn child -- were threatened by his thirdhand smoke, according to testimony from two of her doctors. Even in a state with a law which allegedly prohibits discrimination against smokers, a major company prohibits anyone from coming on the premises if they have any detectable odor of tobacco smoke on them. To avoid being barred, smokers likely have to change clothing, shower and shampoo, and use mouthwash."

"Thirdhand tobacco smoke, 'the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers' hair and clothing' [NY TIMES] -- was recently identified in the medical journal Pediatrics as "toxic" and as a cancer risk to nonsmokers of all ages, especially to children of parents who smoke only outside the family home. Indeed, notes Prof. John Banzhaf of ASH, these tobacco smoke residues contain a mix of carcinogens, toxins, and other irritants including highly carcinogenic compounds, heavy metals, hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical weapons), butane (used in lighter fluid), toluene (found in paint thinners), arsenic, lead, and even radioactive Polonium-210 (used to murder a Russian spy). Another study showed that even a smoker's breathe may be harmful to children, and perhaps also to adults. It found that the chemicals in a smoker's breath were sufficient to cause or aggravate respiratory illnesses including asthma, coughs, and colds among children in homes where parents smoked only outside the home as compared with kids in homes where the air was not contaminated by the breath of a smoker."

'"These two studies suggest that society must go beyond merely protecting children from being in the presence of parents and others who smoke in their homes, and think about more effective measures to protect children from parents who smoke anywhere. It also provides a strong scientific basis for agencies which already refuse to permit smokers to adopt children, even if the potential adoptees claim that they only smoke outdoors, and never in the presence of the child,'" says Banzhaf." ...

"Thus, says Banzhaf, adults as well as children should be protected from thirdhand tobacco smoke, and restrictions aimed at smokERS, as well as smoking itself, are likely to increase in the light of these new scientific findings."

The Rest of the Story

In my post reporting the Royal Oldham hospital's policy, I sarcastically offered a series of suggestions for protecting people from thirdhand smoke, such as prohibiting smokers from entering public places or workplaces or from working in child care or educational settings.

In response, Matt (a commenter) wrote: "I understand your article was intended as sarcasm, but there’s also a frightening aspect to it. I have no doubt whatever there’s an anti-smoker nut out there, reading some of your suggestions and exclaiming: “Geez, why didn’t we think of that?”"

It appears that Matt was correct. Presumably after reading my post and finding out about the Royal Oldham policy, ASH read the suggestions, exclaimed "Geez, why didn't we think of that?" and issued its press release calling for the protection of both adults and children from exposure to smokers -- in other words, for a ban on smokers in certain public places.

Most frighteningly, ASH calls for policies that not only protect children from exposure to smoke in the home, but from exposure to parents who smoke anywhere. ASH explicitly calls for policies that ban smokers from adopting children, if if they agree not to smoke in the home or anywhere in the presence of the child.

If we take ASH's suggestions seriously (which we need to), they would call for a ban on smokers working in child care settings or in schools. In order to protect children from "the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers' hair and clothing," society would need to prohibit anyone who smokes from working in a child care center or a school.

Furthermore, we would need to ban anyone exposed to secondhand smoke from working in a child care or educational setting. If you live in a state that allows smoking in restaurants and you often go out to such restaurants to eat, you would have to be prohibited from being a teacher or working in a school in any capacity, lest the smoke that settles on your clothing poisons children in the school.

Disturbingly, ASH distorts the scientific evidence and misreports the findings from the scientific literature to support its radical position. For example, ASH reports that an article in the journal Pediatrics identified thirdhand smoke "as a cancer risk to nonsmokers of all ages, especially to children of parents who smoke only outside the family home." In fact, that article made no such claim. Nowhere in the article does it conclude that thirdhand smoke is a cancer risk to anyone - children or adults.

The scientific evidence does not support a conclusion that even secondhand smoke is a cancer risk to children. There is absolutely no evidence that thirdhand smoke is a cancer risk for exposed children.

It would be bad enough if ASH was merely distorting scientific evidence to try to scare the public about the alleged risks of thirdhand smoke exposure. But to use that distorted and misreported science to support draconian policies that would bar smokers from workplaces and public places, including not allowing them to adopt children or to work in day care centers or in schools, is despicable.

I truly cannot believe how low the anti-smoking movement has sunk. I never could have imagined that we would reach this point, where a major national anti-smoking group is calling on banning smokERS and not just smokING in public places.

When I reported the Royal Oldham story Tuesday, I was wondering whether any anti-smoking groups would join me in condemning the policy. Even then, it never occurred to me that a major anti-smoking group would actually come out and support such a policy and encourage the widespread extension of that policy.

I certainly didn't expect any group to come out and condemn the policy, but the fact that ASH actually believes this is a good thing is absurd.

This would be a really funny story, if not for the fact that it may well result in a system of "smoker apartheid," by which smokers need to be banned from public places because of the unrestrained fanaticism and zeal of an increasingly extremist anti-smoking movement that has completely lost its base in science and in reason.

(Thanks to JustTheFacts for the tip).

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