Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada is encouraging local anti-smoking advocates throughout Canada to deceive the public in order to promote widespread outdoor smoking bans that cover wide-open areas such as parks, streets, parking lots, sidewalks, curbs and retaining walls.
Specifically, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada instructs local advocates to tell the public that: "Even in very small concentrations, second‐hand smoke causes immediate, short‐term and long‐term harm to people exposed to it. ... The long‐term harm can include premature death from cancer or heart disease."
Thus, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada is instructing local advocates to claim that even very small concentrations of secondhand smoke causes heart disease and cancer.
In addition, the physicians group is encouraging anti-smoking advocates to deceive the public about how well outdoor smoking bans are working. Advocates are told to: "Plant stories in the media about non‐smokers politely asking smokers to move to a designated smoking area or outside the smoke‐free area and smokers complying. Create the impression that the bylaw is working...".
Moreover, advocates are encouraged to conduct bogus public opinion polls in order to make it look like there is more support for smoke-free outdoor areas than there really is by driving people to these online, non-scientific polls: "What is important with any online advocacy tool is that you have to drive traffic to the site to get the numbers that you need to influence politicians."
The Rest of the Story
I'm not sure which is more remarkable:
1. The fact that Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada is encouraging anti-smoking advocates to deceive the public in order to get smoke-free outdoor laws passed; or
2. The fact that Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada had the chutzpah to put is advocacy manual online so that the entire world can see that the group is encouraging local advocates to deceive the public in order to get these increasingly aggressive anti-smoking policies enacted.
First, it is not true that "very small" concentrations of secondhand smoke cause heart disease and lung cancer. The evidence that secondhand smoke exposure causes these chronic diseases comes from studies of relatively high levels of chronic exposure to secondhand smoke, such as that experienced working for many years in a workplace with tobacco smoke or living for many years with a smoker. There is no evidence that merely a brief exposure to secondhand smoke, such as might be experienced in a park or on a street, is sufficient to cause heart disease and lung cancer. In fact, the effects brief exposure to secondhand smoke are reversible and one would therefore need to be regularly exposed to secondhand smoke for many years in order to develop heart disease and lung cancer.
Where are the physicians getting their information? From the U.S. Surgeon General, of course, who claimed - incorrectly and without any scientific support - that even brief exposure to secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer.
Second, it is apparent that Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada wants local advocates to "create the impression" that the outdoor smoking ban is working by "planting" stories in the media about single episodes of compliance. There is nothing here about actually conducting an objective evaluation of the law to see whether it is working. Instead, advocates are instructed to tell the public that the law is working, whether it is or not.
Third, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada apparently is content misrepresenting as scientific an online public opinion poll for which the group urges advocates to "drive traffic to the site." Obviously, this isn't a scientific poll at all and should not be misrepresented as such. It certainly doesn't indicate public opinion. Instead, it indicates which side is doing a better job of driving their members to the web site.
I want to emphasize that what Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada is doing here is antithetical to public health and to its ethical principles. We are not supposed to deceive the public by spreading misleading scientific information. We are not supposed to misrepresent as scientific a poll in which supporters have been drive to a web site to try to affect the outcome of the poll. We are not supposed to conduct bogus evaluations of public policies which have a pre-determined conclusion and then create a public impression which may be false.
In fact, objective evaluation of policies is an important part of public health practice. It is our job, and our responsibility, to objectively evaluate policies to determine whether or not they are working. It does no good to pretend that a policy is working if it really isn't. That doesn't provide public health protection to anyone. In fact, it does the opposite. It denies public health protection because it prevents action from being taken that could correct the problem.
While my readers recognize that I am not crazy about policies that ban smoking in wide-open outdoor places like parks, streets, and parking lots, my opinion here is not based on my opposition to such policies. My opinion is based instead on basic ethical principles of public health conduct. I simply do not believe that we should deceive the public to advance our policy aims.
The rest of the story is that Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada is encouraging local anti-smoking advocates to deceive the public in order to promote smoke-free outdoor laws. I suppose that if these laws were well-justified, there wouldn't be the need to encourage advocates to deceive the public. The truth would be enough.