Wednesday, February 22, 2006

No Holes Barred: Anti-Smoking Group Admits Intent to Promote Regulation of Smoking in the Home

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) - a D.C.-based anti-smoking group - admitted yesterday that it has every intention of pursuing smoking bans not only in indoor workplaces and everywhere outdoors, but in private homes as well.

In boasting how the organization helped Newsweek re-write a story about smoking bans to emphasize that the trend is not only with respect to workplaces, but also with respect to the outdoors and private homes, ASH stated:

"the Virginia bill was only part of a developing trend -- one to restrict or even ban smoking more broadly, including both outdoors and in private homes. As the article now reports: "Some cities are even addressing outdoor smoking. Lawmakers in Calabasas, Calif., last week banned it on streets and sidewalks and in parking lots and restaurant patios. Instead, smokers will use small 'smokers' outposts.' In 18 states, smoking can be raised in child-custody disputes. 'Here we are literally reaching into the last frontier - —right into the home,' says [the] executive director of the antismoking group Action on Smoking and Health. No longer can you argue, 'My home is my castle. I've got the right to smoke'."

The Rest of the Story

I don't think ASH has done any favors to the effort to protect people from secondhand smoke by helping Newsweek re-write its story to emphasize that smokefree efforts are aimed not only at evidence-based efforts to protect workers from the hazards of secondhand smoke, but also at completely non-evidence-based fanaticism.

I don't think that gives smokefree advocates a good name; it hurts our reputation and seriously threatens our credibility. It also makes it clear (incorrectly I hope) that smokefree advocates have absolutely no regard for individual privacy. It casts us as back-door prohibitionists who are too timid to actually propose eliminating the production and sale of tobacco products, but who are trying to prohibit its use anyway by basically banning its use anywhere.

The sanctity and privacy of the home and of the great outdoors was previously what allowed advocates like me to make it clear to people that I knew where to draw the line and that this smokefree movement was not simply a fanatical effort to achieve a de facto prohibition of tobacco use. By emphasizing that we had no intention of regulating smoking in private homes or in all outdoor places, we retained credibility as being advocates who were promoting science-based policy and who had some respect for privacy and individual autonomy.

But ASH has now publicly destroyed that by giving the public the impression that the ultimate aim of the smokefree movement is to try to ban smoking everywhere, even in private homes.

By boasting that smokefree advocates are trying to reach "right into the home," ASH has, I believe, taken an action that is going to contribute towards destroying the credibility of even legitimate efforts to provide workers with a safe, smoke-free workplace.

ASH needs to be checked, and quickly, before it succeeds in completely destroying the credibility of smokefree efforts. And the only way to do that is for smokefree organizations to speak out and make it clear that ASH does not speak for them. They must make it clear that this is a science-based movement and that it is a movement that does respect the privacy of the home.

Unfortunately, my experience makes it clear that tobacco control organizations are unwilling to criticize any anti-smoking group, regardless of how improper is the action they are taking. I doubt any group will say anything. That's unfortunate, because it is going to hurt the smokefree movement, including the work of those organizations that have not crossed the line into outright fanaticism.

No comments: