Healthy Living through Coercion
Byline: Gene Healy, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
On Dec. 3, in a contentious public hearing, the D.C. City Council heard testimony for and against the Smokefree Workplaces Act of 2003, a bill that would ban smoking in all District bars and restaurants. With the District reclaiming its title as murder capital of the United States, one might think the city council would have more pressing issues to deal with, such as secondhand lead poisoning in the form of stray bullets.
But supporters of the ban argue secondhand smoke is a life or death public health issue. In fact, Smokefree D.C., the activist group backing the ban, claims environmental tobacco smoke kills up to 65,000 Americans a year - more than 3 times the national murder rate. But they're fudging the facts. Their real goal is to socially engineer smoking out of existence.
The epidemiological evidence doesn't come close to justifying the outlandish claim secondhand smoke kills more people than handguns. Since "the dose makes the poison," it's far from clear that passive inhalation of secondhand smoke poses any significantly increased health risk at all. The Environmental Protection Agency's attempt to show it does was thrown out of court as junk science by a federal district court judge in 1998. A study released last May in the British Medical Journal used American Cancer Society data tracking 35,561 Californians over 39 years, and concluded, "The results do not support a causal relation between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco-related mortality."
Secondhand smoke is, at worst, a minuscule health risk that is easily avoided. There are plenty of employment opportunities for service industry workers who prefer not to be exposed to ETS. Smokefree DC's Web page features a list of 261 restaurants, bars and coffee shops in the D.C. area that have voluntarily decided to go smoke-free. If exposure to secondhand smoke is an intolerable health risk that workers cannot be allowed to assume, then why in the world do we allow people to take jobs delivering pizzas or working as bike messengers, where they might be killed on any given day?
The push for a D.C. smoking ban isn't really about protecting workers. Antismoking activists make unsupportable claims about the health risks of ETS to advance their real goal: reducing the number of cigarette smokers by reducing the number of places in which one can legally smoke. …