Beach Butt Baloney…
The real reason for public smoking bans
9 JULY 2013
Ronald Bayer, professor at sociomedical sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, has been talking to PBS about an article he’s written entitled Banning Smoking In Parks And On Beaches: Science, Policy, And The Politics Of Denormalization.
I last came across Bayer in 2008 when he wrote a thoughtful article about denormalisation and the regressive nature of sin taxes (Stigma and the ethics of public health: Not can we but should we). He is in the dwindling minority of ‘public health professionals’ who actually studies aspects of public health(specifically AIDS), rather than lifestyle factors connected with non-communicable diseases. Even more unusually, he has some understanding of ethics.
In his PBS interview, he discusses the kind of junk science that I often mention on this blog. He will no doubt find himself being crossed off a lot of Christmas card lists when the anti-smoking lobby reads it.?????
I noticed when my students of public health talked about illicit drugs like heroin or cocaine or marijuana, they adopted a libertarian point of view — emphasizing how the government has no business intruding on people’s choices and all those negative consequences. But when I raised the issue of tobacco, they all became in a way, authoritarian. “We have to limit smoking, we have to limit where people smoke, we have to protect people from themselves, we have to protect their children.” I was struck by the difference.
It is strange, isn’t it? I have a few theories for why this inconsistency/hypocrisy exists. It may be because these students have seen the damage wrought by the war on drugs but have not yet seen the damage that tobacco prohibition will bring. It may be that students like the idea of radical change and therefore find the idea of switching the legal status of these products on their head appealing. It may be that they have been so bombarded by anti-smoking messages from the day they were born that they think tobacco smoke is more dangerous that mustard gas. Or perhaps the Mickey Mouse field of public health attracts zealots and moral imbeciles. At least Peter Hitchens is consistent in wanting the whole lot banned, just as I am consistent in wanting the whole lot sold on the free market.
Bayer then discusses the current wave of draconian smoking bans that are sweeping into American from the Bay Area, including those in private homes, in parks and on beaches.
I discovered the evidence was really weak. The evidence of harm to non-smokers on the beach or in a park from someone smoking is virtually non-existent. The evidence that fish and birds are dying because of cigarette butts is virtually non-existent. And even the evidence that seeing someone in a park or beach will encourage kids to smoke is extremely weak.
So I said to myself, what’s going on here? What’s the public health impulse that’s involved that leads to these bans if the evidence is so weak? Because everyone in public health believes that what we do should be evidence-based.
It’s quite simple, Ronald. They’re charlatans who will stop at nothing. Their ‘evidence’ is manufactured to order.
As I thought about it, it became very clear that what was involved wasn’t that we were trying to protect non-smokers from sidestream smoke on parks and beaches. We weren’t really concerned about birds and fish. There wasn’t really evidence that we were going to protect kids by disallowing smoking in parks and beaches.
What was involved was that we really wanted to make it less and less possible for people to smoke…
Well, yeah. You don’t need to be Miss Marple to work that out.
The question now is, how come public health officials can’t come out straight and say the reason we’re banning smoking on parks and beaches is we want to protect smokers? We want to get them to give it up, we want them to smoke less and we want to make it more difficult for people to begin smoking.
The answer, of course, is that civilised societies do not allow one group to inflict their preferences on another group merely because they think it would be ‘for their own good’.
I think it’s because public health officials don’t want to be tarred with the brush of the “nanny state,” of “Big Brother.”
That’s a large part of it, of course. More precisely, they don’t want to be exposed as the authoritarian busybodies that they are. They could be honest about it and say “we don’t like what you’re doing so we’re going to make your life as difficult as we can until you stop”, but that would give the game away. They would have to admit to the world—and, more painfully, to themselves—that they are not ‘liberals’. Their only alternative is to concoct the kind of ridiculous ‘evidence’ which people such asMichael Siegel have spent years debunking.
My concern is that when public health officials make claims that can’t be backed by the evidence, they run the risk of people saying, “We can’t trust you.” I understand it is probably more effective to say the reason we’re banning smoking in parks and beaches is that we’re protecting you from sidestream smoke, or your kids from looking at something very bad for them or that we’re protecting wildlife. That might be more effective way in the short run of getting these statutes or regulations passed and put into place.
But in the long run, I think, that if people begin to feel that they’re being toyed with, that the evidence is not being presented in a straightforward way, it’s going to backfire.
I wholeheartedly agree. This is why the rest of the scientific community should stop turning a blind eye to the junk science that is done in the name of tobacco control (and, increasingly, in the name of alcohol and obesity control) before the public health racket drags the reputation of all science into the gutter. You can’t fool all the people all the time. What good has ever come from people deciding that it’s acceptable to lie to achieve their aims?
By Sarah Clune
Beach Butt Baloney
Any local beach/park ban push will almost certainly include a made-up quote from some young distraught mother (who usually just happens to be active in the antismoking group) about how she found her two year old picking up old cigarette butts and putting them in his or her mouth.??? One particularly colorful story involved a four year old whose cheeks looked like chipmunk cheeks because she had supposedly stuffed them so full of old cigarette butts dug up from the sand while mommsy had turned her head “for a moment” at the beach.? Children being “poisoned” by deadly cigarette butts at beaches and in playground sandboxes evokes a powerful emotional response in support of smoking bans and that’s exactly what the Antismokers are counting on… as usual.
What’s the reality though?? Well, a quick check of national poison control center figures, along with an examination of a CDC WMMR report on the subject shows that not only are no kids dying out there from such “tobacco product ingestions” but that additionally, 98% of such happenings occur *AT HOME* … not at the beach, not at the park, not in the schoolyard or on the sidewalk or on top of Mrs. Widdicrumb’s Hen House… but at? home.
Children are at FAR greater risk of drowning while at the beach or dying from playground falls at the park or contracting serious infections from broken glass in either location than of being “poisoned” by picking and eating up old cigarette butts.? The disgusting antismoking fantasy plays well on the media, but that’s pretty much all that it is:? a disgusting fantasy meant to use and abuse our love for our children.
But what about the other concern?? The environment?? Antismokers love to trot out a “science experiment” showing that little water fleas (a life form known to be very sensitive to any sort of pollution in its environment) can be poisoned by as little as one-tenth of a cigarette butt in a liter of water.? The antismoking advocates follow up that piece of information with the stunning announcement that over five TRILLION cigarette butts are discarded each year and can wind up in our water supply.
There are several tricks being played here.? One is simply the assumption that virtually every cigarette smoked by every human being on the planet gets thrown into our water.? Obviously that’s not true.? But even if it WERE true… would it be the global pollution threat to life that is painted by that little water flea experiment?
To figure that out you need to know how many liters of water there are out there getting filled with cigarette butts and poisoning innocent you water fleas in the prime of water flea life.?? A little research through encyclopedias or Google will soon give you an answer, or you can just take the figure from and accept it at 1,260,000,000,000,000,000,000 liters? (about 1.3 sextillion liters of water … golly but I love it when things get into the sextillions….)
So how long would it take smokers,? even if they dumped EVERY ONE of their 5 trillion butts a year right into the water and even if we completely? suspended the normal laws of physics, chemistry, and biology so that they never biodegraded, how long then would it take to reach a poisonous level for those poor little water fleas?
Simple: Just do the division:? 1,260,000,000,000,000,000,000 liters / 5,000,000,000, 000 butts
Without getting into scientific notation, let’s just cancel the zeros on either side and we’re left with 1,260,000,000 / 5 which tells us it? would take those nasty old smokers roughly 252,000,000 years to bring us to the nightmare scenario of the water fleas dying.? But…. Wait a minute… the Antismokers claim it will only take one TENTH of a butt per liter to cause catastrophe, so it looks like doomsday is only 25,000,000 years away.?? Hmmm… ok…? According to Darwin ‘n his buddies, Homo Sapiens has been dancing around on planet Earth for about 250,000 years.? So basically we’d have to smoke and dump butts for a hundred times as long as all humanity has existed.? Whew!
I don’t know about you, but passing laws based upon suspending all natural laws and then traveling 25 million years into the future to see the result is a bit beyond my capacity.
So what have we seen?? We’ve seen that both of the main scientifically emotive arguments used by Antismokers to justify smoking bans? outdoors have little to no value.? Without them the Antismokers are left with such weak ideas as “We don’t want children to see people smoking,”? (Which could be greatly achieved by eliminating mandated indoor smoking bans so that smokers would be relaxing comfortably inside in ventilated lounges and bars rather than standing out on the sidewalk to wave at all the schoolkids.) or “I might be harmed by breathing wisps of smoke blowing around outdoors.” (Which, if you actually do the numbers game with full acceptance of the Antismokers’ EPA type claims would result in roughly one extra lung cancer for every 320 million people-years of dedicated smoky beach-going – winter AND summer!)
In brief: there is no good argument for these bans outside of social engineering.? They’re just an activation of NY Mayor Bloomberg’s statement of dedication “to making smoking as difficult and expensive as possible.”? In other words, to give the smokers little “electric shock” equivalents every time they smoke so that they’ll act like good little rats and change their behavior.
People are not rats.? People should not be treated like rats.? And the people who design policies that treat people like rats are little better than rats themselves.
Michael J. McFadden
Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”