Unlike the “debate” over anthropogenic global warming, the “debate” over the alleged health risks of secondhand smoke (environmental tobacco smoke, or ETS) is apparently over, not because the advocates of smoking bans have proven their assertions, but because: first, the advocates wish their allegations to be true; and, second, government force is backing up those assertions, thus giving them an aura of legitimacy in the name of “public health.”
At least, in public, the debate is “over,” but there is a kind of samizdat that runs counter to the prevailing, “official” opinion on the subject. Those arguments rarely surface in the mainstream press, but they do surface, chiefly on the Internet (whose regulation, not surprisingly, Congress is also contemplating).
In an Op-Ed distributed by the Ayn Rand Institute, “Doing Violence to Free Speech” (November 30th), Don Watkins, writing about the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to regulate “excessive violence” on television, noted:
“What made this trend toward increasing censorship possible – and inevitable? When the FCC assumed power to subordinate free speech to the ‘public interest,’ it declared, in effect, that individuals are incompetent to judge what speech they and their children should be exposed to, and so their judgment must be usurped by all-wise FCC bureaucrats, who will control the airwaves in their name. Given this disgraceful principle, it did not matter that the FCC’s initial restrictions were supposedly limited to speech concerning sex: if the government knows what’s best for us in the realm of sexual speech and can dictate what we watch or listen to, then there is no reason why it should not control what ideas we should be exposed to across the board.”
To be “declared incompetent” in any form of judgment or action, of course, means, in effect, having to be supervised, controlled, herded with numerous other mental incompetents, and chained to a warden’s dictates of what is best for one. It means that a bureaucrat or some other government functionary will do one’s thinking for one. To dare think and judge independently is to risk being punished and spending a month, a year or perhaps a lifetime in the “cooler,” to borrow a term from The Great Escape.
Censorship also includes the censorship of advertising, especially advertising cigarettes and smoking, the subject of this commentary. Watkins writes that in 1927, “just as radios were becoming widely used, the government seized control of the airwaves, declared them ‘public property,’ and assumed the power to regulate them in the name of the ‘public interest’ – an undefinable term that can be stretched to mean anything. Thus broadcasters’ right to free speech was cut off at the root….”
In 1927, Philo T. Farnsworth, an American pioneer in television technology (he ultimately held 165 television-related patents), successfully broadcast a signal that featured the dollar sign, which heralded the philosophy that television was to be a commercially, for-profit enterprise, not a “public service.”
It was Farnsworth’s dollar sign that was cut off at the root in the beginning.
It is not only broadcasters who face incremental censorship, but others who offer values, including advertisers.
This philosophy was in fundamental conflict with that being advocated by champions of the “public interest,” such as Herbert Hoover, who, as Secretary of Commerce in 1922, at the Radio Conference in Washington, stated that it was “inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service and for news and for entertainment and education to be drowned in advertising chatter.” The concept of service in both radio and television over the decades since then trumped the commercial ends of broadcasting. Service is incompatible with self-interest – or the dollar sign – which the regulators wished then and still wish to limit and ultimately eradicate.
We are seeing the consequences of allowing the altruist idea of service to remain a moral imperative, which is gradually suborning the general idea of free speech. In the view of the regulators, however, all else is superfluous “chatter,” including the practice of free speech.
The censors wish to banish the dollar sign from not only the airwaves, but from the Internet, cable and satellite transmission, as well, if they can persuade or pressure Congress to do their bidding in the name of the “public interest.”
In 1971, cigarette advertising was banned from television and radio, thus violating not only the tobacco companies’ freedom of speech, but also the right of the broadcasters to accept paid sponsorship or advertising from tobacco companies. Years later, tobacco ads were banned from billboards, violating again the tobacco companies’ diminishing freedom of speech, and the rights of the billboard companies. As for the print media, only a few periodicals are left that dare accept advertising from tobacco companies, and these ads must carry the mandated health warnings dictated by the government, as well as on tobacco companies’ marketing materials, in a form of inverse self-censorship. Incrementally, and inevitably, only the government is retaining freedom of speech.
The health risks of smoking, aside from the issue of ETS, is itself open to debate. No valid, scientific, medical conclusion has been reached. The deleterious effects of smoking all depend on any individual’s physical condition, or his susceptibility to any harmful consequences. There are sundry stories of men and women who smoked a pack a day or more and lived passed the age of 100, longer than many health-conscious individuals obsessed with exercise (and many of the latter, such as joggers, Lance Armstrong wannabe cyclists, and frequenters of gyms, develop serious medical disabilities later in their lives, as a result).
I particularly recall seeing a gallery of daguerreotypes of Revolutionary War veterans, taken in the 1840’s, every one of whom smoked, drank, and certainly ate food that was more risk-laden than any of the food purportedly saturated with ingredients deemed “dangerous” or “unhealthy” by the government, which regularly warns and scolds Americans about them today. Every one of those men was in his 90’s or 100’s when his image was recorded.
What can account for the longevity of individuals who indulge in such a heretofore-unregulated “life style” as smoking? The medical science jury is still out on that question, but the nanny-state regulators and advocates are driven by their statist premises that action must be taken. The jury is not likely to return a rational, objectively arrived at verdict for as long as science and medicine are influenced or even partly dominated by government power and money.
Fundamentally, there is no difference between the wholesale seizure of private property under the current practice of eminent domain to benefit private interests (such as real estate developers) and the partial, de facto seizure of property by government to benefit non-smokers (such as restaurants, office buildings, and, in some localities, such as Belmont, California, residences).
The tobacco industry (or at least those companies party to the extortionate “master agreement” of 1998) must share the blame for its virtual nationalization by the federal and state governments. It has done little other than cringe in the face of charges that it deliberately sets out to make people addicted to smoking and otherwise “profit” from alleged smoking deaths and disabilities. It has complied with the government’s edicts with little more than a whimper of protest.
Of course, it makes as little sense for the tobacco industry to plead guilty to the fact that some people’s health is damaged by smoking as it would any other industry to plead guilty to the fact that some people die or are injured by driving cars, using cell phones, consuming pepperoni pizza, or using guns to commit crimes.
I have often tried to imagine the kind of society in which all the government’s health concerns were imposed by law across the board on everyone and everyone complied with them, either voluntarily or by threat of penalty, a society in which no one smoked, consumed trans fats or any amount of cholesterol, drank coffee, or ingested any other “dangerous” food; a society in which everyone took only government-approved medications and observed government-mandated diets; a society in which it would be deemed “anti-social” and even criminal to endanger anyone else’s life or health by smoking or taking any other government-prohibited action.
Feelings and emotions would be protected, too, so everyone would be required to keep his mouth shut or his pen idle lest the “self-esteem” of any person or group be damaged by careless speech. Obese people would be specially taxed and sent to reeducation camps. Those with mild or severe allergies would be the especial objects of legislative dotage. Restaurants would not be allowed to offer a menu that did not also warn customers that everything on it could kill them. And so on.
To escape such a suffocating society and re-experience freedom, one might contemplate venturing into the wild, beyond the reach of the FDA, the CDC, and the Health Police, but only if one was willing to risk discovery by armed EPA sheriffs and environmentalist bounty-hunters, whose mission would be to maintain and enforce a pristine, man-free wilderness.
It would be a stale, static, short-lived society, for, in reality, it would simply stop functioning. Such a society is possible only in the realm of science fiction or political satire. Hospital ward societies, in which mental incompetents are shepherded through their lives by bureaucrats and strong-arm nurses, produce nothing, and so would go bankrupt, starve and collapse.
The effects of ETS also belong in the realm of science fiction. Audrey Silk, a former New York City cop and now head of Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (C.L.A.S.H.), recently provided the links to several medical papers that contest, if not refute, the assertions of government that ETS is as harmful as smoking. “Three research papers, one magazine article, and one newspaper Op-Ed all came out within weeks of each other – each screaming the same thing: The Anti-Smokers are Liars.”
In a New York Post Op-Ed of October 23, “Smoke & Mirrors: Butts, Lies and Public Health,” Jeff Stier writes that Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University’s School of Public Health published a report in Epidemiologic Perspectives & Innovations (10 October 2007) that anti-smoking advocates “are wildly inflating the health risks of exposure to second-hand smoke. In doing so, they tarnish the very credibility that the public-health community must have in order to save lives.”
Siegel, “no friend of Big Tobacco,” writes Stier, “is pointing the finger at the well-intentioned likes of Action on Smoking and Health, the politically powerful Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and New York City’s Department of Health.
Stier writes that there “is evidence that long-term, high-dose ETS exposure increases the risk of heart disease and heart attack. And there is speculation that even short-term exposure may be unsafe to those with severe coronary artery disease. But the evidence does not support the claim that more than 100 groups are wantonly making – which is that acute, transient exposure to ETS increases heart-attack risk in healthy individuals.”
Evidence? Speculation? One supposes that the “evidence” is collected from volunteers locked in a room into which smoke is ventilated. And should society become a hospital ward in deference to those with severe coronary disease, or asthma or other ailments that may be exacerbated by ETS?
“The lack of evidence hasn’t stopped Commissioner Thomas Frieden at the city Health Department,” writes Stier, “which is buying ads in The New York Times claiming that ‘just 30 minutes of exposure to second-hand smoke produces some of the same physical reactions that would occur from long-term smoking, and increases the risk of heart disease in non-smokers.’
“The ‘evidence’ behind that assertion is so flimsy that it would be laughed at if it supported the finding that smoking is less dangerous than we once thought. The clear implication is that some anti-smoking activists have adopted an ‘ends justifies the means’ approach in pursuit of their noble cause.”
The cause cannot be “noble” if it requires the suspension of civil liberties based on the wishes of neo-puritans, backed by government force. See my commentary, “Our Lying, Cheating Do-Gooders” of November 23 for insights into their ruses and stratagems in the name of “science.” Remember, too, that the New York Health Department’s very expensive ads in the Times are being paid for with tax dollars.
“This is what makes Siegel’s report so troubling,” writes Stier. “No longer can we rely on the public-health establishment for scientifically accurate information. They’ll fudge the numbers if they have to, so long as it promotes their overall agenda – in this case, the drive to outlaw smoking in all public places.”
Yes, they will fudge the numbers – just as the advocates of anthropogenic global warming have fudged the numbers. And since when was a government science organization ever consistently reliable? Power can corrupt scientists as well as politicians.
“Even more disturbing,” continues Stier, “is that some in the tobacco-control community are attacking those raising questions. Siegel was banned from the primary tobacco listserv for simply sharing his dissenting views….UCLA epidemiologist Dr. James Enstrom has been personally vilified for, in his words, ‘questioning the lethality of ETS, such as a claim in the 2006 Surgeon General’s Report,’ which alleges that ETS kills about 50,000 Americans per year.”
Just as skeptics and “deniers” of man-caused global warming have been ostracized and vilified in the realm of climatology. ETS “kills about 50,000 Americans per year”? Surgeon General Richard Carmona reported in 2006 that it was 49,000. Another report cited 63,000. Pick a number. It will be as suspect as any public health official’s.
Stier unfortunately ends his illuminating article with a second-hand assertion of his own: “Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States….” Yesterday, it was not wearing seatbelts. The day before it was obesity. The week before it was….You name it.
Enstrom published his own protest on the Epidemiologic Perspectives site on October 10, “Defending legitimate epidemiologic research: combating Lysenko pseudoscience,” in the form of a provisional abstract of a longer article.
“This analysis presents a detailed defense of my epidemiologic research in the May 17, 2003 British Medical Journal that found no significant relationship between environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and tobacco-related mortality….In order to defend the honesty and scientific integrity of my research, I have identified and addressed in a detailed manner several unethical and erroneous attacks on this research….I refute erroneous statements made by powerful U.S. epidemiologists and activists about me and my research….Finally, I compare many aspects of ETS epidemiology in the U.S. with pseudoscience in the Soviet Union during the period of Trofim Devisovich Lysenko….Overall, this paper is intended to defend legitimate research against illegitimate criticism by those who have attempted to suppress and discredit it because it does not support their ideological and political agendas….”
Another researcher, Carl V. Phillips, on October 22 posted his own protest on Epidemiologic Perspectives, “Warning: Anti-tobacco activism may be hazardous to epidemiologic science.”
Finally, Sidney Zion, in Skeptic Magazine ((Vol. 13, No. 3, 2007, 20-27), in his article “Science and Secondhand Smoke: The Need for a Good Puff of Skepticism,” opens his scathing examination of the ETS hoax with “There is nothing more powerful than a lie whose time has come. Thus, the smoking bans.”
Zion’s eight-page, double-columned article contains a wealth of information about the ETS myth, but perhaps its most startling revelation is that the wannabe health gauleiters dug and dug and dug and found nothing:
“In 1993, to bolster the case (that ETS was causing thousands of Americans to drop dead every year, or at least giving them lung and heart problems), Congressman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House subcommittee on Health and the Environment, commissioned the universally credible Congressional Research Service to produce the final, definitive study on the perils of second-hand smoke. For nearly two years, CRS considered the whole canon of studies and interpretations, reporting:
The statistical evidence does not appear to support a conclusion that there are substantial health effects of passive smoking.
It is possible that very few or even no deaths can be attributed to ETS.
If there are any lung cancer deaths from ETS exposure, they are likely to be concentrated among those subjected to the highest exposure levels…primarily among those non-smokers subjected to significant spousal ETS.
The results are not definitive. And even at the greatest exposure levels, the measured risks are still subject to uncertainty.”
This news was not welcome to Henry Waxman and his cohorts, just as the truth about global warming was not welcome to Al Gore and his bevy of believers. What did Waxman do? He lied, and his subcommittee issued a press release that gave the impression that just the opposite was found by the CRS, that ETS was a mortal danger that ought to be outlawed, which predictably, was headlined by most American newspapers. And the CRS report, writes Zion, was intended to back up a 1992 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that was as skewed and dishonest as a pack of marked cards on “Texas Hold ‘Em.”
“Thanks to Waxman and a compliant press corps,” however, writes Zion, “the CRS findings were ignored by the media. When the EPA report got to court, it was thrown out as an outright fraud. Federal Judge William Osteen interviewed a range of scientists for four years, writing a 91-page opinion in 1998.”
Among other things, Osteen found that the EPA had “failed to disclose important [opposing] findings and reasoning; and left significant questions without answers,” and “publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun,” and “adjusted established procedure and scientific norms to validate the Agency’s public conclusion, and aggressively utilized the Act’s authority to disseminate findings to establish a de facto regulatory scheme….”
Another nail in the coffin of the ETS myth was hammered by no less a guru than the World Health Organization of the U.N., which in March 1998, before Osteen released his opinion, concluded that there was “no statistically significant risk for non-smokers who lived or worked with smokers.”
What were the Monty Python-esque knights of ETS to do? Well, they didn’t “run away.” In defiance of reality, they pressed on with their attacks, aided in large part by a friendly, crisis-obsessed news media. The EPA report claimed that 3,000 Americans a year died from ETS. That un-impressive number was increased to over 50,000. And if countries like France, Britain, Ireland, Australia and Israel can act to ban smoking in “public places” (that is, on private property), so must the U.S. if it doesn’t want to be seen as backward and non-progressive and hostile to tut-tutting nanny states.
Zion’s article recounts just how corrupt and power-hungry anti-smoking zealots have become. They are, after all, do-gooders – What have reality and truth to do with our noble cause? they assure themselves – and they will not hesitate to stoop to any tactic, including lying and cheating, to impose their wishes on the rest of the country. Their tactics not surprisingly include the virtual censorship of dissension by laymen and scientists from their apocalyptic assertions.
Audrey Silk, whose signature C.L.A.S.H. battle cry is “No Retreat, No Surrender,” asked of Thomas Frieden in a CBS News article, “New York’s Doctor Crusades Against Fat” (October 14), “Why do you have to make sure that I conform to your way of life? I don’t understand it.”
One could say it is because she is not “community-oriented.” That she is “anti-social” and must be socialized for the good of all, even if it means applying a cosh to the back of her head. That she is independent, and independent minds cannot be ruled or told what to think. That she is a wild card in the rigged poker game of pseudo- or junk science who could rake in all the chips. That she is guilty of advocating “excessive” individualism and must be put in the stocks of statism.
Or, she can share H.L. Mencken’s definitive observation on Puritanism: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” That’s why.
Human happiness, contrary to all their “chatter” about public health and the public good, is not the goal of the do-gooders. The do-gooders with the guns and the laws seek power, and the power they seek requires the obedience and deference of men who want to live but who are afraid of living. Such men are not happy, and are incapable of being happy. Writing in 1918 about the clamor for the prohibition of alcohol, Mencken also observed, “The alcohol myth is such a bugaboo. The sort of man it scares is the sort of man whose chief mark is that he is scared all the time.”
He could have said the same thing about the current bugaboos of smoking, obesity, trans fats, cholesterol, sugar, coffee and every other vehicle of human happiness the alarmists draw their swords against – including sex and “indecent” television programming.
Congenitally frightened men are the cookie-dough of our elected and non-elected censors and tyrants past, present, and possibly future. Audrey Silk and millions of Americans like her refuse to be eaten. Ultimately, that may result in more “excessive violence” than the five wise men of the FCC could ever imagine.
It might mean the true completion of the American Revolution.