H/T Harley for this Slate article:
We Used Terrible Science to Justify Smoking Bans
Will we look at the new evidence for long enough to at least consider whether we’ve gone too far?
By Jacob Grier
The gist of this long article is that, while small scale studies like that in Helena had suggested that there were large health benefits to be gained from smoking bans, subsequent large scale studies had showed that there were actually minimal health benefits, and perhaps even no health benefits at all. Perhaps, the author suggested, it was time to roll back some of these smoking bans, and give back to smokers at least a few of their smoky pubs.
That will be nothing very surprising to most of my readers. It’s what we all think, and have thought for many years.
I think I can safely say that Slate is a left wing US website, with a large readership. When I visited yesterday there was an article about the resistance to Donald Trump. And the smoking ban article had attracted 1,500 mostly hostile comments inside one day, a number that has risen to 2,400 today. And it also had an article fingering a Supreme Court justice as a climate change denialist. That pretty much checks all the boxes for leftism these days.
All of which had me wondering why the left wing, politically correct, Trump-hating, climate change alarmist, and above all antismoking Slate had run this article. Quite a few of its readers and commenters were asking the same question.
I also wondered why Slate wasn’t deleting comments supportive of the article, as frequently happens in politically correct circles where the opposition is shouted down.
The proposed answer to these questions that I eventually came up with went like this:
Tobacco Control is very worried that Donald Trump is going to undermine its efforts in some way or other, they know not how (and neither do I). What better way to find out what he might do than to invite someone from the tobacco sympathiser camp to write a piece calling for a rollback of smoking bans? In this way they might gain some idea from which direction an attack on Tobacco Control might come, and get their tanks deployed in defensive positions before the blow landed. The Jacob Grier article would be followed up by masterly refutations from a variety of Tobacco Control luminaries, perhaps including Stanton Glantz. The purpose of the enterprise was as a kind of military exercise in which old arguments would be re-deployed, and perhaps even a few new ones developed. The Tobacco Wars were back on.
I remain unconvinced that Trump is actually going to do anything at all about smoking bans. In the first place he’s a lifelong non-smoker (he even made an antismoking ad some years back). In the second place he never said he was going to do anything about smoking bans during his 18 month campaign.
However, on the other hand, Trump is political incorrectness personified. And he’s vowed to slash government regulations. And even though he never touches alcohol either, he markets his own brand of wine. So if Trump will sell people the alcohol he personally won’t touch, maybe also he’d happily sell people the cigarettes that he won’t touch (Is there a Trump brand of cigarettes?). If Trump is going to slash government regulations, is he going to make an exception in the single case of tobacco? Furthermore, as a one-time casino owner whose casino was driven out of business by a smoking ban, which he tried unsuccessfully to get other casinos to fight, doesn’t he already know just how bad for business smoking bans really are?
The destructiveness of smoking bans even emerged in the comments in Slate:
I was in favor of allowing bars to make their own choice. I used to meet friends at a cigar friendly tavern. We would drink for several hours. I made a point to get there early and sit in areas where nobody else sat. If I came late and had to it near a large group of people I would abstain. It generally was not big deal; only occasionally would someone sit near our group and leave due to cigar smoke. But, the key was to sit down and light up quickly before anyone sat near so they were not surprised by the cigars.
The law in my city no longer allows smoking inside. I no longer meet up with friends once a week to smoke cigars and drink beer for three hours.
DisplayName2 MEMBER 1 hour ago
@Devhill And your servers no longer have a 43% increase in the risk of lung cancer! I’m going with “win”.
Devhill 1 hour ago
The large tavern is gone. It did not survive the ban and the recession that came after it. The servers had to look for scarce, goodpaying part-time jobs elsewhere.
DisplayName2 MEMBER 1 hour ago
@Devhill Man! It’s so much better when your “choice” is to have environmental hazards at a level we wouldn’t permit in pretty much any other workplace.
In this brief exchange, the damage was laid out: a community of friends shattered, a pub bankrupted.
Other comments were equally thought-provoking. Several commenters, after reading the Grier article, said that they would no longer argue that tobacco smoke was harmful, but would instead continue to support bans simply because tobacco smoke ‘smelled bad’. But 50+ years ago, nobody thought that tobacco smoke ‘smelled bad’, any more than anyone thought that coffee or bacon or cabbage ‘smelled bad’. If there are so many people who now think that tobacco smoke ‘smells bad’, it is because they have been taught to associate it with disease, and respond accordingly: they have been conditioned. And if they no longer believe that tobacco smoke is harmful, they should also stop thinking that it ‘smells bad’.
One passage in Grier’s article particularly stood out for me:
The cost of these policies falls almost entirely on people who smoke, an increasingly put-upon minority of the population. Rarely are their preferences consulted. An exception is a perceptive paper published in the journal Sociology of Health and Illness evocatively titled “Every Space is Claimed.” The paper stands out for the empathy with which its authors approach smokers affected by smoking bans. They note that most tobacco research ignores the perspective of actual smokers and that the lack of interest in their experiences “speaks to the ways in which tobacco research is increasingly expected to further the goals of tobacco control.”
This is something I’ve also noticed: Tobacco Control has no interest whatsoever in smokers, except to get them to stop smoking. But then, in the Tobacco Control view of smokers, they are all mindless addicts, incapable of thought or free choice, and so consulting them about anything is futile.
And the Vancouver study that Grier mentioned only consulted 25 smokers. The ISIS survey that I conducted, in concert with about 20 other readers of my blog, consulted over 400 smokers in various different countries, and found the same sort of social damage that was mentioned in the Slate comment exchange I’ve just quoted. Most likely Grier has never heard of the ISIS survey. Perhaps I should email him?
P.S. I’ve just emailed him.
P.P.S. He replied, saying he’d take a look at the ISIS survey. He added that he had pitched the piece to Slate, and not the other way around.