Comments: Thanks For Not Killing Us Anymore

John -

Thanks for a WONDERFUL post!

Posted by Aaron Datesman at September 24, 2009 02:29 PM

wow, less smoke, more smokescreen.

i am happy not to wage a war b/n smokers & non, to accomodate the comfort & health of the non-smoking majority, but the assault on smokers in the U.S. is puritanical, private morality BS.

let's dump tons of DU into the atmosphere, not to mention all the now mundane industrial pollutants, but let's wage a jihad on 2nd-hand smoke and congratulate ourselves on how civilized we are becoming. everybody knows the "greening" mentioned in this post is way too little, way too late. besides, as chris floyd points out today, a lot of "environmentalism" is simply dumping toxic waste in the 3rd world. none of us are giving up our ipods.

but we "recycle" now. and are most uncivil toward 2nd hand smoke. yippee for us!

Posted by anonymous smoker at September 24, 2009 03:07 PM

Now if we can only kick the petroleum habit....

Interesting news in my local fishwrap: as the economy worsens, with FL unemployment running 10-12%, crime rates are plummeting. Murder down 13%, car thefts down 25%, overall crime down over 20%. The opposite of what was anticipated.

People too demoralized by unemployment to commit crime? Or maybe it was the nicotine all along.

How far we've come, indeed, cough cough:

http://www.tobaccocampaign.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/doctors-smoke-camel.jpg


Posted by Oarwell at September 24, 2009 03:09 PM

Against the best efforts of its worst members, civilization is slowly becoming civilized. That's a major change for the better, and it's the one thing that makes me the most hopeful for the future.

The problem is that the pace of this "civilization" is too slow. Based on the monstrous science and technology we have at our disposal now, combined with humanity's glaring lack of moral progress to go along with that technological progress, we just don't have the luxury of time to wait for this great "moral progress"/civilization to overcome the same old patterns of human behaviour and "mistakes", i.e., continuing the same cycles of oppression, imperialism, violence, economic exploitation and unsustainable economic systems that are degrading our life-sustaining ecosystems and quickly hurtling us, and perhaps already have, to a point of no return.

The problem is that if there's one thing we can count on human beings doing is to never learn from our mistakes. The "moral progress"/civilization you describe in this post does not progress "linearly" but in cycles. So for example, at the dawn of the 20th century, many people could have pointed to the Enlightenment, to the great scientific and technological advances humanity had made to that point, to the abolition of slavery, etc, as all indications of how wonderful human beings were, and of our great "moral progress" and progress of civilization, etc. And then of course, came the bloody , brutal barbarity of the 20th century, the most violent and destructive of any century yet, with human beings engaging in mass-murder and slaughter of other human beings (thanks to that wonderful "human progress" of science and technology!) with a savagery and scale never before seen. So much for that great "moral progress" and progress in civilization.

I highly recommend people watch this excellent lecture by Gwynne Dyer. Dyer paints a pretty grim picture of the near future consisting of food and water shortages resulting from global warming and climate change and the inevitable military conflicts that will follow as a result. The world is about to lurch into a Hobbesian, barbarous state, and in that context where the elite and strong and powerful nation-states (mostly in the West) and elite segments of those nation-states will be doing whatever it takes to look out for themselves, and to protect and/or acquire water and food resources for themselves. Given what we know of history and human nature, do you really think there is going to be much "civilization" and "moral progress" in such a world? I don't think so.

And of course, it's those lowly brown people in the 3rd world who are going to suffer the most as a result, and just like a certain sizable segment of smug, white racist Westerners today are able to so easily rationalize and justify Western imperial aggression, mass-murder, torture and barbarism against those Muslim darkies in the Middle-East who just happen to live over large reserves of oil (Islam is truly the worst religion! Muslims are irrational and violent! we're trying to bring "freedom and democracy" to the savages etc), so too you will see the very same Westerners just as easily rationalize and justify Western aggression against the 3rd world darkies over issues like food and water supplies. They'll just find newer excuses, as they always have from the time the West won the race to scientific discovery and technological advancement and used those advantages to embark on its genocidal, colonial, conquering spree of the planet 500 years ago and clamber to the top perch in the hierarchy of world-affairs, and where the West remains today with the full intention of using genocidal violence against the darkies to stay at the top.

And of course, it's just not the West anymore. The East has started to mimic the West out of a natural desire to be just as materially successful, and more importantly, militarily and technologically strong and dominant, as the West, and this does not bode well for the future. Just mulitiply the history of the economic exploitation, destruction of planetary ecosystems, genocidal, whole-scale violence, and science and technological barbarity of the last 500+ years of Western dominance of the planet, and you'll see what the future has in store.

No, I'm not hopeful at all.

Posted by hv at September 24, 2009 11:02 PM

A fine post. I've lost a lot of family members to small cell lung cancer, and though I grew up hiding so many packs of cigarettes from my heavily addicted father that I never took up smoking myself, I've inhaled more second-hand smoke than a person should. And I actually even kind of like it, which doesn't seem typical or normal, so maybe that's a little bit of an addictive reaction. Not any product can make you addicted from a distance, but then not any product can kill a billion people, as tobacco will by the end of the century.

Anyway, I'm glad we're past that culturally now so that we can all be fat instead. I guess that's the next challenge, and one just as big, so to speak.

I agree with hv's conclusion. We're doomed. Every last one of us is going to die. The thing is, hard as it is to remember, hope is a choice. There always have been and always will be better reasons to abandon it than to sustain it. Religion isn't my thing at this point, at least in any commonly recognizable way, but I think that's what that story about Abraham and Isaac was all about.

So hang in there hv. Even if we all too often don't act like it, we're all in this together.

Posted by N E at September 24, 2009 11:47 PM

On another day I'd be arguing (actually, I have argued) your point of view, hv. Nonetheless, I believe the things I've mentioned here represent a real change, and a sea change at that—though like most such changes it's difficult to see while it's happening.

Whether or not it will be enough is another thing entirely, and that's where we agree more than we disagree, but that wasn't my point here. There are always going to be days when you want to jump in a hole and pull the dirt in after you, but there need to be other days to think (and talk) about what gives you hope, and I decided this would be one of those days.

Posted by John Caruso at September 25, 2009 03:03 AM

Not saying I don't like your usual posts but this one was refreshingly positive.

Posted by LT at September 25, 2009 05:16 AM

Man you guys like to complain.

The "moral progress"/civilization you describe in this post does not progress "linearly" but in cycles. So for example, at the dawn of the 20th century, many people could have pointed to the Enlightenment, to the great scientific and technological advances humanity had made to that point, to the abolition of slavery, etc, as all indications of how wonderful human beings were, and of our great "moral progress" and progress of civilization, etc. And then of course, came the bloody , brutal barbarity of the 20th century, the most violent and destructive of any century yet, with human beings engaging in mass-murder and slaughter of other human beings (thanks to that wonderful "human progress" of science and technology!) with a savagery and scale never before seen. So much for that great "moral progress" and progress in civilization.

Um, that's not an argument against progress at all. 100 years ago, we had the abolition of slavery, the enlightenment, and incredible technology.

Now we have the abolition of slavery, the enlightenment, even better technology, and heightened environmental consciousness.

If you have good stuff, and then you get to keep all that good stuff, plus you get some new good stuff, well, that's progress. People who have been blown up by grenades aren't benefiting from it much, granted, but the fact that bad shit still happens doesn't negate the good shit that happens.

Posted by Christopher at September 25, 2009 05:41 AM

Um, that's not an argument against progress at all.

What I actually said was that this progress occurs in cycles, with some steps forward, and another couple back. The point is that given the great tools of destruction we have at our disposal at this point, can you really imagine human civilization and this planet recovering from another World War, one possibly catastrophic for human civilization, with the planet's ecosystem already fragile as it is? We simply cannot afford any more steps back.

Unfortunately, I don't see any evidence whatsoever that human beings have learned how to coexist peacefully with each other, or live on a planet with limited resources. It could very well be that this is an impossible task and that human beings are simply incapable of transcending and overcoming the very evolutionary adaptations and instincts that made them successful in the first place. It is nowhere written that human civilization is destined to be successful and destined to "progress", or that the "higher intelligence" that human beings have that is needed to establish a civilization is a particularly successful adapative feature. Chomsky had something to that effect in the beginning of his book "Hegemony or Survival":

A few years ago, one of the great figures of contemporary biology, Ernst Mayr, published some reflections on the likelihood of success in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

He considered the prospects very low. His reasoning had to do with the adaptive value of what we call "higher intelligence," meaning the particular human form of intellectual organization. Mayr estimated the number of species since the origin of life at about fifty billion, only one of which "achieved the kind of intelligence needed to establish a civilization." It did so very recently, perhaps 100,000 years ago. It is generally assumed that only one small breeding group survived, of which we are all descendants.

Mayr speculated that the human form of intellectual organization may not be favored by selection. The history of life on Earth, he wrote, refutes the claim that "it is better to be smart than to be stupid," at least judging by biological success: beetles and bacteria, for example, are vastly more successful than humans in terms of survival. He also made the rather somber observation that "the average life expectancy of a species is about 100,000 years."

We are entering a period of human history that may provide an answer to the question of whether it is better to be smart than stupid. The most hopeful prospect is that the question will not be answered: if it receives a definite answer, that answer can only be that humans were a kind of "biological error," using their allotted 100,000 years to destroy themselves and, in the process, much else. The species has surely developed the capacity to do just that, and a hypothetical extraterrestrial observer might well conclude that humans have demonstrated that capacity throughout their history, dramatically in the past few hundred years, with an assault on the environment that sustains life, on the diversity of more complex organisms, and with cold and calculated savagery, on each other as well.

There is very little room anymore for the same human "mistakes"/patterns of behaviour not only because of the destructive capability and monstrous scientific and technological we have at our disposal now which leaves very little prospect of recovery from another World War but because people on the other end of this "progress" who you are so blithely dismissive of, i.e., the ones getting blown by grenades, missiles, bombs, techno-death, are increasingly able to access and develop the weapons and technology that have been used against them all this time.

So yes, I question any so called "human progress" when human beings continue to engage and rationalize the same patterns of war, violence, oppression, imperialism, economic exploitation, and unsustainable economic systems that are degrading the planet's life-sustaining ecosystems and have perhaps already put us at a point of no return. I would argue that this so-called "human progress" is ephemeral, artificial, and superficial. It has very shaky foundations, both in physical sustainability and in moral terms.

The question of morality is not simply an abstract question: it's also a concrete question of just how real and sustainable this supposed "human progress" has been. If your entire "human progress" rests on genocidal violence against other peoples and nations, on unsustainable living, on economic exploitation, on unfair distribution of wealth and resources, it means this supposed "human progress" is artificial, and that underneath the thin veneer of "civilization" lurks the human savagery and barbarity that will inevitably be unleashed as a result of economic pressures and scramble for food and water resources resulting from climate-change.

Posted by hv at September 25, 2009 07:05 AM

Yes, how unusual to see any article on the blogosphere being positive about recent changes. Far more common is the diary which talks about how everything is going to hell, especially because of Bush they think, and how much better off things were 40 or 50 years ago (you know -- before civil rights and back when two men fucking each other was a crime and when native American children were taken from their parents by force to be "educated"). Back in the good old days when killing seven digits of gooks in a war was something that was actually bragged about. Back before the UN had managed to massively reduce conflicts around the world and deaths from hunger were far more common as well as things like Polio were still huge killers instead of being eradicated. Good times. Good times.

Posted by DavidByron at September 25, 2009 09:08 AM

Now if someone insists pessimism is accurate I have to disagree.

Beetles may be more numerous than humans but then "beetles" isn't a species. Bacteria of course have just one copy of their DNA each but humans have ten trillion each. Not that I am really rooting for the DNA. The fact is if you compare humans to other large animals humans are incredibly successful. And not just because we killed most of them off except the ones we eat. Species don't die off at random; the more variety of environments they can live in the better their chances of survival and on that basis humans are safe as a species along with cockroaches.

But more to the point was your argument about cycles. I used to think change happens not by people changing their minds but by the old idiots dying off and being replaced by a younger generation. But looking at what John has written here I guess that is just not true. Many of these changes in societies outlook seem to be happening faster now, than a generation takes to replace another. Which would be what? 25-35 years? Perhaps it is because people have become used to having to change their habits and thoughts regularly to keep up with technology anyway?

"Just a few years ago", may be the most powerful statement in that diary. And smoking is adictive; if people can change attitudes about that so fast why not other things too?

human beings continue to engage and rationalize the same patterns of war, violence, oppression, imperialism, economic exploitation, and unsustainable economic systems that are degrading the planet's life-sustaining ecosystems and have perhaps already put us at a point of no return.

Well I don't know about economics but I do know the rest of it has changed a lot and for the better.

Posted by DavidByron at September 25, 2009 09:27 AM

hv wrote:

"underneath the thin veneer of "civilization" lurks the human savagery and barbarity" . . . "that will inevitably be unleashed"

Hmm, that's interesting, I think there's less of a veneer nowadays, and for most people in the world the savagery and barbarity already have arrived. The "big picture" really does look pretty different depending on what you're thinking about just before you look at it.

I suppose "progress" is one step forward and two steps back. But there's more to it than that. Becoming one thing necessarily entails not being other things, and all options carry with them both good and bad. We don't get to just take the good. It's true for individuals, cultures, nations, and i suppose species too. Right now we have chosen technology and markets and trade, and we get all the perks from that, like a world that can sustain 6 billion people, but we also get the ugly destruction, misery, suffering, and fiascos of all sorts that come along with that system. If we choose poorly, I wouldn't conclude that's because we're smart. I'm not so convinced that human extinction would prove that 'smart' was an evolutionary failure. That notion gives me a chuckle.

Rousseau observed that when civilized Europeans went out among the natives to live, they often chose to stay and live out their lives among them, glad to be rid of civilization. But no "savage" EVER wanted to stay in civilization when given a taste of it. They were uniformly repulsed.

Of course, people today probably couldn't even survive a life that technologically primitive, but it must have had some strong appeal, because it demonstrably DID attract the Europeans who got a taste of it.

I think you could find a lot of people who would gladly choose a simpler life if that were easier to make that choice, and the very difficulty of making that choice is precisely why we would like to make it: We are under relentless social pressure at almost every moment to either consume or produce or both. We have made ourselves slaves to social, political, and economic structures that no one can control, and if it was our 'smartness' that did it to us, we need another definition for the word.

Posted by N E at September 25, 2009 09:33 AM

Just would like to point out that physicians ( whatever their other shortcomings) have been in the forefront of educating the govt and the public about the dangers of various agents that cause injury to health, whether it is tobacco or lead in the paint in old homes or any kind of aerosols or pollutants which cause asthma and unacceptable levels of unncessary deaths, specially in the inner city population. One should not forget Dr Joe Califano and his almost crusade like campaign against smoking.

Yes, in the western countires, people are healthier because of marked decrease in use of tobacco products ( which causes not only lung cancer but many other cancers and CVD ). However, since the consumption in this country has decreased, tobacco is being dumped in countries like India and Philippines where mortality is increasing.

Pesticides and drugs which are banned here by the govt, are sold in developing countries. Govt does not ban them totally. It leaves the monitoring of these products to the officials of third world countries ( I do not like to use that term ) who either may not have enough information about their harmful effects ( not always made available to them ) or could be bribed.

Computers are being dumped in African countries which is affecting the health of children who rummage through the dump sites.

Funny, our govt wants Colombia to burn its COCA plants because it is not able to curb the demand for "recreational drugs" of the middle and rich classes at home but it is not prepared to offer our tobacco farmers an alternative crop!

Yes, good things are happening here but one should not forget, they are happening at the expense of people living in less fortunate situations.

Below is a link to some interesting information.
"Some of the "Most Wanted" Corporate Human Rights Violators
here
http://www.globalexchange.org/getInvolved/corporateHRviolators.html

Oarwell:
When I go to my medical meetings, I see may MDs smoking and invariably they are from Middle East and Latin America. Have never understood that.

Posted by Rupa Shah at September 25, 2009 12:31 PM

Yes, good things are happening here but one should not forget, they are happening at the expense of people living in less fortunate situations.

I agree with the points you're making at the level you're looking at, Rupa, and I've even written about some of them—but that's not the level I'm looking at. I'm talking about what's in people's heads, and that in no way happens at the expense of people living in less fortunate situations. Just the opposite, actually. One of the things I mentioned was the "growth of boundary-defying solidarity movements", and the very fact that you and I are aware that the practical benefits of recycling here are often being subverted by dumping in third-world nations is an example of that, not a contradiction.

And actually in many (and arguably most) ways it's "people living in less fortunate situations" who are leading the way in the civilizing of civilization that I'm talking about. Just look at what's been happening for the past decade throughout Latin America, and you'll see people taking back control of their lives from the regressive forces that have brutalized them for centuries, looking at ways to organize their lives that prioritize human beings over corporate profits, and so on. It's tremendously inspiring, and it's an example of what real and meaningful democracy can be that should shame everyone who blathers on about what a shining example of "democracy" this country is.

I'm certainly not saying the changes I'm talking about are perfect, complete, sufficient, etc, etc. I also haven't suddenly forgotten that there's a thing or two wrong with the world. Nonetheless, this is a real change, and an entirely positive one.

Posted by John Caruso at September 25, 2009 02:25 PM

people seem very motivated by this. i wonder if there are any ill effects from breathing second-hand corn syrup.

Posted by hapa at September 25, 2009 02:27 PM

btw, talking about industrial waste, compared to an iphone the top-selling 13" laptop is ~30 times heavier, a top-selling 32" tv is ~100 times heavier, and the top-selling compact car is ~9000 times heavier. even if you adjust for how long people keep them and how much of a car is recycled, the footprint of small electronics is tiny by conparison.

i can't figure out how smartphones and walkman-like gizmos got such a "bad consumer! bad!" reputation. i think it's pure social reaction.

Posted by hapa at September 25, 2009 03:22 PM

Bring me an example of how things are getting worse, and I'm like a kid with a new toy: I'll put it up on the blog, email it to various listserves I'm on, and if it's a really compelling example of how things are getting worse, I might even print it up on small pieces of paper and hand it out to total strangers on the street. "Things are getting worse! Read all about it!"

But bring me an example of how things are getting better - even in a small way - and immediately, my defenses go up: Surely, this must be a trick? And what about all the evidence that things are getting worse somewhere else?

This seems like a healthy reaction, because it keeps me from being tricked by false evidence of progress ("Obama's election means the end of racism!") But it cripples our ability to make positive changes, because we don't really believe positive changes are possible.

Bill Moyer, in his book Doing Democracy, an analysis of social movements and how they work (and don't work) points out that it is the norm for people engaged in any social movement to believe that their own movement is failing and has achieved nothing of significance. Even in movements we all recognize as being successful - like the civil rights movement - people had this feeling.

I'm not saying that success would magically come if we'd all just turn our frowns upside-down - Bill Moyer is not the Dale Carnegie of social-movement theorists - but I am saying that we all have a natural bias towards news that the world is going to hell, and that bias is quite useful to those in power, who would prefer we all just give up in despair.

Posted by SteveB at September 25, 2009 04:49 PM


"I wonder if there are any ill effects from breathing second-hand corn syrup"

--for some reason that makes me want to sing the oompa loompa song.

Posted by N E at September 25, 2009 05:43 PM

Having been raised Mormon, I know a good many people who love anti-smoking laws (not that I don't appreciate them also), but these people give me blank looks whenever I mention the pall of diesel and gas exhaust that we live in.

Me, I would rather taste the smoke of good tobacco than breathe from engine tailpipes. But smokers are a minority and can be ostracized, unlike automobile drivers.

Posted by Cloud at September 25, 2009 07:46 PM

Personally I don't mind pipe or even cigar smoke (in small doses), but cigarette smoke is truly foul. Smokers often can't appreciate the smell aspect of it, which is why I offered this analogy. And that's just considering the stench, of course, when the real problem is what it does to innocent bystanders.

I've heard the car exhaust argument before, but it doesn't work, since vehicle emissions are in fact heavily regulated.

Posted by John Caruso at September 25, 2009 08:20 PM

anonymous smoker, "i am happy not to wage a war b/n smokers & non, to accomodate the comfort & health of the non-smoking majority, but the assault on smokers in the U.S. is puritanical, private morality BS."

This is BS. I'm 58 years old. I grew up in a house with a heavy smoker (my dad), and that was a major factor in my not smoking. My father lived to be 81, but he spent many nights for the last 40 years of his life coughing and hacking and wheezing, especially in winter; still, he kept on smoking until he was 80. (Of my three brothers, only one smokes.) I'm quite happy that I can now work without having to breathe smokers' second-hand smoke in the workplace; that I can go out to clubs and not reek of smoke when I get home, to the point that I need to shower before I go to bed. (Gay bars were the worst, by the way; I don't know why my fellow queers are such heavy smokers.) Whether it has positively affected my health, I don't know, there are so many other pollutants in the air, and I have allergies that mess me up; I can't say whether my health would be worse if it were harder to get away from cigarette smoke. But I still feel that my quality life has improved in this one arena. As John says, that's not to say that everything else is perfect, or even better, only it is an improvement. Maybe we can do something about other pollutants too.

I don't care what you do to your lungs, a.s., and I'm pleased that you're willing to sacrifice for the health and comfort of nonsmokers. But I think it's significant that you see this in terms of a war, and like so many smokers, are unable to recognize it's not just about you, as though this were a simple matter of personal freedom like how you wear your hear or what book you read. When you smoke, anyone else in the vicinity gets to / has to breathe your smoke. There was an old libertarian slogan I used to hear, about how your freedom ends at my nose. It was a metaphor, but it applies literally too.

Yes, I know, some liberals talk about their concern for smokers' health. I think that is bullshit myself, I think that many people feel it's illegitimate to worry about their own health, their children's health -- they have to pretend they care about smokers' health too, to be altruistic and unselfish. I don't. Carbonize your throat and lungs if you wish. But don't befoul the air that others must breathe.

Posted by Duncan at September 25, 2009 10:34 PM

The claims of reductions in heart attack hospitalizations from smoking bans are totally bogus and have no factual basis. There has been no sigificant reduction in heart attacks in either smokers or those who breathe in second-hand smoke. Most of the claims that second-hand smoke harms people are in fact quite bogus.

Good article in Spiked which documents this:
http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/7451/

Attacks on smokers' civil liberties have nothing to do with health concerns. They are about attacking others and satsifying the desire that some people have to control other peoples' actions. It's rather amusing that these attacks on civil liberties are couched in language posing as preserving human rights, but it's nothing of the sort.

Posted by mike at September 26, 2009 12:10 AM

Mike, thank god you posted. I was starting to get depressed at such a stream of nonsense being posted on ATR.

My favorite two comments in that stream are the one by Caruso just before yours, where he says that car exhausts are less of a problem than smokers (heavily regulated...), and, the best, the one by Duncan where he bemoans any perception of this issue as a "war", only to launch into the usual hateful anti-smoker rhetoric.

Your comment, albeit short, contains more truth than the others put together.

I'm parisian, currently sitting at a cafe terrasse. I'll light another one right now as I'll go and read Floyd. Alas, Chazelle I have already read, and will have to wait to read him again.

We smokers have been the wedge, the first sacrificial victims in, yes Duncan, the war on all your civil liberties. Through us, you have been made to accept the intrusion of governments to legislate on things that 1) is none of the government's business and 2) restrict personal freedoms for the sake of good stats.

Enacting and enforcing anti-sodomy laws and closing down bars with backrooms would undoubtedly have led to much better stats also on the spread of AIDS. Would you have supported that?

Neither did I.

Posted by vfwh at September 26, 2009 07:08 AM

Mike, thank god you posted. I was starting to get depressed at such a stream of nonsense being posted on ATR.

My favorite two comments in that stream are the one by Caruso just before yours, where he says that car exhausts are less of a problem than smokers (heavily regulated...), and, the best, the one by Duncan where he bemoans any perception of this issue as a "war", only to launch into the usual hateful anti-smoker rhetoric.

Your comment, albeit short, contains more truth than the others put together.

I'm parisian, currently sitting at a cafe terrasse. I'll light another one right now as I'll go and read Floyd. Alas, Chazelle I have already read, and will have to wait to read him again.

We smokers have been the wedge, the first sacrificial victims in, yes Duncan, the war on all your civil liberties. Through us, you have been made to accept the intrusion of governments to legislate on things that 1) is none of the government's business and 2) restrict personal freedoms for the sake of good stats.

Enacting and enforcing anti-sodomy laws and closing down bars with backrooms would undoubtedly have led to much better stats also on the spread of AIDS. Would you have supported that?

Neither did I.

Posted by vfwh at September 26, 2009 07:10 AM

@ Mike & VFWH

Why is it ok for you to blow smoke in my face but it's not ok for me to give you a mouth-shot?

Posted by Coldtype at September 26, 2009 08:16 AM

First of all, sorry for the double post, technical error.

Coldtype: If you tell me off because I actually blow smoke in your face, then I will apologize and I'm sure we'll find a way to get along fine without the government having to come between us. Provided that is, you talk to me as an individual who's doing something disrespectful or annoying to you, instead of spewing hate speech directed at "my kind".

Posted by vfwh at September 26, 2009 11:39 AM

Most of the claims that second-hand smoke harms people are in fact quite bogus.

There are some guys at RJ Reynolds who want to talk to you about a job.

Attacks on smokers' civil liberties have nothing to do with health concerns. They are about attacking others and satsifying the desire that some people have to control other peoples' actions.

No, really, I just don't want to inhale your smoke. Really.

If you tell me off because I actually blow smoke in your face, then I will apologize and I'm sure we'll find a way to get along fine without the government having to come between us.

So how many individual smokers do I need to tell off before the lot of you get the picture? And I wonder: how far does your individual freedom to pollute the air extend? If you start up a small lead-smelting operation in your back yard, should I politely ask you, as one individual to another, to shut the damn thing down, or is it OK for me to get the government involved?

Posted by SteveB at September 26, 2009 12:23 PM

vfwh: ...he says that car exhausts are less of a problem than smokers...

No, I didn't say that. The standard argument is, "Why are you putting all these rules on smokers instead of cars? Because you just want to restrain our civil liberties!" I pointed out that that argument fails because car exhaust is in fact heavily regulated—more than cigarette smoke, in fact. And that's not because of a puritanical desire to control the private morality of drivers any more than smoking bans are the same thing for smokers.

Look, the problem isn't the personal freedoms of smokers; it's that smokers shouldn't have the freedom to give random people at a bar lung cancer, emphysema, and so on. If you argue for that right, would you also argue for my right to carry around a syringe of swine flu virus and inject people with it at random? If not, what's the difference?

(And anyone who wants to argue that the smoke from the front of the cigarette is so much less harmful than the smoke from the back needs to read things like this and this.)

...the usual hateful anti-smoker rhetoric.

I'd be interested if you could point to the hateful anti-smoker rhetoric of Duncan's, since I don't see any. I think you may be mistaking criticism of the effects of smoking itself for a personal attack on you.

Posted by John Caruso at September 26, 2009 01:11 PM

Hey SteveB,

The fact that you indeed believe that the government has to be involved in a matter such as this one represents a view of what society is about that I find wrong. This is what this discussion is really about.

If you looked beyond the titles on front pages or anti-smoking propaganda, you'd know that the only second hand smoke which is indeed proven to marginally increase health risks is second-hand smoke in the household. It increases susceptibility to various ENT conditions.

There is no actual evidence that second hand smoke in public places does, and certainly not for health endangering effects. When you come to a restaurant with a cold and without a mask and gloves, you contribute to spread of disease much more directly than when I sit at my café and smoke my cigarette.

If there is a reduction in smoking-related conditions in places where smoking bans have been enforced, it's because there are less people who smoke there, that's it. The fact that less people chose to smoke because it's frowned upon or has become difficult to do so is not a sane public health government objective in my view. It's not the government's job to have a society of people who only engage in wholesome activities. Vices and life-shortening behaviors are part and parcel of humanity and are, whether you like it or not, one of the ways in which freedom manifests itself.

Smokers just annoy you, that's all. We are not putting your life at risk. Your position is that you want the government to prevent me from annoying you.

If you also favor preventing people from doing something for the sake of better public health statistics, due to less people engaging in activities impairing their own health, then don't come complain when they come and enact, I don't know, anti-promiscuity laws that will deliver better STD stats, or anti-drinking laws that will deliver better cirrhosis stats, or anti-teenage sex laws that will deliver better abortion stats.

@John Caruso
Look, the problem isn't the personal freedoms of smokers; it's that smokers shouldn't have the freedom to give random people at a bar lung cancer, emphysema, and so on.
Yes, you're right, that's the other angle of the problem. If indeed it were actually proven that this problem, i.e. me giving random people lung cancer, is of a magnitude that is actually distinguishable from background health statistical noise, and the direct causality of my smoking that cigarette were established, then, yes, I'd say that your argument would stick. The problem is that this is clearly not the case, and the very small statistical impact that smoking has on non-smokers pales into insignificance in the context of the general mortality of actually living life in this world.

Full disclosure: It's been a few years since I looked into the stats in depth (actually looking at conflicting studies and making up my mind, rather than just reading the pre-digested findings in the media reports or the anti-smoking crowd only). I will as I have time in the next few days look up the current state of science on the matter. If I find that the new data undermines the points that I make above, then I will retract or qualify these statements.

Regardless, I do however wonder the following: why is it that nobody has tried to debunk my anti-sodomy laws vs. AIDS argument?

Posted by vfwh at September 26, 2009 01:29 PM

And by the way, John:
I'd be interested if you could point to the hateful anti-smoker rhetoric of Duncan's, since I don't see any. I think you may be mistaking criticism of the effects of smoking itself for a personal attack on you.

You are correct, no hate speech there, apologies due to Duncan.

Bewteen SteveB and Duncan, it's really at Duncan that the first part of my argument above is directed.

To whit:
Whether it has positively affected my health, I don't know, there are so many other pollutants in the air, and I have allergies that mess me up; I can't say whether my health would be worse if it were harder to get away from cigarette smoke. But I still feel that my quality life has improved in this one arena.

It's to these comments that my response:
Smokers just annoy you, that's all. We are not putting your life at risk. Your position is that you want the government to prevent me from annoying you.
was directed.

As I said, I will review the latest data and update my judgment if warranted on the question of second hand smoke. But there is also another angle here. Even if there were clear evidence of the kind that I describe above, the ban still remains a restriction of civil liberties:

A blanket ban of this sort, that will not allow any bar or restaurant owner to chose to allow smoking in his own property, with full knowledge of his patrons, is indeed a restraint on civil liberties. There are many people who are perfectly happy, in full knowledge of the facts, to indulge in smoking, or in socializing in smoky environments. If there are so many people who want to patronize non-smoking establishments, then let bar owners who so decide make their bar or restaurant non-smoking. That's the only way that personal freedom to indulge in legal vices can be maintained.

Then, each time a group goes out, it becomes an actual interpersonal issue and discussion whether to go to a smoking or non-smoking place.

What's so wrong with that?

Posted by vfwh at September 26, 2009 02:39 PM

they could also oxford-debate the merits of the different colas. it would be like a second american revolution.

Posted by hapa at September 26, 2009 02:46 PM

Regarding the science, I have to agree: read some actual reviews of the subject, and you'll be far less than convinced that passive smoking is as big a public health risk as claimed. For one, there's no clear mechanistic explanation - the level and type of compounds absorbed as much lower and much less harmful than for smokers. For another, the odds ratios for lung cancer or heart disease, compared to un-exposed non-smokers, are fairly close to 1, and in many studies the 95% confidence interval spans 1 (i.e., there's no clear indication of harm). Most of the claims are based on relatively dubious epidemiological studies. I quote from another review: "Although it is biologically plausible that ETS has a contributory role in the induction of lung cancer in nonsmoking individuals, dose-response extrapolation-supported by the more solid database for active smokers-gives an additional risk for lung cancer risk that is more than one order of magnitude lower than that indicated by major positive epidemiological studies."

Posted by saurabh at September 26, 2009 02:51 PM

Regardless, I do however wonder the following: why is it that nobody has tried to debunk my anti-sodomy laws vs. AIDS argument?

Coldtype responded to it directly, actually. To make it clearer: there's no such thing as secondhand sodomy, and sodomizing an unwilling person is rape (which, again, is "regulated" much more heavily than smoking is).

I'll rephrase my question to you: if I inject hanta virus into a skunk's anal glands, do you think I should have the personal freedom to go squirt it at random people in public? Because that's a precise analogy for smoking in terms of the smell, the possible health effects, and the elective nature of the behavior.

That's the only way that personal freedom to indulge in legal vices can be maintained.

What you keep ignoring when you make statements like this is that this is a legal vice that injures and kills other people. If you want another analogy, drinking heavily is legal, but drinking heavily and then driving isn't. Why should people with blood alcohol levels of .17 not be allowed their personal freedom to drive? Is that an unacceptable assault on their civil liberties as well?

If someone invented a smokeless, entirely non-carcinogen-producing cigarette you'd have a reasonable argument, but as it stands, smokers expose other people to serious health risks every time they smoke around them. I can understand why smokers don't want to believe that; I wouldn't want to feel that guilt either. And I also understand that that's why so many smokers disregard the dangers of secondhand smoke (and some go so far as to claim smoking doesn't even harm them). Hummer drivers claim that global warming is a hoax for much the same reason.

Posted by John Caruso at September 26, 2009 03:07 PM

saurabh, I notice that the abstract of the review you're quoting ends with this: "This goal can be achieved, however, without the introduction of an extremist legislation based on a negligible risk of lung cancer as well as an unsupported and highly hypothetical risk for CHD." I'd say the "extremist legislation" characterization (and the very fact that this review mentions legislation at all) tells us where the writer is coming from. Which is entirely consistent with this:

The [RJ Reynolds] plan lists strategies for fighting public health efforts on the secondhand smoke issue, including convincing the public that "there is a controversy, case is not closed," that "your lifestyle could be next," and substituting the term "prohibition" for "smoking ban" in all communications; convening "a high-level think tank of philosophers, professors, scientific ethicists, sociologists, historians, economists, psychologists ... to provide new ideas on the issue;" recruiting minority groups, hospitality associations, labor unions, libertarian groups and labor unions as tobacco industry allies on the secondhand smoke issue.

Again, the analogy with global warming is pretty obvious.

Posted by John Caruso at September 26, 2009 03:19 PM

John: Except that, in this case, you're standing on much weaker scientific ground than with global warming, where there's a mountain of multiple lines of evidence in its favor; in this case, there's very weak statistical evidence from epidemiological studies. Most of the strong studies are about spousal exposure; occupational exposure studies are usually much more dubious. And if you're talking about yourself, sitting in a cafe and having some asshole blow smoke in your face, then you've got absolutely zero scientific ground to suggest a significant risk.

I'm definitely in agreement that people leapt on these studies as justification to punish people for a hated vice - I don't like the smell of smoke, and I hated going to bars and coming back reeking of smoke. But unpleasant as it is, that's not sufficient justification for a government ban. As someone with strong libertarian views, I would rather keep the state out of my business as much as possible. Using the state as a weapon in this instance seems poorly justified and a bad precedent.

Posted by saurabh at September 26, 2009 04:28 PM

I don't see why the recipients of secondhand smoke should be required to inhale others' smoke until they can produce sufficient evidence to convince smokers that secondhand smoke is harmful. Shouldn't the burden of proof be the other way around?

Honestly, if cigarettes had been invented last week, there's no way this would even be an argument. "Mind if I set fire to this bundle of leaves here in this enclosed space?" The fact that this was ever allowed is what's remarkable.

Posted by SteveB at September 26, 2009 04:31 PM

SteveB - because you're calling the federal government in to enforce it? That doesn't seem problematic to you in the least? Similar arguments were made by the Temperance movement for enacting Prohibition - sale of alcohol promotes public drunkenness, which is a moral and physical hazard to others. Let's ban that, too. Shit, let's ban everything that others find offensive. Why should I be required to smell people's armpit odor? There should be federal statutes about showering daily until those people can prove that their disgusting smell isn't giving me bowel cancer.

Posted by saurabh at September 26, 2009 04:59 PM

Just to be clear, I LIKE not having any meal I take in a restaurant ruined by cigarette smoke.

I just wish I wouldn't get nauseated afterword when stepping out into the street, or wouldn't have to ride a bicycle in the midst of auto traffic. I completely realize, given our society, that this is impossible; there's no turning back the clock, nor hurrying it forward neither.

Posted by Cloud at September 26, 2009 07:18 PM

But I also kind of agree with poster saurabh.

Posted by Cloud at September 26, 2009 07:21 PM

Now I feel guilty for complaining about whatevs given, like, what my country is continuing to do to Asia. I'll shut up now.

Posted by Cloud at September 26, 2009 07:24 PM

saurabh:
OK, so you think you should be able to burn your little bundle of leaves in a confined public space until such time as the recipients of your smoke can prove to your satisfaction that the smoke is harmful to them. Isn't that backwards? How about this: You take your studies showing that secondhand smoke isn't harmful around to all the patrons and workers in the restaurant where you want to smoke, and if you can persuade every single one of them that there's no risk to their heath, you're allowed to light up. See, that puts the burden of proof where it belongs: on the person who wants to engage in a behavior that's potentially harmful to others health.

There will always be disputes about the science of secondhand smoke, just as there will always be disputes about the science of climate change. That's why the only sensible and fair approach is to use the precautionary principle, which, in this case, would place the burden of proof on you, and not on those who want to ban smoking in confined public spaces.

Posted by SteveB at September 27, 2009 02:23 PM

SteveB: I don't smoke, and I don't want to smoke, and I don't want to encourage people to smoke in public places, and I agree that it's an unpleasant and probably unhealthy environment to work in. However, there are many other things I DO want to do that sanctimonious people wish to prevent me from doing, and I really, really find it problematic when those people use the power and authority of the state to coerce people out of similar kinds of behavior. For example, I wish to be able to take LSD whenever the fuck I feel like, but I can't, because there's some kind of moral outcry against it being enforced by the same federal government you're using to enforce your anti-smoking prejudice.

Where I apparently differ from you is that you seem quite comfortable having the state intrude on your life and the lives of others. I don't want the state telling me what to do as much as possible, especially in moral areas where it has no business dictating my behavior. Though John's hand-waving argument dismisses vfhw's sodomy argument, I find it quite apropos: during the 80s, the state could have well decided that sodomy represented a public health hazard because it was promoting the spread of AIDS, and banned it. Not an exact analogy, but close enough: there's safe ways to engage in consensual behavior, but they're being ignored in order to enforce puritanism.

The ONLY place this argument holds any water for me is as an occupational hazard. People deserve the right to work in a place without putting their health at risk, and there should be appropriate statutes to ensure that. But the level to which smoking is prohibited in any public space is far, far in excess of any medical justification regarding work safety. There are constrained and appropriate ways to deal with work safety issues. A blanket ban on smoking in public places is way, way overboard, and the only justification for it is societal revulsion for smokers. Using the government to police personal behavior, even self-destructive behavior, is something I am strongly opposed to.

Posted by saurabh at September 27, 2009 09:48 PM

This is from the National Cancer Institute link I cited above:

Q: Does exposure to secondhand smoke cause cancer?

A: Yes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), the U.S. Surgeon General, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have classified secondhand smoke as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).

Inhaling secondhand smoke causes lung cancer in nonsmoking adults. Approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths occur each year among adult nonsmokers in the United States as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke. The Surgeon General estimates that living with a smoker increases a nonsmoker’s chances of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.

Q: What is a safe level of secondhand smoke?

A: There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Studies have shown that even low levels of secondhand smoke exposure can be harmful.

saurabh: Why should I be required to smell people's armpit odor? There should be federal statutes about showering daily until those people can prove that their disgusting smell isn't giving me bowel cancer.

Tell you what: if it's ever proven that armpit odor causes bowel cancer in people who inhale it from one inch away, I'll grant that it also causes bowel cancer in people who inhale it from a few feet away, ok? Because it would be an insult to everyone's intelligence to maintain otherwise. And in exchange, maybe you can agree that the notion that cigarette smoke causes a whole host of serious diseases in the person sucking it in from one end of the cigarette (through a filter, no less), but is entirely harmless to the person breathing it in from the other end, is absurd on its face.

...there's safe ways to engage in consensual behavior, but they're being ignored in order to enforce puritanism.

Secondhand smoking is not consensual; it's inherently coercive. There's no way for smokers to engage in their habit in a public place without sending health-threatening, carcinogenic smoke down the lungs of the people around them. That's the entire point, and that's why casting this as purely a civil liberties issue is at best misguided and at worst disingenuous (as it no doubt was when RJ Reynolds set out to recruit libertarians to make their arguments for them).

Posted by John Caruso at September 27, 2009 11:13 PM

John:
Your dismissing the AIDS/sodomy ban argument is spurious: tell me there's no second-hand AIDS without contentment (and without intent)? That's utter bullshit, and if you pretend otherwise you expose your bad faith on the entire argument.
People going willingly (you completely ignore that argument in your answer) to places where they know that people will smoke are far more in control of their own lives than someone having sex with someone else who has previously engaged in unsafe sex, yet is not aware of being contaminated.

You keep getting back to your "second hand smoke is killing me against my will" argument. You don't answer this which I ask, though: if you have the choice to go to a non-smoking bar rather than a smoking bar, how can you claim that I am imposing anything on you? Like putting a condom: some people will refuse to have sex with you with a condom, but that's a price you have to pay. And AIDS, I think, is actually proven rather unequivocally to have pretty high odds of killing you even on a single exposure. Unlike second-hand smoke in public places.

As for coming our with the public Q&A on cancer by the National Institute of Cancer as proof of anything, this just shows that you don't understand much about the difference between science and public relations... You're not even quoting an actual biased study. But some PR guy referencing "studies have shown". Please.
My opinion may have been made a long time ago, but it was made by actually reading studies reported in actual scientific journals at the time.

Posted by vfwh at September 28, 2009 02:18 AM

Where I apparently differ from you is that you seem quite comfortable having the state intrude on your life and the lives of others.

Yes, that's true. I'm comfortable having the government tell you how fast you can drive and how much alcohol you can have in your bloodstream while you're doing it; I'm comfortable having the government tell you what chemicals you can put on your lawn or in a river; I'm comfortable having the government tell you what sort of weapons you can own and what sort of financial derivatives you can trade.

On the other hand, unrestricted sodomy and LSD use are A-OK with me. I wonder if there's a pattern here that you're missing?

if you have the choice to go to a non-smoking bar rather than a smoking bar, how can you claim that I am imposing anything on you?

I hope you're not going go all Milton Friedman on us and claim that people "freely choose" where they work. If, say, half of the bars in town permit smoking, you can be sure there will be waiters and bartenders working in those bars, not because they enjoy secondhand smoke, but because they needed the job. Since you've already said that "People deserve the right to work in a place without putting their health at risk, and there should be appropriate statutes to ensure that," that should end the argument, no?

Posted by SteveB at September 28, 2009 11:02 AM

Sorry, I got our two smoking advocates confused. So I guess that doesn't end the argument.

Posted by SteveB at September 28, 2009 11:05 AM

Sorry, I got our two smoking advocates confused. So I guess that doesn't end the argument.

Indeed :)

But maybe we should now wrap it up. I think we've made our points :
me: there is no credible evidence about second-hand smoke outside of the home, and definitely not in public places. There is mildly convincing yet conflicting evidence about working in a bar.
You : well, then, the right to work in a safe environment coupled with the precaution principle takes the biscuit, and it's therefore justified for the government to ban smoking in all public properties.

I disagree. The magnitude of the ban, and its general effect of stigmatising a whole swathe of the population, singling it out as a bunch of a-social criminals indiscriminately and randomly killing people in their wake, while supporting this campaign by a flood of moral wholesomeness about what is right and proper way to live a clean life, creating the general acceptance in the population that the government is legitimate to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on such an endeavor, is simply wrong.

There is a difference between a widely practiced social behavior that may inconvenience some others, and even marginally affect the frequency of colds or smelly hair in society, and corporations that release toxic chemicals by the kiloton in the social environment.

I understand that you may disagree on this. But there never was a genuine social demand for these laws, nobody that I know of was elected on a campaign to ban smoking. These laws were always passed by anonymous bureaucrats or minor government officials and special interests outside of democratic process, for laws that very adversely and severely stigmatized and curtailed very basic, daily, important elements of what contributes to a pleasant (in some cases even merely bearable) life for hundreds of millions of people.

That's it, now I've said all I have to say about it. You can now selectively warp and/or ignore any of this to tell the rest of us how your not having red eyes after you go to a nightclub justifies forcing half of a society to have to stop enjoying these special moments of friendship while indulging in our little vice.

Posted by vfwh at September 28, 2009 12:29 PM

vfwh: Your dismissing the AIDS/sodomy ban argument is spurious: tell me there's no second-hand AIDS without contentment (and without intent)? That's utter bullshit, and if you pretend otherwise you expose your bad faith on the entire argument.

I have no idea what "contentment" has to do with it, but I'll say it one last time: there is no such thing as secondhand sodomy. If one person is sodomizing another and I'm nearby, I am not exposed to risk. The only people exposed to risk are those consensually participating in the activity (who will know about the risk of AIDS as much as any person on the street will know about the dangers of smoking). The only way to non-consensually expose someone to risk through sodomy is, by definition, to rape them. The analogy to secondhand smoking should be obvious (though I'm sure you'll either ignore it or miss it), and is the the key point of the entire argument, which is why your analogy fails.

You're not even quoting an actual biased study.

No, I'm quoting the National Cancer Institute (a division of the National Institutes of Health), as they cite the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Toxicology Program, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, among others. In addition to the three studies I cited in the posting. It's incredibly ironic that you dismiss this as "PR" when you're literally vectoring tobacco industry PR. I'll take these sources over saurabh's citation of some disgruntled Swede railing against "extremist legislation", or your self-serving belief that the carcinogenic smoke that can sicken and kill smokers somehow becomes harmless when it travels a few feet into other people's lungs.

Look, you entered this thread calling everything a "stream of nonsense" and now you're throwing tantrums about my "bad faith" and "spewing utter bullshit". You hypocritically attack me for ignoring your questions, as though I'm a witness on the stand and you're the prosecution lawyer, despite the fact that I've directly responded to your analogy multiple times—whereas you've entirely ignored every question I've asked you, even when I've repeated them. It's too bad you decided to go this route, but as funny as it is to watch someone here deploying Sean Hannity's standard MO, I'm not going to spend any more time dealing with it.

Posted by John Caruso at September 28, 2009 12:54 PM

I've enjoyed listening to this debate--thanks guys.

How is a ban on smoking in public places any different than a law against, say, riding one's bike on the sidewalk? Where is the "stigma"? My community has decided that riding a bike on the sidewalk is a ticketable offense. Even though I disagree, and flout the law when I have to (for safety, as well as convenience), I don't feel stigmatized for doing so. I choose to live where I do; choose to ride a bike; and choose to risk being ticketed when I behave in certain ways. All my choices, freely made.

If cigarette smoking is a benign pleasure, like a manicure, or a hug, or a Cadbury Flake bar, there's little harm in communities designating where it can and cannot be engaged in. Obviously the government shouldn't tell people what they can do in the privacy of their own bedroom, but equally obviously it's not "stigmatizing" to tell someone who enjoys sodomy that if they do it on a public bus, they might get a ticket. (Insert joke about the Metro-North here.)

Yes, there's moral disapproval of smoking, but I suspect what some smokers feel as stigma is in part the pangs of their own addiction. Harmless pleasures are easy to abstain from. Smoking is addictive, so it's not, but the burden of continence is simply part of the personal choice people make when they decide to smoke. Smokers shouldn't be given special rights because they really, really like to smoke; they, like the rest of us, must express themselves in the ways that whatever community they're in says are acceptable. That's not always easy, but it's not a special burden; and if it feels like that, it's the addiction, not the state, that makes it so. We are individuals that must curtail our individuality in exchange for the benefits of living in groups.

Anyway, how is a ban on smoking in public places any different than open-container laws? Why don't we hear people who like to drink alcohol complaining about those? Do they?

Posted by Mike of Angle at September 28, 2009 01:53 PM

John, I am a smoker. When you say that a civilization is slowly becoming civilized, as an anarchist, I would disagree, and hope not.

Although I believe "smoking laws" do benefit society, it is at the "cost" of those who enjoy smoking. More so as time goes by, it has become increasing easy to target unpopular activities.

I view "smoking laws" as a part of the creep of authoritarianism and totalitarianism, where choice is usurped from the individual. When you say that the movement against smoking has contributed in a small but important way to a core principle of the left, I see that contribution as a degenerative rather than acretive.

Is our goal "a rule" for every human situation? For every indiscretion? For every guilty pleasure? To me this path points toward a dystopian future, and these are the first "acceptable" steps.

Footnote: I very much enjoy your writing, and I join with other commenters that this positive angle is an interesting shift.

Posted by RF at September 28, 2009 02:27 PM

Thanks very much, RF. I'm definitely with you when it comes to the creep of authoritarianism; I just think it's a mistake to apply that notion to this situation, because smoking is not solely a personal vice in the circumstances we're talking about. The critical point is that it cannot be confined to the person doing the smoking; if someone ever did invent an entirely self-contained cigarette that could deliver all the harm solely to the person smoking it I'd be much more likely to agree with your take.

I'd also say that smoking laws are a minor limitation, especially given the circumstances. Despite the fact that cigarettes contain multiple carcinogens and are known to cause many serious and fatal illnesses, they haven't been banned. People who want to indulge this "guilty pleasure" can still do it as much as they want—just not in confined commercial/public spaces where it will affect the health of other people there. I don't see the requirement to step a few feet outside a restaurant to smoke a cigarette as too restrictive, given the risk to the people around the smoker in question, and I don't consider this an unreasonable infringement on personal liberties any more than I feel that way about restrictions on industrial pollutants. This is not a "first they came for the smokers..." moment at all, it's a reasonable and fairly limited response to the danger that smoking poses to other people.

And I'm completely with Steve (and you, I'm sure) in that I have no problem with people drinking as much as they want, taking LSD or other drugs until they see Vishnu, sodomizing other consenting adults to their heart's content, and so on. They know and understand the risks, and they're not asking me or anyone else to accept those risks on their behalf. That's fundamentally different from smoking in confined public spaces.

The positive contribution I was talking about in the posting was just the notion that we need to take responsibility for the way our actions affect other people. The movement against smoking has confronted smokers with the fact that their habit hurts others around them, and in response (and to their credit) many people have become much more considerate about the effect their smoke has on other people. I was sincere about thanking smokers for that (and I have a lot of sympathy for smokers in general, actually). And while I'd emphasize the word "small" when I say this has been a small contribution to increasing the acceptance of the principle I was talking about, it's a contribution nonetheless.

Posted by John Caruso at September 28, 2009 03:50 PM

In Signapore, chewing gum is banned. If someone sees you chewing gum, you get fined one thousand bucks. If you do it again you have a date with hard labor courtesy of a "Corrective Work Order". No exceptions.

Ridiculous isn't it??... until you study the ban's origins. Signapore prides itself on an extensive a range of public services so it was devastating to buy special garbage receptacles the public never used, have gum wads jam the doors of public buses and then destroy the very machines used to clean them up.

For years you would see people in brightly colored work clothes in Singapore streets, scarping the gum they helped import. That was until U.S. gum lobbyists forced a revision of the law circa 2004 allowing gum to be sold that had proven health benefits. Despite a working list of gum consumers the old problems the chewing gum brought returned and with a vengeance.

The moral of the story is either you eliminate the danger outright or you better have one hell of a detterant after the fact (French drunk driving laws). You can't have both.

Posted by Nikolay Levin at September 28, 2009 11:18 PM

Nikolay, the american method is ok too. You let companies make billions of dollars selling something lethal, then let lawyers make billions of dollars forcing them to pay some of the damage they caused, then let the companies go back to making billions of dollars selling the same lethal thing again.

Eliminate the danger, create a huge deterrent--where's the money in that?

Posted by N E at September 29, 2009 01:16 AM
hv: And then of course, came the bloody , brutal barbarity of the 20th century, the most violent and destructive of any century yet

Surprisingly, no. This doesn't mean that other kinds of misery don't count, just that, oddly enough, a random human in the 20th century was likely to die in violence than their forebears were.

Posted by grendelkhan at September 29, 2009 09:00 AM
hv: And then of course, came the bloody , brutal barbarity of the 20th century, the most violent and destructive of any century yet

Surprisingly, no. This doesn't mean that other kinds of misery don't count, just that, oddly enough, a random human in the 20th century was less likely to die in violence than their forebears were.

Posted by grendelkhan at September 29, 2009 09:01 AM

Hi there,

1- As promised, I come back after having reviewed more modern data about the issue of SHS and anti-smoking literature. Sorry, but I don't see any difference from what I read 10 years ago. The only new topic is the reported dramatic drops in heart attacks after smoking bans. Problem is, the only non-bogus studies (I can't go into all the details why, you have to want to know the facts yourself, I can't do it for you) do not show such reductions. The WHO even conducted a thorough, well designed study that proved the reverse of what they wanted and buried it.

About the one you cite, for example:
Overall, American, Canadian, and European cities that have implemented smoking bans had an average of 17 percent fewer heart attacks in the first year, compared with communities who had not taken such measures.

You cannot take studies at face value, you have to make up your own mind about them. People have agendas, on both sides. So you have to actually figure out for yourself whether a study's methodology and selected data is credible. Read these:

http://tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com/2007/07/study-of-trends-in-state-heart-attack.html
http://tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com/2009/09/another-day-another-smoking-banheart.html
http://tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com/2009/09/new-study-purports-to-show-10-decline.html
ad nauseam.

Hopefully you can tell the difference between an article that simply cites self-serving statements by the makers of the study and one that looks at the data and the facts critically? You seem to be able to do so when talking about WMDs in Iran, but not for smoking. Why?

As far as the SHS effect:

Studes that are only able to identify problems for living with a smoker in the house (the second one explicitly found that there is no public spaces correlation):

One empirical study measuring effects on lungs:
http://scienceblogs.com/effectmeasure/2007/11/second_hand_smoke_is_bad_for_y.php

Another statistical large cohort study over long time:
http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/326/7398/1057

Another one that shows risk only for combined spousal and workplace SHS:
http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/90/19/1440?fulltext=boffetta&searchid=QID_NOT_SET

You know what I find amazing? I have actually been unable to find a study that convincingly shows that public places exposure to tobacco smoke increases any measurable health risk (beyond the post-ban heart-attack drops studies convincingly debunked). Not one. You can find documentation here, which is vastly superior in quality, integrity and content to all the anti-smoking sites that I've read (which don't even try to be anything else than propaganda sites):

http://www.davehitt.com/facts/index.html

It's biased in that it seeks to debunk, but it's a source of information, quoting and critiquing documented sources instead of pointing to CNN articles.

You cannot believe blindly what a journalist tells you any scientist says just because it suits your views. Scientists sometimes are wrong, often have something to prove and will pick their data accordingly. Also, on the credibility and integrity of the organisations you cite:
http://tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com/2007/07/anti-smoking-hypocrisy-awards-july-2007.html


2- As far as the "where's the stigma and the curtailing of freedoms?" question is concerned, you really have not considered this at all, have you?

Employment bans for smokers
http://tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com/2007/07/smokers-deemed-unsuitable-for.html

Smoking forbidden outdoors
http://www.slate.com/id/2228385/

Smoking considered a mental disorder
http://publications.cpa-apc.org/media.php?mid=801&xwm=true

Smokers are like the people who gased jews in extermination camps
http://scienceblogs.com/effectmeasure/2007/12/is_confession_good_for_your_lu.php

Smoke-free smoking still considered bad social behavior that the government has to stop
http://blog.al.com/living-news/2009/09/electronic_cigarettes_no_smoke.html
http://tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com/2009/08/despite-98-suicides-and-188-suicide.html

Censorship of studies that don't tout the official lies about how bad smokers are for humanity
http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.990/news_detail.asp

I understand that feelings of righteousness can cause lack of critical spirit. The result is that you are oblivious to the fact that the shrillness, irrational and obsessive discourse about smoking in society is indeed very adversely stigmatizing smokers as bad people that the government and the wholesome community has a duty to placate into living a clean life. You just don't know what you're talking about when you say smokers are not severely stigmatized to a point where we are made to feel barely tolerable members of society.

As even your post and the above links illustrate, the anti-smoking movement's greatest effect has been to stigmatize a subset of society as a sort of enemy within, and, importantly in my view, to divert political energy to this useless cause. How many activist years and how much media coverage, how many billions, have been funneled into this overarching social control discourse of our time at the expense of actually fighting the real enemies ? I do believe indeed that it's a "first they came for the smokers..." question, but, possibly more so, it's a "divide and conquer" question.

Posted by vfwh at September 29, 2009 11:33 AM

Vfwh, as the guy who wrote, "where is the stigma?" I'll tell you I've thought about the issue--to the degree that a noncombatant thinks about such things.

What's the first thing everybody who quits smoking says? "I can smell again!" As somebody who can smell--and is not being compensated by the nicotine--I can assure you that tobacco smoke is an imposition on other people's noses. A small imposition, but an imposition nevertheless. Where's the harm in demanding public continence in this habit, just like we do in others? So you like to smoke--great, go smoke, just don't make me smoke with you. I don't think you're a bad person for smoking, but I'm not a bad person for not wanting to breathe your smoke, either.

There's no stigma inherent in a ban on smoking in public places, any more than there's a stigma implied in open-container laws. There is plenty of crap on the internet that demonizes smokers, because there's plenty of crap on the internet that demonizes everybody. That is, unfortunately, what the internet seems to be for.

You are entitled to your opinion, vfwh, but since you brought up biases, remember that smoking is powerfully addictive. Non-smokers cannot feel how difficult it is for a smoker to abstain, and so the restriction must seem very heavy indeed. Thankfully, there is Nicorette!

Posted by Mike of Angle at September 29, 2009 02:43 PM

The quality of your review of modern data is illustrated by this, vfwh:

The WHO even conducted a thorough, well designed study that proved the reverse of what they wanted and buried it.

No, the WHO/IARC study you're talking about was in fact published in 1998. This is why you shouldn't rely on right-wing trolls like Dave Hitt for information. The claim that this study was being suppressed came from the London Sunday Telegraph, and was part of an orchestrated and heavily-funded PR campaign by Philip Morris to throw as much mud as possible on this study before it had even been released (and the results are just the opposite of what you were told by Hitt and others). You can read more about this years-old tobacco industry PR strategy here or see one of the actual Philip Morris PR strategy documents relating to the WHO/IARC study here (pdf).

I think you're easily misled on this topic because you want to believe (and it's not hard to understand why you want to believe; Mike of Angle hit that nail on the head above). But vectoring decade-old tobacco industry PR, citing industry front groups like ACSH, and dismissing studies you haven't even seen just shows how much objectivity and critical thinking you're bringing to this. As this does:

Also, on the credibility and integrity of the organisations you cite:

I haven't cited any of the organizations mentioned at that link. Not one. And that's been par for the course for you from the moment you entered the thread and attacked the "hateful anti-smoker rhetoric" you imagined you saw in Duncan's comments. You seem to see whatever you want or expect to see, regardless of the actual words on the page.

I don't think this is intentional, I think it's just such a charged topic for you that you can't be objective. I wouldn't doubt that it comes from being made to feel like you're a "barely tolerable member of society", and as I said I have a lot of sympathy for that; it's tough being a smoker these days and facing so much public disapproval for an addiction that was only recently so widely accepted. But whatever the reason, there's not much use in trying to discuss this when you misread what's said, argue against things that were never said, launch into angry rants when you're challenged, and ignore any questions and counterarguments.

Posted by John Caruso at September 29, 2009 02:50 PM

Mike: There's no stigma inherent in a ban on smoking in public places, any more than there's a stigma implied in open-container laws.

I'd agree with this specific statement, but I'd definitely say there's a stigma attached to smoking these days. Though I think you're right that smokers feel it more strongly than it exists and that that's partly due to the addiction, which makes the inconvenience feel heavier and the choice to stop far more difficult.

The question for me, though, is why smoking should be exempt from that any more than any other behavior (which you alluded to when you said "smokers shouldn't be given special rights because they really, really like to smoke"). Behaviors that were unremarkable in the past—like calling a woman "toots" or spanking children—become less socially acceptable all the time; what makes smoking any different?

People have every right to choose to smoke despite the changes in public opinion, of course, but they also have to accept the effects that choice may have. That's true for any person adopting any behavior, and there's no reason smokers should get a special dispensation.

Posted by John Caruso at September 29, 2009 04:00 PM

grendelkhan: "a random human in the 20th century was less likely to die in violence than their forebears were."

in hindsight. i dislike pinker for this. he has his points about the world being safer now, but claiming that survivors of the mechanized slaughters of the industrial expansion -- which were historically large by population, year-by-year -- saying that the survivors were irrational to live in fear of a repeat, in an age of increasingly powerful strategic weapons -- that's really really stupid of him.

the odds of extinction due to war were never ever higher than during the MAD fight. the entire populated area of the planet was rigged to blow! with redundancy! and near-permanent irradiation, after! he lived through that nightmare and now says basically because it didn't happen it wasn't possible. he's letting stats rewrite his own experience.

and i think he knows it. in his slideshow he only talks about the century scale when counting up the bodies of the 19th and early 20th centuries, so that he can use the huge post-war population growth to water down the blood.

Posted by hapa at September 29, 2009 04:37 PM

John,

as a reasonable person, I admit that my tone is influenced by my personal feelings on this issue. I apologize for the excessive formulation of some of my postings on this thread. I also admit to bias of course as a smoker who resents the imposition.

Having said that, as a scientifically minded person, I'm also, really, always eager to be proved wrong. I therefore went to read the two links that you provided with great interest. Maybe I would learn something.

Can you please explain how this article and this leaked document prove that the study said the opposite of what I read it says?

All it proves is that the tobacco industry had an aggressive strategy to counter any potentially negative results of the WHO study. Wow, hold the presses! I don't think that any of my points intend to portray the tobacco industry as a healthy and honest public service.

None of the content in the two links that you provided has anything to say about the actual details of the study content, unlike the links that I point to. The fact that big tobacco would fund research to debunk things that go against its interests is neither here nor there, nor is the fact that Dave Hitt is right-wing. How does that alter the facts?

I'm sorry but so far you have not provided links that actually debunk the intellectual content of the many links that I have provided.

Generally, of course, the source of any information is always useful to know to identify potential bias and so on, but it's not in and of itself enough to discredit actual verifiable things that people demonstrate. I'm surprised that I have to say that here.

Let's take one of these fact, which is the single only fact in support of SHS being harmful:
The fact that the famous 1.16 is in fact at a 95% Confidence Interval of 0.93- 1.44. How is the study (published paper here: http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/90/19/1440?fulltext=boffetta&searchid=QID_NOT_SET) not saying that? Is the jnci a tobacco front? They say: "CONCLUSIONS: Our results indicate no association between childhood exposure to ETS and lung cancer risk. We did find weak evidence of a dose-response relationship between risk of lung cancer and exposure to spousal and workplace ETS. There was no detectable risk after cessation of exposure."

So there is very weak evidence, because the CI is not very large and includes 1 - by the way, what does it mean in layman's terms? Three things, mainly:
1- we're talking about 650 people in the study
2- that there is significant uncertainty about the reliability of the statements of these people with respect to the actual nature of their exposure to SHS
3- that there are many other factors that contribute to or influence lung cancer development that are very difficult to discriminate against in such a study.

In terms of credible studies both of sound methodology and sizable numbers, there is also this one http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/326/7398/1057, that shows no causal relationship between SHS and all forms of tobacco-related deaths, without formally excluding a possible marginal effect.

But regardless, let's take the worst credible result at face value: that spousal and workplace SHS may increase risk by a factor of about 0.16. The probability of developing lung cancer in one's lifetime in the US was about 8%. Given other numbers, the bulk of this represents smokers. Non-smokers will have something in the region of 3% chance at worst. This means that there is weak evidence that the probability of getting lung cancer for people exposed at home and at work to SHS may rise to 3% * 1.16 = 3.48%. A delta of less than half a percentage point.

How often do you make a meaningful decision based on a half a percentage point delta in low probabilities? But again, let's grant you that.

So let's pass a law that forces employers to provide working environments that are not saturated with smoke. A reasonable policy response to this would be
- ban smoking in offices
- ensure smoking rooms at the workplace should be well ventilated and/or not opening into spaces where people sit and work
- for bar and restaurant personnel exposure, designate smoking and non-smoking areas, maybe ban smoking at the bar, ensure proper ventilation in smoking areas, things like that
- allowing for the fact that smoking is a widely practiced vice and has social behaviors associated with it, ensure that certain conditional exceptions can be granted, for certain clubs, certain venues and so on
- allow clearly designated "smoking venues" or such like

That's a reasonable discussion based on "the principles of the left": respect people's rights, provide a regulatory environment that respects the ability of the most possible people to seek pleasure and exercise friendship, relationships, association without government interference. Certainly do not play on fear to impose disproportionate black/white response to a complicated social issue.

There is no justification at all for the kinds of blanket, no exceptions bans that have been passed in all public places whatever they are, whatever their configuration. Why pass laws that prohibit people to smoke less than 10 meters from a building door? Why ban smoking entirely in places like airports? Why forbid smoking room?

This kind of over-response to the problem is exactly the same as allowing illegal wiretapping, patriot act, torture, that have been accepted because "your life is in danger". It's fear politics intended to be divisive and making people accept unreasonable government behavior. In fact, I'd say that the "first they came for the smokers" argument has been very well vindicated in the light of the last eight years of increased invasive behavior by the government in people's private lives. They did come for the smokers first, and people have been made to accept government intrusion into their lives because "your life is being threatened by bad people, so I need to protect you". No democratic process, only bureaucratic and special interest processes at work. Media relaying of false informations, repression of alternative facts, one-sided framed debate, demonization and victimization, the righteous against the vile. It's all there.

You passing this on as a victory for the values of the left is completely weird.

I could go into how I have responded to all your points, except the sodomy/AIDS thing that I dropped in order to avoid completely losing track of the topic.
I do drop some thing for the sake of not overburdening my texts, but since you insist:
- list of organisations: OK, point taken. It doesn't detract from the fact that you cite a Q&A that just say "yes, studies show" and I cite actual studies and underlying facts.
what else? You say that I don't respond to your points about the fact that it's about "you're killing me", not "my civil liberties". Is that not what I'm responding to here?

Posted by vfwh at September 30, 2009 05:53 AM

@hapa
Couldn't agree more. When I watched Pinker go through his stats at the TED talk, I was wincing all the way.

Posted by vfwh at September 30, 2009 06:06 AM

Mr Caruso is short-sighted. Many comments above have stated precisely why. Mr Caruso continues his glee at Big Govt doing what should be done at individual levels. Hooray for abdication of personal responsibility! Demonize what you don't like and ask Big Govt to stop it!

Posted by The Anti-Federalist at September 30, 2009 09:38 AM

@vfwh

a toast, then, to us heroes, fighting our "real enemies."

Posted by hapa at September 30, 2009 03:46 PM

@hapa
I don't know whether you're being sarcastic or not. I'm no hero.

But I find it interesting in the context of this Russian campaign of a comment thread, that this other example of how statistics can be used to bludgeon reality to death should crop up.

How I miss Steven J. Gould.

Posted by vfwh at September 30, 2009 04:53 PM

BTW, I have posted what I think will be my final contribution (I know, I've made that promise before) to this thread about 12 hours ago, and it's not coming up. Just in case, I have just retried to post it.

I expect that if it's being moderated it will only appear once.

Posted by vfwh at September 30, 2009 04:57 PM

Thanks for apologizing, vfwh.

Can you please explain how this article and this leaked document prove that the study said the opposite of what I read it says?

I didn't say that that article and that leaked document prove that the study said the opposite of what you thought it said. You wrote that "the WHO even conducted a thorough, well designed study that proved the reverse of what they wanted and buried it," and I was showing you that the claim that it was "buried" was a) incorrect, since the study was in fact published in 1998, and b) a key component of the tobacco industry PR campaign to discredit the study before it even appeared, as described in the article I linked to:

"Philip Morris realised that the tobacco industry had little credibility in Europe, and it turned to the media to promote its messages," says the article. British American Tobacco took the lead, putting together a package of materials which put its own spin on the IARC study before it had been published.

"On March 8 1998, the London Sunday Telegraph reported that WHO was withholding a study that not only failed to show that passive smoking caused lung cancer but also might even demonstrate a protective effect," say the Lancet authors.

Documents written by Matthew Winokur who led Philip Morris' efforts against IARC say that the "publicity generated by BAT" started with the Telegraph article
, which was then picked up in the US, Australia, Brazil and elsewhere. "Winokur noted that the timing of the Sunday Telegraph story seems to have been designed to precede the release of the UK's Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health report on passive smoking three days later," says the Lancet.

The result was that the IARC study's message became confused and the subject of controversy. It showed a 16 per cent increase in risk of lung cancer for non-smokers exposed to other people's cigarette smoke, which was consistent with earlier studies. But on its own the IARC findings were not conclusive, which allowed the industry to interpret them as failing to prove passive smoking was a danger.

The WHO's summary of their own results and correction of the "suppression" PR point is here (and yes, I know Dave Hitt was unimpressed with it, and no, I don't care).

Generally, of course, the source of any information is always useful to know to identify potential bias and so on, but it's not in and of itself enough to discredit actual verifiable things that people demonstrate. I'm surprised that I have to say that here.

I'm surprised you would say it here, actually, since you've been attacking the "credibility and integrity of the organizations", talking about "biased studies" and "official lies", dismissing carefully qualified and footnoted summaries of existing research as "PR", and so on throughout the thread. No offense, but it seems pretty clear that your standard for judging bias on this topic depends on whether a source supports your position or contradicts it.

I'm sorry but so far you have not provided links that actually debunk the intellectual content of the many links that I have provided.

You haven't "debunked the intellectual content of the many links" I've provided either, you've just posted various people's attacks on studies, organizations, and so on. You find those attacks persuasive, just as you find tobacco industry PR claims about WHO burying its own report persuasive. I don't have enough years left in my life to exhaustively review and respond to every link you posted and every link they reference, even if I wanted to. I'm happy to leave it up to people reading along to review the various studies and summaries that are available, review the many critiques you've helpfully provided, and decide for themselves.

- for bar and restaurant personnel exposure, designate smoking and non-smoking areas...

Maybe you haven't heard the joke that having a smoking section in a restaurant is like having a peeing section in a swimming pool.

I could go into how I have responded to all your points, except the sodomy/AIDS thing that I dropped in order to avoid completely losing track of the topic.

And I could go into how you haven't, but I'll save us all the pain; if you're curious, just scan my comments for question marks and ask yourself which of those questions you answered.

And I'm out. Thanks again for the civil approach, and thanks also for putting so much time and thought into your comments. I'm hoping we can have a better exchange some day about something that doesn't involve cigarettes. :-)

Posted by John Caruso at October 1, 2009 03:40 AM