Despite Ruling, Smoking Bans Are Here To Stay, Officials Say
Despite Ruling, Smoking Bans Are Here to Stay, Officials Say
By Joan Biskupic
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 20, 1998; Page A04
Government officials said yesterday there was no turning back from today's widespread bans on smoking at work, in restaurants and on airplanes, despite a federal judge's decision that a government report declaring secondhand smoke causes cancer was seriously flawed.
Ruling in a lawsuit brought by cigarette makers, U.S. District Judge William L. Osteen Sr. of North Carolina said the influential 1993 Environmental Protection Agency report stemmed from faulty methods and failed to demonstrate the link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer.
The scathingly worded opinion issued Friday accused the agency of committing to an anti-tobacco conclusion before the research began and ignoring evidence that contradicted its premise. While the EPA was not the first agency to target environmental smoke, its 1993 finding that smoke was as dangerous as radon or benzene quickly made it a catalyst for tougher smoking prohibitions. Many state and local governments, as well as private building owners, responded by instituting bans on smoking inside offices, stadiums and restaurants.
"No one wants to go back to smoking on airplanes, to smoking in restaurants. No one wants to go back to pollution indoors," Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala said on "Fox News Sunday."
She and other officials said they would be reviewing the judge's ruling in the EPA case.
"Anyone who's had a cold that's been in a room with a smoker, from a common-sense point of view, knows that anything that pollutes the air makes their breathing ability worse. So there is science there. What the relationship is between that and the EPA rules, we'll have to look at carefully," she said.
"This country has fundamentally become a nation of . . . people who believe it is inappropriate to have to be in a place where they have to breathe tobacco smoke," Matthew Myers, executive vice president and general counsel of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in an interview yesterday.
At the same time, a lawyer for cigarette maker Philip Morris Cos. said the ruling could become an obstacle to people who try to sue tobacco companies for lung cancer, heart disease or other ailments that they claim were caused by secondhand smoke.
"They have to prove that their injuries were in fact caused by secondhand smoke," said Michael York, "and the EPA study has been a cornerstone of lawsuits."
While smoking had been a health issue for years and private studies had found secondhand smoke to increase the risk of cancer, the EPA designation of environmental tobacco smoke as a carcinogen immediately increased political pressure for localities and states to act against secondhand smoke. The EPA estimated "passive smoking" was responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year.
State governments also were spurred by a 1994 Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposal that smoking be banned in every workplace, as well as states' own studies and those by other groups such as the World Health Organization that found secondhand smoke a serious danger. Most recently California's environmental protection agency concluded it was a potent carcinogen.
About 63 percent of the more than 100 studies of the health consequences of passive smoking found it harmful, although not all found that it led to cancer, according to a review of the studies two months ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
But the tobacco industry has been especially concerned about the force of the EPA report. In the lawsuit brought in 1994, cigarette makers claimed that the EPA action had prompted numerous government and private efforts to restrict indoor smoking in a way that financially harmed the industry. Filed by Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and groups representing growers, distributors and marketers, the lawsuit claimed that the EPA manipulated scientific studies and ignored accepted scientific and statistical practices.
In his ruling, Osteen agreed, saying that EPA failed to follow standard scientific methods and procedures. He also said, "there is evidence in the record supporting the accusation that EPA 'cherry picked' its data" to reach the desired conclusion.
EPA officials said yesterday they are likely to appeal. They earlier had argued that the judge lacked authority to review the agency's rule-making process and that, in any event, the procedures used in the study were valid.
"The decision is disturbing," EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner said yesterday. "We believe the health threats to children and adults from breathing secondhand smoke are very real."
Robert Kline, director of the Tobacco Control Legal Clinic at Northeastern University law school, contended the ruling would not affect the ongoing tobacco wars because other studies have confirmed the EPA findings. Asked whether the ruling would nonetheless help cigarette makers in the public opinion skirmishes, he said, "Enough people recognize that secondhand smoke is dangerous. It's going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle."
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