Last Gasps Of The Anti-Tobacco Lobby
Wednesday, July 22, 1998
By Terence Corcoran
You'd hardly know it looking at the Canadian media, but the anti-tobacco crusade is imploding in the United States. It's not faring all that well in Canada either. Has the movement peaked? Is a new spirit of individual freedom rising across the continent against the meddling busybodies in the health lobby? Have voters and taxpayers on both sides of the border finally concluded that the massive regulatory and tax regimes are mostly giant money grabs by politicians and bureaucrats? Is the junk science behind the second-hand-smoke scare unravelling?
On the last point, a federal judge in North Carolina last week threw out as invalid the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's infamous 1993 research finding that second-hand smoke kills 3,000 people a year. The EPA study has been the building block for a worldwide movement to ban smoking in restaurants, bars, clubs and other public places. The study has been debunked by countless researchers over the years as a piece of shoddy science in which the EPA set out its conclusion and then twisted its research to prove it.
By any assessment, the health risks associated with second-hand smoke are insignificant. One philosophy professor calculated that two glasses of milk a day poses a greater risk of death from cancer than a lifetime exposure to secondary smoke. A Congressional Research Service review in 1995 said the EPA's research "does not appear to support a conclusion that there are substantial health effects of passive smoking." Now, a U.S. judge, in a 92-page decision, has reached an even more damning assessment.
Some of the judge's conclusions: "The EPA publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun; excluded industry by violating the act's procedural requirements; adjusted established procedure and scientific norms to validate the agency's public conclusion; and aggressively utilized the act's authority to disseminate findings to establish a de facto regulatory scheme."
In conducting the ETS [environmental tobacco smoke] Risk Assessment, the judge said: "The EPA disregarded information and made findings on selective information; did not disseminate significant epidemiologic information; deviated from its risk assessment guidelines; failed to disclose important findings and reasoning; and left significant questions without answers. EPA's conduct left substantial holes in the administrative record. While so doing, EPA produced limited evidence, then claimed the weight of the agency's research evidence demonstrated ETS causes cancer."
The discredited EPA study has been widely used in Canada to support a parallel claim that hundreds of Canadians die annually from exposure to second-hand smoke. The U.S. judge's ruling isn't likely to end the health lobby's campaign to ban restaurant smoking, but the key to their arguments is now exposed as a political scare orchestrated by the EPA. Smoke bans are now open to legal challenge, and some -- Toronto's, for example -- may never get off the ground. The judge's decision also follows the release of a summary of a World Health Organization study that found no evidence of increased health risks among people exposed to second-hand smoke.
The anti-tobacco movement lost another major battle last month when the U.S. Senate rejected a major tobacco control bill, including new cigarette taxes that would have raised $500-billion (U.S.), the money to be distributed here and there among lawyers, health care agencies and various governments. It was a huge victory for smokers, who would have been forced to pay $1.10 a package more for cigarettes.
The get-tough legislation was often portrayed as an attempt to punish the tobacco companies and "make the industry pay" for whatever illnesses arose as a result of the use of their products. This is a sham argument that may have been seen through by taxpayers. Outside of the smokers who buy cigarettes, there is no industry to tax. Big taxes on smoking would also fall disproportionately on lower-income people, who tend to smoke more. High taxes were allegedly needed to price tobacco out of the reach of children. As somebody observed, with the vast sums of money raised, the United States could afford to post security guards at every cigarette sales point in the country 24 hours a day.
Here in Canada, the federal government has backed down on its tobacco sponsorship regulation, a move that appears to have met with popular support. The government of British Columbia has an activist agenda that includes an attempt to force tobacco companies to pay for damages caused by tobacco product use. It also has a bizarre plan to publish the names of all the ingredients in smoke. But the Canadian tobacco industry appears ready to defend itself against the B.C. government and the anti-tobacco lobby.
At the Rothmans Inc. annual meeting in Toronto last week, CEO Joe Heffernan said his company will "unapologetically defend our commercial interests." The fact remains, he added, that "all the anti-tobacco public policy initiatives of the past 15 years have been colossal, expensive failures. Exorbitant taxation, dramatic health warnings and advertising bans have changed nothing. The prevalence of smoking among all age groups is virtually the same today as it was in 1986."
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