Research

A Bureaucratic Tap Dance
W. Hamilton

Back in the summer of 2000, I happened to come across the following in an article in the Anchorage Daily News [Lisa Demer, “Disease Studies Cite Secondhand Smoke,” 6/12/00]:

“A specialist in secondhand smoke at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that ventilation systems would have to be incredibly powerful to take away the harmful effects of cigarettes.

“You’d have to create something like mini tornadoes,” said Beverly Kingsley, a CDC epidemiologist.”

Hmmm, I thought.  Sounds like James Repace’s words coming out as a CDC policy statement to me.  So that very day (June 12) I decided to e-mail the CDC to see if this was now their official position on ventilation and ETS.

I cited the source and Kingsley’s statement about mini tornadoes and asked, “Is this the official CDC position on ventilation and ETS?  If so, would you please send me information on the scientific data the CDC has to support this assertion.”

Two days later I e-mailed again and said I hadn’t received a response to my inquiry, and surely someone at the CDC would know what the CDC’s position was and could answer my question.

I received a response stating that my query was being forwarded to Kingsley in the Office on Smoking and Health for a reply. Then on the 15th they said that they needed a copy of the article.  I obliged with a link and they thanked me and said they would forward that to Kingsley.

On the 16th I got a terse reply from Kingsley: “The quote you inquired about in the Anchorage Daily news article was addressing the question of safety and exposure of non smokers in a non smoking section of a restaurant or bar.  Information about the air flow mechanics and specifics in relation to tobacco smoke was taken from the citations listed below:

Repace JL and Lowry AH. Issues and answers concerning passive smoking in the workplace: rebutting tobacco industry arguments. Tobacco Control 1992; 1:208-19. 

Repace JL and Lowrey AH. A quantitative estimate of non-smokers’ lung cancer risk from passive smoking.  Environmental International 1985; 11: 3-22.

Repace JL  and Lowry AH, Does ventilation really control environmental tobacco smoke in offices?  Environment International 1992; 18:311-25.

Vaino H, PartanenT, Population burden of lung cancer due to environmental tobacco smoke. Mutation Research 1989; 222:137-40 

“As the article states,…’non-smoking sections in restaurants do not eliminate non-smoking patron’s [sic] exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. Moreover, they may actually increase exposures for restaurant service workers….We have estimated that to reduce the risk of lung cancer from passive smoking to a de minimus or “acceptable” level by applying federal standards for regulation of environmental carcinogens would require impractical amounts of ventilation or prohibitive costs for air cleaning….’

Beverly S. Kingsley, PhD, MPH

Of course, she didn’t say which of the Repace articles she was quoting, and one of the articles was about offices, not restaurants and bars, but I let that go.  Instead, I simply wrote back:  “Thank you for your reply, but I’m afraid it didn’t answer my inquire.  Is it the official position of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that “[y]ou’d have to create something like mini tornadoes” to ventilate ETS in such places as restaurants? You were speaking for the CDC, and I wasn’t aware that this was the CDC’s official position on ventilation and ETS.  If it is, then I’d like to have a statement to that effect.

"You have sent citations from James Repace, but his work is hardly credible because he is a professional anti-tobacco activist and a bit—shall I say—extreme in his views.  Is this the only supporting material for your statement?”

Kingsley, PhD, MPH, Epidemiologist, Office on Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, replied:

“I have provided you with credible references, and no doubt there are many more too numerous to list, including several documents by the US EPA, such as their Indoor Fact Sheets, as well as other EPA [sic] which support the concept that non smokers cannot be protected from secondhand  hand [sic] smoke in the same room as smokers.  Many of these documents state that smokers need to be in a completely separate (and separately ventilated) room, which has air exhausted to the outside.” 

I didn’t bother to follow up from that.  Clearly the real answer was that Kingsley was trying to cover her butt and that it is NOT the CDC’s official position that mini tornados would have to be created to ventilate ETS.  Besides, I’d already had my fun watching a bureaucrat tap dance. Haven’t seen much about Kingsley since then.  Wonder if she’s still at CDC singing Repacian propaganda and dancing the bureaucratic two-step?


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