Rob Lyons, deputy director of Spiked magazine, reinforces what FORCES readers already know so well, but newcomers may not yet fully comprehend: the dangers of second-hand smoke are a fraud perpetrated by activists and “public health” authorities.

One of the key arguments that has been made against the smoking ban in England and Wales is that it will increase the risk to non-smokers at home. Forced out of bars and restaurants, smokers will light up at home more often, and blow their smoke around their children and non-smoking partners. There seems little doubt that there will be more home-based smoking, and that some homes will become smelly and smoggy as a result. But is there any hard evidence that ETS – environmental tobacco smoke, or ‘second-hand smoke’ – poses a health threat to those who live with smokers?

While a link between second-hand smoke and a slightly increased level of illness seems plausible on the surface, no link has ever been proven. Even where studies have found an increased risk of cancer, the increase has been so small as to be practically insignificant. The website of the anti-smoking group ASH suggests the risk of lung cancer for non-smokers is about 10 cases per 100,000 people (1 in 10,000). An ASH factsheet from 2002 claimed that: ‘Non-smokers who are exposed to passive smoking in the home have a 25 per cent increased risk of heart disease and lung cancer.’ In other words, 12.5 cases per 100,000 of the population, or 1 in 8,000.

Moreover, studies that show no link are often not published; there seems to be a bias in the medical-publishing world for studies that suggest a link between ETS and ill-health over those that do not. When studies that show no link were taken into account by researchers at the University of Warwick a few years ago, they found that the relative increase in risk of ill-health fell to about 15 per cent. An effect this small would usually be dismissed as potentially the product of other kinds of research bias. For this reason, researchers are usually advised to treat with extreme scepticism increases in risk of less than 100 per cent.

For anti-smoking campaigners, the passive smoking issue is a perfect stick with which to beat smokers. The suggestion is that, even if a smoker doesn’t care about his own health, he should at least be more respectful towards the health of others. And despite the lack of hard evidence for a link between ETS and serious ill-health, many of the recent bans in New York, Rome, London and elsewhere have been brought in on the back of fears about second-hand smoke damaging non-smokers.

Arguing against the smoking ban in England and Wales by focusing on the potential impact it will have on health in the home comes across as an attempt to beat the fearmongering of the government with an alternative form of fearmongering. Even worse, it could lead to someone in authority saying: ‘You’re right…so let’s ban smoking at home, too.’

The link to Spiked includes the article "The Hidden Dangers of the Smoking Ban" (which we have also run in John Luik’s columnist section at FORCES) followed by Rob Lyons’s commentary (scroll down on the Spiked Page.)



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