Texas Smoking Ban


The Texas legislature is mulling a ban on smoking in all indoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants. The opposition is not exactly inspiring. Philip Morris, which for a couple of years refrained from taking a stand on smoking bans, is lobbying against the bill. If the company thought its resistance to smoking bans was hurting its corporate image, it had things backward: Given the company's reputation for dishonesty and its lack of principle, its resistance hurts the resistance. The Texas Restaurant Association is not much better. Here is the opening position of its executive director:

Increasingly we see that cities are adopting bans….We have some concerns. One is, we want a level playing field—if you're going to ban smoking in restaurant bars that you don't allow smoking in bars. That's an ongoing equity issue with us.

In other words, if you're going to usurp our property rights, do it statewide and across the board.

Meanwhile, in a Washington Post essay, the toxicologist Gio Batta Gori outlines some of the problems with the scientific case against secondhand smoke. Here is one that's often overlooked:

Typically, the studies asked 60–70-year-old self-declared nonsmokers to recall how many cigarettes, cigars or pipes might have been smoked in their presence during their lifetimes, how thick the smoke might have been in the rooms, whether the windows were open, and similar vagaries. Obtained mostly during brief phone interviews, answers were then recorded as precise measures of lifetime individual exposures.

In reality, it is impossible to summarize accurately from momentary and vague recalls, and with an absurd expectation of precision, the total exposure to secondhand smoke over more than a half-century of a person's lifetime. No measure of cumulative lifetime secondhand smoke exposure was ever possible, so the epidemiologic studies estimated risk based not only on an improper marker of exposure, but also on exposure data that are illusory.

While Gori's criticism is welcome, the opening of his piece is weirdly anachronistic, reading as if he recently awakened from a decade-long nap:

Lately, people have begun to worry about the health risks of secondhand smoke. Some policymakers and activists are even claiming that the government should crack down on secondhand smoke exposure, given what "the science" indicates about such exposure.

You don't say. The problem is that "the science" never has been the real motivation for smoking bans. It is merely an excuse offered by people who support this policy for other reasons: activists who want to eliminate smoking and nonsmokers who want the "right" to avoid smoke wherever they choose to go, even on other people's property.