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Second Hand Smoke

Ok it has finally come down to this. A couple in Boston could be evicted from their apartment for smoking. A Boston Housing Court jury so ruled on June 10th. Their ruling came despite the lease allowed for smoking. The jury found that the smoking (about a pack of cigarettes a day for each of them) violated a more general clause banning any nuisance; any offensive noise, odor or fumes; or any hazard to health. Alas the jury never said which it was but my guess is odor. We're in the era of legislating or lawyering comfort.

I just wish this type of jury was around when I used to regularly get trapped in elevators with several Mary Kay ladies. Their perfumes were obviously applied with an industrial sprayer and they all conflicted making a totally noxious smell. But I digress.

Second Hand Smoke, or ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke) has been branded a killer. Nevermind, that actual first hand smoke may not be the killer the CDC and Surgeon General say. (Remember just this year the CDC had to revise the number of deaths from obesity from 365-thousand downward to around 25,000 as published by the American Medical Association.)

In regards to smoking, the CDC says about 442,000 Americans died each year from smoking during the years 1995-1999. However, I defy anyone to find one death certificate which lists smoking as the cause of death. The CDC says it is heart disease, cancer etc. But that isn't the whole list. Cervical Cancer is attributed to smoking by the American Cancer Society. Unfortunately, last year a vaccine for cervical cancer was tested successfully. Seems the cancer is mostly the result of a virus. Whoops. Which is it a virus or smoking? Actually a doctor friend has this theory of linkage...women who smoke tend to drink more. Women who drink more are more sexually active. More sexually active women tend to get the STD virus. Viola.

Further, when considering smoking, the CDC says have you EVER smoked? Well when the Surgeon General made his initial report on smoking in the 60s...what percentage of the population answered that question in the affirmative (think WW2, Lucky Strike goes to war, cigarettes on almost every tv show.) Might have skewed the stats? Probably. Another way to view the stats is that if a smoker is obese, has high cholesterol, diabetes and heart problems, never exercises and dies of a heart attack, the government classifies it as a smoking attributed death. (Again though the death certificate will say heart attack.)

Ok so how about ETS?
Well most of the data on ETS comes from an EPA study commissioned during the Clinton Administration, after it classified ETS as a "Group A Carcinogen" in 1993. Most of the research was shoddy and in fact a federal judge threw it out in 1998. The judge said "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..." In other words, it made up the results. The World Health Organization did a study finding no statistically significant risk in ETS. In the WHO report it showed that there were relative risks of 1.16 and 1.17 or a 16 and 17 percent increase of getting lung cancer from ETS. But what was lost in the data was perspective. The National Cancer Institute's own guidelines say "Relative risks of less than 2 [i.e. a 100% increase] are considered small...such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias or effects of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident." To put this in perspective, the relative risk for getting lung cancer from drinking whole milk is 2.4. That is 140 percentor 8 times more than from second hand smoke.

There are plenty of chemicals in cigarette smoke...not nearly as many in cigars. But these chemicals exist in many everyday products. Cigarettes produce up to 700 micrograms of formaldehyde in sidestream smoke (coming off the cigarette). But gas ranges release 20,000 to 40,000 micrograms per hour! Further, formaldehyde is in carpets, coat fabrics, wood bonding and finishing products.. The normal stuff in buildings is around 40-50 micrograms of formaldehyde per cubic meter. ETS rarely exceeds 40 micrograms per cubic meter. A "safe" level is formaldehyde is 1500 micrograms per cubic meter, or about 37 times more than cigarettes produce.

But ETS is serious right? Well OSHA started studying the issue in 1994, trying to set an acceptable level of ETS. It gave up in 2001. That was also the year that the Oak Ridge National Laboratory did a comparison of a non-smoking restaurant and the non smoking section of a smoking tavern. The result? The levels were virtually identical. But how can there be smoke in a non smoking restaurant? Cooking gives off smoke. When Oak Ridge in 2000 tested saliva of restaurant workers in smoking restaurants, they found their levels of nicotine and other substances considerably lower than proposed OSHA standards. Maybe that's why OSHA gave up.

There is a lot of material on smoking and second hand smoke at also at Dave runs through the science of these studies and gives you more studies.

So why is there this rage for ETS? Well think of it...if you could smoke everywhere, then you wouldn't need Nicotrol, Zyban and other stop smoking programs and drugs. There is a profit motive at work. Drug companies (Johnson and Johnson for one) are funding the initiatives. So are the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and American Heart Association. They raise money to do it. The more money they raise...well you get the idea.

Finally there is this. On November 11, 2003, the University of Houston headlined a release..."An apple a day may keep the doctor away...but so may a cigarette." The findings were based on the fact that stress is among America's top health problems and nicotine has a beneficial effect on memory, especially stress-induced memory impairment. The researcher says this could help with Parkinsons and Alzheimers.

Source: Cigar Weekly