You Are Entitled To Your Own Opinion But Not Your Own Facts
Let me start by stating that I quit smoking over thirty-five years ago and that I prefer not to be near smokers. I believe the enactment of anti-smoking laws all over the country has made the environment much more pleasant for me and everyone else. Unfortunately it has also created a serious and fundamental problem for me and perhaps everyone.
What I refer to is a serious corruption of the very foundations of scientific methodology and that is no small thing. The results of this corruption can be found everywhere if you know enough to look.
The process that was used to end public smoking went something like this:
- Health professionals and civic groups were concerned about a number of the consequences of smoking and particularly regarding children. In the 1960’s and 70’s there were almost as many smokers as non-smokers in America and many children took up smoking in their teen years.
- The smoking opponents turned to civic leaders (politicians) asking for new policies to curb the amount of smoking. Politicians had to be careful though because many of the people that voted were also smokers. If they were going to pass laws to crack down on smoking they needed a good excuse.
- The first actions were taken against individual smokers. It took the form of laws to prevent children from smoking and the funding of medical research to investigate the consequences of smoking on health. That research was actually late in happening and it wasn’t difficult to make a scientifically valid case against smoking. Heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema, could easily be traced to smoking.
- While the new laws had some success they didn’t come anywhere near significantly reducing tobacco use. Even after publishing research results showing how dangerous smoking was a lot of Americans continued to go on using tobacco.
- The next steps involved financial disincentives like having insurance companies raise the cost of insurance and attacking the manufacturers legally for creating an addiction that smokers couldn’t break.
- As a result of all this action the smoking public was shrinking and manufacturers were being attacked financially from many directions. Money that was won in court was being applied by government to fund new anti-smoking initiatives that were now showing results.
- The anti-smoking forces were growing in numbers and effectiveness and they wanted even more action. Again they turned to politicians and they in turn turned to science. Since smoking was still an individual choice and a lot of people still exercised that choice a new approach had to be found.
- Activists came up with the notion that people smoking were a risk to the general population and government began to fund new research. It only made sense that if smoking was injuring the smoker their exhaled smoke should be injuring everyone else that had to be around them.
- Second-hand smoke is now blamed for serious health problems in non-smokers and a number of scientific studies supposedly support this conclusion.
- Armed with these new findings politicians all over the country started passing laws banning virtually all public smoking. Parks and other public spaces, restaurants, private schools and workplaces and some even make smoking in homes illegal.
As I stated at the start I believe that many of these laws have made my world a more pleasant, smoke-free place. I have just one problem with the process. It went too far and corrupted science as an institution in the process. The case against second-hand smoke being a health threat is too weak.
Consider a simple exercise in cause and effect reasoning. Like many of my generation I grew up in a household where both my parents smoked – a lot. I remember parties at our house where you couldn’t see the other side of the room thru the smog. If you are looking for a study group to explore the effects of second-hand smoke – we’re it! There now have been a number of those studies. Some compare generational outcomes based on the home environment. Some study health histories from my generation against more recent generations and almost universally all these studies show no difference.
I’m as surprised as everyone else but if you want to make specific policy based on scientific research you really should have good scientific evidence to support your policy. The problem with this current scenario is that politicians have used government money to support research pushing for a specific outcome. Some scientists and a number of research administrators have now falsified or misrepresented data to support the intended outcome. I assume it’s the money. (for details on this history see Secondhand Smoke)
If we wanted to pass laws to stop people from smoking around us because we just don’t like being around smokers – just do it! There is no Constitutional right that allows people to smoke everywhere. There really was no obstacle to doing just that, so why did we have to use government to fund bad science to get what we wanted?
The real problem is that we now have a template that is being used by any number of groups to impose their will on the country and with each passing year the corruption of the scientific method gets worse. They use it to go after what we eat, to advance green causes, to stop people from having children and that is just the tip of the iceberg.