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Massachusetts Citizens for Freedom

A Ban Is Still A Ban

Fall River Board of Health Tobacco Control Director Joseph Borges should not be surprised that "the word ban is not resonating well with the community." He admits that many people believe that others should be able to do as they choose and that people are, as they certainly should be, afraid of the word ban. Well, here’s another word for you; prohibition. It did not resonate well either and was finally repealed.

The original premise for smoking bans is based on the notion that secondhand smoke is a real hazard, due mostly to the findings of the 1993 Environmental Protection Agency report. Federal Judge Osteen, a jurist, who in 1997 ruled the FDA had the authority to regulate tobacco, invalidated the EPA report. In his decision he explained that no matter what manipulation of science it took, the EPA was determined to show that secondhand smoke is harmful.

Imagine someone holding up a contract that a court deemed invalid and still demanding it be enforced. Who would stand for that? Yet smoking bans all around the country are based on this blatant lie. The prohibitionists have accomplished this through a massive propaganda campaign paid for by money extorted from smokers and tobacco companies. They have influenced public opinion through simple repetition.

Consider the findings of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s study. They measured actual exposure by having test subjects wear devices that pump air through filters. One hundred seventy-three non-smoking people who work as waitstaff and bartenders were fitted with these devices. This 16-city study concluded that, "Exposures to respirable suspended particulate matter were considerably below limits established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the workplace."

Blaming children’s asthma on secondhand smoke is scientifically unjustified.A study funded by Medical Research Council reported that a single gene could account for as many as 40 percent of all asthma cases.

The owners of Zita’s Restaurant had the privilege of making their own decision and rightly so; all other owners should be afforded that same privilege. I know of many restaurant owners in New Bedfordwho have either gone out of business or whose sales have dropped significantly in direct correlation to a smoking ban.

The Fall River City Council has already adopted Massachusetts General Law governing accommodation for smokers and nonsmokers. Business owners like Zita and Oscar Dias made a decision based on their personal preference. The rest of usare entitled to make our own personal decisions as well. Face it Mr. Borges, no matter what warm, fuzzy, politically correct name you give it, a ban is still a ban.

Laura Hirschmann

Ed Sweda

Smoking ban proponent reveals his true objective

NEW BEDFORD -- Ed Sweda's recent input into the environmental tobacco smoke debate seems to avoid the points I had previously made. I concur with Mr. Sweda that smoking ought to be prohibited from public places where people are forced to be if it can be shown that tobacco smoke harms people. The problem is that the studies are not very convincing. And there are not many places where people are forced to be, certainly not restaurants or workplaces.

Since the recent bout of letter-writing in The Standard Times, a number of readers have gotten in touch with me and provided me with additional original research that tends to confirm my previously-reported observations. Most significantly, in the Congressional Research Service Report for Congress (an organization not funded by big tobacco), the rate of smoker misclassification was running between 2.5 percent and 4.6 percent, and a smoker misclassification rate of 3 percent would completely eliminate the statistical significance of even the most damning of the studies done to date.

But Mr. Sweda does actually seem to understand this point and argues further than ETS is obnoxious to some non-smokers. I also agree with him on this point. But the solution to this problem is not to force addicted smokers to smoke in basement closets or outdoors in the snow and rain. A more appropriate answer is to allow restaurateurs and bar owners and other small business owners to determine for themselves what arrangements their customers would prefer.

Many restaurants and bars and businesses will naturally become non-smoking since that is what many people want. This was happening long before government decided to step into the picture. But some restaurants would opt for separate but equal facilities (with return air from smoking areas being directly vented to the outdoors so there would be no chance of contamination) and some few would allow unlimited smoking. This way, both smokers and ardent non-smokers could be accommodated safely and comfortably. The same arrangement accommodates waitstaff: smoking waitstaff could work in smoking environments and non-smoking waitstaff could work in non-smoking environments.

But this solution doesn't get at what the anti-smoker activists would really like, and Mr. Sweda does give that away in his last letter: He points out that smokers now have fewer opportunities to smoke and, by implication, that the current bans are causing people to stop or cut down on their smoking, and that the current bans are cutting into the profits of big tobacco. This is the agenda: force people to stop smoking, period.

This is manipulative. Even non-smoker activists should be concerned about these tactics, because if we allow this to happen with tobacco, what is next? Will they ban French fries and hamburgers and ice cream (which probably already do more health damage than cigarettes), or perhaps we will all be forced to do one hour of aerobics three times a week (which would be better for smoker heart health than giving up smoking)? Or maybe we'll get a ban on sugar? Or cars -- after all, public transportation causes less pollution than private vehicles and pollution is likely causing lots more deaths than ETS.

If Americans allow the anti-smokers to win on this issue, it will create a precedent which none of us would want, a precedent that undermines the fabric of civil society: people should be allowed to do as they wish as long as they do not harm others.

But the most significant problem with Mr. Sweda's response is his lack of regard for my arguments against ad hominem attacks. So I will clarify the point.

Mr. Sweda argues that some scientists (who received money from big tobacco to make public their opinions on the scientific data) cannot be trusted because they were paid to do so. If this were true, then we should not believe Mr. Sweda himself, since his job is working for an anti-smoking lobby.

Why should we disregard the views of reputable scientists who have been paid a couple of thousand dollars to take the time to publish their honest opinions while we should attend to the views of lay persons who are earning their entire living by advocating smoking bans? Many more people are employed to lobby for smoking bans than are employed to argue against them. If receipt of money were evidence enough to disregard an advocate's position, then Mr. Sweda and the thousands of other government-funded employees paid to advocate for bans should all be ignored.

Finally, in spite of Mr. Sweda's allegations, I have not made up my mind on the topic of whether or not ETS causes health problems in non-smokers. It is in fact Mr. Sweda who has made up his mind: He is the one who has concluded the smoking is the most serious preventable public health hazard today, and he is the one who is trying to legislate smoking bans and trying to force everyone to live us to his vision of a healthy America. I am simply unconvinced by the arguments he has presented and I hope other readers of these pages come to agree with me that accommodation policies would be better for everyone.

Lee Nason lives in New Bedford.

New Technology Alters Second-hand Smoke Debate

From New York City to Washington State, local governments weigh hospital-quality ventilation systems as an alternative to smoking bans in public places.
By Ron Scherer

Hospitals use walls of air to separate areas considered contagious. And now systems in some restaurants change the air 10 times an hour - nearly the equivalent of leaving the bedroom window open to get a cool breeze.
But can this relatively new technology eliminate the need for antismoking rules in bars and restaurants?

This question is at the heart of a lot of hot air over ventilation, as an increasing number of cities and states further tighten their antismoking rules to eliminate all smoking in public places.

Restaurant and bar owners now argue that the technology has improved enough that their facilities can now accommodate both smokers and nonsmokers. Not true, say public-health advocates, who maintain that no ventilation system can make a room safe for nonsmokers.

The argument has become part of the ongoing smoking debate in cities across the country.

This month, in New York, the city council, in a proposed bill to tighten up antismoking rules, includes a task force to determine if there are new technologies that can clean smoke-filled rooms and filter potential carcinogens. In Washington State, another bill tightening smoking rules, which recently passed the Senate, also included a task force on ventilation. And, earlier this month, the Minnesota Health Department, turning to a ventilation standard, proposed a new law requiring bars to direct smoke away from nonsmoking areas.

"The battleground for clean indoor air is shifting from economic impact to ventilation technology," says Elva Yanez of Smokeless States, a private-sector effort to support state antismoking efforts. "Second-hand smoke is the Achilles heel of the tobacco industry, and what we're seeing is a natural reaction to that reality."

Antismoking groups point to Philadelphia as an example of how task forces fit into the tobacco companies strategy. Last year, Councilman Michael Nutter tried to introduce legislation that would ban smoking in restaurants. To try to compromise with those opposed to the legislation, he agreed to a ventilation task force. The task force split right along ideological lines.

"There was total disagreement with the concepts - such as acknowledging that second-hand smoke is a health hazard - to even reach a middle ground," says Bob Finkboner, a nonvoting member of the task force and a consultant with Invensys Building Systems. "They could not even agree on the title of the report."

Still, antismoking activists say the Philadelphia task force did accomplish one thing: It took some of the momentum away from the bill, which never got out of committee.

The ventilation issue has also been successful at dividing the antismoking community. California activist Stan Glantz accuses New Yorkers of failing to notice the creation of the task force. He says the fact that the tobacco industry did not testify against the bill is troubling. "It smells like a complete rat," he says. "If they adopt the task force, it would represent a huge victory for the tobacco companies."

Mr. Glantz's criticism is a "low blow," replies Joe Cherner, head of Smoke-free Educational Services, an antitobacco advocacy group in New York. He says he has no control over the Council or the legislation, which is sponsored by Speaker Peter Vallone. "It's clearly a concession to the industry - it's not something we want."

But, the tobacco industry says it's something that's needed since many businesses have invested in new air systems since 1995, when the city banned smoking in restaurants seating more than 35 people but allowed smoking to continue in bars. Under the proposed regulation, all restaurants and their bar areas would have to snuff out smoking. Only stand-alone bars would be allowed to permit smoking.

"We think the current rules work just fine," says Brendan McCormick, a spokesman for Philip Morris.

A source at the city council says the task force is the result of months of discussion with both sides.

"We were told there was new technology that would get rid of the smoke and carcinogens," says the person, who insisted on anonymity. "We thought it would be good for the task force to see if it exists."

There have been big changes in the past several years, says Scott Roberts, North American sales and marketing manager for Honeywell Commercial Air Products in Niceville, Fla. He says older models would just take care of the smoke or blue haze, which accounted for about 50 percent of the problem. The new systems, he says, use almost hospital-grade particle-filtration systems that can remove viruses as well as the gas phase of the cigarette smoke. He estimates that a good system, which includes fresh outdoor air, can remove as much as 85 to 90 percent of the second-hand smoke. "It's kind of a leapfrog in technology."

Still, Mr. Roberts concedes that he can't make any health claims for the new systems. "Second-hand smoke is significantly reduced," he says, but adds, "Any amount is not good."

And, as Mr. Finkboner of the Philadelphia task force found out, it's almost impossible to prevent cigarette smoke from migrating. As people move through a bar, it clings to their clothes. As they walk from the bar to the restaurant area, they drag the smoke with them. "You can reduce the amount, but never totally eliminate it," he says. "And there are no studies on how much is acceptable."

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