Is passive smoking dangerous?

One of the world's strictest anti-smoking laws came into force in Norway this week. Inspired by similar laws in Ireland, New York and California, all smoking in pubs and restaurants is now banned. It would be an exaggeration to say that there's dancing and celebration in the streets, but the reception is warm. The intention is to protect employees and guests against lung cancer, heart problems and other dreadful diseases, and who'd be against that? 54% of people asked in a poll support the ban, (including 40% of smokers), against 28% who oppose it.

81% believes that passive smoking in the work place increases the risk of cancer and other diseases. Well, that's the question. Does it?

I don't have a personal stake in this. I don't smoke. Even if I wanted to, and I don't, my apartment lease explicitly forbids me from doing it at home. I do have a political bias here, though: I'm skeptical to the idea that government should protect people from their own bad habits. But if passive smoking is dangerous, a ban would be justified. We know that smoking is very dangerous to yourself - so it's not farfetched to guess that there could be comparable risks to bystanders. No whining about government nannies can ever justify a non-beneficial habit that makes people around you mortally ill.

But I don't like bad laws based on bad science, and there is at least enough disagreement about the effect of passive smoking to ask questions about the evidence. So I did some research. Let's start with the opposition. Here's a good site which claims to tell the facts about second hand smoke. The author, Dave Hitt, takes time to explain the basics of epidemiology - the branch of medicine that uses statistics to calculate health risks - and that's a plus in my book. No government anti-tobacco campaign have ever bothered to explain to me how it knows what it claims to know, only that it knows. Whatever you think of second hand smoking, I hope I'm not alone in being hesitant about taking the government on trust about what's good or bad for me.

The site continues with a detailed look at two reports on second hand smoking. The first was made by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1993, and is referred to by almost every anti-smoking report or website I've been able to find. According to Dave Hitt it was based on very dodgy science:

In 1993 the EPA issued a report which claimed that Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) caused 3,000 deaths per year. .. The EPA announced the results of the study before it was finished. .. The first step in a meta analysis is identifying all of the relevant studies. The EPA located 33 studies that compared ETS exposure to lung cancer rates. The EPA selected 31 of the 33 studies. Later they rejected one of their chosen studies, bringing the total to 30. ..

In 1995 The Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a review of the EPA report. .. The CRS pointed out that "from a group of 30 studies. . six found a statistically significant (but small) effect, 24 found no statistically significant effect and six of the 24 found a passive smoking effect opposite to the expected relationship." ..

The EPA based their numbers on a meta analysis of just 11 studies. The analysis showed no increase in risk at the 95% confidence level. Even after excluding most of the studies, the EPA couldn't come up with 3,000 deaths, but they had already announced the results. So they doubled their margin of error. Let me repeat that, because it may seem hard to believe: After failing to achieve their pre-announced results by ignoring half of the data, they doubled their margin of error! ..

After juggling the numbers, The EPA came up with an RR (Relative Risk) of ETS causing lung cancer 1.19. .. A RR of less than 2.0 is usually written off as and insignificant result, most likely to be due to error or bias. An RR of 3.0 or higher is considered desirable. .. In review: The EPA ignored nearly two-thirds of the data. The EPA then doubled their margin of error to come up with their desired results. Even with all this manipulation, the numbers are still far too low to be considered statistically significant.

A lot of research has been done into passive smoking since 1993, but the EPA report played an important role in giving attention to the issue, and the fact that it is still referred to by anti-tobacco activists is a disturbing sign. This does not prove that all other research on second hand smoking is bogus, but what does it tell us about the scientific standards of anti-smokers that they refer to a report where the sources were cherry picked and the confidence interval increased to get the right numbers?

Also interesting is the claim that relative risks of less than 2.0 are generally considered meaningless in epidemiological research. That is, unless there's more than a 100% increase in risk associated with a substance, the result is too unreliable to take seriously. I'm not an epidemiologist. I don't know if that's true, and if this limit is based on sound science. But if it is, it doesn't matter how the EPA's relative risk for lung cancer of 1.19 (+19%) was calculated - it's still too small to be meaningful. (The EPA's response to critics is here. While it answers many of the accusations, it curiously ignores the risk ratio argument.)

You can also read about this 1998 WHO study which didn't use dodgy statistics, and which found no a significant relationship between passive smoking and lung cancer.

Fine. So much for the opposition. For all I know, Dave Hitt is a crank, and himself a cherry picker of reports that are either obviously bogus or agree with his own point of view, ignoring a mountain of sound research on the dangers of passive smoking.

I don't have time and I'm not qualified to read all the research on passive smoking that is available out there. But if anyone has an incentive to collect evidence on the dangers of second hand smoking, it is the Norwegian health authorities. So I went to their tobacco information website. They offer three links: A report by the Health & Tobacco authorities in Ireland which summarizes the scientific consensus on passive smoking, a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the website of the British Medical Association. Here's what they have to say:

Epidemological studies have shown that ETS has effects on health similar to those seen from active smoking albeit at lower levels, namely (a) an increased risk of lung cancer (possibly increased by 20-30%), (b) an increased risk of heart disease (estimated at 25-30%), (c) an increased risk of stroke (possibly as high as 82%), (d) a reduction in birth weight of infants born to mothers exposed to ETS and (e) an increased frequency of chronic respiratory symptoms such as cough, phlegm production, shortness of breath and chest colds. -

The excess risk [of lung cancer] is of the order of 20% for women and 30% for men and remains after controlling for some potential sources of bias and confounding. The excess risk increases with increasing exposure. Furthermore, other published meta-analyses of lung cancer in never-smokers exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke at the workplace have found a statistically significant increase in risk of 12–19%. .. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke is causally associated with coronary heart disease. From the available meta-analyses, it has been estimated that involuntary smoking increases the risk of an acute coronary heart disease event by 25–35%.

In adults, second-hand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer by some 20-30 per cent and the risk of coronary heart disease by 25-35 per cent.

Notice a pattern here? 1) There is broad agreement that passive smoking increases the risk of lung cancer and heart disease by about 30%. Many other diseases are mentioned, but these are among the few numbers mentioned. (What "possibly as high as 82%" means is beyond me, but it's only mentioned on the first site.) 2) 30% is much lower than the 100% (2.0) increase in risk supposedly demanded by epidemiological research, and thus a meaningless increase in risk.

What is going on here? I'm not a scientist, or an epidemiologist. For all I know the 2.0 limit is arbitrary, irrational, obsolete, or has been made irrelevant by the methods used in these particular reports. I really don't have a stake here, I want to know the truth. If you know that it is bogus to demand a 100+% increase in risk before you take a epidemiological result seriously, let me know.

And then there's this, from the Irish report, surveying (and rejecting) other ways than smoking bans to solve the passive smoking problem:

Air cleaning is similarly problematic. Of proposed new technology, displacement ventilation is viewed as having the potential for a 90% reduction in ETS levels but even this would still leave exposure levels 1500 to 2500 times the acceptable risk level for hazardous air pollutants.

So there may be technology available that would reduce exposure by 90%, and .. this was rejected? Because it doesn't catch the final 10%? The connection between passive smoking and health problems appears small enough as it is. At one tenth the amount, what would be left? This is unproven technology, but why hasn't this option been explored, why is it so quickly dismissed? Why didn't we wait a few years, see if it works, then decide whether to ban all public smoking, or force all pubs and restaurants to update their ventilation systems?

I'm not saying that second hand smoking is harmless - I'm not qualified. But if it is true that a 30% increase in health risk is meaningless, if it is true that anti-tobacco activists and politicians apply lax standards to the research they quote, it is a reasonable conclusion that Norway's smoking ban is based on bogus science.

And then we have to ask why. Why do that? Why lower your scientific standards, why ignore non-ban solutions? The reason is clear: Fighting passive smoking is an effective way to fight smoking. It raises the incentive for people to quit, which is good for their health. If you can't smoke anywhere else but at home, and if you're made to feel guilty for inflicting health problems on your family and friends, that's a pretty strong argument for giving up smoking entirely. If that is the intention, I have no doubt that it will work.

And so we're back at whining about the nanny state. Which is appropriate - when the government lies to you so it can protect you from a habit that harms noone but yourself. There's no excuse for that.

There are other arguments for a ban on smoking in public places: Many non-smokers don't like it when people smoke around them. It smells bad, and the smell sticks to your clothes. Some are allergic to it. But there's a reason no government has tried to sell a public smoking ban on politeness and allergy - it's not enough. Without a health risk, without the anger and the guilt, there's no ban. With that health risk, I would - and everyone else should - support it.

So, which is it? Bogus or good science?


It is illegal to discriminate against anyone in Norway on grounds of race, religion, nationality or sexual preferments, which btw is a good thing per se.
However, it seems like mankind likes to discriminate, and smokers have simply become a target to mankinds baser instincts. Authorities have tried to ban smoking since the time of James II, with little siccess. In some years time, todays antismoking hysteria will be regarded like McCarthyism is being regarded today. Hopefully.

Knowing the risks they are taking, people should have the right to smoke...and I admit to smoking a cigar occasionally. However, smokers do not have the right to tacitly "force" their smoke on others in public places.

Thankfully in the U.S., many municipalities have banned smoking in restaurants, and in fact many restaurants do not allow it. For those few restaurants who still allow patrons to light up...well, I can use my freedom of choice and not go there.

The statistical support for dangers of second hand smoke is indeed quite weak.

Logically, pubs are different from restaurants. Children can be excluded from pubs, so that only consenting adults are exposed to the smoke.
Smokers should have a public place where they can get together and enjoy each other's company.
Second hand alcohol (being on the same roads as drunk drivers) is a far greater hazard.

This is one aspect of it that makes this law questionable. I'd also like to mention that the physically impaired reputedly never got their say about it (article in Norwegian only: )
There are a large amount of smokers among this group, and I am saddened thinking about the stress they will have to go through (maneuvering their wheel-chairs in place when they arrive at the restaurant is painful enough for some of them). These people are the real losers of this ban. They too can go outside yes, but I fear many of them will not bother about it and stay at home. The effect will be that they now experience the "curfew" allergics are glad to be rid of.
I hope they at least can be excluded from this law.
What about Ireland in this matter? Does anyone know?
If I'm off topic with this, accept my apologies and I'll shut up :)

Stop identifying with being a smoker. Simply stop smoking. It's a disgusting habit. You only think you are deriving pleasure out of habit. Instead, you are weakening your own body and bring more pain, and to dull that, you smoke even more.. It's a vicious circle.

I have tried smoking a little while being with a girlfriend who smoked. I quickly realized this was going nowhere and dumped the girlfriend. You see, I smoked because I thought 'hey, it'll make me feel good', but in the long run I saw that it made me feel like crap. And it does, because it is all crap. After a short period of time, I felt fresh and nice again, with no craving for smoke at all.

If you must smoke, do it at home, but please don't let others have to inhale your fumes.

Why must smokers be so cynical and disregarding to others, that we have to make laws to get them to see our point? I suspect that they disregard others, because they completely disregard themselves.

I'm not talking about you now, you stopped identifying as a smoker, right? ;-)

And lighten up! Nobody is "out there to get you". We're simply fed up with the smoke. Do you know how many times I've wanted to tell a smoker to leave?? Or how many times I'm waiting somewhere and somebody comes around and lights a sigarette litterally up in my face?? How many times I've had to flee from the smoke, but not finding anywhere because the smokers insist on spreading around the place??

It doesn't help to talk to a smoker, because they will take it personally and get angry. It isn't. It's not you, we love you, it's the smoke. This law is good and long overdue, really.

Stop identifying with being a smoker.

Me: To be quite frank, you're full of shit.

I can fully understand that non-smokers want some places where smoking is banned. And nobody has denied non-smokers access to start their own restaurant/pub/whatever where they ban smoking.

However, shouldn't smokers be allowed to start a pub called, say, "Smokers Corner", and allow everyone in there to smoke? Isn't it limiting the smokers freedom, to deny them to start their own "smoker's club", or a place where they're allowed to smoke?

And, for example, look at the norwegian pub "Bar and Cigar" - which suddenly cannot offer half their products -- which was Cigars. No non-smokers or smoke-haters would ever set their foot in there, but hey - that was kind of the idea.

Now however, smokers are _denied_ to have a public place where they can meet, smoke and drink.

I think it's a horrible situation.

And I'm a non-smoker.

I don't know that anyone can argue that smoking is anything but a very addictive, but otherwise filthy, expensive, and unhealthy habit. I don't think people who smoke have a character flaw - it's just dumb luck that I'm not one of them. Smoking is not an honestly held religious belief or political conviction - there simply isn't a single identifiable virtue to the habit. To say that "anti-smoking" laws are related to McCarthyism or any other form of discrimination is silly.

The science is dodgy on this issue because there isn't longitudinal data available to know for sure - 30-40 years ago, pretty much everyone was exposed to second-hand smoke, so it was hard to find a control group if anyone had tried. But it's pretty clear that in principle tobacco smoke is an environmental hazard, just like asbestos particles are. It's not nearly as dangerous and occurs for entirely different reasons, but there is a non-trivial probability that the more you're exposed to it, the shorter your life span will be. I agree with Bjørn that we don't know precisely how much exposure will change how much of the probability, and to what extent.

I'm in favor of banning smoking in public places for entirely selfish reasons: I can't stand cigarette smoke, and I avoid going out for that reason. I also avoid going to parties where there's smoking and leave early when I do. It's so bad that when I see friends I haven't seen for years I end up calling it a night after a few hours because the smoke bothers me so much.

And what will happen is this: the less non-smokers are exposed to smoke, the less they will tolerate it. In New York, people are complaining about the cigarette smoke in the streets, where smokers have to go these days. There is serious talk in California of banning smoking on public beaches.

I mean seriously, how would people feel if I carried burning incense sticks with me everywhere - into restaurants, bars, workplaces, etc., simply because I liked the smell?


I think many of the famous beaches of Syndey are becoming smoke free.

Bondi set to ban beach smoking,4057,9595451%255E1702,00.html

Leif Knutsen, I am glad you admit your reasons for wanting to ban smoking. If only the Norwegian Government would do the same...
I am irritated by people who use way too much perfume, and it will be hell for me to go out now without an equilibrium of smoke in the air. Perhaps if I got hold of some dubious science results and some megalomanic minister of the Norwegian Government on my side I could have my way...?
I hope you realize how silly this sounds, and how silly your own reasons sound?

First off, I don't think harm is needed to justify a law of this sort. All that is needed is that enough people don't like it (smoking). Smoking is not a private pleasure, it invades others space, and that means the invaded can object. Smoking was forced on me as a child, (by smokers exercising their "rights") I have no sympathy for the addicts of society crying false tears now.

I heard something on the radio...three citys outlawed smoking in bars and buildings for 6 months or so. During that time, the rate of heart attacks dropped dramatically. When the ban was lifted, the heart attack rate went right back up. Primary smoking could not account for this, since smokers kept on smoking during the ban in private, only secondary exposure in bars and buildings could account for the variation. That is not a perfect science experiment, but it's good enough for me.


Frank -

I didn't say that my being bothered by tobacco smoke is a good enough reason to ban it in restaurants and bars. And I actually sympathize with people who are allergic or get migraines from perfume - it must be difficult for them as well. Since I have reason to hang out in waiting rooms for therapists for kids with special needs, I can tell you that most of these therapists tell their patients' parents to not wear perfume, since many of the kids have severe reactions to it. So clearly there are situations when it is appropriate to ban perfume as well.

My best comparison is this: if I carried around burning incense sticks with me everywhere: on the street, in restaurants, in the work place, etc., I can guarantee people in every place would tell me to extinguish them, because they were bothered by the smoke and the smell. And they'd be right to do this.

Smokers have all the rights everyone else does, but that does not include the right to pollute the environment for themselves and non-smokers. I'm always struck by the fact that smokers - because most of them have severely impaired olfactory sense from smoking - don't realize how disgusting it is. I've come home from a night on the town and undressed in the hallway, showered and washed my hair, and still smelled the smoke in my clothes the next morning. I usually have to wash or dry clean everything I wore.

It's easy to say that I don't have to go to bars and restaurants, and that's usually my choice. But sometimes it's the only way I get to meet friends, and sometimes it's necessary for work reasons.

And for what and whose benefit?

I live just outside of New York City, and I can tell you that after a few weeks of noise, the bar and restaurant business picked right up again. Now there are 4-5 people hanging out outside the bars smoking, but the air inside is actually breathable. And smokers mostly appreciate it as well - they smoke less (always a good thing) and realize they don't stink as much.

So get over it.

Rune Kristian Viken has a good point. Why is it so wrong that both sides in this "war" could have it their way, when it certainly is possible?

When I was in Scandinavia, I visited some restaurants that took me back to my youth in Australia. They took me back to the bad old days before we banned smoking in public places where food is served. This was not done on the basis of a scientific study, but on the basis of the fact that smoke stinks, and ruins the enjoyment of meals for many patrons. In this sense, the whole of Europe is well behind Australia in "progressiveness". We have had non-smoking venues in Australia for well over a decade now, and Kjell's predictions have been proven false. We do not look back upon the banning of smoking in public eateries as McCarthyist "antismoking hysteria", rather, people will look back on the old, smoky days as unpleasant and strange. Smoker's rights advocates such as Kjell seem hysterical in retrospect. Kjell, unlike the McCarthy trials, there is no prospect of smokers being sacked, branded traitors or imprisoned. Get over it.

The idea that there should be special venues for smokers or non-smokers is novel, but fanciful (we're one society, not two), just as the notion that one side of a restaurant can be designated "smoking" and the other side "smoke-free" is fanciful (smoke moves!). The fact is that legislators have two choices. Either venues will be filled with smoke (to the discomfort of many patrons) or they will not (to the inconvience of smokers, who can still step outside or choose not to smoke). The point is that smokers make a positive _choice_ to smoke, whereas I do not make a positive choice to find someone else's stinking smoke unpleasant. It makes the eyes sting, burns the throat, makes me queasy, makes my clothes and hair stink, leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and is just plain unpleasant. Why do I have to put up with it in those places where it is still allowed in Australia (Pubs and bars, casinos, nightclubs, open-air train stations and in the street)? Do you want to know the number of times I've sat down at the train station, started reading a book, and then been obliged to move because some stinking human chimney has sat next to me and lit up?

This is not some sinister attempt by hysterical anti-smokers to spitefully infringe on the rights of others. It is an attempt to uphold our own basic right to live in comfort.

I like Leif's example about incense burners.

Can anyone hear really believe that if smoking had not yet been introduced to the modern, western world, we would allow it to be introduced now? Second hand smoke is air pollution, which brings me to another analogy. Noise pollution is illegal. If someone plays loud music in public places (or at home such that the neighbours can't escape the noise), he can be subject to a police warning, followed by ejection from that public place or eviction from his place of residence. There is no need to prove that the noise level doubles, or trebles, or quadruples the risk of hearing loss. It is simply not allowed to replace silence with noise for one's own satisfaction, just as it should not be allowed to replace smokelessness with smoke. How would you feel if say one third of patrons of every public venue carried transistor radios blaring out horse racing scores? Would the other two thirds of society have a right to ban that?

Now I'll grant that some people aren't terribly bothered by loud music at 3am, or by second hand cigarette smoke. However, I am, Leif is, 'me' is. Many people genuinely find it intolerable to be in a smoke-filled environment, so why should they be?

A right is an individual's claim on society. What possible claim do smokers have on the rest of us? Why should we sacrifice our enjoyment of _public_ places so that smokers can exercise their 'right' to smoke wherever they please? The 'right' to choose to smoke should never take away the pre-existing right to be free from smoke. I did not make a choice to find smoking unpleasant, and no smoker is forced into continued dependence on nicotine.

It's telling that only the pro-smokers-rights side of the argument on this thread has accused the other side of being hysterical and "full of shit". This is typical of a debate between forward-thinking reason and the retrograde defence of a vice for which no positive argument can be argued. There is nothing good to be said for cigarette smoking, is there?

Making public spaces smoke-free is the way of the future, it is progress. Norway has been behind Australia for years, and has now taken a step ahead into the 21st Century. It's a shame a few reactionary smokers want to hold onto their 'rights' to be addicted to cancer-causing substances at the expense of the rest of the population. I look forward to the day that smoking is something that a few sad addicts do in their own homes, like bong smoking and glue sniffing.

Trevor Stanley, it is, however, your side of the argument that accused people of being "some stinking human chimney" and "reactionaries," which is ad hominem as well.

It's perfectly possible for some bars to completely disallow smoking, but others to allow it. You make an analogy to noise-- do you think that society has a right to ban noise in all venues? Should concerts be illegal? Frankly, pushing people out of all bars and restaurants to smoke on street corners is insane. There are many bars and restaurants; each is a private location that people choose to go to. Each may allow smoking or not at its own discretion. By patronizing those without smoke and avoiding those full of smoke, you have a choice. When it comes to public places, like thoroughfares and streets, it's quite different.

Thus we see that the noise pollution analogy leads to quite the opposite result-- banning offensive smoke from public areas, like out in the street, but allowing it in private locations like bars.

As far as passive smoking's health risks, it's likely that there are some (not all studies show a statistically significant effect, but the combined result of all studies suggests that there's probably a weak effect-- one nasty flaw is the tendency of people to lie in surveys, claiming that they don't smoke but that someone else in the household does), although much weaker than anything governments normally take action on. (For the simple reason that there are more useful areas of action, and that any effect that small might easily be due to some unspotted confounding factor.) Passive smoking's cancer risks are quite smaller than that of eating charred meats regularly, or the increase in stomach cancer that comes from eating lots of pickled things. The risks associated with passive smoke are much, much lower than the massive and obvious effect of smoking oneself or of installing absestos, so the comparisons are quite ridiculous

I do appreciate that those of you who support these bans acknowledge that you do it for selfish reasons, not because the laws are based on solid science. But shouldn't it concern you that our governments lie to us to make these laws? Is it not short-sighted to shrug and imply that since this law benefits _you_, as well as the smokers (against their will), it's not so important that it's based on a lie? What if tomorrow another law is passed based on equally bad science that actually does harm you. Wouldn't it be true that if that happens, it happens because passive smoking opened the door, and doesn't that place an obligation on all of us to oppose bad laws based on bad science?

Passive smoking is not the issue here. This is about the government lying to us, abusing its powers. Even if I don't hate the smell of nicotin the way some of you do, I don't like it, and I won't miss it - but honesty in government is much more important to me than smoke-free pubs. Lies are bad, period. That's why this law should be fought. Then we can discuss it all in an honest way, and make a new, honest law if we like. But not like this.

John Thacker:
[ Trevor Stanley, it is, however, your side of the argument that accused people of being "some stinking human chimney" and "reactionaries," which is ad hominem as well. ]

I agree that was somewhat hypocritical of me.

However, ad hominem is usually a reference to someone replacing logical arguments with personal insults against other participants in the debate. I did not personally insult actual participants, whereas Rune told "Me", "To be quite frank, you're full of shit".

That smokers really do stink (to me) and emit smoke (like a chimney) is a factual observation relevant to the argument, whereas Rune's comment was not.

Kjell, on the other hand, apparently genuinely feels that anti-smoking advocates are 'hysterical' (and beyond thinking rationally). I was thinking of that when I wrote that pro-smoking advocates were reactionary. It wasn't really open to me both to counter the hysteria comment in kind and to dismiss it as illegitimate, so to that extent yes, I was wrong.

The only other thing I can say in my defence is that I did become a bit peaved while writing, when a builder working on the neighbour's house lit up while I was typing the entry, and I could smell the smoke through the window in my own study!!

[ It's perfectly possible for some bars to completely disallow smoking, but others to allow it.]
But in practice that does not happen. Why? Because such venues are _not_ primarily places for either (a) the smoking community to smoke or (b) the non-smoking community to not smoke. They are places where everyone socialises. If the personal lifestyle choice of one part of the community is specifically excluding a large number of other individuals, that action should be curtailed in public places - that is, where everyone gathers.

In jurisdictions where there are no smoking restrictions and where a significant proportion of the population smokes, all public venues (restaurants etc) are either permeated with smoke or may unexpectedly become smoky (eg in the middle of a meal).

Let me state from the outset that I have no problem whatsoever with exemptions being allowed for venues where people choose to smoke. If someone wanted to start a smoker's restaurant here, I'm sure the government would allow it. Some eating places have adjoining areas where people can have a smoke indoors.

By choosing not to smoke, I do not make the environment intolerable for smokers. By choosing to light a smoke, smokers make the environment intolerable for me.

Note: there is no such thing as a 'smoker' in the sense of a 'black person' or 'white person'. A smoker is a person who chooses to smoke, not a person who has passively had the state of being a smoker imposed upon him.

There are two choices here:
The individual may choose to smoke or not smoke (in general, but also at any given moment).
The individual may choose to go to public venues or not go to venues (ie have a social life or not).

You can't claim that people who don't like smoking can just 'choose' not to go to venues, unless you also grant that under the laws, people who can't go an hour without a smoke can also 'choose' not to go to the exact same venues.

Note that smokers can still go to the venues - they just can't smoke during that period of time that they are standing inside the building. Understand? One can take one's cigarette anywhere - but not everywhere.

As for the noise issue: across the road from my office, there is a strip of very fashionable open air cafes, where people sit and sip lattes and eat bruschettos. There is also a mentally ill old man who frequently sits next to the patrons with a _very_loud_ boom box playing very uncool radio. That is noise, because it is not what people went there to listen to. Some venues have loud music whereas some do not (eg rock concerts vs restaurants), and people go there knowing what to expect. However, all venues have smoke if there are no restrictions on smoke. When did anyone ever go to a concert venue not to hear music, socialise or drink alcohol, but because they thought it was the only place they could have a smoke?

[ I do appreciate that those of you who support these bans acknowledge that you do it for selfish reasons . . . But shouldn't it concern you that our governments lie to us to make these laws?]
Whose government? My government never lied to me when it banned smoking in restaurants. They said "smoking smells bad, many people don't like being subjected to smoke when eating, therefore if you choose to smoke, do it somewhere other than a public restaurant". They were telling the truth!

Also, Bjorn, what is selfish about wanting to breathe fresh air? By breathing fresh air, one does not take smoke away from a smoker, whereas by smoking a smoker takes away fresh air.

There is no "right" (claim by an individual on the community) to a lifestyle choice, at least not in the sense that there is a "right" to eat, drink, be educated, access health care, use shelter or breathe oxygen.

Finally, Bjorn, cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, tar, ash, pyrenes, and so on. These things are all demonstrably bad for your health. They are bad for smokers, as I hope everyone will admit - so doesn't common sense tell us that they can only be bad for passive smokers? While we can quibble about statistical significance of claimed increases in eventual illness due to cancer, passive smoke makes many people feel ill _now_. Is that not a health issue? If the statistics don't clearly establish a health risk from passive smoking, I hope we're not going to entertain the possibility they establish a benefit. So if that's the biggest lie the Norwegian government is telling (not admitting that an EPA meta study was sloppy in its methodology), you have the most honest government in the world.

PS Good topic. It steered away from the usual topics, and generated the sort of debate on core issues in liberal societies that BjornStaerk blog aims for :)

Trevor: "Whose government? My government never lied to me when it banned smoking in restaurants."

That's good. However, they have begun lying to you since. See the pages on passive smoking at the website of the Australian National Tobacco Campaign: Lists the same claims that everyone else does, without any caveats about uncertainties.

"Finally, Bjorn, cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, tar, ash, pyrenes, and so on. These things are all demonstrably bad for your health. They are bad for smokers, as I hope everyone will admit - so doesn't common sense tell us that they can only be bad for passive smokers?"

Common sense, perhaps. Science, no. There is a safe amount of all substances, also smoke. How many cigarettes do you need to smoke before they threaten your health? How many cigarette equivalents do a highly exposed passive smokers inhale? We need to know - assumption and guesswork is faith, not science.

"I hope we're not going to entertain the possibility they establish a benefit"

Actually, the 1998 WHO study apparently did show a 22% reduction in risk of lung cancer for children. This says more about the uncertainties of epidemiology than about the protective effect of passive smoking, of course.

"So if that's the biggest lie the Norwegian government is telling (not admitting that an EPA meta study was sloppy in its methodology), you have the most honest government in the world."

Whether it's the biggest lie or not is irrelevant, only whether it _is_ a lie.

The Norwegian government has said nothing specific about the EPA study. It is, however, referred to by most anti-tobacco activists and governments, including the Irish report linked to by the Norwegian Tobacco Office. I'm not qualified to say anything about later studies, but I haven't found _any_ estimates of risk increase close to 100%. By the usual epidemiological standards, anything less than 100% is meaningless. When someone can explain to me why that does not apply to research on passive smoking - and for all I know there's a good and sound reason for it - then I'll start taking that research seriously.

Many people are allergic to cigarette smoke, and/or to certain pipe or cigar smoke. My wife has asthma, and some cigar smoke can trigger an attack. I am ambivalent about laws banning smoking in public places, but I am quite sympathetic to those who argue - correctly - that they do not choose to breathe the smoke of others.

Also, I have little respect for people who quibble about "how much" smoke is "dangerous." Inhaling smoke is a bad idea; it causes immediate pain or discomfort, whether or not it causes lab-verifiable long-term damage. Who has the right to inflict such discomfort on others? If you choose to smoke, you must face this fact.

As long as we're debating laws, how about a law requiring certain public venues to upgrade their ventillation systems, so that whatever their patrons smoke gets blown out quickly?

The secondary smoke argument has been used by Antismokers ever since its efficacy was enshrined at the third "World Conference On Smoking And Health" in 1975. The initial claims about it were based on absolutely nothing and it wasn't until the 1980s that studies began to be manufactured to support the contention that secondary smoke exposure could increase the risk of lung cancer in nonsmokers.

Even with studies often designed to produce the results desired by the grant-giving organizations, very few have been able to find any scientifically significant statistical, much less causal, connection between the two. Some studies, such as the WHO's 1998 large international case-control study, actually found significant effects of PROTECTION against lung cancer among kids who grew up in smoking households.

Don't believe me? Check out the 130 study results at

You might also want to check out the analysis of claims about heart disease and secondary smoke at

and my book, "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains" at

You may be surprised at what you find...

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

Competing Interests: I have absolutely NO financial connections with Big Tobacco, Big Hospitality, Big Pharma, or any other player in this arena other than as a customer and as the author of a book

"Second hand smoke is air pollution ..." so are cars, airplains, mobilehomes. Cell phones cause brain damage and sterility. Should we ban them? Are we willing go give up travelling, to spend our vacations at home? It's easy to ask others to give up their habits. But hell, don't ban cars on weekends and don't take my mobile phone away.

Hi Kjell,
this is a belated rebuttal to your post:

"Kjell, Eidsvoll | 2004-06-03 19:19 | Link ............However, it seems like mankind likes to discriminate, and smokers have simply become a target to mankinds baser instincts.."

I want to point out that your comparison of banning smoking in public places as discrimination against smokers does not hold water. This is not the same as discriminating against someone on the basis of sex, race, color, religion or sexual orientation. All these foregoing categories do not impinge on your personal space . A person's race does not impinge on yr persnal space and cause you physical harm, a person's sex or sexual orientation does not invade your personal space and cause you physical harm. A smoker is different ..he has no control over his smoke and whether his smoke invades yr personal space and chokes and gags you or not !!!! We ban loud music/boom boxes because loud music invades our personal acoustic space and cause us discomfort , migraines, headaches and physical and psychological trauma....yet we are not discriminating against music lovers or rappers per se...we are just exercising common sense . People who like loud music are welcome to patronize large rock concerts and blast away till they turn deaf. I'm content with my soft meditation music of one string zither and 'nayy' from ancient egypt.

Princess Nuba
ancient ethnomusicologist

I have read ALL of your comments on the subject and most have missed the point Bjorn was trying to make; Bans are being instituted on a legal activity because of false scientific reports knowingly release by a government agency. Sounds like grounds for a class action suit to me. Smoking is bad for you. We acknowledge this. Smoke stinks. That is a personal preference. I hate the smell of petchuly oil but I will fight to the death for your right to pursue your happiness by wearing it. Yes, smoking is a right covered by the Bill of Rights not because it is specifically mentioned but because it is a legal product which satifies a craving thereby making a smoker happy. Should their happiness affect yours? NO! Then they are messing with your happiness. Air purifiers/ventilation systems can be "installed or no 'smoking license' will be issued for your establishment" would be an equitable solution. Bad laws based on skewed reports are not. I get lied to enough by politicians I don't need it from science which is by its very nature supposed to be objective and unbiased whether I like what it finds or not.

this is kool

Bjorn, when you're confronted by battling statistics one of the things to alway look for is simply to see which "side" tends to contradict itself or comes out with statistics that are obviously and blatantly false. I strongly believe you'll see far more of these on the Antismoking side today than the smoking side.

To give an example from your own initial research at the top: you note an Antismoking claim that reducing smoke by 90% would still leave the "air pollution" at 2500 *times* safe levels. This means that withOUT such a reduction, the standard air in a bar or restaurant might be 25,000 *times* as dangerous as would be allowed. Now think about this... even a doubling or tripling of danger is seen as important. Does it make sense that we can increase the pollution by 25,000 times, i.e. two and a half million percent, without anyone having noticed it for years and years and years?

Given that smoking rates used to be at least double what they are now, that means the danger used to be FIVE MILLION PERCENT greater. If that were true there'd be no one but an occasional cockroach left alive on our planet.

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"


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Heretics' almanac: Smoking bans and Kyoto, June 6, 2004 10:32 PM

So we can say this much: all else being equal, a person who is exposed to more tobacco smoke is more likely to get sick than the person who is exposed to less. This holds true whether the exposure is first- or second hand. ... The Bush administration ...

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