MOGASP Case: Federalist Society “Smoking Ban” debate

(L) Bob Levy, CATO Institute, & Martin Pion, MOGASP

Bob Levy, CATO Institute (L), & Martin Pion, President, Missouri GASP

Dr. Michael Pakko (at podium), Federal Reserve St. Louis economist & Libertarian Party supporter

Dr. Michael Pakko (at podium), Federal Reserve St. Louis economist & Libertarian Party supporter

Martin Pion, President of Missouri GASP, made the following opening argument during the Federalist Society debate on “Whether or not to ban smoking,” from 7-8 pm on Tuesday, March 17, 2009, at the Regional Arts Council, Delmar Blvd., St. Louis. Speaking against the proposition were two experienced speakers: Robert Levy – CATO Institute chairman of the board of directors, and Dr. Michael Pakko – Research Officer and Economist at the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen and distinguished guests.

My thanks to the Federalist Society for this opportunity to focus on the important public health and safety issue of secondhand smoke.

But why are we even debating this subject at all? The matter should have been settled decades ago!

The reason it’s still an issue is a deliberate tobacco industry policy of denial and doubt to protect profits, a policy continued today by its allies, aimed at obstructing smoke-free air laws that adversely impact tobacco sales.

The first book I read providing insight into the workings of the tobacco industry was the 1984 book, The Smoke Ring by Peter Taylor. The title was chosen to reflect the interdependence of the tobacco industry, smokers, and government:

The industry knew its product was deadly but was addicted to the enormous profits it generated;
Smokers were addicted to nicotine and found it hard to quit;
And government was addicted to the almost recession-proof tobacco tax revenues.

The irony pointed out in the book is that government should be the tobacco industry’s greatest foe, as guardians of the public health and safety. Instead, they were accomplices, and only within the last few decades has that started to change. In part that’s because of societal pressure from nonsmokers wanting smoke-free air, and a recognition of the substantial costs to government of the health impact of active smoking and secondhand smoke exposure.

The secondhand smoke issue should have been dealt with following the release of U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s 1986 report: “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Smoking.

Two of its primary conclusions were:

* Involuntary smoking is a cause of disease, including lung cancer, in healthy nonsmokers.

* Simple separation of smokers and nonsmokers within the same air space may reduce, but does not eliminate, exposure of nonsmokers to environmental tobacco smoke.”

At a press conference in Washington, DC. on the release of the Report, Dr. Koop said:

“The nation should now move decisively toward two objectives –

* First, the protection of nonsmokers from environmental [tobacco] smoke; and

* Second, helping smokers break the addiction that keeps them smoking.”

The press release continued: “The National Academy of Sciences panel, in issuing their Report on passive smoking last month, estimated that ETS [or SHS] is responsible for approximately 2,400 lung cancer deaths annually. This compares to between 1,300 and 1,700 new cancer cases (all sites) resulting from toxic air pollutants in the general environment.

Of interest to me in this report was a section dealing with the number and size distribution of particles in SHS [pp 137 – 139] showing the mass median diameter to be extremely small, between approximately 0.2 microns and 0.4 microns.

ragweed-pollen-ambrosia-psilostachya-99537c To give you an idea of just how small, this is a photomicrograph of ragweed pollen (Ambrosia psilostachya), which is an allergen. It’s about one-thousandth of an inch in diameter, or 25 microns. That’s roughly 50 to 100 times larger than the mass median diameter of SHS particles.

That helps explain why SHS, even when breathed in by a nonsmoker after dilution in the air, can be so detrimental to health. Particles that small are drawn deep into the lungs where they reside for long periods before the body is able to expel them.

In addition, the small size also explains why secondhand smoke disperses so rapidly. Such small particles are governed by the laws of diffusion, moving from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration, and that will be true even in the presence of a countervailing air flow, such as provided by an exhaust fan.

Immediately upon the release of his report, Dr. Koop was assailed by the tobacco industry which accused him of bias and lack of objectivity. That has been one of the tobacco industry’s hallmark strategies: attack the messenger to divert attention from the unwelcome message.

A year later, in February, 1988, Dr. Koop wrote to all State Governors and the mayors of 200 cities, including St. Louis, urging them to address the issues raised in his Report and implement its recommendations.

Those conclusions have since been expanded by further Surgeon General’s Reports, including the most recent, released in 2006 by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, which stated that:

“Secondhand smoke is a major cause of disease, including lung cancer and coronary heart disease, in healthy nonsmokers.”

Everything I’ve described so far is very impersonal, but SHS adversely affects human lives every day in many ways, big and small. I’ll describe some of my own experiences but first I want to point out that although I’m very sensitive to SHS, I know and have known individuals far more sensitive than I am.
Don Young, a former smoker who developed cancer of the larynx, is one of them. Don underwent two operations with a 20% chance of survival, and now can only speak using an electro-larynx and breathes through a hole in his throat. Each morning, in order to eat, he must first open up his throat with a 2-foot long tube.

Don is lucky to be alive but is now very smoke-sensitive. To his credit, Don goes around to schools urging kids not to smoke with a program called “Young Choices,” on-line at

paul-smith-respirator-01183aSt. Louis GASP, now Missouri GASP, formed after several of us met Paul Smith in my home in the early 1980s. He was employed as an Engineering Associate by Western Electric, then a subsidiary of AT&T. Paul was seeking donations for an appeal in a civil suit he had brought against his employer for a smoke-free work area. At the end of every workday Paul would go home feeling sick from SHS exposure, but would recover over the weekend, so he asked his employer if his immediate office area could be designated as non-smoking.

Instead he was made to wear a helmet, powered by a noisy fan drawing air through a hose connected to a particle (HEPA) filter on his belt!

Above is a photo of Paul posing with the helmet, taken outside his office building and published in the former Globe-Democrat.

Even though I may not be as smoke-sensitive as either Don or Paul, SHS has had a major detrimental impact, both on my work life and my private life. In early 1977, when I got a job transfer to ITT Electro-Optical Products Division in Roanoke, VA, I found myself in a windowless two desk office with a colleague who chain-smoked Camels!

That situation was repeated when I got a job in 1980 at the former McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. in St. Louis. I had been hired to design and manage a lab. with a semiconductor clean room. My desk was located in an open office area in which I was about 15 feet away from the departmental secretary who smoked incessantly.

The only smoke-free area in the entire building was the room housing delicate computers. Yes, the computers must be protected from potentially damaging tobacco smoke particles but the humans? Apparently they were expendable!

pion-smoking-pleas-may-1987In the early days of Missouri GASP I spent years in Jefferson City with others in support of a statewide smoke-free air law. I learned the hard way that the tobacco lobby rules in Jefferson City, and no meaningful legislation was ever voted out of committee during that period, other than a weak tobacco industry-inspired bill in 1987 designed to preempt any stronger local ordinances.

In those days there was only one place in the entire State Capitol that was signed “No Smoking” and that was the Visitors’ Gallery overlooking the House chamber. I was there in 1987 attending a debate on the Clean Indoor Air bill when secondhand smoke started wafting into the gallery, at which point I donned this respirator, a moment captured in the AP photograph above.

These are just a few examples but I’m sure you know of many others.

Let me end by reading this conclusion from Dr. Koop’s 1986 press release accompanying the first Report on secondhand smoke:

“Therefore, for involuntary smoking and lung cancer: We know ETS contains carcinogens; the exposure to ETS by nonsmokers is large enough to expect a lung cancer risk; and human epidemiologic studies have demonstrated an increased risk of lung cancer in involuntary smokers. If this evidence were available on an environmental pollutant other than ETS, we would have acted long ago. To fail to act now on the evidence we currently have would be to fail in our responsibility to protect the public health.”

That was 23 years ago. What are we waiting for?!”

3 responses to “MOGASP Case: Federalist Society “Smoking Ban” debate

  1. Mr. Pion, I thought you won the debate on KMOX. Just my impression. Thanks for doing both debates! Check out the KMOX interview:

  2. I’m curious what the Libertarian viewpoint is. What is their argument to allow smokers to hurt others?

    • Bob Levy was good enough to e-mail me the following reply to the above query from mrkimmosley:

      Martin, the Libertarian argument can be summed up in one word: consent. It’s the same argument that allows boxers to hurt others, or participants in any contact sport, or employers who hire mine workers, or consumers of alcohol. If someone enters a private establishment where he knows smoking is allowed, he assumes the risk and must be accountable for the consequences. If he wishes to avoid the risk, he can stay away.

      Of course, I qualify that argument by noting that it only applies on private property where the owner has opted to allow smokers. The rules on taxpayer-owned public property are different.


      Robert A. Levy
      Cato Institute
      c/o 8787 Bay Colony Dr.
      Naples, FL 34108
      Phone: 239-566-7139

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