What are we waiting for? It’s 23 years since SHS was declared a carcinogen.

An invited OpEd I wrote and submitted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 14, 2009, was published today [June 2] with some edits and is reproduced below. Overall I’m happy with the editing with one exception: The three major voluntary health agencies, American Cancer, Heart and Lung, colluded with the tobacco lobby in 1987 to pass a weak state Clean Indoor Air law preempting any stronger local ordinances but that was omitted from the published text. [I’ve left this in as strike-through text below.]

My OpEd, originally 647 words but edited to 656 words, is followed by the pro-smoking counterpoint of 714 words by Yvonne Angieri, a St. Louis University student who manages two area restaurants. Her arguments echo those of Bill Hannegan of KEEP ST. LOUIS FREE and his supporters.

MOGASP Guest Editorial on-line here and reproduced below.

Indoor smoking laws: What are we waiting for?
Health: The surgeon general declared secondhand smoke dangerous 23 years ago.

by Martin Pion

06/02/2009

On May 4, during a PBS “Newshour” report on the swine flu outbreak, Manuel Camacho Solis, former mayor of Mexico City, said about how the huge city was responding:

“It’s a simple balance: It’s the health of the people or the economy, and in a case like this the health is more important. These are extreme measures but if you can save some lives, it’s worth it.”

If you can save some lives, it’s worth it — but not when it comes to the smoking pandemic, estimated to kill 420,000 American smokers and 53,000 non-smokers annually. One of government’s primary duties is protecting public health and welfare, so why does it generally fail miserably when it comes to smoking and secondhand smoke?

“The Smoke Ring” by Peter Taylor, published in 1984, was the first book I read to shed light on this paradox. He described the interdependence of the tobacco industry, smokers and government, noting that the industry knows its product is deadly but is addicted to the enormous profits it generates; smokers are addicted to nicotine and many cannot quit; and government is addicted to the almost recession-proof tobacco tax revenues.

To counter smoke-free air laws that threaten its profits, the tobacco industry has worked to create doubt on the science of secondhand smoke and hired lobbyists to defeat or weaken smoke-free air legislation.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop’s landmark 1986 report on environmental tobacco smoke, “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Smoking,” concluded that secondhand smoke caused lung cancer in healthy nonsmokers. The tobacco industry responded by vilifying Dr. Koop, accusing him of bias.

I have seen how the tobacco industry and its surrogates work at both the state and local level.

In 1987, Tobacco Institute lobbyist John Britton worked covertly with a Missouri Department of Health lobbyist supported by American Cancer, Heart and Lung to pass a weak statewide Clean Indoor Air law, provided it pre-empted any stronger local ordinances. The effort failed, but only when Missouri GASP played a leading role in its defeat.

In 1993, St. Louis County considered a bill making Lambert Airport smoke-free, anathema to the tobacco industry, which regards such high-profile locations as strategically important. Former councilman John Shear, chair of the Justice and Health Committee considering the bill, colluded with Tobacco Institute lobbyists to weaken the bill, which ultimately was withdrawn by its sponsor.

In 2005, Harrah’s helped defeat a comprehensive St. Louis County bill that would have included limited smoking in the Harrah’s Maryland Heights casino. Harrah’s bused in hundreds of employees to protest the bill on the night of a crucial St. Louis County Council vote. A just-released National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report shows gaming-area employees in several Las Vegas casinos are exposed to high levels of secondhand smoke carcinogens.

These days, smoke-free air laws generally are opposed by tobacco industry surrogates, using such industry-inspired arguments as: They infringe on private property rights; drive away smokers; if you don’t like the smoke, patronize or work someplace else; discriminates against smokers; prevent the free market from deciding; interfere with businesses’ decision to display smoking or no-smoking signs; disregard that ventilation will take care of it and it should be a statewide, not local, regulation.

Dr. Koop had it right in his concluding remarks accompanying the release of his 1986 report:

“Therefore, for involuntary smoking and lung cancer: We know ETS (environmental tobacco smoke) contains carcinogens; the exposure to ETS by non-smokers 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?

Martin Pion is president of Missouri GASP [Group Against Smoking Pollution] Inc.

Pro-smoking Guest Editorial on-line here and reproduced below.

A smoking ban would be detrimental to workers
Business: Health issues might be overstated, but the potential for lost revenue is not.

By Yvonne Angieri

06/02/2009

The ongoing national debate regarding the relative merits of banning smoking in restaurants and bars has sparked a great deal of controversy here in St. Louis as the issue has come closer to home. This issue interests me personally because, in addition to attending St. Louis University as a full-time undergraduate student, I also am a manager at two of St. Louis’ finest restaurants: Monarch Restaurant in Maplewood and Herbie’s Vintage ’72 in the Central West End.

I am not a smoker, nor do I care for the smell of smoke. But I do believe that private property owners should be trusted with the choice of whether to offer either a smoke-free or a smoking environment in their own establishments to their own clientele.

Neither do I wish to be depicted as “anti-health” or “anti-progress.” But couching the issue of “public” smoking solely in terms of public health is misleading.

I recently learned that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration itself has refused to impose a strict ban, as proposed by St. Louis Alderman Lyda Krewson, D-28th Ward. Furthermore, studies on exposure to secondhand smoke produce very mixed results. A 2003 study by epidemiologists James Enstrom and Geoffrey Kabat, published in the British Medical Journal, found no evidence that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer or heart disease. A recent multi-state study by RAND, the Congressional Budget Office and University of Wisconsin and Stanford University researchers found no link between smoking bans and a reduction of heart attacks or other serious diseases.

Besides, employers already have a means of providing clean indoor air for employees and patrons alike: air filtration. When Herbie’s Vintage ’72 opened in October, the owners installed air filtration systems in both the bar and private cigar lounge. I was pleasantly surprised by their effectiveness. After a busy night, I leave the restaurant with virtually no smell of smoke in my hair or my clothes.

The elimination of this irritation prompted me to re-evaluate my opinion of air filtration. While legal concerns keep filtration manufacturers from making health claims, their technical specifications demonstrate that their machines not only are highly effective in making indoor air cleaner than outdoor air, but they also filter out such threats as swine or avian flu viruses.

The owner of a private establishment, a “house” if you will, should have the right to offer his guests a place to smoke and to choose the most effective means of cleaning the air. Granting establishments the freedom to purify their air using effective modern technology would allow their owners the opportunity to provide a cleaner working environment for employees and achieve a harmonious balance in accommodating both smoking and non-smoking guests — as Herbie’s has succeeded in doing.

It also would ensure that employees like me are secure in a workplace that is not in jeopardy because of lost revenue that might result from a smoking ban. Loss of livelihood and medical insurance caused by closures and cutbacks surely pose a serious and immediate health risk to hospitality employees. This is a real possibility: research by Federal Reserve economists blames the Illinois smoking ban for a 20 percent decline in casino revenues and holds the Columbia, Mo., smoking ban responsible for an 11 percent decrease in bar revenues. For restaurant workers supporting families, these numbers can mean financial ruin and an actual decline in standard of living.

As a manager of a St. Louis city restaurant, I want to know that my interests and those of my colleagues truly are being protected. I am not alone in my concern. St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley, the Missouri Restaurant Association and the Independent Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association of Greater St. Louis all have opposed a city and county smoking ban in order to avert the grave potential economic damage of such a restriction.

It is clear to many people that a smoking ban would be an unnecessary and intrusive measure, one that would achieve the opposite of its original intent. Instead of protecting workers, it would hurt them. Government exists to safeguard the lives, freedom and self-determination of its citizens. St. Louis would thus do well to live up to its good name and look out for all its citizens.

Yvonne Angieri is a St. Louis University student who manages two area restaurants.

One response to “What are we waiting for? It’s 23 years since SHS was declared a carcinogen.

  1. Reese Erick Forbes

    Here is my reply to her
    “Ongoing national debate” – WRONG, the national debate is over and it is in favor of NO tobacco smoke in indoor pubic places.
    St Louis is still fooling around, but that is rapidly changing.
    The places you mentioned are not “private property” – they as a business rather than a home are regulated entity granted a license by a governmental unit.
    You ARE “anti-health” because your erroneous words do not make the air safer.
    Air filtration does not work – Herbie’s STINKS to us non smokers – I have been in there (and met you).
    There is no “jeopardy of lost revenue” because all across the nation businesses that have gone smoke free enjoy increased revenue and lower costs. Indeed I would return to my beloved CWE hangout if it were truly smoke free.
    The Federal Reserve report has been refuted.
    While you letter surely will help you keep your job, it will do nothing in helping the citizens of our area become healthier and enable them to start dining out more often.
    And Mr McFadden, your trying to sell your book does not help the issue in anyway – it is the Business Owners Associations in cities and states that report increased profits after no smoking laws have been enacted (takes about 2 to 3 months, fyi)

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