Death of a meme
Not Polly Toynbee
Passive smoking doesn’t give you lung cancer. So says a new report publicised by the American Cancer Institute which will come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone with a shred of integrity who has looked into the origins of the great “environmental tobacco smoke” meme.
It was, after all, a decade ago that the British Medical Journal, published the results of a massive, long-term survey into the effects of second-hand tobacco smoke. Between 1959 and 1989 two American researchers named James Enstrom and Geoffrey Kabat surveyed no few than 118,094 Californians. Fierce anti-smoking campaigners themselves, they began the research because they wanted to prove once and for all what a pernicious, socially damaging habit smoking was. Their research was initiated by the American Cancer Society and supported by the anti-smoking Tobacco Related Disease Research Program.
At least it was at first. But then something rather embarrassing happened. Much to their surprise, Kabat and Enstrom discovered that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ie passive smoking), no matter how intense or prolonged, creates no significantly increased risk of heart disease or lung cancer.
Similar conclusions were reached by the World Health Organisation which concluded in 1998 after a seven-year study that the correlation between “passive smoking” and lung cancer was not “statistically significant.” A 2002 report by the Greater London Assembly agreed. So too did an investigation by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.
Yet between 2006 and 2007 smoking was banned in all enclosed public places throughout the United Kingdom largely on the basis of the claim – widely promulgated by bansturbating politicians and kill-joy activists – that it was necessary to protect the health of non-smokers. On the basis, in other words, of a blatant and scientifically demonstrable lie.
It’s not just British health Nazis who like to promulgate this myth. Here’s what America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has to say on the subject:
Secondhand smoke causes an estimated 3,400 lung cancer deaths among U.S. nonsmokers each year.
The actual number, Jacob Sullum argues at Reason, is “probably closer to zero.”
So why does the medical establishment pretend otherwise? Sullum quotes a doctor who comments on the latest study’s findings. The doctor observes primly:
“The strongest reason to avoid passive cigarette smoke is to change societal behavior: to not live in a society where smoking is a norm.”
Aha. Now we’re closer to the mark. What the doctor is showing here are the classic symptoms of “freedom of choice is far too dangerous for the little people” syndrome.
[I hope I don’t need to draw the parallels here with the similarly scientifically unfounded excuses being advanced to justify all sorts of regulatory and confiscatory activity to do with “climate change”]
Was the smoking ban a good idea? Arguably, in some ways. It means that when you come home from a crowded gig or club, now, your hair and clothes no longer smell of stale smoke; it forces smokers to smoke less than they might otherwise have done because nipping outside for a fag is so inconvenient.
Against that, though, you have to set the enormous damage which has been done to the pub industry – and indeed to the atmosphere within pubs and clubs. More worrying still, though, is the ugly precedent it has set for the arbitrary confiscation by the State of property rights.
It should have been left up to individual institutions – private members clubs especially, but pubs and restaurants too – whether or not they wished to allow smoking on their premises. Punters would then have been free to choose whether or not they wished, on any given evening, to sacrifice their unalienable right not to be exposed to other people’s deadly tobacco smoke.
That is how free societies work. Free people make free choices.
In 2006 and 2007 in Britain – and at various other dates in other countries around the world – the forces of authoritarian government took away those rights. On the basis of a massive lie.