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Oregonian's Idiotic Second-hand Smoke Reporting

Banning smoking in bars (and bingo halls etc.) is a politicial philosophy question, not a health science issue.
Ben Sharvy, 30JUN06, Portland

The Surgeon General's recent report on secondhand smoke prompted the Oregonian to resurrect its editorial diatribe in favor of banning all smoking in bars (and bingo halls). The newspaper's line of reasoning, found in two recent editorials on the subject, is so brainless it doesn't acknowledge the chief objection to a ban. Even accepting the Oregonian's assumptions, the editorials (and reporting) on the subject are abysmal, showing little integrity or concern for fact.

The chief objection to banning smoking in places only open to adults is just that: they are for adults. Bars, bingo halls and the like, are intended for people who are responsible for their decisions, including the decision to go where people smoke. Whether the health risks of such environments are worth the rewards is a question adults are entitled to answer for themselves.

So the objection to a smoking ban is not health-based, despite the Oregonian's disingenuous assumption to the contrary. Few people (outside the tobacco industry or talk-radio) have staked much on the belief that second-smoke is harmless. The objection is libertarian: the model for society should not be that we are babies and the government is our mommy. You decide which risks and rewards are appropriate for your own life: You're a grown-up.

Critics often try to suggest there is less choice than there appears. The Oregonian suggested that bars can't be voluntarily nonsmoking and commercially successful. The Oregonian should read itself: two days prior, it profiled the Lucky Lab on Hawthorne, commenting that the business was opening its third branch. The Lucky Lab is nonsmoking. The Oregonian doesn't appear to have researched, in any way, its assertion that access to nonsmoking bars can only be achieved by a ban.

Working in a bar is not a choice, we are told, because people have to work. From that general principle, we must infer that the food you eat is not a choice, because people have to eat. In extreme cases, our fundamental needs are coercive--stranded on a desert island, maybe you have to eat bugs. But if that's the model for earning a living in our society, we have deeper problems than smoking in bars.

The Surgeon General's report occasionally refers to secondhand smoke as "involuntary smoking." The word-choice is odd, considering the need to avoid rhetoric in a medical report (it might be valid in describing children exposed in the home). Does the Surgeon General also think bars cause "involuntary" exposure to alcohol consumption? Such involuntary exposure must be a terrible hardship for alcoholics, since they are often harmed by being around drinking. Do we say they are forced to hang out in bars (and apply for bartending jobs)?

In addition to misunderstanding the topic, the Oregonian misrepresented the science. The Surgeon General's report says that ventilation and nonsmoking sections can reduce exposure to secondhand smoke (which in turn reduces risk), but they cannot eliminate exposure. The Oregonian presented this finding as "nonsmoking sections don't work." The Surgeon General's report characterizes the risk of lung cancer as "slightly or moderately increased" and "a small elevation." The Oregonian doesn't mention this degree of risk increase. The Oregonian characterizes the report as "a study 20 years in the making." The report contains no original research, but is a meta-analysis of previously published material, some of it decades old. The Oregonian trumpets the claim that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. It doesn't mention that short-term exposure generally lead to short-term risk, often due to preexisting medical conditions (e.g. asthma). In this sense, it is equally true that "there is no risk-free level of exposure" to pollen, dust, and bees.

And so on. There is little evidence anyone at the Oregonian actually read the report (their article was purchased from a newswire). Science and statistics tend to be complicated. Mainstream media tends be simplistic. The results are predictable.

The gist of the matter is this. If you don't want to go to bars where people smoke, don't. If you can't find a nonsmoking bar you like, find something to do besides hanging out in bars. If you don't want to work in bars with smokers, don't apply for those jobs. If you can't find a bar where you want to work, don't apply for jobs in bars. Meanwhile, let other people with different views make different choices. That is how a free society works.

homepage: homepage: http://www.efn.org/~bsharvy/

Smoking Should Be Outlawed 30.Jun.2006 12:53

You Heard Me

I believe that smoking should be outlawed totally. We outlaw herion, coke, and ectasy so why not smoking?
BTW the surgeon general said that there is no safe level of second hand smoke. So no matter how much ventilation there is, it is not going to help.
I love how smokers are in denial and use lame ass excuses to justify their positions. Just like a meth addict.
Finally, it has always struck me as odd that radicals smoke. Do they not know that they are supporting Bush's friends, the lying tobacco industry? They are also supporting the huge medical industry as they will no doubt be using those services once the cancer sets in. Oh and let us not forget the chemical industry as they are the ones supplying the over 100 chemicals in most cigs. Its kinda like being against child molestation yet being a practicing catholic. Just makes no sense.

the future 30.Jun.2006 13:44


I predict that eventually there will be such a thing as a smoking module or womb. It may be big enough for one or more people, but the air within will not be able to escape until it's been purified to equal that outside.

Smokers will step in, the door closed and be sealed. They can light up and smoke, but before they leave, the contaminated air will be purified as it leaves the module, and is replaced with fresh air. The smokers may then step out.

Of course, the better thing would be if people who smoke were to get the therapy they need to give up the need to smoke whatsoever.

Leaving the Left 30.Jun.2006 16:31


I'd like to post here a reply to a comment on the smoking thread that has now rolled into archive.

Quit Now! 30.Jun.2006 10:45

Revolution! link

So, "anti-smoking rhetoric" is oppressive, but the far-reaching influence of tobacco corporations is not? Come on, people, NOT smoking is REVOLUTIONARY.
P.S. I don't drive or eat meat or shop indiscriminately. Just so you know.

Just because not smoking is revolutionary, doesn't mean you have to FORCE people into it--or discriminate against them (the attitude I'm hearing here sounds a lot like hate). Also, I'm glad you're perfect and don't do anything to injure any creature on the planet. Too bad such a perfect person is lacking in compassion.

Someone said that can't understand a radical smoking. Well, after this discussion, I feel like leaving the left. At any rate, I'm feeling awfully reculusive these days. No wonder the left can't get it's act together if everyone has to be just like you to be seen as human.

misplace priorities 30.Jun.2006 17:15


"I love how smokers are in denial and use lame ass excuses to justify their positions. Just like a meth addict."

And what would the 'lame-ass excuse' be in this case? That I'd like to be able to make my own decisions without government interference? Read the damn article: no one's saying smoking isn't bad, either for smokers or 'involuntary smokers.' The issue is should the government make the decision for everyone, or should people make their own decisions about where to work, where to socialize, etc. That, and this is just another of the Oregonian's evidence-weak scare pieces. *Kind of like the one they did about meth.

"Do they not know that they are supporting Bush's friends, the lying tobacco industry?"

No, I have never ever realized this. Here I was, thinking that sucking on a gaudily packaged cylinder of burning leaves and paper was going to save the world, but apparently I was wrong. Thanks for enlightening me (and pass on my gratitude to the hundred thousand other people who think they're smarter than me for pointing this out). You ever eat Kraft macaroni (now a subsidiary of Altria Group, formerly known as Phillip Morris)? Maybe buy a can of Coke from a rest-stop vending machine because you're thirsty? Eat at a sushi restaurant buying fish indirectly from the World Unification Church? How about Coors? Do you listen to KPOJ, brought to you by Clear Channel?

Try a thought experiment: I smoke a little less than a pack a day. I don't own a car. I spend most of my day within walking/biking distance of any place I need to go. Pick any self-righteous anti-smoking crusader with even a tiny little hybrid compact (the internal-combustion engine's answer to light cigarettes) to get him/herself around to rallies and lobbying sessions and whatnot. Imagine you could surround either of us at about a 30-foot radius with sensors tracking the volume of carcinogens being released. Now, at the end of a 24-hour period, who do you think has cumulatively exposed their fellow humans to a greater amount of toxic chemicals? The dirty smoker or the self-righteous clean-living petroleum addict?

Look, it's simple: I have a problem; I know this. Someday, when my unhealthy nervous habits are the biggest of my problems, I'll go through the inconveniences (anxiety, lost sleep, reduced cognitive function, extreme irritability) associated with weaning oneself off of an addictive chemical. But in the meantime, the last thing I need is for the goddamn government to start hassling me over where and when I indulge my habit. I'm not going to come into your home and light up, I'm not going to hang around elementary school playgrounds and blow my smoke in your darling children's little faces. I'm not demanding that every bar allow me to smoke there; I can take it outside or go someplace else. All I'm asking is why it has to be illegal for me to smoke, drink beer, and play pool at the same time. You can still go to yoga classes or whatever if it helps you relax, but for some reason I get to play the role of scapegoat for our society's collective failure to create sustainable living environments.

response 30.Jun.2006 21:19


"All I'm asking is why it has to be illegal for me to smoke, drink beer, and play pool at the same time."

Why is it legal for me to have to inhale your smoke if I want to go drink beer and play pool?
I am not for banning smoking altogether. In fact, I really see no problem with decriminilizing drugs.

I just don't want to have to breath your smoke.

Smoking Kills 01.Jul.2006 11:14

second hand

All the studies are in: Your smoking is making people around you sick. In fact, it's even killing some of them. So no, I don't care about your "right to smoke." Just as I have no right to climb into a car drunk, you have no right to blow your toxic smoke into the air I breathe.

For the record, I'm for decriminalizing most drugs. In fact, I can think of few "illegal" drugs that do more damage (or even as much damage) as some of our more popular "legal" drugs. Cigarette smoke, for example, kills people who don't even smoke. And alcohol makes people violent and dangerous to others. Heroin, on the other hand, seems to only kill its addicted victims. I've never seen a heroin addict do much more than nod out and sleep when high. So this isn't really about legislation. It's about social acceptability. And smoking around the rest of us is simply no longer acceptable. So, smokers, get used to it. If you insist on smoking, do it away from the rest of us because we care about our health.

Your smoke is a health hazard 01.Jul.2006 12:44

not a "right"

The author says:

"The chief objection to banning smoking in places only open to adults is just that: they are for adults. Bars, bingo halls and the like, are intended for people who are responsible for their decisions, including the decision to go where people smoke. Whether the health risks of such environments are worth the rewards is a question adults are entitled to answer for themselves."

Speaking as a person who has put in my share of time working in those "adult" establishments (restaurants and bars), I think I have the right to answer that. I, an adult, have made the decision that my right to fresh air trumps your "right" to smoke, any day. Do you think it's all right for me to have to put up with the risk of emphesema, asthma, chronic bronchitis, high blood pressure, and all the other risks associated with second hand smoke, just because I have to work for a living? Just because you're a nicotine addict? Do you think the poison of second hand smoke is an acceptable on-the-job hazard? I do not. I am an adult too, and I have the right to breathe clean air. Yes, you can choose to poison yourself if you want to, but every cigarette you light up is delivering your drug into my lungs, without my permission. Do you think that's all right with me? It is not.

I think we adults are answering your question loudly and clearly, for ourselves. You are just not listening. Maybe that's why there are people calling for laws against forced exposure to second hand smoke.

response to response(s) 01.Jul.2006 17:13


>"So this isn't really about legislation. It's about social acceptability."

Well, no. Legislation is exactly what this is about. Evidently smoking is still socially acceptable in some bars. Otherwise the owners/managers would presumably exercise their right to ask their customers not to smoke. What supporters of a state ban are suggesting is that the government should declare it to be "socially unacceptable," under fear of punishment, for every customer (and employee) in every bar, regardless of how staff, management, and customers feel. The issue is whether individuals making their own decisions about their own economic relationships should be viewed as competent to do so in the eyes of the law. Ban supporters say "no," ban opponents say "yes." Am I an adult responsible for my own admittedly unhealthy actions, or (as the original article succintly put it) am I a child and is the government my mommy? Is social acceptability determined by consensus or dictated by the authorities?

>"Why is it legal for me to have to inhale your smoke if I want to go drink beer and play pool?"

It isn't. Unless I've grossly misunderstood the applicable laws currently on the books, nothing requires the proprietors of a bar to allow smoking there. Are you honestly implying that there are no non-smoking establishments in the area that both serve beer and make pool tables available to their customers? Yes, it's legal for you to inhale my smoke, but no, you don't "have to." No one's trying to force you to do anything. The only coercion going on would be that employed by the state against individuals and businesses that choose not to voluntarily bar cigarettes from their premises.

As for the science, I'm not a biologist, but since it typically takes decades of incessant tobaco consumption for a smoker to get sick, I really doubt that a few hours spent a few times a week in a room where some people are smoking does much to affect your health. People get cancer/etc. from second-hand smoke by living with smokers or by working around them full-time over years and years. So lifelong bartenders, waiters, and cooks might want to consider taking up the issue with their employers and/or finding a different place to work, but if you spend enough time just hanging out in bars to risk illness from second-hand smoke, the cirrhosis is probably going to get you first.

You don't like the smell? Well, I don't like listening to 80's pop music, but if I hang out in places with jukeboxes that are frequented by hipsters, it's something I'm going to have to tolerate and balance against my enjoyment of other aspects of the environment, isn't it?

Few of the nonsmokers with whom I'm personally acquainted have ever broken off friendships or refused to be in my physical vicinity while I smoke. (Personally, I'll usually take any excuse to step outside for some natural sunlight and non-recirculated air, and I'm respectful of others' preferences regarding their indoor spaces). Basically, while they understand as well or better than I do that prolonged exposure to tobacco smoke is a health risk, they also realize that this kind of animosity toward me over something as inconsequential as the smoke from my cigarette (which, as I said, is a tiny amount of poison next to what you'll inhale waiting at an intersection on a bike next to a running car) is the kind of thing that separates compassionate humanists from self-righteous, oversensitive pricks. It might be sad commentary on American humanity, but I've seen smoking bans turn vibrant community spaces into social deserts practically overnight. Especially when the boundaries of your 'smoke free area' keep creeping outward--I, for example, don't mind stepping out onto a porch or under an awning to smoke, but a 25-feet-from-a-door rule means you're kicking me out into the rain, which tends to irritate me and make me just want to go home where no one's going to hassle me about petty shit like that.

Look, I hate capitalism (particularly its tendency to force people into unhealthy working environments) as much as the next guy, but sometimes you have to ask whether the market isn't representing community consensus on an issue better than the state can. (note the recent establishment of an international airline that will allow smoking on its flights--www.smintair.com) If every nonsmoker was really as incensed by the thought that I'm allowed to smoke in public as ban supporters like to suggest, then shouldn't non-smoking bars be popping up all over the place and those that allow smoking going out of business? Or, maybe ban supporters are actually a vocal minority who think that a.) they know what's best for everyone, and b.) it's an acceptable strategy to invoke the state's authority when other people don't agree with you about their own personal lives. Just a thought.


Smoke Free 01.Jul.2006 18:18

me too

There is nothing anyone can say that can excuse the delivery of carcinogenic cigarette smoke into other peoples' lungs. Nothing. Give it up, smokers. You cannot defend the practice of polluting other peoples' lungs.

OK... How about Marijuana? 01.Jul.2006 21:51

Dr. Know

It's a fair argument, and a valid one. I'm not taking sides, but there is a litany of hypocrisy present if progressives who support legalization of marijuana, reject freedom to smoke tobacco products. That is not meant to defend Big Tobacco from seeking to cultivate crops that are intentionally more addictive. I'm just saying that progressives who are against cigarettes being legal, but in support of marijuana being legal, are being totally hypocritical. I think hypocrisy in politics is disingenuous and, quite frankly, sucks. If we as progressives can't be consistent in our logic, then we can't beat hypocritical neo-cons in the art of the argument, because they can turn the same criticism against us.

I don't smoke. I think Big Tobacco sucks. I think any establishment of any kind should be allowed to choose and be required to clearly designate if it allows ambient tobacco smoke or not. The consumer, smoker or non-, can then decide whether or not to attend the event. On the same line, a given business can advertise that it is "non-smoking with designated smoking area." Let the consumer decide. So long as information is complete and available to any given patron, then any establishment should have the right to promote a tobocco-free or tobacco-friendly environment.

If we turn into hypocrites between tobacco and marijuana, or tobacco and alcohol, then we're just as pathetic as the neo-cons who preach piousness when they advocate war without end and the slaughter of the innocent for the ends they seek to be achieved.

ground 0 has benefit for non smokers 02.Jul.2006 00:10


Having related my general dislike of smoking, I'll add this rather contradictory note. I've rarely had a problem with rude or inconsiderate smokers. Lots of times in fact, if I'm by myself with someone who needs to light up, they'll ask me if I mind if they smoke. I always say no, (1), because I understand the need, but (2)also, because one thing I've learned is that if you're sitting or standing outside, being next to a smoker is often the best place to be to avoid their smoke.

Ironically, the smoker's smoke, except for what they're inhaling, almost always goes some direction away from the smoker. I have never seen the smoke from a smokers cigarette, cigar, or pipe hover only around the smokers head, like would flies would around a big wet sticky sucker, or a big p--...well, you get the idea.

If a place is really designated for smoking, and everybody there wants that; employees, patrons, I don't feel I've got the right to take that away from them, and have never moved to do so. I just don't go to such places. Lots of bar owners have got hip to the fact that other people react to smoking in bars similarly, which is why more and more bars and other businesses are dropping smoking on their premises.

I'd be curious to know examples of vibrant community spaces that permanently turned into social desert because of smoking bans. I'm inclined to think that the desert state was temporary until people who don't smoke figured out the change in policy.

I hope everybody smoking can get good solid help to quit. That'll make one less thing to be enslaved to in this world.

it doesn't take 02.Jul.2006 02:23


endless hours of exposure to cigarette smoke to possibly get sick. The way that this carcinogen works is you get some in your body, and that one time may be enough to turn some cells cancerous. May or may not - no one knows. That's why some people can smoke for 70 years with no cancer, others can smoke for a very short time and end up with a serious disease. So stop minimizing those "few short hours" of exposure that cigarette smokers try to force others into.

The job market is tight, and many people take what they can, so it may be a luxury to be a server or bartender who isn't forced to work around smokers.

It's a rude and dangerous habit. Take the risk yourself, fine, but leave others out of it!

no need for speculation 02.Jul.2006 03:19


I've talked with people in seattle and olympia about washington's smoking ban. Seems like non-smokers, smokers, workers, and owners are all pretty happy. Granted, I only asked a small set of people but it was interesting nonetheless.

So here's one thing to answer the question of why the inertia to switch bars to non-smoking (because the few owners I spoke with were quite happy with the ban and what it meant for their business). The main reason is that businesses worry about losing loyal customers and the time it will take to get new customers. The reason the ban is so well liked is that it leveled the market, a fair market instead of a free market some would say. Since smokers no longer had an incentive to go elsewhere businesses retained their customers, and added new customers and profits (since non-smokers may go places where it is smoky but don't tend to stay as long). Workers feel better, and if not for the parasitic insurance companies would probably see a reduction in health insurance costs. And even the smokers seemed in good spirits (though perhaps not once winter returns). Lots of people were hanging outside having fun, which is also good for the businesses (note that I didn't notice people adhering to the 25 foot rule though no one seemed to care). It promoted social contact between smokers outside and between smokers and non-smokers inside.

I would not normally be in favor of such regulation but sometimes results speak for themselves. I'd be curious to see how people are feeling down the road but I'd strongly encourage people, smokers and non-smokers alike, to pay attention to their experiences in washington.

Something to read:

Smoking? Bla. 02.Jul.2006 10:30

non smoker

Cigarette smoke makes me sick. I can't stand to smell it. And it's bad for us. That should be enough.

As for the person who asks about marijuana smoke, I have a response. I do not like any kind of smoke in my lungs. Therefore, I neither smoke pot nor tobacco. Either seems like it would be bad for my lungs, and so I avoid both. However, I have been around people who do both, and pot smokers have not demonstrated to me that they feel the need to light up every fifteen minutes, puffing more and more carcinogens into the air I'm trying to breathe, like cigarette smokers do. They seem to be able to hold off long enough to do it away from me, usually.

In addition, while the smoke from one cigarette can make me feel physically ill from half a block away, I have never had the same reaction to smelling the smoke from someone else's joint. I'm not saying I have any firm belief as to whether either or both should be legal or illegal, I'm simply responding to a comparison between the two that I think is off base. I do not know whether pot smoke is as damaging as cigarette smoke, and I do not think medical science knows, either. Though I do remember one study that came out when I was in high school, that determined that smoking pot does not damage the lungs as much as smoking cigarettes, probably because people tend not to smoke nearly as much of it. (Can you imagine smoking the equivalent of 2 packs a day of pot?)

Long and short of it is, I do not think either should be delivered into my lungs without my consent, and I do not understand why cigarettes are still legal if marijuana is not, since cigarette smoke is dangerous and gross.

dump nicotine...for pot? 02.Jul.2006 12:23


Pot smoke is definitely not as offensive as nicotine smoke, but then as a previous writer has alluded to, it's purpose is different, and doesn't require the user to chain smoke for its desired affects. Of course, there are people who know how to mess this up too, and sometimes chainsmoke pot. Interesting to speculate, but total pot smoking time relative to nicotine smoking time is probably 15% or less. (caveat: I never smoked either)

We live in a wacked society though. Many people smoking pot are doing so for the same reasons, or worse, than those smoking nicotine. And too many really don't want to stop and help each other out of those problems.

Let people choose... 02.Jul.2006 21:46


...but let them choose with full information.

I'm not in favor of a smoking ban, but I don't want to be around smoking (of any kind, by the way).

If you have a bar or restaurant, I am more likely to patronize your establishment if you don't allow smoking, if only because of my personal preferences. I'm well aware that 20-25% of adults smoke. Let them - but I'm going to try not to go to your bar unless 1.) there's a band I want to see there; 2.) someone takes me there and I can't convince them to go somewhere else; 3.) It's The Alibi.

Why the Alibi? 05.Jul.2006 13:26

Ben Sharvy

Why the special exception for the Alibi? It's about 5 blocks from my home, so I'm curious.

A Little Research 05.Jul.2006 13:30

Ben Sharvy

Folks, google is a wonderful thing. Opinion without research is not.