Smoking ban of Meeker County, Minnesota

On July 12, 2005, Meeker County became the fifth county in Minnesota to enact a prohibition on smoking in bars and restaurants, effective October 1. It’s another example of individual rights being trampled by politicians and highly vocal do-gooders determined to dictate how everyone else should live. Their good intentions are deemed superior to facts, science, reality—and liberty. If it’s necessary to fudge the truth, fake the science, ignore reality and deny individual rights, so be it.

The nation’s first experience with "prohibition" was for alcoholic beverages. The government decided it had to protect people for their own good. Everyone knew that drinking alcohol could result in health problems. It was argued that any amount of alcohol was bad for you and should be prohibited. Medical science has since documented the role of alcohol in heart disease, stroke and several other diseases. But what wasn’t known during the Prohibition Era—but has since been proven by numerous research studies—is that small amounts of alcohol (1 or 2 drinks a day) are actually good for you. They help prevent the very same diseases for which larger amounts of alcohol are implicated.

Now, there is no question smoking can cause lung cancer—I have never been a smoker and don’t recommend it—but secondhand smoke is another matter. It is 100,000 times more dilute than the smoke from which it is derived. And, just as with alcohol, it has been shown that small amounts of this smoke are not only harmless but actually beneficial. They provide a protective effect against the same diseases for which smoking is implicated.

People are surprised to learn that the huge volume of research studies on secondhand smoke (environmental tobacco smoke—ETS) does not support claims that it is a health hazard. Just the opposite. The independent health research firm of Littlewood and Fennell surveyed all available studies and reported to the National Toxicology Program’s Board of Scientific Counselors on Carcinogens that the overwhelming majority (over 75 percent) of these studies showed no association between secondhand smoke and lung cancer and the remainder showed very weak associations and substantial problems with unacceptable methodology, misrepresentation of risk, and other problems. An international symposium on ETS at a Canadian University included 29 epidemiologists from all over the world and concluded that the “weak and inconsistent associations seen in the epidemiological studies of ETS [plus other doubtful factor] all indicate that these data do not support a judgment of a causal relationship between exposure to ETS and lung cancer.” Studies by the World Health Organization came to similar conclusions.

Interestingly, some of the studies vindicating ETS were done by organizations determined to prove it was a health hazard. When the results showed the opposite, the studies were hushed up. This was the case with at least three studies done by the American Cancer Society. Ditto a very important study by the prestigious Dr. Melvin W. First, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science and Engineering at Harvard University, which was sponsored by the Massachusetts Lung Association and it Affiliates. This was a particularly important study because it was done in 1975 when smoking was much more prevalent and there were no non-smoking sections in bars and restaurants. But when it was unable to show any danger from ETS, the Mass. Lung Association “put our report in a drawer” and shut up about it, wrote Prof. First in 2003.

During the Prohibition Era, nobody knew that small amounts of alcohol were harmless or even beneficial. The Meeker County Commissioners cannot have the same excuse regarding secondhand smoke, because my testimony at their public hearing alerted them to scientific information they chose to ignore. (See my complete testimony.) Their decision to enact a smoking ban is one of “willful ignorance”—a refusal to face facts. They hid behind a deliberately deceitful claim of protecting people from a nonexistent “health hazard” in order to trample human liberty and run other people’s lives. The issue of whether to allow smoking in bars and restaurants should be a simple matter of property rights: the individuals owning bars and restaurants should determine whether they wish to allow smoking or not on their property, and individuals should decide for themselves whether to eat or drink there. The government shouldn’t have gotten involved at all—except to defend those individual rights.

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