Smoking out the truth
a challenge to the Chief Medical Officer di RALPH HARRIS

HARDLY A WEEK is allowed to pass without some new scare story about the perils of
‘passive smoking ’.One of the latest,based on an experiment in an Italian garage,is that
tobacco smoke is more lethal than car exhaust fumes.Another was that ‘passive smoking ’ is
even more dangerous than direct smoking.Meanwhile the number of deaths attributed to
environmental tobacco smoke (ETS)has been variously projected from ‘about several
hundred ’ – in an adult population of above 40 million!!– all the way up to 10,000 or even
12 ,000 a year.
As a lifelong pipe-man I have increasingly come to mistrust the dogmatic vehemence with
which the stop smoking (SS)brigade recycle their denunciations of ‘passive smoking ’.
Certainly,my smoke may be irritating or even upsetting to sensitive bystanders,as are
popcorn,perfume and garlic on crowded tube trains. But lethal? Despite a barrage of media publicity,most non-smokers in my experience remain unmoved by dire warnings that tobacco smoke – massively diluted in the atmosphere – could actually kill them. It is this commonsense implausibility that has goaded the tight network of anti-smoking lobbyists – ever more shrilly – to demonise ETS and brandish mounting estimates of its death toll.

But it was when the Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson trespassed onto my territory
of economics – claiming that the Irish ban on smoking in ‘public places ’ was actually good
for business because takings had increased – that I was emboldened to question also his
scientific credentials.Now of course if that were true a ban,enforced by ‘tobacco control
officers ’,massive fines and,ultimately,imprisonment,would no longer be necessary.
Everyday market forces would lead publicans to exclude smokers as a simple way to increase
profits. Instead there are well-vouched stories from the real world that many Irish pubs have suffered a drop in trade of 15/25%in town/country districts.At whatever level the Irish figures
eventually settle,this single sample of wishful thinking suggests that zeal in such a noble cause as reducing smoking can lead even our senior medical man to strain after ‘evidence ’ to bolster his subjective preconceptions.

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