The long-running debate about Sedalia’s new smoking-ban ordinance has consumed a lot of newsprint in recent months, with vigorous arguments on both sides of the issue. The opposing points of view have been hashed and rehashed so often that we all know them by heart.
Maybe it’s time to inject something new into the mix — the latest science, for example.
The strongest case for a smoking ban in bars and restaurants has always centered on the health issue, and rightly so. If breathing in secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer — and we have all been led to believe that it can — then controls on smoking in public places make sense.
According to a long-standing estimate of the American Cancer Society, secondhand smoke is responsible for 3,400 cases of lung cancer a year. While there are other health concerns as well, such as for people with asthma and COPD, it’s the cancer risk that has always been in the forefront of the discussion. Until now, that is.
Late last year, the results of a massive new study on secondhand smoke and lung cancer, undertaken by the National Cancer Institute, the federal government’s premier cancer research arm, were revealed. After following more than 76,000 non-smoking women who had been exposed to secondhand smoke for more than 10 years, the NCI reported that it found “no link between the disease and secondhand smoke.”
The sheer size of the sample and the duration of the study make the NCI’s findings hard to ignore. Several researchers also have questioned the methodology used in many of the earlier studies that have linked passive smoke to lung cancer.
While the NCI study failed to find a significant link between passive smoke and lung cancer, it reaffirmed that there is no question whatsoever that active smoking carries a high risk of lung cancer as well as other health problems.
The women in the study were exposed for many years to other people’s smoke — in childhood, in their adult homes and in their workplaces. What does that say about the alleged risk from being briefly in a space where some cigarette smoke might be in the air? It says that fear can now be laid to rest.
Will the NCI study prove to be a game-changer in how society deals with cigarette smoking? My guess is, probably not. That’s because the secondhand smoke issue has gone well beyond science, and has become the primary wedge to outlaw smoking everywhere — including outdoors in many places, which has always struck me as serious overkill. Tell me you’re tired of picking cigarette butts up off the grass, but don’t tell me you’re protecting my health.
Many people just find smoking icky and don’t want anyone doing it around them. They are entitled to their opinion, but once we start outlawing behaviors simply because they offend us, there’s no end to it. What’s next, spitting in public? Belching?
I dislike loud music in public places that makes conversation all but impossible. Should I push for an ordinance to outlaw music above a certain decibel level in restaurants? Or should I do the reasonable thing and just avoid patronizing such places?
As the most thorough and extensive study of secondhand smoke ever undertaken, the NCI research interjects some hard science into the conversation. It should be a primary consideration in communities seeking to balance the competing interests surrounding the smoking issue, including Sedalia.
No, I am not in the pay of the tobacco industry, nor am I a smoker, just a guy who happens to think that those opinions are best that have some correlation with the facts.
All other considerations aside, the NCI’s findings are actually very good news from the standpoint of public health. Medical science advances both when it finds causes of diseases and when it eliminates others.