Monday, 19 December 2011

Secondary smoke issues at home in Middlesbrough and the Delaware county courts

Here is the background to this story. We are entering the territory of home smoking bans – except they will not be bans applied by central government, but restrictions written into the small print of tenancies. Action on Smoking and Health is keen to encourage people who (imagine that they) experience discomfort from their neighbours' smoke to investigate the terms of their leases for 'nuisance clauses'.

Using smoke-free laws as a clear basis for protecting the health and well-being of one section of the population at the expense of another is what we have come to expect from zealots of this order. They recommend 'reasonable' informal negotiation with smoking neighbours as a kick-off and graduate quickly to the point where complainants are advised to record their symptoms. This is deeply alarmist stuff, clearly intending to induce anxiety about the perceived harm from secondary smoke coming through ventilation shafts, wire ducts and who knows what else. Scepticism about the level of harm from smoke inhaled by householders is expressed clearly by anti-smoking scholar Simon Chapman:
Tobacco smoke also contains ultra-fine particles. Other sources of ultra-fine particles (UFPs) include "laser printers, fax machines, photocopiers, the peeling of citrus fruits, cooking, penetration of contaminated outdoor air, chimney cracks and vacuum cleaners."[8] Wallace and Ott's data on concentrations of UFPs in restaurants and cars found "cooking on gas or electric stoves and electric toaster ovens was a major source of UFP, with peak personal exposures often exceeding 100,000 particles/cm3 .... Other common sources of high UFP exposures [in restaurants] were cigarettes, a vented gas clothes dryer, an air popcorn popper, candles, an electric mixer, a toaster, a hair dryer, a curling iron, and a steam iron."[9]
It is important that research documents residuals from tobacco smoke. But it is equally important that consumers and policy makers are not led to believe that the chemical compounds thus located are somehow unique to tobacco smoke. Unless in the extremely unlikely event that residents burn copious quantities of solanaceous vegetables (aubergine, tomato) which contain small amounts of nicotine, tobacco is going to be the only source of nicotine in homes. But it will not by any means be the only source of many of the ingredients of "third hand smoke" that the unwitting or the fumophobic may believe are attributable only to smoking. The omission of this information in such reports risks harming the credibility of tobacco control. [emphasis added]
Middlesbrough then: here is the story of John Baker at Freedom-2-Choose. His local council left asbestos in his housing association apartment block decades ago and have now come back to clear up the mess. This will necessitate John moving upstairs, into a guest flat. The woman who informed him of this arrangement also advised him that there would be no smoking in the guest flat. At the time of writing he did not know if this restriction was written into any lease or just something the housing association representative felt like saying. But even if it was an empty threat, the climate is now such that it was a believable one.

Now to the Delaware courtroom, where the chips are on the table. Businesses affected by the smoking ban are fighting a lawsuit saying that the claims concerning the dangers of secondary smoke have no credibility. They have obtained under cross examination evidence of conflicts of interest: a witness promoting the smoking ban admitted receiving financial assistance from Johnson and Johnson, who manufacture smoking cessation aids. They have also presented evidence of a substantial drop in takings following the smoking bans. A result is expected in the next few days.

It is good that while Action on Smoking and Health and its Scottish cousin stride ahead with plans to stop everyone smoking at home, the basic premise that secondary smoke kills is far from being universally accepted. We have not yet established that people are harmed by smoke even emitted in the same room before seeking ordnances banning people from smoking in their own homes.


JJ said...

But what can stop local councils writing this into their tenancy agreements - and then enforcing it after some nasty little sod has reported them?

Belinda said...

Authorities will do anything if people let them.

Anonymous said...

Remember when ASH were fighting to get the smoking ban introduced and they listed all the "nasties" in cigarette smoke.

Included in the list was Warfarin or as they said Rat Poison.

They forgot to say that it is also prescribed to those who have had a Stroke in order to thin the blood.


Anonymous said...

Gave them an inch, now they want a mile.