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Underhand About Secondhand

A Federal Judge Rules that the EPA Put Politics Before Science in their Report that Called Secondhand Smoke a Killer
Jason Sheftell
From the Print Edition:
John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98

(continued from page 2)

Today, Lippmann, a professor of environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, strongly believes ETS is a health hazard but admits that the EPA death count of 3,000 "wasn't said in any confidence, and the research isn't as convincing as you'd like it to be."

Back in 1993, the mainstream media jumped on the Group A rating without carefully analyzing the EPA's results--in one evening broadcast, CBS's national news led with the story. Using the EPA's Group A rating for ETS, antitobacco advocates and politicians created a propaganda campaign designed to frighten the public and push smoking bans. A 1995 New York City subway advertisement depicted an image of a dead person within the smoke being released from a cigarette. The caption read: If you can smell it, it may be killing you. A 1997 billboard in California read: Mind if I smoke? The response: Care if I die?

Politicians thought they were "doing the right thing" based on EPA conclusions. The wording in countless smoking bans implemented after the release of the 1993 report cited the EPA's findings as strong reason for passing antismoking ordinances.

It's unclear at this time whether tobacco companies will challenge existing smoking bans in light of Osteen's ruling, but pending bans that heavily cite the EPA report as legally submitted evidence are in jeopardy,

attorneys say. In New York City, where the EPA report was a factor in the drafting of a citywide smoking ban that includes most restaurants, officials are not concerned about the judge's decision. "The ruling doesn't knock out whatever action has been taken," says New York Councilman Victor Robles, chairman of the council's health committee. "But if we need to reassess what we did, we will."

In Boston, where the EPA report was less of a factor in drafting the city ordinance, city Public Health Commission Chairman Dave Mulligan, the former Commissioner of Public Health for Massachusetts, got to the heart of the issue: "It's really about secondhand smoke being a nuisance. Nonsmokers shouldn't have to smell smoke; but smokers shouldn't be punished for choosing to smoke and their right to smoke."

The tobacco industry is hopeful that the ruling sets a tone for a fact-based and democratic discussion on smoking, bridging the gap created by the "us-versus-them" mentality. "The significance of the decision is that it's a step in the right direction of permitting discourse on what kind of society we want to live in," says Ellen Merlo, a senior vice president of corporate affairs for Philip Morris, U.S.A. "It comes down to allowing people to make their own personal choices."

Jason Sheftell is the associate manager of Cigar Aficionado Online, the Cigar Aficionado Web site.

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