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Secondhand Smoke:

Respiratory Illnesses

The phrase "respiratory illnesses", when used in connection with ETS, is usually found appended to a list of other claims, as in "cancer, heart disease and...". It seems to round off the list nicely and is purposely left vague. If pressed, anti-smokers will, as if by rote, recite "... such as asthma, colds, influenza and pneumonia". But none of these ailments is caused by smoking, much less by ETS. Pressed further, the antis will backpedal to the claim that ETS "aggravates" these conditions. The degree of this "aggravation" I shall examine in a moment. First, however, some interesting numbers bear looking at.
Since 1979, the number of smokers has declined significantly, from about 33% of adults, or higher, to a proportion varyingly reported as being from 20% to 25%. During the same period, a host of anti-smoking laws have dramatically curtailed smoking in public places. Today, exposure to ETS is not one tenth of what it was in 1979. Yet, according to an article in the San Jose Mercury News (October 12, 1993), fatal asthma attacks have nearly doubled in that time. More than 5,100 Americans suffered fatal asthma attacks in 1991, up from about 2,600 in 1979. Clearly, some scapegoat other than ETS will have to be found.
So where are the mystery deaths caused by "respiratory illnesses" that can be blamed on ETS? There aren't any. The diabolical innuendo of the phrase "... cancer, heart disease and respiratory illnesses" causes many to believe people die this way and to repeat the rumor. But it is akin to saying "nuclear bombs, biological warfare and firecrackers."
So far, in this country anti-smokers have enjoyed free rein to make wild claims about ETS without having to back them up with rigorous evidence in an objective, impartial setting such as a court of law. With the pending challenge to the EPA's report, that is about to change. For a preview of the truth likely to emerge, we have only to look at a recent Australian court case in which the Australian Department of Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare was pressing a complaint against a casino in an attempt to enforce a no-smoking law.
The question of "respiratory illnesses" quickly became a question of whether the effect of ETS should more properly be characterized as an "irritation" [the defense] or an "inflammation" [the prosecution]. After considering the evidence and witnesses from both sides, the judge likened it to "the experience of ordinary people who sneeze, or whose eyes water when peeling onions." The infamous "respiratory illnesses", in other words, were boiled down in the crucible of truth to simple runny noses.
In addition, the prosecution introduced as part of their evidence the January '93 EPA report on lung cancer and ETS. About this report the judge had these words: "I would have thought that these reports would be those which supported the prosecution case most strongly, but they appear not to. One of these reports is the American EPA report... Chapter 7.9 of the report covers passive smoking and respiratory symptoms and lung function in adults. Table 7.11 tabulates 6 studies and their results, which really show the contrary to what the prosecution witnesses say." The decision, handed down in Perth on September 17, 1993, concluded: "Whilst ETS is annoying and of discomfort to non smokers it has not been proved at the required standard, or at all, that it is a risk to the health of the employees at the Casino."

Copyright (c) 1994, 1995 by Joe Dawson. All rights reserved.

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