Submission in respect of Tobacco Products Control Amendment Bill
by Keith Gretton, Member of a panel of experts advising international tobacco companies on environmental tobacco smoke
Indoor smoking restrictions cannot be justified on health grounds
The science of Environmental Tobacco Smoke, Public smoking and public policy
After nearly 20 years of independent research, cigarette smoke in the air is not shown to be a cause of disease in non-smokers.
Smoke in the air may be annoying to some people, but public smoking restrictions cannot be justified on health grounds.
Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and lung cancer
In October 1998, the second-largest study of ETS and lung cancer ever undertaken was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
This 10-year study was from the World Health Organisation. It looked at non-smokers from 12 study centres across Europe. The results are consistent with most of the research of the last 20 years:
For exposure to cigarette smoke at home, WHO found no meaningful increase in lung cancer risk
· For exposure to cigarette smoke at work, WHO found no meaningful increase in lung cancer risk
· For exposure to cigarette smoke while growing up, the WHO found no association with lung cancer
· For exposure to cigarette smoke in social settings, the WHO found no association with lung cancer
· For exposure to cigarette smoke in public transport, the WHO found no association with lung cancer
According to the results of this study, if there is any risk at all of lung cancer from environmental tobacco smoke, it is less than other studies have found for:
· The risk of dying early from being over-weight
· The risk of dying early from drinking three cups of coffee a day
· The risk of heart disease from eating margarine every day
· The risk of cancer of the ovaries from eating yogurt once a month
· The risk of breast cancer from eating red meat twice a day. The risk of colorectal cancer from stress at work.
This WHO study is the newest study and the second-largest ever completed. If this research cannot find a meaningful risk of lung cancer from passive smoking, you have to ask whether there can be any risk at all.
ETS and other diseases
On heart disease, two studies are 10 times larger than all of the others put together. These studies report no overall association between ETS and heart disease.
The WHO recently completed a 20-year study into heart disease covering 21 countries. It found no association between smoking and heart disease. Smokers' exposure to cigarette smoke is obviously much greater than a passive smoker's exposure. If smoking is not associated with heart disease, it is difficult to see how passive smoking can be.
On respiratory disease, in a 1994 review of the ETS data scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the WHO, said: "On the basis of the available data, no definitive conclusion ... can be drawn."
ETS exposure has not been shown to cause respiratory disease and it is not established a risk factor for adult respiratory disease.
ETS and children
Clearly it is important to be aware of the comfort of young children, especially infants. It makes sense not to smoke close to an infant in poorly ventilated situations or for long periods.
But looking at the science, being exposed to cigarette smoke is not shown to cause health problems (such as coughs, wheezes or asthma) in children.
In any case, studies of exposure to cigarette smoke in the home are of little relevance to public places, bars or restaurants where children are usually exposed to less cigarette smoke for much shorter periods of time.
Attacking ETS may be politically correct - it is not scientifically correct
In July 1998, a US Federal Judge threw out the most important public policy risk assessment ever made on ETS and lung cancer.
The US Environmental Protection Agency was found to have abused its power to force regulation on indoor smoking when the scientific basis for regulation simply did not exist.
That report from the US Environmental Protection Agency said that ETS was killing 3,000 Americans a year. In reaching this conclusion, the Judge confirmed that the EPA had:
· deliberately misled the US public
· was guilty of major scientific and procedural errors
· changed the standards of scientific inquiry to reach a re-determined conclusion
In declaring the report invalid, the Judge said:
"The EPA disregarded information and made findings on selective information; did not disseminate significant ... information; deviated from its risk assessment guidelines; failed to disclose important findings and reasoning; and left significant questions without answers."
The EPA Report was the public health basis for many smoking bans - that basis has been blown away.
This was just the latest judgement on environmental tobacco smoke:
· In Australia in 1995, an official report calling for smoking bans in many public places in Australia was challenged. The judge told the National Health and Medical Research Council that proper procedures had not been followed and that it could not act on the report's findings.
· During 1998 in a US law-court, a jury considered all of the ETS science and concluded unanimously that the claim that ETS had caused a nurse's cancer failed.
· In the UK in 1998, a legal challenge has been launched against an official tobacco report which claimed that ETS was a cause of lung cancer and heart disease. The outcome is awaited and if the challenge is successful the report may be declared illegal.
The public health basis for smoking bans has repeatedly been refused. Any government considering action on indoor smoking should think again.
Indoor smoking as a social issue
Indoor smoking restrictions cannot be justified on health grounds, but it is certainly true that smoke in the air can be annoying.
Many simple solutions, such as better ventilation and segregation between smokers and nonsmokers, fall well short of government action.
In many places the managers or owners of hotels, restaurants, bars and workplaces will set aside separate areas for smokers and non-smokers. Different zones are often clearly signed and sometimes separated by plants or screens. Most importantly of all, they are flexible allowing the manager or owner to cater for the needs of smokers and non-smokers at different times of the day, or as the profile of the clientele changes.
Smoking bans are unpopular
Opinion research repeatedly finds that most people simply do not want government intervention on indoor smoking.
In 1998, UK research among smokers and non-smokers found that fewer than a quarter supported government action on smoking in bars/pubs. Almost as few favoured government action in restaurants.
In a European Union survey of over 4,000 company directors, only one in ten agreed with the statement: "the government should decide on whether employees can smoke in the workplace."
International experience of smoking bans
There are very few federal governments that have taken action to ban or severely restrict smoking in public places.
Any government considering action on public smoking should consider the experience of other governments who have travelled this course:
· In Canada, in March 1997, a total smoking ban was introduced in public places in Toronto. There had been no consultation with the owners of hotels and restaurants. There was uproar. The hospitality groups protested bitterly and aggressively. The ban lasted four weeks and now a more sensible arrangement is in place.
The Hotel Association of Canada reports that during the ban average sales fell by 12% overall, and by 15% on food.
· In France, the Loi Evan requires strict segregation between smokers and non- smokers. Anyone who has been to France will see that the spirit of this law is publicly and defiantly contravened by thousands of establishments every day.
· This law seems to contravene the national way of life and a culture which respects the rights of the individual and has a deep-rooted sense of liberty. Such laws are very difficult, or impossible, to police and harm the reputation of the law and government.
In California, a total ban on smoking in bars and taverns was introduced in January this year. Already the lower chamber of the Californian state legislature has voted to suspend this law. The suspension is now before the upper house.