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Jack Zaleski column: Don't let smoke muddle the facts

Talk about smoke and mirrors. Some of the people who don't like the idea of a smoke-free ordinance in Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Dilworth are resorting to tactics that should embarrass them. They are trying to discredit science that has conf...

Talk about smoke and mirrors.

Some of the people who don't like the idea of a smoke-free ordinance in Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Dilworth are resorting to tactics that should embarrass them. They are trying to discredit science that has confirmed the health hazards of second-hand smoke. They are proclaiming it's junk science. But the real junk science is coming from tobacco company-funded campaigns designed to plant doubts about health risks of second-hand smoke.

At least one morning radio show has all but taken up the cause of the tobacco companies by trying to give credibility to the tobacco companies' junk science. A couple of weeks ago a character named Steven Milloy was a guest on WDAY's Hot Talk! where he parroted the tobacco lobby's line about secondhand smoke. Milloy has a history of lobbying for tobacco companies, including defense of the industry in regard to environmental tobacco smoke -- commonly called secondhand smoke. He's made a buck or two by carrying the tobacco industry's message.

Another fraud perpetrated on listeners is that an EPA study on secondhand smoke was thrown out by the courts, and a British Medical Journal report concluded there was no correlation between secondhand smoke and death from smoke-aggravated diseases. Problem is, the puppets for the tobacco industry tell only part of the stories.

The EPA findings, which discussed diseases caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, were not tossed out. A North Carolina U.S. District Court struck down a single, specific finding in the report because of procedural error. It did not invalidate the report's conclusions on other harm caused by secondhand smoke. Futhermore, the tobacco companies lost an appeal to a higher court.

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The British journal study was so faulty that no credible researcher takes it seriously. It relied on old data from as far back as 1959 to conclude there was no correlation between smoke exposure and death. But in 1959 and through most of the 1960s and much of the 1970s (when participants were monitored) there was little measurable difference between exposure to smoke by smokers and exposure to secondhand smoke. In other words, during the time of the study secondhand smoke was everywhere, so of course there would be very little difference in smoke-related mortality or illness.

And by the way, the British study's authors received funding from the tobacco industry.

Which brings me to this: Who would you rather believe? The people of The American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, the National Institutes of Health and your family doctor, who are working to prevent tobacco-related illness and death? Or the mouthpieces for the tobacco industry, who still want to sell poison to kids?

Easy call.

Zaleski can be reached at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or (701) 241-5521.

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