Sunday, November 25, 2007

Letter to Lake St. Louis

This is a letter I sent to Lake St. Louis Mayor Mike Potter and the Lake St. Louis Board of Aldermen last July:

Dear Alderman Buell,

In a June 28th Suburban Journal article, the owners of El Maguey Mexican restaurant and Donatelli's Bistro expressed concern that a Lake St. Louis smoking ban would harm their businesses. They are right to worry. Elsa Barth, owner of the Seventh Inn restaurant in Ballwin, says her restaurant experienced an immediate 35 percent decline in business due to the Ballwin smoking ban. She explained that if a dinner party included even a single smoker, it would choose an alternate establishment that allowed smoking. For every smoking customer she lost, she would also lose many nonsmoking companions of the smoker as well. Elsa Barth and Mike Probst, owner of longtime Ballwin bar the French Quarter, felt so strongly against the harm of smoking bans they refused to promote smoking bans in neighboring communities and even testified against smoking bans before the St. Louis County Council. Aldermen from Arnold also testified before the St. Louis County Council hearings, warning of the economic harm caused by their smoking ban to Arnold businesses.

Many St. Louis bars, restaurants and their patrons deeply don't want a smoking ban. The life risks from environmental tobacco smoke in bars andrestaurants would have to be both very large and established beyond a reasonable doubt to justify such a threat to business and criminalization of adult citizens using a legal product on private property. The following evidence strongly argues that tobacco smoke in any Lake St.Louis bar or restaurant is merely a foreseeable nuisance and irritant that can be almost entirely eliminated through ventilation and filtration:

The longest-running and highest-quality secondhand smoke study ever done, completed too late (2003) to be included in Surgeon General Carmona’s report, found no link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer or heart disease.

"The Bogus 'Science' of Secondhand Smoke", a recent Washington Post op-ed by cancer epidemiologist and toxicologist Gio Batta Gori, former deputy director of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention, calls smoking bans "odious and socially unfair" prohibitions based on "bogus" science and “dangerous, wanton conjectures.” Gori warns that the many of the secondhand smoke studies the SurgeonGeneral uses to claim secondhand smoke life risk fail to control for important confounding variables, are based merely on "brief phone interviews", and assume that people always tell the truth about their smoking histories. Gori further warns that the results of these secondhand smoke studies are inconsistent:

“In addition, results are not consistently reproducible. The majority ofstudies do not report a statistically significant change in risk fromsecondhand smoke exposure, some studies show an increase in risk, and ¿astoundingly ¿ some show a reduction of risk.”

A recent study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that restaurant ventilation/filtration systems can make the air of the nonsmoking section of a smoking restaurant as clean as the air of smoke-free restaurant.

My own research confirms this result. When the St. Louis County Council was considering a smoking ban in 2005, Councilman Skip Mange asked me to provide for him a local ventilation/filtration expert who could answerhis technical questions. Every expert I contacted agreed that a properly designed ventilation/filtration system could effectively remove the smoke from the air of bars and restaurants to a safe level.

Another Oak Ridge National Laboratory study of tavern workers in 16 majorcities found that the tobacco smoke exposure of bar and restaurantworkers to be minimal. No bartender was found to breathe more than theequivalent of a single cigarette per 40 hour work week. The average bartender breathed .1 of a cigarette per 40 hour week.

A huge recent study of heart attack rates in California and New York has proven that smoking bans do not lead to a reduction in heart attack rates:

In an estimate of health benefits of the New York City smoking ban, American Counsel on Science and Health President, Elizabeth M. Whelan Sc.D., M.P.H., admits that “There is no evidence that any New Yorker *patron or employee * has ever died as a result of exposure to smoke in abar or restaurant.” Whelan further states that “The link between secondhand smoke and premature death, however, is a real stretch.”

Surgeon General Carmona’s report and press statements have come under severe criticism from respected public health authorities even within the antismoking movement. The Surgeon General’s contention that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke is especially disputed. TheSurgeon General’s report needs much more analysis and scrutiny before it can become the proper basis for law. It is important to remember that the EPA Report which declared secondhand smoke to be a human carcinogen was subject to years of scrutiny by scientists and epidemiologists before being vacated as a fraud by a federal judge four years after its release.

After analyzing the EPA Report linking secondhand smoke and lung cancer, the Congressional Research Service concluded that: "The statistical evidence does not appear to support a conclusion that there are substantial health effects of passive smoking.... Even at the greatest exposure levels....very few or even no deaths can be attributed to ETS."

The refusal of OSHA, the government agency charged with the protection of worker health, to ban workplace smoking, calls into question the danger of tobacco smoke exposure in a bar or restaurant. OSHA has established PELs (Permissible Exposure Levels) for all the measurable chemicals,including the 40 alleged carcinogens, in secondhand smoke. PELs are levels of exposure for an 8-hour workday from which, according to OSHA, no harm will result. OSHA explains that under normal workplace circumstances, secondhand smoke “exposures would not exceed these permissible exposure limits (PELs)”

“Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)...It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded." -Letter From Greg Watchman, Acting Ass't Sec'y, OSHA, To Leroy J Pletten, PHD,July 8, 1997

Alderman Buell, if the maximum tobacco smoke exposure for any bartender is 1 cigarette per 40 hour work week, the ordinary exposure only a tenth of that, and the exposure of any patron only a tiny fraction of that tenth, is a public health intervention as severe as a smoking ban justified? If OSHA does not deem environmental tobacco smoke a workplace health risk worth regulating, and the death of any St. Louis citizen due to bar or restaurant smoke is highly questionable, why restrict the freedoms of citizens and the private property rights of business owners with a smoking ban? There is no compelling public health reason to add Lake St. Louis bars and restaurants to the long list of businesses across the country that have been injured or killed by such bans:

Furthermore, bar and restaurant smoking bans have proven to be public health failures. Researchers with the University College London have extensively studied American bar and restaurant smoking bans. These researchers are now cautioning lawmakers that such bans causenon-smokers, especially young children, to involuntarily breathe more secondhand smoke! When smokers can’t smoke around other adults in well-ventilated bars and restaurants, they tend to smoke in poorly ventilated private places around children and elderly relatives instead.These researchers state: “We find that bans in recreational public places can perversely increase tobacco exposure of non-smokers by displacing smokers to private places where they contaminate non-smokers, in particular young children.” These researchers conclude:

"Governments in many countries are under pressure to limit passive smoking. Some pressure groups can be very vocal about these issues and suggest bold and radical reform. Often, their point of view is laudable but too simplistic in the sense that they do not take into account how public policies can generate perverse incentives and effects."

Alderman Buell, what good is a smoking ban if it at once causes childrento breathe more secondhand smoke and longstanding businesses to fail? Please judge legislation not by its good intentions but by its effects in the real world. The smoking ban issue is still a new issue for Americancities, one that lawmakers are still thinking thru. St Louis County Councilman John Campisi is one legislator that has gotten this issue right. This St. Louis County Councilman, though he initially supported a smoking ban, came to see the supreme importance of freedom in American life and the superiority of information over coercion as the best public health protection in a free society. Councilman Campisi wrote to me after shifting his support from a smoking ban to a signage law for St. Louis County:

“Similar to the first surgeon generals warning on the pack of cigarettes, this is the first step toward a smoke free environment...Please think back when the warning came out and how the smoking habits have continued to decline since then... My bill is a warning also to the consumer and the freedom of choice to those that choose not to patronize those establishments that have smoking in their restaurant, bar or casino... I cherish the freedom of choice and the freedom of speech in this country…”

Rather than a smoking ban, please consider a signage law like that advocated by Councilman Campisi or St. Louis City Alderman Stephen Gregali for Lake St. Louis. Alderman Gregali’s law is especially excellent in that it establishes three categories of restaurants: smoking, smoking-restricted and smoke-free. An establishment that declares itself to be smoking-restricted must take exacting measures to assure the public that it will not encounter stray smoke in the non-smoking section. Anyone smoking in a section of a restaurant not designated by signage as smoking would be fined. Thus those with asthma and other special sensitivities would be protected from any surprise encounter with tobacco smoke.

Alderman Buell, please consider making Lake St. Louis a leader in the St.Louis area by passing a common sense a signage law that protects public health with increased information yet respects the freedoms of citizens and property rights of business owners. My group has lately worked hard to provide accurate and complete information to lawmakers in the 22 states and many cities recently considering smoking bans. But we especially want to work to see such reasonable legislation as that proposed by Councilman Campisi and Alderman Gregali established in St. Louis. Please let me know anything we can do to help toward that end!


Bill Hannegan