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
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
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."