Has EPA been promoting
one big secondhand smoke screen?

By Joseph Perkins
Copyright 1998 Ventura County Star
July 29, 1998

My neighborhood grill-and-ale house has banned smoking inside its premises since the first of the year. Those who choose to light up must do so in a designated smoking area outside. I must say, I like this arrangement.

I never cared to breathe the cigarette fumes of others. Nor did I like it when my clothes, my hair, even my skin reeked of tobacco smoke.

But having mentioned all this, I must also say that I do not like the reason my favorite watering hole went "smoke free." It was mandated by California state law, which took effect New Year's Day, banning smoking not only in restaurants, but also in bars.

And the pretext of this law was a 1993 study and declaration by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that secondhand smoke is a Class A carcinogen -- as hazardous as asbestos, benzene and radon -- and that it causes some 3,000 lung-cancer deaths a year.

Even folks like me who aren't cigarette smokers, who appreciate a smoke-free environment, suspected that the EPA's findings were politically motivated rather than based on sound science. And earlier this month, a federal judge in North Carolina arrived at the same conclusion.

"EPA publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun," wrote U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen. Furthermore, the judge added, the regulatory agency violated federal law, the 1986 Radon Gas and Indoor Air Quality Research Act, in determining that secondhand smoke was a potent carcinogen.

The law requires that a broad-based panel be convened to make such determinations and that the panel include representatives of affected industries. However, the EPA deliberately excluded tobacco-industry representatives from its secondhand smoke panel.

Moreover, wrote Osteen, the EPA "adjusted established procedure and scientific norms to validate the agency's public conclusions." In other words, the EPA dishonestly selected a small batch of studies that supported its desired conclusion -- that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer -- while ignoring a larger batch of studies that contradicted its finding.

Two of the studies the EPA ignored were actually sponsored by organizations that are anything but sympathetic to the tobacco industry. One study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, found that nonsmokers have no increased risk of lung cancer as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke during childhood, in the workplace or from living with a pack-a-day smoker for as many as 40 years.

Another study, conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and funded by the World Health Organization, similarly concluded that secondhand smoke poses no significant health risk.

Despite these authoritative studies, despite Judge Osteen's ruling last week striking down the conclusion of the EPA's 1993 study, the agency continues to deceive the public that secondhand is not merely a nuisance, but a proven health hazard.

"The decision (by Osteen) is disturbing," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner, "because it is widely accepted that secondhand smoke poses very real health threats to children and adults."

Browner and other anti-smoking crusaders also went so far as to question Judge Osteen's integrity, because his court is located in North Carolina, one the nation's leading tobacco-producing states. But these same anti-smoking crusaders applauded the same judge last year when he ruled that the Food and Drug Administration has the authority to regulate cigarettes -- a ruling to which the tobacco industry strenuously objected.

The issue here really is not so much about secondhand smoke. It's more about the corruption of science by the EPA for political purposes.

Joseph Perkins is a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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14 may 2003