Originally posted August 1, 2011
I’m pleased to hand this blog over to the capable hands of Michael McFadden today, widely known to most people reasonably involved with the smoking issue as the author of Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains and one of the most tireless activists we could hope to have. Given the recent murmurs of outdoor bans and of course Vancouver and New York doing just that I thought the time was right to look at some of the figures, and Michael is the best for looking at those figures. So with no further ado…
While the true goal of smoking bans at beaches and parks is the same as the true goal of most of the bans elsewhere – namely to simply make smoking as difficult and unenjoyable as possible – the stated goals are almost always focused on reducing butt litter to either save the children or the environment.
Any local beach/park ban push will almost certainly include a made-up quote from some young distraught mother (who usually just happens to be active in the antismoking group) about how she found her two year old picking up old cigarette butts and putting them in his or her mouth. One particularly colorful story involved a four year old whose cheeks looked like chipmunk cheeks because she had supposedly stuffed them so full of old cigarette butts dug up from the sand while mommsy had turned her head “for a moment” at the beach. Children being “poisoned” by deadly cigarette butts at beaches and in playground sandboxes evokes a powerful emotional response in support of smoking bans and that’s exactly what the Antismokers are counting on… as usual.
What’s the reality though? Well, a quick check of national poison control center figures, along with an examination of a CDC WMMR report on the subject shows that not only are no kids dying out there from such “tobacco product ingestions” but that additionally, 98% of such happenings occur *AT HOME* … not at the beach, not at the park, not in the schoolyard or on the sidewalk or on top of Mrs. Widdicrumb’s Hen House… but at home.
Children are at FAR greater risk of drowning while at the beach or dying from playground falls at the park or contracting serious infections from broken glass in either location than of being “poisoned” by picking and eating up old cigarette butts. The disgusting antismoking fantasy plays well on the media, but that’s pretty much all that it is: a disgusting fantasy meant to use and abuse our love for our children.
But what about the other concern? The environment? Antismokers love to trot out a “science experiment” showing that little water fleas (a life form known to be very sensitive to any sort of pollution in its environment) can be poisoned by as little as one-tenth of a cigarette butt in a liter of water. The antismoking advocates follow up that piece of information with the stunning announcement that over five TRILLION cigarette butts are discarded each year and can wind up in our water supply.
There are several tricks being played here. One is simply the assumption that virtually every cigarette smoked by every human being on the planet gets thrown into our water. Obviously that’s not true. But even if it WERE true… would it be the global pollution threat to life that is painted by that little water flea experiment?
To figure that out you need to know how many liters of water there are out there getting filled with cigarette butts and poisoning innocent you water fleas in the prime of water flea life. A little research through encyclopedias or Google will soon give you an answer, or you can just take the figure from http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geophysics/question157.htm and accept it at 1,260,000,000,000,000,000,000 liters (about 1.3 sextillion … golly but I love it when things get into the sextillions….)
So how long would it take smokers, even if they dumped EVERY ONE of their 5 trillion butts a year right into the water and even if we completely suspended the normal laws of physics, chemistry, and biology so that they never biodegraded, how long then would it take to reach a poisonous level for those poor little water fleas?
Simple: Just do the division: 1,260,000,000,000,000,000,000 liters / 5,000,000,000, 000 butts
Without getting into scientific notation, let’s just cancel the zeros on either side and we’re left with 1,260,000,000 / 5 which tells us it would take those nasty old smokers roughly 252,000,000 years to bring us to the nightmare scenario of the water fleas dying. But…. Wait a minute… the Antismokers claim it will only take one TENTH of a butt per liter to cause catastrophe, so it looks like doomsday is only 25,000,000 years away. Hmmm… ok… According to Darwin ‘n his buddies, Homo Sapiens has been dancing around on planet Earth for about 250,000 years. So basically we’d have to smoke and dump butts for a hundred times as long as all humanity has existed. Whew!
I don’t know about you, but passing laws based upon suspending all natural laws and then traveling 25 million years into the future to see the result is a bit beyond my capacity.
So what have we seen? We’ve seen that both of the main scientifically emotive arguments used by Antismokers to justify smoking bans outdoors have little to no value. Without them the Antismokers are left with such weak ideas as “We don’t want children to see people smoking,” (Which could be greatly achieved by eliminating mandated indoor smoking bans so that smokers would be relaxing comfortably inside in ventilated lounges and bars rather than standing out on the sidewalk to wave at all the schoolkids.) or “I might be harmed by breathing wisps of smoke blowing around outdoors.” (Which, if you actually do the numbers game with full acceptance of the Antismokers’ EPA type claims would result in roughly one extra lung cancer for every 320 million people-years of dedicated smoky beach-going – winter AND summer!)
In brief: there is no good argument for these bans outside of social engineering. They’re just an activation of NY Mayor Bloomberg’s statement of dedication “to making smoking as difficult and expensive as possible.” In other words, to give the smokers little “electric shock” equivalents every time they smoke so that they’ll act like good little rats and change their behavior.
People are not rats. People should not be treated like rats. And the people who design policies that treat people like rats are little better than rats themselves.
Michael J. McFadden
Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”