Thursday, February 1, 2007

The "Bogus" Science of Secondhand Smoke

This person must be really hated among medical people, but my guess that he is sufficiently only that he is willing to go against the political correctness on the smoking issue. Look at his background: "former deputy director of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention, and he received the U.S. Public Health Service Superior Service Award in 1976 for his efforts to define less hazardous cigarettes."

In any case, from an economist's point of view, the entire debate over secondhand smoke is largely besides the point when it comes to these regulations. The question an economist would ask is whether whatever harm from the secondhand smoke in born by the smoker, and the answer is that there is not a problem as long as someone owns the air. In a restaurant or other building someone clearly owns the air and bears the cost of allowing the air to have more smoke in it than their customers desire. Some people may like to smoke with their meals and they will pay to do it and others might want perfectly clean air. Even if you only had one restaurant in town, the restaurant owner has a strong incentive to give the customers who value the type of air the most what they want.

Smoking cigarettes is a clear health risk, as most everyone knows. But lately, people have begun to worry about the health risks of secondhand smoke. Some policymakers and activists are even claiming that the government should crack down on secondhand smoke exposure, given what "the science" indicates about such exposure.

Last July, introducing his office's latest report on secondhand smoke, then-U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona asserted that "there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure," that "breathing secondhand smoke for even a short time can damage cells and set the cancer process in motion," and that children exposed to secondhand smoke will "eventually . . . develop cardiovascular disease and cancers over time."

Such claims are certainly alarming. But do the studies Carmona references support his claims, and are their findings as sound as he suggests?

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