Monday, February 06, 2006

Blowing Second Hand Smoke

If you were watching the Super Bowl yesterday, you may have seen an ad during halftime, sponsored by MPAAT, the Minnesota Partnership Against Tobacco. The ad was done in typical MPAAT style, with all the subtlety of a German jazz band. A solitary smoker in a bar lights a cigarette, and suddenly airplane-style oxygen masks drop from the ceiling. A stentorian, voice of God narrator drones on about all the known carcinogens in second-hand smoke.

MPAAT's actions are offensive on a number of levels.
  • The purpose of MPAAT and its now moribund partner, Target Market, was to aid those who wish to quit smoking. Funding for MPAAT activities come from the large tobacco settlement that then-Attorney General Skip Humphrey negotiated in the late '90s. MPAAT's primary mission was to help get smokers to quit. MPAAT is swimming in money and they could easily fund smoking cessation programs that could help others. Instead, they have chosen to put their considerable institutional muscle (and nearly unlimited pile of money) into smoking bans. Can you imagine how many people could have been helped with the money MPAAT used on their ad?
  • I quit smoking over 15 years ago; millions of other Americans have done the same. I was able to do it cold turkey because my fiance (now my lovely wife) was supportive of my efforts and because I was able to get away from the environments that I associated with lighting a cigarette. I did not worry about going into bars or restaurants, even though back then it was a rare place that completely banned smoking. There's no doubt that second-hand smoke is annoying to many, but smoking a cigarette is hardly the same as launching mustard gas, which is how MPAAT portrays things.
  • An earlier ad that MPAAT put on is especially egregious. It shows a woman who appears to be around 60 years old. She claims that she has never smoked in her life, but that she is dying of lung cancer and that her place of employment was often "blue with smoke." She also said she worked in the same place for 40 years. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that all the assertions made in this ad are true. Even if they are, it does not prove that second-hand smoke caused her cancer, as correlation does not equal causation. She may have lived in a home with radon. She may have been a coal miner on the side. She may have simply been unlucky. The thing that's most amazing about the ad is that it asserts that 40,000 people have died from second hand smoke. But, apparently, none of them are from Minnesota, as the woman in the ad is from Canada. If second hand smoker were as pervasive and pernicious as MPAAT would have you believe, you would assume they could find a Minnesotan to appear in their ads.

The urge to save is often the urge to control. Reducing smoking is a decent, honorable goal. Herding smokers into the cold and treating them as pariahs is neither decent nor honorable.

1 comment:

Luap said...

Though I have never smoked and am actually quite allergic to the stuff, I applaud your reasoning, sir - as always. :o)