THE GOOD FIGHT ‌ Will Truth Make A Difference? 

It means little in current public policy debates

It would seem the "debate" about secondhand smoke is finally over, with the recent statement by U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

"The health effects of secondhand smoke are more pervasive than we previously thought," Carmona said. "The scientific evidence is now indisputable: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults."

According to the Surgeon General's report, exposure to smoke can cause heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults; it can cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory problems, asthma, and ear infections in infants and children. The most sophisticated ventilation system cannot eliminate secondhand smoke. Only smoke-free environments are safe.

Of course, this is what reputable scientists have been telling us for years, but the tobacco industry and their goons and stooges have created false data and pumped it through the media for years, suggesting that there is still serious scientific doubt about the effects of cigarettes and secondhand smoke. As a tobacco executive wrote in a recently divulged industry memo from the 1970s, "...our product is doubt."

Politicians and media executives were only too happy to go along with the ruse, because there were too many advertising dollars and campaign contributions at stake to get picky about whether or not cigarettes actually kill people.

Maybe the Surgeon General's report will finally settle the issue of secondhand smoke. Or maybe not. But the report left no doubt as to what the Surgeon General and his staff thought of the tobacco industry's decades-long campaign of deceit and obfuscation: "The industry has funded or carried out research that has been judged to be biased, supported scientists to generate letters to editors that criticized research publications, attempted to undermine the findings of key studies, assisted in establishing a scientific society with a journal, and attempted to sustain controversy even as the scientific community reached consensus."

The Surgeon General's report comes just in time for the good people of Charleston. For years City Council has been debating a possible ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. Each time it has come up for a vote, it has been sent back for "further study" in a fog of specious arguments over private property rights and what the science says about secondhand smoke. This report should clear the air on both arguments. Nobody's private property gives him the right to jeopardize the life and health of his employees and customers. City Council is currently considering a smoking ban and will probably vote on it before the end of the summer. The Surgeon General's report might give council members the courage to do what they should have done years ago.

The report might also renew efforts in Columbia to pass a state law against smoking in public places. In the General Assembly a few weeks ago, a bill that would have banned cigarettes in restaurants, bars, and other public places came within two votes of clearing committee and going to the Senate floor. It was a much better showing than most observers expected and this report will likely give the effort new life.

Rep. Chip Limehouse (R-Charleston) told The Post and Courier, "I feel certain we will bring (the bill) up again next year in the General Assembly. I expect (the report) to shift the argument a little bit in favor of the rights of nonsmokers."

On June 27, the day the Surgeon General released his report, Al Gore's global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, received 19 thumbs-up from top climate researchers.

The Associated Press contacted more than 100 climatologists for their opinions, including some vocal skeptics of climate change theory, according to the P&C. Of those scientists who had seen the movie or read the book it was based on, there was unanimous agreement: Gore got the science right. The planet is heating up and it is a man-made catastrophe, caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Like the "debate" on secondhand smoke, this debate should be over. Yet, it will not go away because the fossil fuel industries do not want us to stop burning oil, gas, and coal. They have spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years, ginning up bogus research, news stories, and opinion pieces, all designed to promote the idea that global warming is a hoax created by liberals, tree huggers, and self-important baby boomers. The corporate campaign of disinformation is documented in An Inconvenient Truth, which is still playing in Charleston. It's worth a look, not just for the terrifying future it foretells for planet Earth, but for the evil that corporations will do to make a dollar.

Now we know the truth. The time for "debate" is over.


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