On February 7, 2008 we sent a letter to the Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty urging him to take a look at the science used to justify car smoking bans. Our letter read as follows:
To the honorable Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty
Smoking in the presence of children is in no way, means or form to be considered parental neglect or abuse unless the child has a condition that second hand smoke can aggravate. Risk does not automatically mean harm, especially when the risk factors are hardly at levels where cause can be inferred and all confounding factors can be dismissed. Epidemiology is too subjective, biased and inaccurate, for any legislation to be based on its weak and inconsistent conclusions. Case in point, the WHO’s biggest and most extensive study (Bofetta et al 1998) surprisingly found that second hand smoke protects children from lung cancer. Should we base legislation on this allegedly serious ‘’scientific’’ study and force all parents to smoke in the presence of children to save them from lung cancer?
One of the reasons provided by the OLA to justify car bans is the following: "Asthma in children is growing at an unsettling rate. We know that tobacco smoke is not only a known trigger for causing asthma episodes, it can actually cause asthma in healthy children.’’Not only is this message not coherent with the very well-documented increase of allergies proportionately to the decrease of smoking for the last 30 years, but the same epidemiology that the OLA uses to justify legislation has found the exact opposite results to those that they claim. The conclusion from a 32-year population-based cohort study, published on December 3, 2007 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, does not quite correspond with the OLA's message. In fact it concluded that ‘’Personal and parental smoking is associated with a reduced risk of allergic sensitization in people with a family history of atopy.’’
With only a bit of digging, anyone, can find at least one or more studies that report the exact opposite finding for each and every statement various anti-smoking groups have made to justify legislation against smoking in cars with children. The bottom line is, science does not conclusively back up any of their claims.Who then better than the parent, under the advice of the child’s pediatrician, knows best when a situation aggravates their child's condition and when it doesn’t? One could argue that some parents are negligent and could care less about their child’s medical condition and yes, unfortunately such parents do exist -- thankfully in small numbers -- and by all means these children should be protected from this type of parental neglect. However, the fact is that there are laws already in place to protect children from parental neglect and abuse and it is those laws that should be enforced rigorously instead of wasting our already deficient human and financial resources to put ‘’feel good’’ laws in place that would not only be very difficult and expensive to enforce, but that would target all parents when in fact it is the few irresponsible ones that should be targeted.
Let’s not forget that if we’re going to legislate smoking behavior in order to save the children from their parents, we would have to review many risky habits that we allow our children to be subjected to, and legislate them in the same way, since they are all decisions parents make that pose a risk to their children. Such risky habits would include taking the child outside during smog alerts, driving in poor weather or in poor visibility conditions with a child, taking the child outdoors during mosquito season, caring for the child while we are afflicted with a viral or infectious disease, lighting candles, burning incense, lighting a fireplace in the presence of a child, the list is long and endless. The fact that we don't, is clear proof that these anti-smoking lobbying efforts have absolutely nothing to do with children's health. Even the most caring parents take some type of risk while a child is in their custody and under their authority and that is perfectly acceptable. Why should it be any different when it comes to smokers to the point that special legislation is required?
In light of the above, we respectfully ask you to reconsider your decision to implement this very intrusive bundle of legislation.
On April 23, 2008 we received from the premier, what seems to be an automated response that not only did not comment on the studies and arguments we brought forth, but in fact repeated the same rhetoric that has become so typical of the anti-tobacco movement.
What are we to make of this letter? That Premier McGuinty could care less about scientific integrity? That he could care less about parental autonomy? That the only citizens whose voices count are those who agree with the state line of thinking? Or that even the truth is of no importance to him as Dr. Michael Siegel has pointed out in his latest entry in his blog: Ontario Health Ministry Tells Public that Secondhand Smoke Causes Cardiac Arrest Among Children
Following is Mr. McGuinty’s reply followed by excerpts from Dr. Siegel’s comments:
Thanks for your online message regarding smoking in vehicles with child passengers.
As your government, we have a responsibility to protect the health and well-being of all Ontarians, especially our children. Smoking is the number one preventable cause of disease and death in Ontario, costing our health care system and our economy billions of dollars every year.
Our government is very concerned about the health of children who are exposed to second-hand smoke. Second-hand smoke levels in cars can be up to 60 times greater than in a smoke-free home. Children exposed to second-hand smoke are at higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, asthma, cancer and heart disease. We have listened to Ontarians’ concerns and the recommendations of the Ontario Medical Association. That is why, this spring, we are proposing legislation to ban smoking in cars when children are present.
The move will be the next logical step in our efforts to protect Ontarians from the harmful effects of smoking. It would bring us in line with Nova Scotia, Louisiana, Arkansas and California, jurisdictions that have already enacted similar bans.
Since our government launched its Smoke-Free Ontario Strategy — which includes one of the toughest anti-smoking laws in North America — tobacco use in the province has fallen substantially. In fact, between 2003 and 2006 tobacco consumption in Ontario has fallen by over 30 per cent. Our strategy has helped people quit smoking and has prevented many young people from starting. Now we are working to protect our youngest and most vulnerable citizens from the serious health-related consequences of second-hand smoke.
Thanks again for contacting me.
Dalton McGuinty Premier of Ontario
Excerpt from Dr. Siegel’s comment:
…there is simply no way to justify or explain the statement that secondhand smoke causes cardiac arrest among exposed children. There is no degree of leniency on the terminology that we can allow that would enable us to interpret that statement as being anything other than blatantly inaccurate.
Children's hearts do not stop beating suddenly because of exposure to secondhand smoke. There is no evidence that secondhand smoke exposure causes acute coronary events of any kind among children. This claim seems to be pulled completely out of the blue. It's not like the claim is even an exaggeration of a claim for which there is evidence. In other words, this is not merely an exaggeration, it is a complete fabrication.
Even worse, the Ministry is claiming not merely that secondhand smoke causes cardiac arrest among children, but that medical science clearly shows that this is the case.I do not understand why the Ministry of Health Promotion would fabricate such a claim.
And as he reiterated on the ‘’comments’’ section of that same thread:
What strikes me so much about the Ontario health ministry's claim is that it doesn't represent an exaggeration or distortion of published research. Instead, it appears to be an outright fabrication. I really don't understand how they even came up with this claim about sudden cardiac arrest in children. It's not even remotely plausible.
Here's why it doesn't make sense to me: If you were going to purposely fabricate an effect of secondhand smoke to try to support your agenda, why not pick an effect that actually happens? Sudden cardiac arrest is not a phenomenon that occurs in children with the exception of some very severe diseases. So why pick that as your alleged health effect? It makes no sense. Why would the health department even think that people would believe this claim?
Michael Siegel Homepage 04.27.08 - 12:06 pm #
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