Saturday 29 September 2012


The following was posted on January 9, 2012 but for some reason (either a glitch or other) it no longer appeared in the blog.  With the help of dedicated members of the blogger help forum it was retrieved and is now being reposted. 

On December 12th we reported about CHEX-TV and how they not only repeated verbatim a press release from the Smoke-Free Housing Ontario but they left the impression that the video footage was their own when in fact it was more or less an ''infomercial'' from Smoke-Free Housing. Read it here: CHEX-TV CONTRIBUTES TO MAKING SMOKERS HOMELESS

We stated that we intended to file a complaint about biased reporting with the CBC Ombudsman since CHEX-TV is a CBC affiliate therefore a public broadcaster.  We did file the complaint with the CBC but they advised us that CHEX-TV is private and only some segments of the news are shared with the CBC.  Following the ombudsman’s advice, we filed the complaint with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, the entity that rules over private stations. 

Following is the self-explanatory correspondence that we exchanged with Mr. Michael Harris, General Manager of CHEX-TV to who the CBSC referred us to begin our complaint process. 

We are happy we were able to obtain that CHEX-TV from now on specifically identifies third party video footage as not being their own, but very disappointed with Mr. Harris’ refusal to let the public hear the other side of the story.  It is obvious to us that CHEX-TV and more particularly Mr. Harris either doesn’t believe that all science (including the Surgeon General’s) is open to constructive criticism or for reasons known only to him, he refuses to make public any dissent to the mainstream scientific consensus. 

December 13, 2011



On December 8, 2011 CHEX-TV in Peterborough, presented a news segment on Smoke-Free Housing that still appears on their website at this address 

Anyone watching this news segment can mistakenly confuse it with investigative journalism, where the reporter has done careful research, interviews and has more or less verified her ''facts''.  The segment is presented in the style of an investigative journalism story.

Unfortunately this news segment can be qualified as nothing more than an infomercial, with the reporter repeating almost verbatim what the lobby group Smoke-Free Housing supplied to the media in their newswire that you can read at this address: 

Not only did the CHEX-TV reporter not do any research to verify any of the advocacy group's contentions, but she used segments of the pre-recorded videos and b-rolls that were supplied with the press release, leaving listeners with the impression that it was the reporter herself that had done the collecting of information and interviews.
A minimum of professional research from the reporter would have revealed that the IPSOS opinion poll survey results to which the advocacy group refers do not in fact demonstrate that people are actively seeking smoke-free apartments but can't find any.  For example, the question that was asked of 810 Ontarians in 2011 was:
''To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements dealing with smoking in multi-unit dwellings (i.e. apartments, condominiums, co-ops, etc): Smoking should not be allowed in-doors in multi-unit dwellings?''

People answering this question may well have assumed that in-doors refers to the hallway, the laundry room, the stairway, the indoor pool, anywhere but people's private apartments. Had the survey clearly asked ''Do you agree that people should be forbidden from smoking in their own apartments?'', the advocacy group and the reporter might have been in a better position to make their claims.

Had she done further research she would have discovered that the Canadian Cancer Society, which paid for the IPSOS poll, is an integral part of the Smoke-Free Housing lobby group.  The group has a clear, unambiguous agenda of "back-door" prohibition of smoking in every context possible.  Shouldn't this conflict of interest have been at least mentioned in the "news story"?

Pushing for smoke-free MUDs (multi-unit dwellings) is a very serious issue that does not only violate one's privacy but can eventually result in increasing homelessness amongst the poorest, most vulnerable segments of the population, people who can't afford single family homes.  Poor people who violate new private dwelling smoking bans may get evicted and have difficulty finding new accommodations. Is it not the reporter's responsibility to have investigated such a contentious issue further instead of just repeating the press release verbatim and using videos that the Smoke-Free Housing lobby group pre-recorded and handed to the media on a silver platter?   Would it not have been relevant to at least seek to hear the other side of the story and perhaps examine some scientific literature supporting the advocacy group's statements?  We certainly feel that it is
For these reasons we are by the present lodging an official complaint against CHEX-TV and the reporter, Pamela Vanmeer, for unprofessional and biased journalism. CHEX-TV  might show some good intent by now giving equal air time to a point of view diametrically opposed to that of Pippa Beck and her "Smoke-Free Housing" lobby group. We would be happy to offer our assistance in this.
Yours Truly,
Iro Cyr – Vice-President
December 16, 2011
From: Solange Courteau

Dear Mrs. Cyr,

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has received your correspondence concerning a report about smoke-free housing on Newswatch broadcast on CHEX-TV  on December 8, 2011.  First of all, I apologize for having addressed you as Mr. in my previous letter.

By copy of this letter, we are asking CHEX-TV  to respond to the concerns you have raised and to hold a copy of the logger tape of the broadcast which concerned you.  This is always the first step taken by the CBSC in pursuing a complaint.  Broadcasters who are members of the CBSC take their responsibility to respond to audience concerns very seriously and the dialogue between broadcasters and members of their audience is a cornerstone of the CBSC's complaints resolution process. In fact, concerns are often resolved satisfactorily for all parties through this dialogue phase.  We hope that the response you will receive from  CHEX-TV  within the next 21 days will resolve the issues you have raised to your satisfaction. 

If, however, after you have received and carefully considered the broadcaster's response you remain concerned, you may request a Ruling by a CBSC Panel by filing the form available on our web site at You should do so within 14 days of receiving the broadcaster's response.  More information on the CBSC complaints process is available on our web site in the FAQ section ( ).

If you have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will be glad to be of service.


Mrs. Solange Courteau
Communications Coordinator
Canadian Broadcast Standards Council


December 20, 2011
From: Michael Harris – CHEX-TV

Dear Ms Iro Cyr,

Thank you for taking the trouble to share your concerns about CHEX TV's coverage of Smoke-Free Housing with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC).  The CBSC has passed your complaint along to CHEX TV for our response.

Part of your concern seems to centre around the belief that we at CHEX TV were somehow disguising our regular coverage of a story as "investigative journalism".  By "investigative journalism", I presume you mean the kind of coverage CBC's the fifth estate or CTV's W5 occasionally mount, with producers, on-air reporters and researchers checking and uncovering facets of a story over a period of weeks or months before presenting a finished piece.  I wish we had the resources to do that.  In fact, if you had the opportunity to view our newscast on a regular basis, you would soon realize that we have no producers or researchers, and that our reporters often cover three stories a day.  I'm not sure what it was about our report that made it look like "investigative journalism", but it wasn't our intention to deceive anyone about the amount of work that went into the story.  It was completed by one person over the course of several hours in one day.  To the extent that your characterization of our piece as "investigative journalism" puts our local news in the same category at W5 or the fifth estate, we are flattered that we have attained a level of professional presentation that allows us to be grouped with them.  Certainly we did nothing, either implicitly or explicitly, to indicate that the piece was the result of extensive in-house research.

Another part of your concern seems to centre around our use of CNW copy and video.  CNW distributes press releases and press kits to newsrooms across Canada on a daily basis.  Many organizations have recognized that offering enhanced press releases to television newsrooms through agencies like CNW increases the probability that their client's story will get wide circulation.  CNW makes available packages of quotes, research, photographs, and, often, video footage and interviews to help reporters construct stories, and ultimately to make it more likely that the CNW releases will get picked up by media outlets.  Here is a brief description of CNW taken from Wikipedia:

CNW Group (CNW) is a commercial news release service established in 1960 and jointly owned by PR Newswire and The Press Association. CNW distributes media materials on behalf of a variety of customers such as companies, governments, non-profit agencies and other establishments.
CNW distributes informational and promotional items for media outlets in a variety of formats such as press releasesphotographscorporate webcasts and B-Roll video footage.

Every newsroom received dozens of such releases each week.  It is a fact of life in the contemporary television newsroom.  We receive many of our news story leads from agencies like CNW.  We understand CNW's business, and the responsibilities involved in taking information from third party sources.  Much of our news information every day comes from wires services, police stations, CBC reporters, and other third party providers.  Part of the job of the newsroom is to evaluate the information in terms of its accuracy and relevance to our audience.  That evaluation is not always based on recreating the story from scratch, but on judging the credibility of the source and the data presented.

It was through CNW that we received news of the Smoke-Free Housing study by the Canadian Cancer society, along with related footage and comments both from the resident who was forced to move because of smoke in her home environment, and from the head of Smoke Free Housing Ontario.  We were intrigued by this CNW release primarily because the subject of the piece, the woman whose health was affected by living in housing that was not smoke-free, was from Peterborough.  Our reporter went out to interview a local expert from the Peterborough County City Health Unit about the story, an expert who is often used in our coverage at CHEX TV.   She agreed with the general tenor of the press release, that people should have a right, if they want, to live in a space that is free from any danger of second-hand smoke.  And she contributed the local information, included in the piece, that there were 15 smoke-free social housing institutions in Peterborough, and hundreds more multiple dwelling units that had enacted some form of limitation on smoking.

I know it is not relevant to your complaint, or to the CBSC deliberations, but our reporter did spend time both on George St. in Peterborough and at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre at the exit where employees and patients go for smoke breaks, asking smokers for their opinion about smoke-free housing.  But, to a person, they refused to comment, some saying they already felt shunned as smokers and didn't want to make their habit more public.  I wish our reporter had included a line in her story saying that she had asked several smokers for their comments about smoke-free multi unit dwellings, but none was prepared to offer an opinion.  Such a reference would have made it clear that we did put effort into finding other points of view.
With regard to the finished piece, which was a mixture of material, some provided by CNW and some gathered by our reporter, I can understand that viewers, as you suggest, might have the impression that the reporter had done all the collecting of information and interviews.  It would have been better had the CNW-supplied footage been identified with an on-screen super to clarify that that part of the story came from a third party.  We have now instituted a policy to identify all third party handout video material used in our newscast to eliminate any such misapprehension in the future.

You also complain that the Ipsos Reid question about whether people think smoking should not be allowed indoors in multi-unit buildings was ambiguous.   I enclose the relevant questions and results from the Ipsos Reid 2010 online survey for Smoke-Free Housing Ontario, and the Ipsos Reid 2011 online survey for the Canadian Cancer Society as released by CNW.  The questions probe the preferences of the subjects without becoming entangled in issues of human rights or personal freedom. Although the question is not perfect,  I believe it is reasonable to assume that almost all the people who agree with the statement -- "Smoking should not be allowed indoors in multi-unit dwellings" -- would prefer to live in smoke-free buildings.  The question you would have asked -- "Do you agree that people should be forbidden from smoking in their own apartments?" -- isn't very helpful in a context where the focus of the study is on people being able to find living units within smoke-free buildings.

Your complaint talks about the Canadian Cancer Society's "unambiguous agenda of 'back door' prohibition of smoking in every context possible".  The Society's campaign, or the Smoke-Free Housing lobby, working to increase smoke-free space is hardly "back door".  This is an excerpt from the Canadian Cancer Society's website:

Multi-unit buildings
Your first step is to stop the smoke from getting inside your unit. Look for cracks and spaces between walls and floors and for openings around windows, doors and plumbing. Then block or seal all these open spaces with filling or sealing materials. 
·         Use materials like caulk or spray-in foam to fill all the small openings or spaces.
·         Add weather-stripping around your front door and balcony door.
·         Put door sweeps on the bottom of those doors.
·         Place special gaskets behind electrical switch plates and outlet plates to block smoke.
·         Get the property manager to make the repairs to seal off the smoke if you can't.
·         If the smoke is coming from a specific unit, ask the landlord or property manager to try to block it using the same methods you used.
·         Read your rental agreement. If all or part of your building is smoke-free, ask the management to enforce it.
·         Get together with neighbours who are concerned about second-hand smoke to advocate for a no-smoking policy in the building or on your floor.
I don't quite understand what your point is here.  I don't think anyone would be surprised to learn that the Canadian Cancer Society or Smoke-Free Housing Ontario would prefer a world in which no one smoked anywhere.

Your suggestion that we cover the issue of the increase in the number of homeless smokers resulting from the creation of too many smoke-free multi-unit dwellings is an excellent idea. I'm not sure that that is happening yet in Peterborough, or anywhere in Canada.  CHEX TV would be most interested in following the story of someone from the Peterborough area who was evicted from his/her apartment because of a private dwelling smoking ban, and was subsequently having difficulty in finding new accommodations.  We would certainly give air time to that story.  Even so, I'm not sure such a story, as you say, would represent a "point of view diametrically opposed to that of Pippa Beck".  I don't know how she feels about assuring the provision of reasonably priced accommodations for smokers.  That's quite a different issue, and quite a bit further down the road, than the story we were covering.  Be assured that as issues of smoking in public places continue to make news that we will continue to cover them in a balanced and fair manner.

Again I thank you for taking the trouble to file a complaint against our coverage.  As a result of that complaint, we will institute a policy of identifying all third party material that we use in our newscasts.  As you know, if this response does not satisfy your concerns, you may request a Ruling by a CBSC Panel.
Sincerely yours
Michael Harris
General Manager/CHEX TV
743 Monaghan Rd.,
Peterborough, ON
K9J 5K2
Cell: (416) 825 1951

December 23, 2011
To: Michael Harris – CHEX-TV

Dear Mr. Harris,

Thank you for your prompt and thoughtful reply. It's heartening to see the "fifth estate" in general (as opposed to the show of the same name) take people's concerns seriously. I detected sincerity in your explanations and I appreciate it. However, although I am happy you showed a good effort to eliminate misapprehension in the future by instituting a policy that would identify all third party handout video material, it would be wonderful if you would permit me to reply to some of the points you made, and forgive me if I sound argumentative at times.

You state that the credibility of the Canadian Cancer Society warranted your report. But Sir, this is exactly what my complaint was about. How credible is the source you relied on to broadcast the story? You admit that the CCS would like to see a smoke-free world yet you don't see how their press release could have been biased towards that end when claiming that minute amounts of smoke drifting from one apartment to the other can be a serious health hazard or even noticeable to the average person? Any scientific studies demonstrating this? When we have safe levels of exposure to everything from arsenic in drinking water, fumes in underground mines, parking garages and so forth, and anything in sufficiently diluted quantities is safe (the most basic principle of toxicology), are they being honest when they say "there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke" (a claim you repeated unchallenged in the segment you aired). You may want to read how anti-smoking groups rely on exactly this kind of presumed credibility to impress the media and the public. From

"A key factor," (…) "was that the CCS was able to give credibility and stature to the campaign which the NSRA could not provide. The CCS entered the fray ardently, something it had never done before. The media and politicians took notice.'' 

Your station irresponsibly repeated what the press release stated, never giving a second thought to how truthful and accurate the advocacy report was thus contributing to create a future homelessness problem for the poorer segment of society. There is a sick homeless man right in your backyard who can’t get shelter because  among other issues he smokes ‘’ Joe says he has been kicked out of the Brock Mission for smoking and ordered not to come back for the maximum expulsion time of six months.’’

Were you aware of the story? You can read it here:
Joe might be an extreme case and he may have brought much of his condition upon himself, we don't know, but how many people do we intend to let freeze outdoors because they are smokers who can't kick the habit? There were at least four victims of such intolerance that we reported in 2008.

How many more did we not hear of since? If nothing else, the media has an ethical obligation to weigh all sides before alarming the public with such news reporting. There exists no independent study that comes even close to proving that second hand smoke drifting from one apartment to another causes serious harm to anyone except perhaps for a tiny minority of hyper-sensitive individuals. If your reporter had made the effort to look for organizations such as C.A.G.E. and our sister organization Citizens for Civil Liberties in Ontario and read a minimum of the material we attempt to bring to the media's attention, she would have had ''the other side of the story''. Of course, we don't have the vast funding of the CCS, so we didn't deliver you a ready made story to get your attention, but we would like to remind you that we are here…

Going back to ''Margo'', did your reporter interview her herself and find out what exactly her underlying problem was that may have caused her hyper-sensitivity to even minute traces of smoke? Did anyone go to her former apartment (in Peterborough) to verify that there was in fact smoke permeating the dwelling – a short enough trip to make, and a lot better than placing complete faith on a lobby group's version of reality. As it is, perhaps you underestimate the power of the media to influence public opinion if you consider that your only duty as reporters of the news is to verify the ''credibility'' of the source. Had you at least mentioned that according to THEIR opinion the situation was such I would have had less of a qualm.

You state that the IPSOS Reid questions probe the preferences of the subjects without becoming entangled in issues of human rights or personal freedom. Although you agree that the question is not perfect, you find it reasonable to assume that almost all the people who agree with the statement -- "Smoking should not be allowed indoors in multi-unit dwellings" -- would prefer to live in smoke-free buildings. ''Preferring'' and actively seeking smoke-free housing and unable to find any as the news report stated, are far from being one and the same. If someone offered me the choice between two homes of identical size, price, location and told me that one would smell of garlic while the other one would not, of course I would have picked the smell-free apartment. But this is not a realistic scenario. In any case, a smell does not a health risk make, contrary to what Pippa Beck and the CCS want people to believe. The poll question only leads up to the desired answer and extrapolates conclusions that have nothing to do with what those surveyed may have meant. Unless the question is clearly asked, no conclusions can be drawn and believing these manufactured conclusions based on the CCS' ''credibility'' should be avoided.

People will take as much of anything as they can get, as long as it is free and does not inconvenience them. Let us pretend that the question had been worded "Do you agree that people who live in multi-unit residences should not smoke, use candles or chemical air fresheners, cook with strong-smelling ingredients and use only chemical-free household cleaners" This question more closely resembles the real-world situation where there are any number of particulates and odors which may bother the neighbors (if smoke can drift between units, it is reasonable to assume that other nuisances can as well). Now, when everyone must be subjected to invasions of privacy and control, I wonder how many people would continue to support the proposal.

If the media doesn't help in safeguarding this most basic right of privacy in one's own home who will? Besides, this has absolutely nothing to do with health, as mentioned previously, since no health risks exist for such low magnitudes of smoke. It has to do with marching to the next frontier of tobacco prohibition ''through the back door'' into one's home. This can have serious consequences and the prohibitionists should not be supported and encouraged in any way or form towards invading our private home. That's what I mean when I talk about ''back door prohibition'' instead of outright prohibition where tobacco would be made illegal without demonizing and shunning the smoker in the process. "A world where no one smokes" is very different from "a world where no one is allowed to smoke."  The CCS's tactics take us the latter rather than the former.

I am gratified to hear that you wish to cover these issues in a balanced and fair manner. It's because I still have some faith in the system and the media that I complained about this.  In the meantime, your reporter experienced firsthand how smokers will NOT come public with their complaints. As they have told you themselves, they already feel shunned as smokers and don't want to make their habit more public.  Do you realize to what point this issue has gotten out of control when people won't even speak up for their rights to be left alone in their private home? They rely on groups like CAGE and Citizens for Civil Liberties to do the talking on their behalf because they can protect their anonymity this way.

We have had old, sick and frail people complain to us but refusing to take it any further. We have had sick people being refused treatment who nonetheless refuse to go public. We have had smokers complain they lost their jobs because they were smoking on their OWN time, yet they will not allow us to act on their behalf unless they remain totally anonymous. They have been victimized, demoralized and demonized and are not only afraid of public opinion but of possible repercussions if they do publicly complain. We instead propose that one of our representatives is interviewed by you and given a fair chance to expose how this situation has deteriorated into a witch hunt and how it will only get worse if the ''fifth estate'' fails to wake up to the situation. Our representative will point out, among other things, how the likes of Pippa Beck and her funders claimed just a few years ago, during the campaign to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, that no one would intrude into people's homes.
Thanking you in advance for this opportunity, I remain,

Yours Very Truly,
Iro Cyr

December 30, 2011
From: Michael Harris – CHEX-TV
Dear Ms Iro Cyr,

Re: CBSC File C11/12-798

Thank you again for taking the time to share your concerns.  Like you, I will try to respond to the points you make without sounding too argumentative.

First, and I know this does sound argumentative, I didn't state that the credibility of the Canadian Cancer Society warranted our report.  I said that it is part of the job of the newsroom to weigh the credibility of third party sources.
Second, I think you are consistently mixing up two things: (a) a CNW press release on a survey that says a significant majority of Canadians living in multi-unit dwellings would prefer that those dwellings be smoke-free; and (b) the scientific basis for a statement in the report that there is no level of second hand smoke that can be considered safe.

Yes, there is some mixing of those two threads within our report.  But your chief argument rests on your contention that there are no scientific studies that show that minute amounts of smoke drifting from one apartment to another can be a serious health hazard.  The major source of data on the effects of smoking and second hand smoke, as I'm sure you know, comes from the Office of The Surgeon General of the United States, who has compiled and analysed hundreds of major studies from around the world, in its report of 2006.  Here's part of the Executive Summary of that report:

The health effects of involuntary smoking have not received comprehensive coverage in this series of reports (The Surgeon General's Reports) since 1986. Reports since then have touched on selected aspects of the topic: the 1994 report on tobacco use among young people (USDHHS 1994), the 1998 report on tobacco use among U.S. racial and ethnic minorities (USDHHS 1998), and the 2001 report on women and smoking (USDHHS 2001). As involuntary smoking remains widespread in the United States and elsewhere, the preparation of this report was motivated by the persistence of involuntary smoking as a public health problem and the need to evaluate the substantial new evidence reported since 1986. This report substantially expands the list of topics that were included in the 1986 report. Additional topics include SIDS, developmental effects, and other reproductive effects; heart disease in adults; and cancer sites beyond the lung. For some associations of involuntary smoking with adverse health effects, only a few studies were reviewed in 1986 (e.g., ear diseases in children); now, the relevant literature is substantial. Consequently, this report uses meta-analysis to quantitatively summarize evidence as appropriate. Following the approach used in the 2004 report (The Health Consequences of Smoking, USDHHS 2004), this 2006 report also systematically evaluates the evidence for causality, judging the extent of the evidence available and then making an inference as to the nature of the association.
((U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General—Executive Summary. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006)

This substantial research effort led to the following major conclusions:
Major Conclusions

This report returns to involuntary smoking, the topic of the 1986 Surgeon General's report. Since then, there have been many advances in the research on secondhand smoke, and substantial evidence has been reported over the ensuing 20 years. This report uses the revised language for causal conclusions that was implemented in the 2004 Surgeon General's report (USDHHS 2004). Each chapter provides a comprehensive review of the evidence, a quantitative synthesis of the evidence if appropriate, and a rigorous assessment of sources of bias that may affect interpretations of the findings. The reviews in this report reaffirm and strengthen the findings of the 1986 report.

With regard to the involuntary exposure of nonsmokers to tobacco smoke, the scientific evidence now supports the following major conclusions: (my emphasis in bold -MH)

1.       Secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children and in adults who do not smoke.
2.       Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems,and more severe asthma. Smoking by parents causes respiratory symptoms and slows lung growth in their children.

3.       Exposure of adults to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and causes coronary heart disease and lung cancer.
4.       The scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
5.       Many millions of Americans, both children and adults, are still exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and workplaces despite substantial progress in tobacco control.

6.       Eliminating smoking in indoor spaces fully protects nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke. Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke. 

(2006 Surgeon General's Report) 
I realize your professional position must frequently put you up against the US Surgeon General's report of 2006, and its stark conclusions.  In response to your suggestion, I did visit your website ( and that of the Citizens for Civil Liberties in Ontario (  I found a collection of articles and citations on unethical, unprofessional and biased research that has led to some flawed and failed conclusions linking tobacco and cancer.   I read a chapter of "In Defence of Smokers" by Lauren Colby about the 1964 US Surgeon General's Report, pointing to possible questions about some aspects of that early research.  Such scholarship is important in keeping scientific inquiry pure and value-free, and I credit the researchers in their constant vigilance over built-in biases and procedural irregularities in published studies.  I found no article on either site disputing the methodology or the findings of the 2006 Surgeon General's Report.

I will address some of your other concerns. Yes, CHEX TV is aware of Joe's story as reported on  We routinely survey all other local media in the Peterborough area.  The issue of being evicted from a homeless shelter for behavioural problems, including refusal to stop smoking within a dorm-style sleeping arrangement, is not exactly the same issue as the one we were following in our report. The complicated issues involved in providing shelter for the homeless is a story we have covered in the past and will continue to cover in the future.

Our reporter did verify the identity and story of Margo before compiling her report.  We judged Margo had valid reasons for keeping her full name confidential.

As I said in my previous letter, we would consider covering a story of the demonization and victimization of a local person because of his/her smoking habit.  But I don't think we would be interested in a generic debate on the "witch hunt" currently underway in the broader society, a debate that wasn't grounded in a local incident or personality.

Finally, a reminder that we presented a simple piece on a survey showing public demand for smoke-free living environments.  It was sparked by the story of a local woman.  It brought a local health official's angle to the story, about local smoke-free multi-unit and social housing.  The report made statements about second-hand smoke that are supported by massive research undertakings. It used third party footage in a confusing way, and we have instituted a policy to eliminate that confusion.  Thank you for drawing attention to that problem.
I understand that CAGE must keep its antennae active to protect its constituency, to worry about "a future homelessness problem" for smokers.  That's not a current problem in Peterborough.   If it were a problem, we would be covering it.  We stand by the story we did.  We will consider future coverage of stories on the same issue within the parameters of our daily assignment decisions.

Again, thank you for raising these issues, and keeping us mindful of our responsibilities.  And again, I remind you that if this response does not satisfy you, that you may ask the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for a Ruling.

Best to you in 2012.

Michael Harris

General Manager/ CHEX TV
743 Monaghan Rd
Peterborough, ON
K9J 5K2
Cell: (416) 825 1951

January 9, 2012
To: Michael Harris – CHEX-TV

Dear Mr. Harris,

Thanks for your latest letter in regards to smoke-free homes. Apologies for the delay, but due to the holidays I was unable to reply before today.

Although you believe that you do not have a known homelessness problem for smokers in Peterborough as of the present time, I can't understand what harm it can do if the media contributed to preventing future problems. I am beginning to believe that you really don't want to air the other side of the story for other reasons that are only known to you. Notwithstanding your decision which seems to be firm unless I can come up with a smoker in Peterborough willing to go public,  allow me to point out to you some facts about the 2006 surgeon general's report to which you referred to justify your repeating the ''no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke', anti-tobacco message.

The statement does not come directly from the report. It comes from a statement he made during the press conference. The closest thing comes on page 65, which reads:

''The evidence for underlying mechanisms of respiratory injury from exposure to secondhand smoke suggests that a safe level of exposure may not exist, thus implying that any exposure carries some risk. For infants, children, and adults with asthma or with more sensitive respiratory systems, even very brief exposures to secondhand smoke can trigger intense bronchopulmonary responses that could be life threatening in the most susceptible individuals. ''This is clearly speculative ("suggests...may") and it only applies to people who are extremely susceptible. Specifically, he seems to be referring to chronic asthmatics but there is no definition of what "very brief exposures" are. It does not seem to be referring to tiny drift in mult-unit apartments.  Ultimately, 'no safe level' means that no safe level has been detected with accuracy; it does not mean that exposure at any level is dangerous.   Although the more accurate phrase that is used by some anti-tobacco lobby groups doesn't necessarly spell that out, it tends to be more honest by at least hinting as much: ''there are no known safe levels of second hand smoke''  ''known'' being the operative word here.  Much like potatoes, another nightshade plant that contains potentially harmful glycoalkaloids, it would take great effort to determine such levels.  In the case of second hand smoke, ''the ends justify the means'' anti-tobacco philosophy will never allow such efforts to be undertaken.  The potential end of making smokers homeless, however,  far from justifies such extreme means.  Similar to the conclusions about harm from potatoes, it's safe to say that common sense, decades of real  life experience and epidemiological studies that don't indicate any harm from such low levels of SHS (faint smell describes it better) drifting from one apartment to the other, dictate that there should be no reason for concern.   From:  

''The Committee considered that, despite the long history of human consumption of plants containing glycoalkaloids, the available epidemiological and experimental data from human and laboratory animal studies did not permit the determination of a safe level of intake. The Committee recognized that the development of empirical data to support such a level would require considerable effort.  Nevertheless, it felt that the large body of experience with the consumption of potatoes, frequently on a daily basis, indicated that normal glycoalkaloid levels (20-100 mg/kg) found in properly grown and handled tubers were not of concern.''

As long ago as the 16th century, people recognized that there is no such thing as an absolutely safe chemical. The right dose differentiates a poison and a remedy. Let's read what Dr. Michael Siegel, Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health and a strong proponent of workplace bans had to say about the ''no safe level of exposure'' of second hand smoke:

''One can say that there is no safe level of exposure to any carcinogen. There is no safe level of exposure to car exhaust. There is no safe level of exposure to the sun's rays. There is no safe level of exposure to X-rays. There is no safe level of exposure to the benzene that is found in some sodas. There is no safe level of exposure to radon in homes. There is no safe level of exposure to arsenic that is found in many people's drinking water.

For that matter, there is no safe speed at which you can drive a car without risk of injury or death. There is no risk-free way to have sex with someone who has HIV infection. There is no safe method to travel from one place to another.


It seems odd to me that the tobacco control field is the only one where we seem adamant on emphasizing the concept of no safe level of exposure (with the possible exception of the "you have to use a condom every time" advocates). I'm not sure what the point is. Perhaps it's to scare people into avoiding smoke. And maybe that's a good thing. But perhaps, instead, the effect will be to obscure intervention and policy priorities. And to pit nonsmokers against smokers more vehemently. And to allow the anti-smoking movement to shift its attention from workplaces to the great outdoors, and then to cars and homes. And to discourage smokers from quitting.''

More of what he had to say about the Surgeon General's Report:

''The rest of the story is that the Surgeon General's press release distorts the science presented in the report and ends up presenting misleading and inaccurate information to the public.

The press release claims that a significant finding of the Surgeon General's report is that: "Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung cancer."

But there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim. Certainly, no evidence is presented in the Surgeon General's report to support this claim. And certainly, the Surgeon General's report draws no such conclusion.

In fact, such a conclusion flies in the face of common medical sense. How could it possibly be that a brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart disease? It takes many years for heart disease to develop. It takes years of exposure to tobacco smoke even for a smoker to develop heart disease. I estimate that it takes at least 25 years of exposure (based on the fact that very few smokers are diagnosed with heart disease before age 40).''

He also goes on to explain how misleading it is to claim that such brief exposures can cause cancer:

''It is also quite misleading to tell the public that a brief exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer. There is certainly no evidence for this and the Surgeon General's report itself draws no such conclusion. In fact, the report makes it clear that most of the studies linking secondhand smoke and lung cancer studied nonsmokers with many years of intense exposure.''

 And concludes that :

''Unfortunately, I'm forced to reach the conclusion that tobacco control organizations are simply unable to accurately communicate secondhand smoke science to the public. They are widely distorting the science to create a more sensational and emotional impact on the public. When this phenomenon goes all the way up to the level of the Surgeon General's office, you know you've got a serious scientific integrity problem.''

The following is a statement from OSHA on workplace safety extracted from

''Because the organic material in tobacco doesn't burn completely, cigarette smoke contains more than 4,700 chemical compounds. Although OSHA has no regulation that addresses tobacco smoke as a whole, 29 CFR 1910.1000 Air contaminants, limits employee exposure to several of the main chemical components found in tobacco smoke. In normal situations, exposures would not exceed these permissible exposure limits (PELs), and, as a matter of prosecutorial discretion, OSHA will not apply the General Duty Clause to ETS.''

Please note that the preceding deals with workplace exposures whereby workers would be exposed to much more tobacco smoke than a faint smell drifting from one apartment to the other!

An independent Public and Health Policy Research group, Littlewood & Fennel of Austin, Tx, using EPA figures on the emissions per cigarette of everything measurable in secondhand smoke, they compared them to OSHA's PELs (if the following link doesn't work for you, please copy paste it in a new browser).

Following are the mainlines of their findings: 

"We have taken the substances for which measurements have actually been obtained--very few, of course, because it's difficult to even find these chemicals in diffuse and diluted ETS.

"We posit a sealed, unventilated enclosure that is 20 feet square with a 9 foot ceiling clearance.

"Taking the figures for ETS yields per cigarette directly from the EPA, we calculated the number of cigarettes that would be required to reach the lowest published "danger" threshold for each of these substances. The results are actually quite amusing. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a situation where these threshold limits could be realized.

"Our chart (Table 1) illustrates each of these substances, but let me report some notable examples.

"For Benzo[a]pyrene, 222,000 cigarettes would be required to reach the lowest published "danger" threshold.

"For Acetone, 118,000 cigarettes would be required.

"Toluene would require 50,000 packs of simultaneously smoldering cigarettes.

"At the lower end of the scale-- in the case of Acetaldehyde or Hydrazine, more than 14,000 smokers would need to light up simultaneously in our little room to reach the threshold at which they might begin to pose a danger.

"For Hydroquinone, "only" 1250 cigarettes are required. Perhaps we could post a notice limiting this 20-foot square room to 300 rather tightly-packed people smoking no more than 62 packs per hour?

"Of course the moment we introduce real world factors to the room -- a door, an open window or two, or a healthy level of mechanical air exchange (remember, the room we've been talking about is sealed) achieving these levels becomes even more implausible.

Additional reading on how the science on second hand smoke has been distorted can be found at : 

Science is never settled and whether it is the Surgeon General's or Albert Einstein's theories, every scientist deserving of the title agrees that it is through criticism and debate that it can progress. Obviously, for reasons only known to you as I said earlier, you don't seem interested to air such criticism and debate unless we come up with a ''here and now'' victim. I do not intend to pursue this any further with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council because although I believe that your stance of refusing to tell our side of the story which can help prevent making  many victims in the future is ethically wrong, as general manager of a private station it is your right and privilege to make such decisions.

Thanks for your time and attention. 

Yours Truly,

Iro Cyr
Vice-President - C.A.G.E.

Saturday 8 September 2012


Here we have another example of medical professionals whose first reflex is "we need to coerce people into agreeing with us -- there needs to be a new law."  This time it's about spanking your children to discipline them (last time it was about smoking, and next time it will be about helmets and who knows what after that).  Of course, we already have laws prohibiting child abuse, but they want to now include spanking as "assault," and refuse to accept that some parents may have ideas different than theirs.  Nor are they content with just informing parents that their strong recommendation is "never spank your kids."  No, they think there needs to be another law.  

CAGE thinks there should be a law prohibiting medical professionals from demanding new laws.  Luckily our present government in Canada has more sense than the Canadian Medical Association, however:  A spokesperson for Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson told the National Post, "Parents are in the best position to raise their children. We believe it is up to them, not the government, to decide what is best for their children so long as it is within reason."

And here's the kicker: The research that John Fletcher, the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), uses to support his request to ban spanking is almost certainly flawed.  Fletcher claims "research shows spanking is an ineffective tool and that there is substantial evidence linking it to mental health issues including depression and substance abuse as well as to increased aggressive behavior."   Now, could it be true "bad" parents, or stressed out parents, or parents in crisis, spank their children more often than other parents?  Isn't it likely that the "mental health issues" and "increased aggressive behavior" in kids could result from the parents' problems rather than the spanking?  Or what if parents in general are more likely to spank kids with "mental health issues" and "increased aggressive behavior," seeing as they've tried everything else to get the children to behave better? 

In both cases, spanking is positively correlated to mental health issues and aggressive behavior in kids, but is not actually the cause or even facilitating factor in these behaviors.  If you think the media will take the time to take apart the actual science behind Dr. Fletcher's claims, then you don't know much about average journalists' workload, deadlines and salaries.  So at mostly taxpayer expense, we get fed more nonsense science calling for more nonsense laws.  Enough already.