Amherst's Smoking Ban:

Town Board of Health Is Bored of Science

On August 19, 1997, the Board of Health for Amherst, Massachusetts voted unanimously to impose a total smoking ban in town.

In support of the proposed ban, Amherst's Bored of Science (I mean "Board of Health") imported Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of public health from Boston University.

Siegel claimed his research shows bartenders who do not smoke themselves inhale the equivalent of one-and-one-half or more packs of cigarettes a day and that "220 bartenders working in the state today, if they continue to work for 40 years, are going to die from their exposure."

But Siegel should know better than to make such outlandish statements.

In 1986, the Surgeon General's report on secondhand smoke devoted a three-page section to the concept of estimating cigarette-equivalents from secondhand smoke. After quantitatively demonstrating how cigarette equivalents can vary as a measure of exposure, the Surgeon General concluded:

...these limitations make extrapolation from atmospheric measures to cigarette-equivalents units of disease a complex and potentially meaningless process. [Source: Environmental Protection Agency 1992; "Respiratory health effects of passive smoking: Lung cancer and other disorders" (EPA/600/6-90/006F) citing U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1986; "The health consequences of involuntary smoking: A report of the Surgeon General" (DHHS Pub. No. (PHS) 87-398.]

Why? Secondhand smoke differs greatly from what smokers inhale (i.e., mainstream smoke). Secondhand smoke dilutes rapidly and changes chemically as it ages. Also, smokers inhale mainstream smoke differently (deeper) than nonsmokers inhale secondhand smoke.

So much for the substance of Siegel's claim. But remember Siegel said he was referring to HIS research. Oh yeah? I wonder exactly what research that is.

In 1993, Siegel had an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled "Involuntary Smoking in the Restaurant Workplace" [JAMA 1993;270:490-493]. But this study did not mention his claims made in Amherst about cigarette-equivalents or the number of bartenders predicted to die from secondhand smoke.

Continuing my search for Siegel's research, I next looked at the state of California-EPA's 1997 draft risk assessment for secondhand smoke which cites just about every study on secondhand smoke ever published. Although the Cal-EPA document cites Siegel's 1993 study, no other Siegel-authored study is cited.

Finally, I did a MEDLINE search on Michael Siegel. I turned up no article authored by Siegel that supports his claims.

So what does Siegel mean by HIS research. Did he just make it up? If he did, it wouldn't be the most shocking thing occurring at the meeting -- the Amherst Bored of Science did not permit members of the public to question Siegel (or say anything else) at the meeting.

Finally (and although this is the Junk Science Home Page, not the Civil Liberties Home Page), I would refer the town of Amherst to an article published recently in the British Medical Journal about the last government that tried to ban smoking. The title of the article? The Anti-tobacco Campaign of the Nazis: A Little Known Aspect of Public Health in Germany 1933-1945.

Hey Amherst... is it junk science über alles?

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