Friday, July 20, 2007

Tobacco ban blows ill wind

Passive smoking is dangerous – particularly for young children but for anyone – so the Victorian Government has just joined other states in banning smoking from bars, pubs and hotels. My view is that this will be good for business because most adults are non-smokers and even 60% of smokers want smoking banned in such establishments*.

But I didn’t account for the body odour, beer-induced- flatulence factor. According to The Age this morning (Tobacco ban blows ill wind as pubs scent new dilemma) some bar users regret the lost smell of tobacco in the air because patrons can now smell each other. Smoking they claim usefully masked this smell!

It’s a second-best problem – eliminating one distortion (the tobacco smoke externality) reveals another one that is even more offensive to patrons (human smells). It’s a bit like cleaning up pollution to reveal a more serious greenhouse gas problem – global dimming! Not quite a neat analogy however as these new smells don’t kill you.

But they do reduce the attraction of these venues. I guess there are co-ordination problems in trying to persuade patrons to take the occasional shower and quite a bit of stink will be endogenously generated by the beer and the dance floor.

Capitalism steps in to provide a solution.

‘The unforeseen side effects of the tobacco ban have spawned a range of new products about to be tested by the Victorian hospitality industry.

Instant RockStar director Margie Ardono said the company had smelt an ill wind and developed a scented gel that could be circulated through air-conditioning ducts.

"We have produced a product with tea-tree oil that has been tested by Monash University and proven to eliminate smells, while killing common bacteria" '

Apparently vanilla, rosemary, cinnamon, strawberry and banana are popular that help to overcome an array of unwanted aromas. Why am I so amused by all this?

* The economics of such bans are discussed in P.D. Jacobson & L.M. Zapawa ‘Clean Indoor Air Restrictions: Progress and Promise’ in R.L. Rabin & S.D. Sugarman (eds) Regulating Tobacco, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001. Generally the economics of bars in the US (California, Massacusetts and New York City) improved.


Mike said...

I've been reading/hearing about this one too. Amusing to think that the best thing a hazardous-to-your-health habit had going for it was that it masked poor hygiene.

I wonder if it could end up being a first best solution after all; i.e. stopping indoor smoking means people realise just how bad their hygiene is and take steps to remedy the problem!

Yobbo said...

When I was in LA in 1998 (smoking in bars has been banned there for a long time), a lot of bars had installed smoke machines to create a more bar-like atmosphere.

conrad said...


I don't disagree passive smoking is bad for your health and annoying if you are llergic to it like me, but for your average person (versus child living in a house -- where people can still smoke, bar staff etc.), how large do you think the effect is? At least from a health perspective, its not clear to me that banning it at outdoor places like beaches is based on health aspects, but more social aspects (no doubt there are arguments for this -- we already have nuisance laws). It isn't hard to imagine things that are probably far worse for your health that we don't care that much about (all the wood burnt in fires in Winter that pollute some areas of Melbourne badly, high fat food etc.)

Yobbo said...

There is absolutely no evidence that passive smoking is anything more than an annoyance.

If there was smoking would be completely banned already.

hc said...


What 'absolutely no evidence"? You are wrong Yobbo. The 1986 US Surgeon General's report unambiguously found evidence for the dangers of passive smoker. Its where the 3000 passive deaths from lung cancer statistic came. For a commentary summarising it and later evidence see:

Citing this statement shows your claim that there is no 'evidence' is wrong. Moreover there are not only a few reports but numerous studies confirming the damage.

Moreover, the tobacco companies have recognise the dangers of secondary smoke thnemselves for 50 years.

Yobbo said...

Conclusions The results do not support a causal relation between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality, although they do not rule out a small effect. The association between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease and lung cancer may be considerably weaker than generally believed.

For that well-known Tobacco Industry Mouthpiece, the "British Medical Journal"

Passive Smoking is far less dangerous than either Peanuts or Beer, both of which can still be found in bars.

hc said...

Yobbo, This paper by Enstrom and Kabat opens a can of worms that has not been resolved yet and which I don’t have time to even try to resolve.

Note that it does not rule out effects but argues they are likely to be small. Most other studies come up with very significant effects with 30% increases in heart disease and 23% increased risk of lung cancer.

Thus Enstrom and Kabat provides different conclusions from other papers in the area.

It has been subject to criticisms.
One of these is that it was largely financed by the tobacco companies.

Quickly reading through the survey of ‘rapid responses” my view is that, on this occasion, this criticism is not valid although the authors do have long-standing links with the companies. The discussion that has developed here involves a lot of heat and strong opinions.

Note that the paper is trying to assess the effects of smoking by looking at how having a smoking spouse influences your cancer risk. Criticisms are that the use of ‘smoking spouse’ is a poor proxy for passive smoking since:

(i) Many people smoked in the 1950s so people with non-smoking spouses would still be exposed at work and other places.

(ii) Many quitters are misclassified as smokers since the relevant variable is ‘those who have never smoked’.

Both of these criticisms would reduce the difference in mortality between exposed and non-exposed groups and falsely.

Many of the criticisms of the Enstrom/Kabat paper were very emotional and unscientific.

Discussion of the paper has taken on a life of its own because it is claimed that the immediate responses to the paper politicised science – many objections to the paper claimed it should not be published because it did not confirm the heath damage link - only four letters (3%) referred to actual data in the paper!

On the other hand the two criticisms made above seem valid.

It’s an interesting debate and I am glad you brought it to my attention – I’ve spent Sunday morning reading about it. If I had a few days I'd try to get a feel for where the debate is going on it - I might come back to it.

I spent an hour or so googling around the net looking for papers referring to this student. There are quite a few and all seemed to offer evidence that refuted its conclusions.

I emphasise that this is a single paper and that most other papers in the field do confirm significant damages from passive smoking.

conrad said...

Most of these studies that find effects of passive smoking always look at high risk groups (like your example, spouses of smokers). However, the relevant group for a lot of the legislation these days are low risk groups, like non-smokers in parks etc.

At least in terms of health effects, it seems fairly odd that you would ban smoking in parks but have no legislation for the politically tricky cases. Will children be allowed to sue their parents for instance?

Alternatively, in terms of nuisance legislation, there is obviously a completely different story, and I'm not sure why people just don't admit that -- we do for smoky vehicles, loud noise etc.

Yobbo said...

Alternatively, in terms of nuisance legislation, there is obviously a completely different story, and I'm not sure why people just don't admit that -- we do for smoky vehicles, loud noise etc.

Because these bans are taking place in private areas Conrad. Therefore they can't use the "nuisance" laws that are supposed to apply to public areas and space.

To be able to justify intrusion into private businesses and buildings, the Neo-Temperance League has to drum up a health scare and link it to Worksafe, who have absolute power to do basically whatever they want on your property.

Yobbo said...

Note that it does not rule out effects but argues they are likely to be small.

No doubt Harry. Obviously breathing in passive smoke increases your risk of cancer as does breathing in air, eating chips and owning a mobile phone.

In fact pretty much everything you do in life increases your risk of getting cancer slightly, not least of all going on living.

Studies show a very strong correlation between age and cancer. If you don't want to get cancer, best to shoot yourself in the face first.

Yobbo said...

Many of the criticisms of the Enstrom/Kabat paper were very emotional and unscientific.

As is 95% of the anti-smoking crusade.

This might be part of a job for you Harry, but for the people driving smoking bans, it's a Jihad.

The first sign is attempting to link the authors to Tobacco companies, and by extension, suggesting the entire study is a lie. This is commonly known as the "Tim Labert Defense".

Yobbo said...


hc said...

Yobbo, The bulk of the evidence does suggest passive smoking isd a serious cause of health damage. I responded in detail to the Enstrom/Kabat paper in a separate post above.

Thanks for bringing this paper to my attentionh.