Neque fumus neque gaudium

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
— H. L. Mencken

Our dear and democratically-elected leaders here in Germany were very busy last year to impose smoking bans on the population, especially bans on public smoking in pubs, bars, and restaurants. The rationale was that second-hand smoke (a. k. a. environmental tobacco smoke, ETS) is harming the health of innocent bystanders, leading to thousands of deaths each year. Each of our Federal States concocted its own legislature, but the Federal Constitutional Court tore all those laws down as unconstitutional. Granted, it elaborated on technicalities, and allowed a total smoking ban given certain constraints; however, it sent the states’ parliaments back to the drawing boards. After much head-scratching, the state of Northrhine-Westphalia (where I’m living) now introduces new anti-smoking legislature, banning smoking in many, but not all public places.

Given some specific conditions, an innkeeper may decide if he allows his patrons to smoke or not. If he decides to make his pub a smoking establishment, he has to clearly indicate this on the outside. If he decides to make it a non-smoking establishment, nobody is allowed to smoke inside. So far, so much common sense. However, the specific conditions to be met are interesting.

You may only declare your pub a smoking establishment, if:

  • it consists of a single room (I think seperated lavatories are allowed), and
  • it is smaller than 75 m2 (807 sq. feet), and
  • you don’t serve prepared meals, and
  • you allow no-one younger than 18 years to enter.

Because otherwise second-hand tobacco smoke becomes dangerous to health.

On the other hand that means that second-hand smoke is not dangerous to you if you are 18 years or older, don’t eat something while breathing smoke-infested air, and stay in a room smaller than 75 m2. Now, this is an important insight that our politicians had there.

But the ugly truth is that second-hand smoke is not dangerous at all: the most comprehensive study on second-hand smoking to date, Environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality in a prospective study of Californians, 1960–98, has found no statistically significant correlation between second-hand smoke and diseases. This study hasn’t been refuted yet. (And look at the Rapid responses (rabid responses?) accompanying the paper: pure hatred, not just on Enstrom and Kabat, but also on the BMJ; how dare they publish a politically incorrect paper? Also read the follow-ups: Defending legitimate epidemiologic research: combating Lysenko pseudoscience; and University of California has cleared Enstrom of all charges of scientific misconduct.)

All the claims that second-hand smoke causes thousands of deaths each year are simply made up. Yes, you are lied to. Frequently.

All this ruckus about ETS (and I say this as a non-smoker) is just mass hysteria; in fact, I think it is best understood as a religious phenomenon.

And this religion will not stop with smokers. Who will be the next heretics to be burnt at the stake? My money is on the drinkers (and after that probably the obese). Now ask yourself the following question: do you find the concept of passive drinking is harmful ridiculous? If yes, write this down on a piece of paper, together with the current date; preserve this note well. In some years, maybe a decade, you might be very surprised when you find this note again: how could you ever have been so stupid to believe that passive drinking is not harmful? Because then everybody just knows that passive drinking is harmful and therefore drinking in public places is socially inacceptable.

About Daniel Tiggemann

Software-developer living in Cologne, Germany. Was once a physicist, specialized in computer simulations and parallel programming. Now more into JavaScript, web frontend development, and especially mobile computing.
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