Thursday, March 22, 2007

Unfounded Scares about Secondhand Smoke

Everyday I swallow a pill with rat poison. Millions of other people have been doing the same thing. It is a common drug prescribed as a blood thinner for people with a heart condition. Tuesday I made a routine visit to a cardiology clinic; periodic tests are needed to determine if the level of the drug in my blood is appropriate or needs to be adjusted up or down. While waiting my turn for the test, I picked up a magazine titled Minnesota Health Care, March 2007. Inside the back cover was a full-page ad by ClearWay Minnesota. The entire page was covered with a picture of bugs and the alarmist message—in very large print—that secondhand tobacco smoke contains the same chemicals as insecticides to kill bugs. Then it asks the blatantly scary message “Are you OK with this?” Of course I am OK with this! I burst out laughing, which brought incredulous stares from those around me since medical waiting rooms are usually not sources of hilarity. But not only is it “OK with me” since I am already not frightened by taking a rat poison, I happen to know that a basic principle of toxicology is “The dose determines the poison.” Anything is toxic or carcinogenic if the dose is large enough. Enough distilled water will kill you if you drink several gallons at one time. (It upsets the electrolyte balance in the brain). Conversely, if the dose is small enough, otherwise dangerous chemicals are harmless—and often beneficial. So the crude and essentially dishonest attempt to scare people about the very small doses of chemicals in secondhand smoke—which science has shown to be harmless—is so ludicrous that I erupted in laughter.

But the general public does not know the facts on this issue, and ads that play on people's ignorance are evidently successful no matter how unethical and misleading they are. So I decided to write this blog to inform people about some facts regarding secondhand smoke and ads like the one I encountered, which many anti-smoking groups are using in attempting to sway public opinion.

At the bottom of the page, the ad said secondhand smoke contains hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, and formaldehyde. Boy that sounds scary! At least to those with no knowledge of chemistry and biological processes. But as I pointed out in my book MAKERS AND TAKERS, hydrogen cyanide is present in lima beans, cherries, plums, apricots, peaches, pears and peas. Even cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower contain cyanide compounds.

Arsenic is found in many fruits, vegetables, cereals, meats and dairy products. Seafood can contain even more. Shrimp, oyster, mussels, prawns and other marine foods have been found to contain up to 174 ppm of arsenic—far more than the doses anyone will ever get from secondhand smoke. Yet the smoking ban activists chant unrelentingly, “there is no safe level of secondhand smoke”, “any dose is dangerous.” How can any dose of chemicals be dangerous in secondhand smoke when our bodies take in much larger amounts of these same chemicals from other sources? Furthermore, arsenic—despite its scary reputation—has been found to be essential to human life. At least ten other elements that are essential to human life are carcinogens at high doses—including and iron and even oxygen. Do the smoking ban activist know what they are talking about when they claim any dose of a carcinogen is dangerous, that there is no safe level for the chemicals in secondhand smoke?

Arsenic is naturally occurring in air, soil and water. The largest concentrations are found in soil, on which cattle graze on on which we grow fruits and vegetables.

The threshold OSHA has set for airborne arsenic is 10ug for an 8-hour work shift. This is the PEL (permissible exposure limit), below which the chemical is considered safe. And OSHA is being very conservative. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, no symptoms are evident below “about 100 ug.” The World Health Organization estimates that pack-a-day smokers of American cigarettes inhale 2.6 ug arsenic per 8-hour work shift. The National Research Council says nonsmokers inhale 0.1 to 1% of what smokers inhale. Now, if a bartender has 25 seats in his bar and 10 are occupied by smokers, each smoking two cigarettes per hour, 160 cigarettes would be smoked per 8 hour shift. L. Stewart, author of Epidemiology 101, or How to Read and Understand a Study, shows that even if the 160 cigarettes could somehow all be smoked in a 40-inch cube without ventilation, the airborne arsenic inhaled in that cube would be only 0.064 ug—which is far, far, far below the OSHA standard. If instead of being confined to a 40-inch cube, the smoke was dispersed throughout a room large enough to hold 25 people, the concentration would be far, far, far less. He then notes:
“the same kinds of calculations can be made for every "poison" and "toxin" in all the ads.  Which is why OSHA has stated that it's well-nigh impossible to find any actual workplace where its PELs for secondhand smoke or any constituent thereof would be met, let alone exceeded.
“The point we're trying to make is that while Arsenic!! is a 'poison' and even a 'carcinogen' it's neither at these doses.  And further, people's normal exposure from other sources is greater by great amounts.”
Finally, there is formaldehyde, the last of the chemicals ClearWay Minnesota is trying to scare people with in its ad. Formaldehyde sounds scary. But how can it be dangerous in any amount in secondhand smoke (“no safe level”) when we are exposed to small amounts from auto exhaust and other sources of combustion as well as from sunlight and oxygen acting on methane and other naturally occurring hydrocarbons in the atmosphere? Furthermore, our own bodies produce formaldehyde through internal biological processes having nothing to do with industry, pollution or tobacco. How can a chemical be dangerous in any amount in secondhand smoke when the same chemical is produced by our own bodies?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Surprise! Prius is Now Anti-Environment!

The Toyota Prius has become the darling of the environmentally conscious because of its hybrid technology. It has two engines instead of one. It overcomes the limitations of electric vehicles by having a gasoline engine as well. The gasoline engine powers the vehicle up to 30 mph and when additional thrust is needed at higher speeds. The electric engine powers the car at cruising speeds above 30 mph. The battery is recharged when the brakes are applied and when the gas engine in operating above 30 mph.

Because of the dual technology, the Prius got an astonishing EPA estimate of 60 miles per gallon in city driving, 51 on the highway, and drew praise from environmentalists. But according to, the auto shopping site, the Prius costs $9,500 more than a comparable conventional vehicle. So the “green” benefit was always very expensive. Now it has turned out to be even more so, and the argument for its energy conservation has evaporated. EPA mileage estimates have long been criticized as inaccurate because, for example, they limited highway speed mileage to 55 mph and acceleration to only 3.3mph per second. Even EPA admitted this was unrealistic and has now provided more accurate mileage estimations. The new Prius overall estimate is down 25 percent--close to the mileage for conventional cars costing less than half as much.

That's just the beginning, according to Chris Demorro writing in The Recorder. The Prius causes far more environmental damage than a Hummer that is on the road three times longer. All the nickel in Prius batteries—1,000 tons annually—is purchased from a plant in Sudbury, Ontario. The plant has caused such environmental damage from sulfur dioxide emissions that the surrounding area is devoid of life for miles and was used by NASA to test moon rovers.

The nickel mined is shipped to Europe for refining, then to China for further processing, then to Japan, where the batteries are fabricated. The batteries are then shipped to the United States. Thus lots of energy is expended in transportation to produce something that is supposed to conserve transportation energy for the consumer.

A study by CNW Marketing calculated the combined energy costs from electrical, fuel, material (metal, plastic, etc.) and other factors over the expected life of the Prius, which is 100,000 miles. The Prius averaged $3.25 per mile. Meanwhile, the Hummer, which is excoriated as a Goliath of wasteful extravagance, costs only $1.95 per mile over a lifetime of 300,000 miles. It last 3 times longer than the Prius and conserves energy.

Here is just one more example of politicians believing they can direct the economic actions of society better than the marketplace—and producing results opposite to those intended. Government passed CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) laws requiring increased mileage in the belief that the result would be more economical and efficient cars that would conserve energy. So resources, both financial and labor, were diverted from more useful enterprises to creating cars with better mileage ratings. This was not merely to meet current CAFE standards but to offer a way to meet the threats of future increases in the standards, which politicians and environmental groups regularly demand.

The full cost of this government-promoted economic waste will never be known, because we will never see the more useful things that would have been created had the resources not been diverted. Resources are never unlimited; the free market channels resources to enterprises most useful to society, as determined by the economic choices of the people. The choices of the politicians necessarily displace the economic choices of the people, leaving society poorer than it otherwise would be. That's why freer economies are always more prosperous and the people healthier and better off than in societies with less free economies.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Al Gore's Conservation for Thee, not Me

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research, an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee through free market policy solutions, issued the following press release:

Last night, Al Gore’s global-warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, collected an Oscar for best documentary feature, but the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has found that Gore deserves a gold statue for hypocrisy.

Gore’s mansion, [20-room, eight-bathroom] located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home. The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average.

Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006. Gore’s extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore’s mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year.

“As the spokesman of choice for the global warming movement, Al Gore has to be willing to walk to walk, not just talk the talk, when it comes to home energy use,” said Tennessee Center for Policy Research President Drew Johnson.

In total, Gore paid nearly $30,000 in combined electricity and natural gas bills for his Nashville estate in 2006.