First-rate bilge on secondhand smoke

Jacob Sullum eviscerates an embarrassingly bad op-ed that the New York Times chose to run yesterday (Rosemary Ellis, “The Secondhand Smoking Gun”, Oct. 15) on the issue of smoking in public places, based on the supposed “Helena miracle” — heart attacks in the Montana capital (population 26,000) are said to have dropped suddenly by 58 percent when smoking in public buildings was banned. The claim, he says, is based on a single unpublished study “involving tiny, highly volatile numbers”. Had the Times been interested in whether the asserted result would hold up as a matter of epidemiology, it could easily have checked out the experience of other jurisdictions which could offer much, much larger sample sizes than wee Helena: “why have we not heard about a dramatic drop in heart attacks [in New York City itself] since the city’s smoking ban took effect in April”? A few phone calls to Columbia-Presbyterian, St. Lukes-Roosevelt and the city’s other big hospitals should suffice to establish whether there had been any massive effect of this sort on New Yorkers’ proneness to cardiac arrest. (Reason Hit & Run, Oct. 16; Jacob Sullum, “Heartstopping Discovery”, Reason, Apr. 4). More: Cato’s Steven Milloy weighs in (“Secondhand smoke scam”,, Oct. 17).

Even more (posted May 29, 2004): Sally Satel, “Where There’s Smoke”, Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2004; Michael Fumento, “Debate Rages Over Second-Hand Smoke”, Heartland Institute Health Care News, Jun. 1, 2004; Jacob Sullum, Reason “Hit and Run”, Apr. 9, 2004.

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