Never trust content from “U.S. Surgeon General”

The Surgeon General of the United States last week claimed that “breathing secondhand smoke for even a short time” can “potentially increas[e] the risk of heart attack”. How much evidence is there for that proposition? Michael Siegel inquires (Jun. 28; Jacob Sullum, Reason “Hit and Run”, Jun. 28 and Jun. 29). According to Brooke Oberwetter of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the same new report from the Surgeon General uncritically passes along the much-ballyhooed “miracle of Helena” study purporting to find a correlation between a ban on smoking in bars and an immediate 40 percent drop in heart attacks in that Montana community — really more like a miracle of small sample sizes (Jun. 27; see Oct. 6, 2003). Finally, a spokeswoman for the bossyboots American Heart Association is quoted praising a new Colorado law that forbids smoking in most restaurants and bars statewide no matter what the owners and patrons happen to prefer:

“We know from research that we’ve done that over 80 percent of Colorado residents don’t smoke,” said Erin Bertoli with the American Heart Association.

“The majority of them really look forward to going out to new restaurants and new bars and taking their families and experiencing new venues that have technically been closed to 80 percent of Colorado residents up until this point.”

thus demonstrating a Pickwickian understanding of such words as “technically” and “closed”. (Jeffrey Wolf, “Effort to stop statewide smoking ban underway “, KUSA-TV, Jun. 15). Plus: Radley Balko weighs in.


  • Florida’s statewide ban on smoking indoors at public accommodations started in July, 2003 and commerce certainly hasn’t ground to a halt. One difference is Florida allows smoking in bars that don’t serve food.

    One humorous complaint was from the bowling alley association in Orlando that said they would be losing business if the ban went into effect. There have been no reports of bowling leagues moving to Georgia.

  • I live in Helena, and I have seen some of the economic consequences first hand. For instance, one of the doctors that conducted the “study” stated, in a newspaper article, that once the city-wide smoking ban (since thrown out) went into effect that he and his wife could go out dancing etc., and his overall attitude was that more people would fequent the businesses that had formerly allowed smoking.

    Yeah, right. A for-instance: a bar that I went to quite often went from 100+ people on friday/Saturday night to…well, one time i went there and there were five people. Including the staff. That bar has since gone out of business.

    Really, I’d like to see studies done on the economic consequences of bans–who gets hurt and who benefits.