SECONDHAND SMOKE: Judge Strikes Down EPA Report
A federal judge ruled Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency's landmark 1993 report on secondhand smoke was flawed, striking down EPA findings that have since been the basis for hundreds of local indoor smoking ordinances nationwide. The EPA study "concluded environmental tobacco smoke is a Class A carcinogen, as hazardous as radon and responsible for some 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year." Upon release of the study, the tobacco industry immediately sued to have the findings "withdrawn, arguing that the agency ignored accepted scientific and statistical practices in making its risk assessment" (Schwartz, Washington Post, 7/19). Federal District Judge William Osteen sided with the tobacco companies, ruling that the EPA panel convened to study the problem was flawed, because no industry representatives were included. "But in a far more damning finding," he held that the agency reoriented its data in order to fit a preconceived conclusion. "In this case, EPA publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun," Osteen wrote.
Impact May Be Minimal
The New York Times reports that the ruling should not have a great effect on the various local ordinances implemented after the report was issued, noting that the "agency does not regulate indoor smoke" and localities are largely free to set their own policies pertaining to such matters (Meier, 7/20). Furthermore, the Washington Post notes that some 100 other studies in the past 13 years have examined secondhand smoke, with about 63% finding "evidence of harm ... according to a literature review published in May in the Journal of the American Medical Association." Philip Schliro, staff director for anti-tobacco activist Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), said, "The tobacco industry focuses on cancer because it's always harder to prove. But what is absolutely undisputed is the impact secondary smoke has on the respiratory system" (Warrick, 7/20). Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala emphasized the prevalence of support for secondhand smoking laws. "No one wants to go back to smoking on airplanes, to smoking in restaurants. No one wants to go back to pollution indoors," she said (Biskupic, Washington Post, 7/20). Carol Browner, EPA administrator, said, "Inasmuch as the tobacco guys will claim that secondhand smoke has no health effects, we are clearly upset. But the important thing that people should understand is that secondhand smoke is a real health risk."
A Win For Big Tobacco?
The New York Times reports, however, that the ruling "should make it more difficult for other cities to pass similar laws." Seth Moskowitz, a spokesperson for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., said, "Any legislative body that was considering passing a law based on the EPA report is going to have to rethink it" (7/20). Moreover, Michael York, attorney for Philip Morris Companies, said the ruling "could erect a huge obstacle to individuals bringing claims based on their (secondhand smoke) exposure." Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Gary Black said it may also help the industry in its public relations fight against government regulation. "There is growing sentiment that 'the government's gone way too far. And this is another data point that says that,'" said Black (Levin, Los Angeles Times, 7/20).
Clinton To Go Public With Documents
President Clinton, again attempting to use the bully pulpit to influence the tobacco debate, announced Friday his intention to "lift the veil of secrecy on the tobacco industry" by distributing millions of damaging industry documents. The president said the documents, made public during various state lawsuits against the industry, "include information that the tobacco industry conducted research on the addictive properties of nicotine even as executives publicly insisted their products were not addictive." Clinton said, "Let us use the darkest secrets of the industry to save a new generation of children from this habit and to help us fight and win" (Harris, Washington Post, 7/17).