August 20,  2002
Brooklyn Smoking Activist Battles Bar Ban

By Dan McLean

This has been a bad year for smokers.  The state raised taxes 39 cents per pack, the city added another $1.42 in taxes, and now -- with a pack of smokes costing over $7 -- the mayor is pushing hard to make New York City one of the strictest places in the country to smoke a cigarette.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on Aug. 12 that he's calling on the City Council to rewrite the 1995 Smoke-Free Air Act to ban smoking in all bars, restaurants of any size, offices, pool halls, bingo parlors, bowling alleys and indoor public spaces.

Should these provisions pass, New York City would join California and Delaware in adopting such absolute and far-reaching bans on smoking.

Audrey Silk, the founder of a group called Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (CLASH), is working to build a pro-smoking coalition to prevent the bans from going into effect.

Silk has been rallying the troops for years, warning fellow smokers that the time will come when they will be unfairly taxed and prohibited to smoke in public, but few heeded her call.

People, she laments, haven't believed her -- until now.  When news of the mayor's smoking bans broke earlier this month, Silk's CLASH web site had three times as many hits than usual.

"This is what's wrong with people.  They keep thinking, 'Oh, they won't do that, they won't do that, they won't do that.'  I keep telling them, 'They will, they will they will,'" Silk said.  "There is no stopping madmen."

Silk clarified that she doesn't believe Bloomberg is a madman.  Instead, she said, the mayor is being controlled by madmen who advise him behind the scenes.

"The madmen are the anti-smoking groups," she said.  "And he is their tool, which makes him a puritanical sanctimonious dictator."

As of Monday, nine City Council members have signed on to support the mayor's legislation.  Councilman Simcha Felder (D-Borough Park) and James Oddo (R-Bensonhurst) are the only members from southern Brooklyn who have co-sponsored the bill to date.

"No one should have to breathe poison to hold a job or frequent an indoor public space," Bloomberg said.

"If New York City were to sit on the sidelines and not stand up for people who work in smoke-filled environments, we would be complicit in the tobacco industry's guilt," Oddo said.

Despite the mayor's personal involvement in the proposed policy, smokers, and Silk in particular, are not going to accept any bans without a fight.

Silk is especially annoyed at the mayor's "social engineering" efforts and considers the possible smoking bans as "an attack on liberties."

"This is their attempt to denormalize and de-socialize a perfectly legal behavior," Silk said, explaining how secondhand smoke has never been proven to be dangerous.

Although Silk admits she has no background in medicine, she says she has "done her homework" and knows that secondhand smoke does not pos a health danger to anyone.

"It is the biggest lie going.  I can't believe that this is happening in America.  Health agencies are being used to promote a moral issue, rather than a health issue," she said.

The city Health Commissioner, Thomas Frieden, disagrees.

"Secondhand smoke kills," Frieden said.  "Just 30 minutes of exposure makes your blood clot and your arteries react the same way those of a chronic smoker do -- and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke."

The health commissioner said that secondhand smoke causes more cancer deaths than asbestos, benzene, arsenic, pesticides, and hazardous waste sites combined.

"Secondhand smoke kills about 1,000 New Yorkers a year," Frieden said.  "That is why we must act now."

But Silk is not convinced.

"People have to wake up and understand they are not telling the truth," Silk said over the phone last week.  "It doesn't matter what their credentials are, they are on a crusade to end smoking and using secondhand smoke as their tool."

According to Silk's analysis of scientific studies, milk has a relative risk twice as high as secondhand smoke.

"Are they out there telling people not to drink milk?  No, because there is no crusade against milk," she said.

Silk has no plans to stop fighting for smokers' rights.  With the help of Scott LoBaido, an artist/pro-smoking activist, Silk will lead a 6 p.m. protest on City Hall on August 26.  The demonstration, she said, will show the mayor that there are lots of smokers opposed to his bans.

"I hope cooler heads prevail, and the tyranny of the minority won't go through," she said.

"[Banning smoking] will go the way of alcohol prohibition.  Did that stop alcohol?  They are leading law-abiding citizens into becoming criminals because they don't like what we do -- none of their business!" she said, noting that she was eating three pieces of bacon.

"I'd like to see them take this out of my hands," she said.

Note:  The Brooklyn Skyline does not have an on-line edition.  This article has been recreated for viewing.

NYC C.L.A.S.H.  responds to the claims made by NYC Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden:

"Secondhand smoke kills about 1,000 New Yorkers a year," Frieden said.

Then we can assume he has "about" 1,000 death certificates that say: Cause of Death - Secondhand Smoke.  ??
Yeah, right.  There is no death certificate that can be produced that says that.  There are no bodies.  This body count is a prediction based on an already manipulated and biased calculation regarding deaths from secondhand smoke from either one of two sources.  His "1,000" dead New Yorkers is either the result of a flawed study that claims 53,000 people die a year -- a study never endorsed by the Environmental Protection Agency and which was roundly criticized by the Congressional Research Service (they called those figures biologically implausible) -- or a program called SAMMEC created specifically to count deaths from secondhand smoke.  In other words, those looking to prove SHS caused deaths manufactured the program that would accept the data they put into it.  No human beings are ever studied. Garbage in, garbage out.

"Just 30 minutes of exposure makes your blood clot and your arteries react the same way those of a chronic smoker do -- and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke."

The Dept. of Health was contacted by mail, asking for the source of this claim.  Dr. Colin McCord responded and listed the Otsuka study as the source.

The Otsuka study actually says this:

That after exposing 15 (!) healthy young men to environmental tobacco smoke for half an hour, physiological tests found "no effect on basal coronary flow velocity, heart rate or blood pressure" but a minor and quickly reversible reduction in coronary flow velocity reserves (CFVR).

Did this "greatly increase [their] risk for heart attack"?  Hardly!  In fact, if we look at this minor transient effect in the context of several other published studies, we see the same kind of moderate, reversible, vascular changes were observed in healthy people who'd just eaten dinner -- and, of course, that's dinner in a smoke-free lab.  More "frightening," the changes brought on by bacon and eggs took longer (4+ hours) to reverse.

--("Transient Impairment of Vasoactivity Following a Single High-Fat Meal."  Coretti et al, JAMA 278, 11/26/97)

The question arises:  Do they think breakfast kills?  If so, would they take out an ad (as they have done for secondhand smoke) that said:

"WARNING:  Just one plateful of bacon
and eggs can greatly increase your
risk of a heart attack." ?

Of course they wouldn't.  Because it doesn't.  And neither does environmental tobacco smoke.

The point is simply that the human vascular system is minorly stressed -- and transiently altered -- by all sorts of common, everyday experiences that remain unsuspected until they're "studied."  (And most aren't studied because nobody's out to "get" either egg-beaters or hens).  But if we actually succumbed to these commonplace factors, the race would have perished shortly after the invention of animal husbandry -- and certainly none of us would ever survive brunch.

[read more about the Otsuka study]

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