City Smoking

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To the Editor:
A few comments about “The Benefits of an Outdoor Ban,” where, contrary to the title, you marshal several arguments against an outdoor smoking ban (Sidebar, “No Ifs, Ands or Butts,” Sept. 24).

The fact that New York City air is already polluted is not an argument against a ban. A high crime rate is not an argument for committing more crimes. And just because studies haven’t yet shown bodily harm from secondhand smoke outdoors doesn’t mean that no harm is being done. Any smoke is harmful for living things. When I walk behind a smoker I am getting a pretty concentrated dose of smoke from the cigarette, even if the smoker is not inhaling.

Health issues aside, don’t non-smokers have a right to breathe smoke-free air outside? When I go to a park I am trying to enjoy nature and the outdoors. That does not include the pervasive odor of burning tobacco.

Richard Epro
West 44th Street

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To the Editor:
Thank you, Ms. Colvin, for including me in your well-balanced report (“No Ifs, Ands or Butts,” Sept. 24).

Included in the article is the repeat of the declaration by the Department of Health that “the smoking rate dropped from 21.5 percent in 2002 to 15.8 percent in 2008.”

The alleged results are used to justify anti-smoker policies by boasting a decline in the number of smokers. Except my organization has refuted the validity of these figures year after year—this one being no different.

The methodology employed—telephone survey—to obtain these statistics is wholly unreliable. When the targets of a crusade reeking of intolerance have been so vilified and persecuted, they will lie to authorities when asked, “Do you Smoke?” The respondents’ fear of being truthful is undoubtedly cemented when the survey begins with, “I am calling for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. We’re conducting an important study to improve the health and health care of New Yorkers.”

A prime example was recently handed to us by none other than the Department of Health itself. By its own unpublicized admission, information the department announced to the public was subsequently found to be neither accurate nor unquestionable. In a study conducted by the department in 2004 and released this past April, researchers used a more reliable method—blood tests—and found that the smoking prevalence that year was 23.3 percent, not 18.4 percent, as originally announced in 2005 for the same year. The study concedes blood measurements are “presumably reflecting a more accurate assessment than is possible with self-reported smoking status captured via telephone survey.” Their original claim was off by 27 percent. It’s likely higher than that due to other flaws in this study’s methodology.

Not one of the yearly results for the total number of current smokers, and thus the subsequent comparative differentials, is a reliable conclusion. The entire historical account is a house of cards.

To be clear, my organization neither encourages nor discourages smoking. What we’re advocating against is propaganda manufactured to drive the zealots’ agenda. Government misleading the public for the sake of imposing its will on them is offensive. It’s infuriating how the department is allowed to get away with crowing figures to the media that, oops, turn out to be wrong and offer no correction in any public statement.

Audrey Silk
Founder, NYC C.L.A.S.H. (Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment)

Letters have been edited for clarity, style and brevity.

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