Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Letter in the IDS

OK - a couple of corrections are in order on yesterday's post.

First - Noah points out that the study in question factored in a lot more medical knowledge of the people it surveyed than I had indicated. In addition to checking that they were non-smokers with no history of heart problems, it also made sure that they did not have high blood pressure or high cholesterol - which is sensible given what they were testing for. So - apologies to the authors for misrepresenting their study.

Second, after grousing that the IDS probably wouldn't print my letter, today they did just that. Donnie Morgan, head of the IU Students' Smokefree Coalition and author of the letter to which I was responding, actually took the time to write me a personal email with a bunch of drivel about his intentions, most of the purpose of which was to avoid taking responsibility for the parts of the smoking policy he claims not to support, despite the fact that he has never mentioned anything in public that I'm aware of about not supporting these parts of the policy.

I sent him back a frank reply. I have no use for people like Donnie Morgan. If you support a policy, you need to be clear about what it is that you support. It's cowardly in the extreme to whine when people call you out for supporting a policy that you, in fact, do support on the (purported - though I frankly don't believe him) basis that you don't support all parts of it. If you don't support all parts of it - then either say so in your public statements (which he did not in his latest letter to the IDS), or refrain from lending your support to the policy. It's very simple - if you really don't want to be associated with something, then don't associate yourself with it.

I am reprinting my reply here in its entirety. This contains the entire uncut text of his email.

Mr. Morgan,

I appreciate the polite tone of your response as well as the rapidity with which you contacted me after reading my letter in the IDS. I hope
I hope you will not mind if I am frank in response: the points you raise here
are wholly unconvincing. I have responded to each point below.

> > I noticed your editorial in the IDS today, and I respect your
> concerns regarding what I had previously written. Thus, as you seem
> to be concerned that I am being disingenuous, I would like to take
> the opportunity to explain to you why I wrote as I did.

> > First, I addressed the issue of secondhand smoke (rather than
> smokeless tobacco) because Ms. Low's column primarily addressed the
> issue in that context. My letter was a response to her commentary.

JWH: Be that as it may - the response that you gave took the approach that she had wrongly accused the policy of being paternalistic. That makes the smokeless tobacco issue relevant. Paternalism, as I understand it, means taking decision-making power away from an individual for HIS OWN good, rather than the good of those around him. No non-paternalistic tobacco policy need include smokeless tobacco - and yet the one that you support does include it. Please explain, if you can, how the policy you support can ban smokeless tobacco - the use of which poses no risk to bystanders - and not be accurately described as "paternalistic."

> The university's decision to ban all tobacco as opposed to just
> smoking (a step took by all but one of the 8 campuses--as the
> President Herbert's order only required that we be smoke-free) had
> more to do with sanitation concerns, etc.

JWH: But this is laughable. There are no "sanitation concerns" associated with chewing tobacco over and above chewing gum or routine spitting, neither of which the university has banned. That was the decision of

> the administration. While I sat on the task force that debated that
> issue, the concern of the Coalition I created and lead was secondhand
> smoke, not smokeless tobacco.

JWH: And yet you support a policy that enforces bans on smokeless tobacco as well. The responsible thing to do in such a situation is to publicly announce that it was never your intention that the policy include smokeless tobacco products and to call on the university to remove these clauses. Defending the policy as written without clarifying these objections makes you complicit in promoting the current paternalistic policy, and it makes it disingenuous of you to object to people describing the policy you support as "paternalistic." When people call your policy what it is, it is cowardly to take offense without acknowledging the truth in what they say.

> > Secondly, you argue that if we want to protect pedestrians we should
> simply advocate enforcement of the 30 foot rule. We certainly
> considered this option in the beginning. However, you must realize
> that doorways to buildings are not the only place that students are
> forced to walk through to get to a class where smoke hovers. An
> effective 30 foot rule would also have to encompass 30 feet from bike
> racks, stair cases and accessible ramps, bus stops, narrow pathways
> crossing streams, etc...As you might imagine, the logistics of such a
> policy would be impossible, and thus we ended up advocating for an
> entirely smoke-free campus.

JWH: Do you honestly expect me to believe that a 30-foot rule is harder to enforce than a campus-wide ban? A campus-wide ban massively increases the area that must be patrolled. A 30-foot rule confines the spaces that have to be monitored to a manageable area. Bike racks can be placed within these areas, thus eliminating your concern there - and there is really nothing stopping you from extending the policy to include busstops. This argument is an evasion. If IU can manage the allotment of classroom space for 40,000 students, surely it can properly place a few choice bike racks. I can see your point with regard to the crosswalks over streams (especially near Woodburn), but the short amount of time anyone is exposed to smoke on these walks hardly seems like such an egregious violation that it needs a policy banning it.

> > As to your comments that a campus-wide ban is not helpful in
> protecting the health of pedestrians, I would simply like to mention
> that several studies and research summaries have concluded otherwise:

JWH: The facts you mention here are useless without actual cited studies to back them up. Please provide some.

> There is no quantitative criterion for acceptable exposure to
> [secondhand smoke]?said in another way: there is no safe level of
> exposure to SHS.

JWH: That is not the same thing at all. In fact, one of the notorious drawbacks of all studies on second-hand smoke to date has been that they fail to reach statistical significance. What that means is that researchers are not entirely certain that the effects they are seeing do not vary widely from individual to individual. THAT is why they are unable to quantify what counts as a safe level of exposure - because for some people, apparently, all levels of exposure are safe. This will be true of most casual pollutants you find in the air; it is not terribly different from saying that some people are simply allergic to second-hand smoke while others are immune. In particular, the substance identified as harmful in second-hand smoke is generally carbon monoxide - which, I'm sure you are aware, people are regularly exposed to just by walking down sidewalks. Will you kindly draw a meaningful distinction between cars and cigarettes that requires us to ban the use of one on campus but not the other? Perhaps you would like to require drivers to park well away from the library and walk the rest of the way in just to protect non-drivers from exposure? Or maybe require that everyone use only public transportation on campus to cut down on the risk? For this reason, authorities recommend that exposure

> of non-smokers to SHS exposure be eliminated or reduced to near zero
> exposure levels?Outdoor SHS concentrations, including fine particles
> (PM 2.5) and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PPAH) are
> detectable in outdoor environments at levels which are sometimes
> comparable to indoor concentrations of SHS. (?A Report of the Health
> Effects??)

JWH: Sometimes comparable. Have you made any measurements around campus to see if, in fact, people are being exposed to smoke to this level of concentration?

> > ?Failure to ban smoking in [patios, beaches, and outdoor sporting
> areas] may expose non-smokers to levels of environmental tobacco
> smoke (ETS) as high or higher than received in indoor spaces where > smoking is unrestricted? (Repace)

JWH: Again - has any study been done to verify that this is actually the case here on campus? If so, please cite it.

> > Hopefully this note will alleviate your concerns that I was being
> disingenuous or am unaware of the policy that I helped create. Again,
> though, I respect your concerns and appreciate that you are willing
> to join this very important dialogue.

JWH: It has alleviated my concern that you were unaware of the policy that you helped to create, but it has not alleviated my concerns that you were being disingenuous. Thank you for your response. Joshua Herring

> > Best,
> -- Donnie Morgan


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