Ban Could Hurt Health

Letter to the Editors

To the editors:

Supporters of the recently passed Boston smoking ban promise that, if enforced, it will benefit the health of bar employees and customers (Editorial, “A Breath of Fresh Air,” Dec. 16). There are, however, many ways, relating to health, in which the war on smoking has not been beneficial. Two examples are asthma and obesity.

Tobacco reformers have promoted this war as a boon to asthmatics. In the last 25 years, 40 million Americans have quit the habit and it has been severely restricted. During this period, however, adult asthma rates have increased 75 percent and children’s 160 percent.

How do medical officials explain the sharp rise in the incidence of asthma at the same time as the precipitous decrease in smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke?

It has universally been observed that tobacco lessens the appetite and enables people to go for long periods without food. The 1988 Surgeon General’s Report acknowledged this phenomenon. The American adult smoking rate is half of what it was in 1960 and, not surprisingly, the incidence of severe weight problems has more than doubled. Diabetes and obesity-related cancers have also increased, to a large extent, due to the decline in smoking rates. Many Americans now resort to dangerous and costly surgery to treat obesity.

The Native Americans revered the peaceful custom of tobacco smoking and shared it with the first European colonists. For almost 400 years patrons of Boston’s taverns have derived comfort and pleasure from the habit.

The Boston Board of Health’s ban is an abuse of power in the guise of public hygiene. The Board has misused science to further their own ends, demeaned the individual pursuit of happiness, and violated the rights of private business owners.

Stephen A. Hefler
Dec. 19, 2002

The writer is a library assistant at the Harvard Law School Library.