When it comes to tobacco control, it often seems that the policy is decided first and the science is produced as an afterthought. Since the lion's shares of the anti-smoking policies we see today were planned as far back as the 1970s, it is a remarkable coincidence that scientific evidence for each of them appeared at regular and timely intervals in the intervening years. This is something that The Economist gently hinted at in a recent review of a book called Merchants of Doubt:
In most of these campaigns the dissenters have argued that the American scientific establishment is tainted with an anti-corporate liberalism and is trying to impose socialism by the back door. One does not have to agree with this view, or to think that both sides are equally culpable, to feel that the ways in which science is used to generate assent for environmental action may sometimes be as interesting as the ways in which it is mobilised for dissent.Though the authors note as a curiosity that campaigns against secondary smoke predated evidence that it did any harm, they show no desire to explore this seemingly reversed causality.
Secondhand smoke is old news in California these days, of course. These days, if you're an anti-smoking campaigner, your policy objectives are to ban smoking in the home and in the street. These 'next logical steps' have long since been settled on by the people who really matter—ie. you and your fellow 'health professionals'. All you need is a scientific fig-leaf to help you get around the quaint objections of personal liberty and individual sovereignty, which some politicians still consider important and which even you, as a citizen of a liberal democracy, feel compelled to pay lip-service to.
Of course, there isn't any serious scientific evidence that secondhand smoke from outdoors—or from next door—has the slightest effect on the health of others. Nor will there ever be. It would defy everything we know about toxicology, chemistry and biology, not to mention common sense. It's an idea of profound lunacy.
The best of a bad bunch of pseudo-scientific arguments for outdoor smoking bans are the risible notion of people being harmed by trace levels of toxins clinging to clothes and carpets ('thirdhand smoke') and the equally risible idea of cigarette butts leaching trace levels of toxins into the ground, thereby harming...er...something.
It's not very promising, I'll grant you, but it's all there is and the lack of scientific evidence is holding things up. And so, if you're California's Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, you wave some money in the air—the traditional mating call of the quackademic—and see who responds. Hence:
TRDRP Call for Applications
Request for Proposals for TRDRP Initiative on Thirdhand Smoke and Cigarette Butts
The Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP) announces a Request for Proposals (RFP) to undertake studies on Thirdhand Smoke and Cigarette Butt Waste, under a new initiative.
And, if you are sitting down...
Approximately $3.75 million is expected to be available for this RFP.
That should get a response from the scientific community in these troubled economic times, wouldn't you say?
The aim of this project is, according to the TRDRP...
...to conduct research on (1) the impact of thirdhand tobacco smoke exposure from indoor surfaces and air quality on public health, and (2) the effects of water and soil contamination by cigarette butts on organisms and humans.
This talk of 'conducting research' makes it sound as if some sort of impartial investigation into science is in the offing here. Tellingly, however, in the 15 page document which gives details about the project, the word 'science' isn't used once. The word 'policy', on the other hand, is used 14 times. That's a pretty good guide to the rest of the document.
They do, however, admit that there is no existing evidence to support either proposition.
The health effects of thirdhand smoke are poorly understood.
Virtually nothing is known about the impact of cigarette butts on contamination of air, water and soil.
Very true. That being the case, you wouldn't want to make any assumption that thirdhand smoke is dangerous, would you?
1.1 Thirdhand Smoke Exposure and Health Effects
The indoor surfaces and air quality component of this initiative is intended to help create and sustain a new research niche and infrastructure in California that is expected to shed light on several concrete aspects of the public health dangers of thirdhand smoke.
And you wouldn't want to lead the researcher towards a particular conclusion or imply that you're looking for any particular outcome. Would you?
The findings from this research may have broad implications in policy enactment in California to prevent human exposure to thirdhand smoke in homes, hotels, apartment buildings, personal vehicles, gaming casinos, and hookah bars.It is anticipated that the research outcomes will contribute to dramatically reducing the exposure of developing and newborn infants, young children, adolescent youth, and adults to potential disease-causing toxicants produced from thirdhand smoke.
And you certainly wouldn't want to suggest that the whole project is specifically designed to meet predetermined political objectives. After all, how could you—the research hasn't even begun yet. Right?
Policy ImplicationsHow will the scientific evidence from exposure to thirdhand smoke and cigarette butt pollution emanating from the proposed collaborative studies inform the policy makers to frame new policy in California to mitigate the public health effects?How will these studies impact indoor air quality in buildings and vehicles to protect vulnerable populations from exposure risks? Strengths of proposed strategy for investigative plans to interface with policy makers and community advocates will be evaluated by reviewers.... Funded investigators may be called upon to provide testimony to California legislators and to collaborate with policy researchers to help enact and enforce policies in California to mitigate the health effects of exposure to thirdhand smoke and cigarette butt pollution of water and soil in California.
It sounds a pretty sweet deal—the TRDRP provides the conclusion and the researcher fills in the blanks. All we need is someone prepared to prostitute their scientific integrity for a huge pile of cash. And let's look at all that lovely money again...
The TRDRP has allocated up to $3.75 million over three years for this RFP. It is anticipated that TRDRP may fund up to two (2) Grants of up to $425,000 each, or may fund one (1) Grant of up to $850,000 (including direct and indirect costs) per year for three (3) years to investigate the chemicals, biology and health risk assessment of thirdhand smoke.
What kind of person are we looking for anyway? A project like this would require someone highly trained in toxicology and the physical sciences, no?
A successful application will demonstrate in the Key Personnel a diverse tobacco-related disease and control expertise that is consistent with the proposed aims in the identified two or three themed areas, such as basic, translational and (if applicable) clinical expertise including chemists, biological chemists, cellular and molecular toxicologists...
Sounds like a job for the great mechanical engineer Stanton Glantz. He's no stranger to a TRDRP handout, plus he lives locally. Get him on the phone.
...physicists, physicians, psychologists...
...healthcare and tobacco control professionals...
Those three magic words: tobacco control professionals. Gentlemen, the bank is open for business.
...epidemiologists, health economists, statisticians and modeling experts, etc.
Okay, we get it. Pretty much anyone can apply. Fill your boots guys. And just in case your consciences are niggling at you, remember...
Approximately $3.75 million is expected to be available for this RFP.
Okay? Sleep well.