In 2005, the City-County Council passed, and Mayor Peterson signed into law, restrictions on smoking in public places. The first section of that ordinance, Sec. 616-101, delineates the reasons for the ordinance. Under the title "Findings and Intent," Sec. 616-101 cites secondhand smoke (SHS), a/k/a environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), as a "major contributor to indoor air pollution," "a cause of disease in nonsmokers, including heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and lung cancer." It cites a 1999 National Cancer Institute report that "determined" SHS "is responsible for the early deaths of more than thirty-eight thousand (38,000) Americans annually."
Unfortunately, the 1999 NCI report largely was cribbed from a 1997 California EPA report—the introduction to the 1999 NCI report says as much. Realize that these are "report," not "studies." They are compilations of studies performed by various scientists or groups of scientists. They also inaccurately characterize results of studies. The studies themselves are filled with methodological errors. Some state outright that they have found no link to various forms of cancer and smoking—i.e., actual smoking, not SHS. The 1999 NCI report cites five studies that issued results between the publication of the 1997 California EPA and 1999. Those five studies, however, suffer from a common methodological flaw.
Epidemiology is the "study of the distribution of health-events, health-characteristics and their causes in well-defined populations." Studies of the effects of SHS are epidemiological studies. As an example, health characteristics of non-smoking spouses of smokers, over a span of years, are compared. Data are derived.
Like any area of scientific inquiry, epidemiological studies are governed by standards. These standards are not there for their own sake or for the amusement of a governing board of scientists somewhere. The standards are in place to try and make the results of such studies as sound—as statistically significant—as possible.
One of the areas in which standards are put in place has to do with a group of things called "confounders." A "confounder" is a factor that could case inaccuracy in a study. To return to the example of the smoker/nonsmoker spouses, one confounder could be inaccuracy of the spouses’ reporting. In other words, the "nonsmoker" does not tell the truth. She or he actually smoked for 15 years. Why would somebody lie about such a thing? Because that kind of information is used to jack people’s health insurance. Another confounder can be environments in which the nonsmoker was exposed to other harmful substances. She or he worked in an asbestos factory or lived next to a coal-fired or nuclear power plant.
Epidemiological studies rely upon a factor of intervals to accommodate "confounders." I will write more about this aspect of the studies, but to cut to the quick: the studies in the 1999 NCI report do not pass the test. They are methodologically insignificant. That means they cannot support the conclusion for which they are cited.
That is important where, as here, the City of Indianapolis has based deprivation of smoking in a small number of bars on these reports that rely upon these studies. Deprivation has been based upon a falsehood.
Today at the Recovery Room Lounger, 1868 Lafayette Road, from 2 to 5 p.m. we will shoot a cookout that bar, a plaintiff to the lawsuit against the City of Indianapolis, is holding. All age 21 and over are welcome.