11 December 2012

"Banned on Campus"

Jacob Grier | Banned on campus

One of the quiet ways smoking bans have spread across the United States is via bans on college campuses. [...]

Encouraging schools to go smokefree is now official policy of the Department of Health and Human Services, which recently launched an initiative in collaboration with the University of Michigan to encourage campus bans on campus. The bans apply outdoors, [...]
“The CDC and surgeon general say there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke,” said Julien Guttman, a GWU public health graduate student who is part of the advocacy group Colonials for Clean Air. “No matter how much science we have to back up what we are saying, there will always be individuals who see this as a restriction on their freedom.”
(0) I see it as a restriction on freedom, because it is. You might think it's totally justified. You might be right. But it's still an abridgment of freedom. Sometimes that's necessary. When it is, you justify it. You don't pretend it isn't real with a snotty little "oh, those wacky people who want freedom, how silly."

(1) The science is not on your side on this one, buddy. This is a religious gesture, not a health policy. Even the NIH admits that. And when you say things like this, it's kind of a give-away: "Guttman, like Manzo, emphasized the extent to which a smoke-free campus is as much about education and resources for smokers as about policy and enforcement."

Awareness, out-reach, education, etc. are last resorts of Crusaders. Notice that the game has now shifted from abridging freedom in order to protect non-smokers to abridging freedom in order to educate smokers about the risks of smoking.

(2) The "no safe levels" thing gets me every time. I would be drummed out of the room for asserting that any substance or activity had "no safe levels" in a risk analysis class. Safety and risk are not boolean. It's not a matter of "yes, safe"/"no, risky." These things exist on gradients.

PS Grier posted another gem from Guttman recently:
“We’re trying not to use the word 'ban,'” says Julien Guttman, of the GW campus advocacy group Colonials for Clean Air. “We encourage people to talk about a smoke-free campus rather than a ban on smoking.”
I encourage employers to talk about a Julien Guttman-free firm rather than a ban on hiring Julien Guttman.


  1. " The "no safe levels" thing gets me every time. I would be drummed out of the room for asserting that any substance or activity had "no safe levels" in a risk analysis class. Safety and risk are not boolean. It's not a matter of "yes, safe"/"no, risky." These things exist on gradients."

    This is exactly the argument made by progressives about radiation, and there is actually a bit of truth to it. Because it is _possible_ to identify a real mechanism by which one "hit" from a radioactive particle could cause a cancer or a genetic defect. One hit is sufficient, if if occurs in the right place on the DNA strand.

    The problem, of course, is that the body suffers about 14K hits per second across the entire body, and the actual occurance of cancer in the population is only about 30%. So, there are obviously other phenomena at play here, including the rare possibility that one hit will occur in just the right spot. And

    But this does not deter progressive environmentalists from saying that there is no safe level of radiation exposure. They just don't explain that all life on the planet evolved in a radioactive environment, that we continue to be bathed by radiation from natural sources and man-made sources, and that we can NEVER live in a radiation-free environment.

    This is the modern progressive meme for terrorizing the populace into obeying. Whenever something arises that they don't like, they insist that the proponents prove that it is safe - for the children, for the elderly, for the poor, for the most vulnerable, etc. It is at the heart of the precautionary principle. It is a very effective meme.

  2. I've had that argument with someone, and IIRC my response was that a single hail stone at just the right time and place can kill someone, but we can still judge the risks of hail along a continuum w.r.t. hurricanes, blizzards, earth quakes etc. rather than labeling all hail "too dangerous."

    You're right that we see this a lot from progressives. The "precautionary principle" is a terrible, terrible rule ot live by. (So much so that even its proponents use it only very, very rarely, and capriciously at that.) But I think we get the same sort of pattern from anyone who wants to scare people into their way of doing things. One fatal highway accident caused by a Mexican truck driver is enough to send all the anti-free-traders, right and left, plus the Teamsters, into a tizzy about NAFTA. This one accident proves, they cry, that foreign drivers aren't safe.

  3. Weather events are a bit difficult for even progressives to demonize, but you see it happening in the chattering classes discussion about the effect of global warming/climate change/global climate disruption on Hurricane Sandy. Hurricanes have hit the NE of the US (even NYC) before, and it seems like we have a hurricane/blizzard every February. But one should never let a crisis go to waste...

    The trouble is that there is a very basic human need for an explanation when bad things happen. We used to say that these events were God's will, or payback for something evil that the person/community/nation had done. We still use some of those memes, but more and more, we unchain the lawyers, and they need some scientific-ish explanation they can use to lay blame on someone other than the victim. So, we now have whole industries that try to show that a small exposure to something that is harmful in large doses, caused harm. The law is not set up very well to deal with stochastic effects, and the politicians HATE to have to deal with the concept of "acceptable risk". It implies that there is an acceptable level of harm, and politicians can't let the voters think that they don't want to protect everyone.