Friday, June 10, 2005

Where There’s Smoke There’s A Liar

According to a study conducted the New York City Department of Health the number of city smokers has declined 15%. Of course, for Commissioner Friedan this decline, if even accurate, is the result of Mayor Bloomberg’s 1800% cigarette tax increase, smoke-free restaurant and bar policy, and distribution of free nicotine patches.

The first obvious problem is that this study is so self-serving there are few guarantees that it is, in fact, accurate. Just like Wal-Mart putting out a poll that says that New Yorkers want Wal-Mart, the Health Department is conducting a survey whose sole purpose is to bolster its own self-interests. We know nothing of the methodology or sample used but one thing is for certain: this study was an attempt to justify previous public policy decisions not determine if they actually are right or effective.

But let’s assume for a moment that there has been a drop in the number of smokers in the 5 boroughs. Does this drop match, as Commissioner Friedan asserts, “what the published literature says will happen when you increase the tax by as much as we increased it by and when you go smoke free"?

Besides the fact that we doubt that any of the “published literature” that Friedan references is itself unbiased(being conducted by anti-smoking partisans), we know that his assertion is dead wrong. All the cigarette tax increase has done in New York is to encourage smokers to seek out cigarettes in cheaper locales (mainly Indian reservations and the internet) or utilize a burgeoning city black market. In both cases New York City loses tax revenue (and legitimate cigarette-selling businesses are hurt) and in the latter scenario deadly cigarette turf wars result. Increasing the tax on an addictive substance, especially when lower priced alternatives are easily accessible, is unlikely to stop the use of that substance.

We also do not understand the logic of how smoke-free restaurants, bars and clubs lead to fewer smokers. Are we to believe that someone who can longer smoke in a bar will then quit this addictive habit? Anyone who lives in New York knows that these people just go outside or choose to smoke at another time. Once again the Health Commissioner is just exploiting already doubtful statistics to justify his and the mayor’s crusade against smoking.

The Mayor, and his public health flak Dr. Friedan, need stop confusing correlation with causation. Next thing you'll see is Frieden the crowing rooster taking credit for the sunrise. We do hope that the decline in smokers is accurate but even if it is this does not mean that the cigarette tax or the smoke-free policy is close to effective. Until we see evidence showing that these two moves directly lead to decreased smoking and that this decrease is worth the harm to small businesses, we will continue to point out that Friedan and Bloomberg are simply blowing smoke.