Thomas Ruppenthal
November 19, 2012

Recently the fates wafted me upon a cloud of second-hand smoke onto a national television show.

Let me explain.

I grew up during the time when smoking was very common and occurred everywhere. I spent my first eighteen years enveloped in tobacco smoke as my father smoked constantly – only a pipe or a cigar and never a cigarette, but constantly. Living in Milwaukee, our home was nearly hermetically sealed for seven or eight months and so we inhaled second-hand smoke with every breath. My brother, my sister and myself all grew up to be non-smokers. Somehow my smoking father lived for a physically healthy 96 years; my mother reached 87 even after spending most of her life smoking second-hand.

When the demonizing of second-hand smoke began, I never believed it since I had grown up very healthy as did my elder brother (who is healthy and in his 70s) and my sister (like myself) is in her 60s. Humans are much tougher than wisps of smoke.

As the do-gooder, anti-tobacco forces continued their relentless march toward tobacco prohibition, which is certainly their goal but which they mask by fighting against second-hand smoke, I began to smoke. Only an occasional smoke at first but as the authoritarians banned smoking nearly everywhere, I smoked more and began enjoying it and now I smoke 3 or 4 cigarettes every evening. I find it relaxing physically but also mentally stimulating – not that different that a cup of coffee, except that coffee isn’t demonized (at this moment).

However a month ago I learned that the City Council in my hometown of San Rafael, Ca. was about to enact a law making it illegal to smoke in your own home if you shared even a single wall with another unit. Even if you owned a condo, you wouldn’t be allowed to smoke in it. A co-worker, who also lives in San Rafael and who smokes more than I do, announced that she would go to the Council meeting and speak out, and she asked me to attend too. I agreed to go, happy to support anyone standing up against government intrusion.

Before the meeting, I studied the proposed tobacco ban online and found that it was primarily based upon an EPA report from 1993; being me, I Googled, found the report and quickly saw how flawed and unscientific the report (or at least its summary) was.

It was based entirely upon analysis of epidemiological studies and I know how easily such data can be manipulated and how easy it is to ignore any study that doesn’t agree with the desired result. Also the summary seemed to lack any doubts about the conclusion that second-hand smoke causes cancer and other serious illnesses. Period. The scientists have spoken so go away and obey! It reminded me of reports from the global warming scam – full of dire predictions while stressing that the science was complete and no one, unless in the pay of oil companies, could doubt it. Well I doubted that “science” and I doubted this too. Since the 1993 report often cited the 1986 Surgeon General’s Report, I then went and read the 300+ plus pages of that report which again contained no original research but only an analysis of published studies.

It too was obviously anti-tobacco and in the summary Dr. C. Everett Koop condemned second-hand smoke as a cause of disease, including lung cancer, in healthy nonsmokers. However as I read the entire report, it was clear that the epidemiological studies did not conclusively prove much of anything as they had too much room for bias, that the numbers involved were often too small, that the results were often inconclusive and that there were far too many confounders including diet, exercise, genetic influences, occupation, vitamin D levels and more. And all of the studies were of nonsmoking spouses who lived with a smoker and so could be breathing smoke 24/7. And the report further stated that living in a home with second-hand smoke was the equivalent of smoking 0.1 up to 1.0 cigarette a day, which I hardly found to be a cause for alarm.

Looking again at the 1993 EPA report, it rated second-hand smoke as Group A pollutant (and no, this A is not a good score) including it with 15 other pollutants, including asbestos, radon, and benzene yet only secondhand smoke, according to the summary, had actually been shown in studies to cause cancer at typical environmental levels. Furthermore, the EPA estimated that approximately 3,000 American nonsmokers die each year from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke. This number was essentially made up by the EPA – but still it was only in regard to living with a smoker.

(To my amazement I later found a report from the National Cancer Institute that claimed second-hand smoke was responsible for 49,500 deaths per year – a number beyond belief except that people actually seemed to believe it, including at least one doctor as I was to find out).

So I arrived at the San Rafael Council meeting early and found my associate studying her notebook preparing herself; however, she wondered if and when public comment would be allowed. So I went up to ask one of the Councilmembers and he directed me to speak with Mayor Phillips which I did and the Mayor assured me that they would allow time for comment.

After a few minutes of other business, the Mayor opened to floor to comment prior to a vote and he stared directly at me. My friend suddenly got lost in her notebook and wouldn’t move so I had to rise and walk to the podium.

I began by summarizing how much the government has intruded into our lives over the course of my life and how they have lately come right into our homes as they told us what kind of toilets to use, what kind of appliances, what light bulbs and even what sort of bag we could use to carry our food home in (San Rafael had earlier in the year banned plastic carry-bags in grocery stores). I then looked at the five supervisors and called their proposed smoking ban to be an act tyranny as it was an unjust and arbitrary use of power, in this case using false science to basically ban an act that some people found annoying. After all, the science only studied non-smokers living with a smoker and breathing smoky air 24/7 and never mentioned or even considered any problem with a whiff of smoke drifting over to reach a neighbor’s nose. Lights on the podium began flashing, telling me that my time was running out. I quickly stated that they were heading down a dangerous path by banning something that merely annoyed others and I mentioned the growing number of rabid vegetarians in our area and of reading a scientific study that showed barbecuing meat released known carcinogens into the air. If this smoking ban was passed based on false science, then soon, if the number of vegetarians continued growing, barbecuing could be made illegal and then possibly extended to even ban cooking meat in homes. Did they want that?

All the podium lights flashed as my two minutes ended and I had to return to my seat not having mentioned studies that showed tobacco smoke protecting against Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Parkinson’s and would San Rafael be open to lawsuits from people who were forced to quit smoking and who then developed these diseases? Oh well.

My still silent friend remained engrossed in her notebook while a number of feeble, frightened-looking women came up to comment and they all basically thanked the politicians for helping make our clean air cleaner still and for protecting innocent people from the health dangers of second-hand smoke.

I assumed that the Council would reject the fatuous feeble females and refuse to be tyrants, but yet again I was wrong. The Council voted unanimously to ban smoking in any multi-unit complex. Who needed science, logic or a respect for personal freedom when you have the power of political correctness. Right about then, my friend told me she was now ready to speak and she couldn’t believe that the ban had already been passed.

It was during all this that a woman came up to ask my name and I wrote it down for her, thinking she was a reporter for our local give-away paper. However it turned out she was a stringer for Reuter’s and soon the ban and my comments were in newspapers and on the internet. A few days later I received a call from a segment producer from the nationally syndicated television show, “The Doctors” and she asked if I might be interested in being on the program. I said sure and then went off on a fifteen minute rant about freedom, personal responsibility, politicized science and probably more. I figured that would be the end of that.

Wrong. A couple of days later she emailed me asking for a couple of recent photos which I sent her while thinking that would certainly be the end as they couldn’t want someone who looked like me on their show.

Wrong again.

Suddenly last Friday morning at 9:00 a.m., I was seated in the front row of the studio audience of “The Doctors” about to face four doctors who I was pretty certain would not be agreeing with me. Next to me sat a nice woman from San Rafael who was for the ban. She had an 8×10 photo of her dead husband, a “victim” of smoking. Not second-hand smoke, smoking.

I knew that I was being set up as the bad guy (and I realized how bad-guyish I must have sounded during my telephone rant and how bad-guyish I must look with my beard) and that I would be set upon by a gang of four doctors. I knew all this but had gone ahead, hoping to make at least one or two points against government and for freedom. I half expected that while in make-up they would stick horns on my head. They didn’t but maybe they would do it in post production.

Earlier, backstage, three different producers or assistants had come up to me to stress that I shouldn’t try to converse as if having a discussion, but rather I should be animated, make my points, not be gentlemanly, interrupt and argue if necessary. It all was a bit like telling a dog how to bark.

As I sat in the front row I mentally rehearsed a few points that I wanted to make – too much government, too much lying government, bad science, vengeful vegetarians, benefits of smoking, and that no matter what laws were passed and what things were banned, we were all going to die and that I would much rather slightly increase my chance of a heart attack if I could greatly increase my chance of not getting Alzheimer’s. I hoped I was ready.

The countdown began, the music increased, lights, camera, action and the four doctors came onto the stage to loud applause. I felt a bit like a bull at a bullfight – undoubtedly doomed but intending to do a bit of goring on the way.

Dr. Travis Stork in the young, handsome doctor, the main man, the star and he introduced our segment. Up came video of the Council meeting and the five politicians voting unanimously to pass the smoking ban. Then a shot of someone who looked like me, only the camera had been above me and off to the side and I think the video had been tampered with because I looked bad and my anti-tyrranical words sounded bad, maybe slowed down to make me sound a bit retarded.

Or at least I hoped it had been tampered with.

Travis then introduces the woman seated next to me who approved of the ban and who held up the photo of her dearly departed. Travis nodded sympathetically, then quoted the 49,000 annual deaths due to second-hand smoking and turned to me. How could I oppose? Nice introduction.

I was a bit stunned, but I knew that this was my one chance so I opened with freedom, stating my belief that in America a person’s home should be a person’s castle, and the government should stay out!

I may have said more but the doctors attacked. “Yes, We agree in principle, but the second-hand smoke reaches and effects other people. Society has a right to protect itself.”

I informed them that the studies on second-hand smoke was based upon non-smoking spouses living and breathing with a smoker. 24/7. For years. Decades. It’s dishonest. Wrong. Insane.

Soon all four doctors were talking loudly and very animatedly at me and I interrupted and argued back. It seemed to morph into Jerry Springer. Travis came out to me and handed me a pair of medical gloves. Were we going to duke it out?

I can’t remember what all happened but people told me it was good television. I hope to see it.

I’m sure that there’s a lesson to be learned from all this. It could be that speaking up in public might lead to being on a mediocre television show or speaking up might lead to being made a fool of on a mediocre television show.

It might air on Tuesday, November 20. Unless I’m cut. Or altered beyond recognition in post.

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