The Surgeon General has concluded that fish should not smoke cigarettes


Author:  Anne Hayes

Sifting through articles on the internet is sometimes a painful job.  Recently, I came across, on Time/CNN's Eco-centric blog, an article entitled A New Victim of Second-Hand Smoking: Fish.  Here's the rundown:

The article discussed a "study" performed by an anti-tobacco group.  The "researchers" placed various types of cigarette butts–that is: a) a smoked butt in which just the filter was left; b) a smoked butt in which the filter had some tobacco residue remaining; and c) a brand new unsmoked filter–in different concentrations (that is, different numbers of butts, from 16 down to 1) in different tanks of water.  Then, these experimenters took the butts out, put some fish in the yucky water, and then waited to see which fish died, to determine what was the most lethal form of cigarette butt for fish.  The theory they were attempting to prove was: 1) cigarette butt litter along our waterways was killing fish; and 2) that the lethal level depended upon what kind of the cigarette butt was littered.  Strangely, the blog actually concluded that the study proved that cigarette litter was killing fish, never mind that the concentrations of these butts–and the fish–were put into half-gallon–yes, a half a gallon–containers.

I don't know about you, but frankly, I have killed plenty of fish, without intending to, using perfectly good butt-less water.  Moreover, I have never seen so much cigarette litter anywhere near a beach or river or anywhere else except a puddle at a curb on a rainy day when you have to wait for a traffic light at a turn signal that would come anywhere close to 16-butts-per-half-a-gallon concentration, so I don't know how fish dying in half-gallon tanks conclusively proved anything with regard to the health of fish swimming in about a gazillion gallons of ocean water into which a few thousand cigarette butts have been carelessly thrown.

Now let me be clear:  I am both prepared and willing to believe that cigarettes and cigarette butts are generally filthy and unhealthy for fish and everyone else, and I generally don't favor the idea of cigarette butts (or anything else) littering our beaches (or anywhere else, for that matter–even the curb).  But, frankly, this experiment proved precisely nothing.  If they had put an onion, a dirty sock, and a teabag in the tanks and done the same thing, they might have gotten the same results (let alone sunscreen, sweat, and seagull excrement, which regularly infuse the waters along our nation's shorelines).

Here at PLF, we confront "junk science" a lot–that is, so-called "scientific evidence" that is less science in search of an answer than policy proscription in search of evidence.  Junk science is used to justify government regulation on any number of fronts, from species regulation to environmental regulations to health regulations to safety regulations.  As this article demonstrates, the scientific method is now so foreign to the general populace–including Time/CNN's online editors–that this ridiculous "study" is actually disseminated as though it provides critical information (outside of the fact, maybe, it is generally a bad thing to litter).

But here's the most interesting aspect of the article, as well as of the experiment itself:  having failed to convince the American populace that people killing themselves from cancer, heart attacks, and emphysema is reason enough to ban cigarettes, and having failed to persuade the public that second hand smoke killing children justifies banning cigarettes, these anti-tobacco activists undertook this experiment in the hope that it may have finally hit on the magic bullet:  convince the populace that smoking is killing fish.

It is an interesting, and frightening, implication on just how far environmentalism has seeped into the national consciousness if–even for a moment–we legitimately entertain the notion that the legality of smoking in this country should ultimately depend not upon whether we have the freedom to affect our own health or even that of other people, but whether we have the freedom to affect the health of fish.