10 February 2012

Madness, Sheer Madness

This time in regards to second-hand smoke:

A study just released by the CDC (see here) characterizes second-hand smoke as the latest threat to “safety” – and of course, “the children.” It urges what you’d expect: That it be made illegal to smoke in your own car, at least, if “the children” are present and possibly even if they’re not. For as any smoker knows – as anyone who has shopped for used cars knows – any car that has been smoked in retains the essence of the Marlboro Man for years, even decades after the last butt was crumpled in the ashtray. There is no way to objectively tell whether a car was smoked in last week – or 10 minutes ago. Hence, it is likely that any evidence of smoking – ever – will presently become sufficient excuse for the police to issue tickets, stop people at gunpoint and perhaps even confiscate their vehicles (as is routinely done when another form of smoke is discovered).

Let’s take the logic of this proposition to its logical conclusion:  If it should be illegal for a someone to smoke a cigarette in a car if a child is present because the secondhand smoke of said cigarette poses a serious health threat (i.e. a serious, potentially life-ending illness), shouldn’t it also be illegal to drive children anywhere, given the likelihood of them dying in a car wreck?  If you can act the former law in the name of children’s safety, how can you not enact the latter?  After all, not all cars, nor car drives, involve inhaling second-hand smoke, whereas all cars and trips are at risk for involvement in an accident.  As such, suffering from second-hand smoke inhalation while riding in a car is a subset of the general health risks associated with riding in a car.  And if you ban the subset, you must ban the set in order to be logically consistent.

At any rate, it should be clear just how absurd this law really is.  In the first place, it hasn’t even been proven that secondhand smoke actually kills people.*  In the second case, even it had been proven that secondhand smoke kills people, it doesn’t make sense to ban smoking in cars in the name of safety without also banning both a) smoking in general and b) cars.

* This hilarious website claims that over 53,000 people are killed annually by secondhand smoke.  It then cites its methodology.  First commenter to correctly identify the logical fallacy demonstrated in the assertion wins.


  1. post hoc ergo propter hoc?

    Sorry, logic was a long time ago for me, I really need to refresh my knowledge in that area.

    Either way, dumb dumb dumb. And the problem is that people are no longer taught logical reasoning or rhetoric in school.

    True story: I asked an educational thought-leader once about going back to basics and teaching kids, starting grade 5 or 6, about logic and argument and how to both dissect and construct logical arguments. His response: kids learn best when they discover on their own, and being forced to learn outmoded material kills their natural curiosity.

    You cannot argue with these people, because they don't know how to. They are so convinced of their moral and intellectual superiority (but in the most humble of ways, mind you) that facts mean nothing to them.

  2. @Cranberry- post hoc, also called assuming the affirmative, is correct.

    And yes, you're quite correct in noting that logic is sadly missing from modern education. It is foolish, and ultimately cruel to even assume that most children will learn logic organically. When they do, it will almost always be part of a an incredibly painful lesson.

  3. Iv'e seen that 53,000 number thrown around before, and when I looked into the numbers it usually says 48,000 are from heart disease. Could all 48,000 that died from heart disease be from second hand smoke? Could diet, genetics or any other factors be the cause? I'm guessing because a link has been established between smoking and heart disease, they are now free to blame all 48,000 cases of heart disease on smoking regardless of weather it was a factor or not.

  4. "Could all 48,000 that died from heart disease be from second hand smoke?"

    That's just the thing--they're assuming that's the case. They have no proof. I will readily grant that it's entirely within the realm of possibility that second-hand smoke can cause these problems. But there are a host of other factors, such as the ones you mentioned, that could cause the same problems. As such, the number is simply unreliable, and cannot, nor should not, be trusted.