21 September 2012

Stanton Glantz declares that hospitality workers' exposure to ETS is not "involuntary"

[Note:  This is a spinoff of this post at the anti-THR Lies blog, but (a) was slightly off topic for that blog and (b) deserves its own post.  See the other post for complete background.]

In a recent blog post, Stanton Glantz, one of the most prolifically dishonest proponents of banning smoking everywhere, regardless of private preferences, declared "OSHA PEL is not an appropriate standard for involuntary exposure".  He was arguing that OSHA workplace standards for chemical exposures are irrelevant to determining the acceptable level of environmental exposure from electronic cigarettes.  In so doing he was grossly misrepresenting the arguments he was responding to (see the Lies post), but his statement, per se, was a valid one.

Funny thing though:  The trouble with being willing to say anything to further one's political aims, regardless of whether it is honest or accurate, is that you eventually contradict yourself.  Few people have the intelligence and intellectual discipline to lie all the time that without tripping themselves up.

You see, the logic of what Glantz said (note: I provided a link to a definition of "logic" in case Glantz reads this and is not familiar with the term) is that in a job setting, someone is there voluntarily.  They are accepting the exposures in the workplace as part of what they endure by working (alongside spending their time and energy, etc.) but are getting compensated for (i.e., paid).  Workers in unpleasant or hazardous environments do indeed make more money than comparably-skilled workers in clean and easy environments.  That is perfectly reasonable.

But Glantz's main crusade, and the main topic of his lies (search the archives here or the Lies blog post for more details), is banning smoking anywhere he can.  To justify banning smoking in bars -- private places where people gather voluntarily -- he and his ilk claim that the workers need to be protected from their "involuntary" exposure to smoke.  Any non-idiot will immediately realize that employment in a bar is obviously not involuntary.  And guess what?  Apparently Glantz himself recognizes it.  He recognizes that workplace exposures are different from involuntary exposures to passers-by, and it is normal and acceptable to allow workers to accept possibly health-affecting exposures and demand whatever wage premium that warrants.

In short, Stanton Glantz just declared that the entire stated justification for banning smoking in pubs and other private gathering places is false.

I will go ahead and pre-respond to his obvious first response to this (or what would be his first response if he actually read beyond his own echo chamber):  He responds that an exposure in, say, a chemical plant is different from an exposure to vaping because chemical manufacture is "necessary" while vaping is not.  This fails for several reasons.  Economics easily shows that concepts like "necessary" are inherently nonsense.  Moreover, a particular level of exposure in a plant could always be reduced (and thus is not "necessary" in a different sense).  Moreover, there is a simple factual point:  If Glantz had some expertise in public health, he would know that among the worst jobsites for exposure to the types of chemicals he is fretting about are not chemical plants, but beauty salons and auto body repainting shops.  These hardly seem any more "necessary" than e-cigarette use.

If he has any further response, other than to sputter and insist -- with no basis other than his personal pique -- that e-cigarette use is somehow different from beauty salons, I cannot think of it.  Assuming no response is forthcoming, I encourage everyone who is interested in the smoking ban issue to cite Glantz's statement as a retort anytime someone tries to justify smoking bans in private gathering places with some version of, "but think of the workers! won't someone please think of the workers?"


  1. I think that most people are not aware of what they are exposed to work ("nobody comes to work to be safe") and some of the more objectively hazardous jobs are low-paid. So, although "danger pay" exists, in US at least (http://aoprals.state.gov/content.asp?content_id=177&menu_id=81), it is an exception rather to the rule. Think of janitors, cooks, construction workers, etc. Thus, in developing regulations and workplace standards, it it seems more constructive to focus on hazard of ETS etc and assume that employees have the same understanding of such risks (and ability to voluntarily assume them) as Glantz et co.

    1. I should have known that I could not get away with oversimplifying on this blog -- even tangential points :-P. It is definitely true that in our increasingly neo-feudal economy, the people who are functionally peasants get little or nothing in the way of risk premium in their wages. This is partially because they do not understand they are being put at risk, though more because their wages are all set by some lower bound rather than market competition. I was anchoring my thinking on a chemical plant worker, Glantz's own example. Someone at those skill levels (not counting the janitors) can expect some risk premium -- or at least the pre-Depression economics showed they got it. I think that there is pretty good support in the economics literature that construction workers are enough above peasant levels that they do command risk premiums. (RIght now, in the economic depression, it gets really complicated, when there is deflationary pressure on sticky wages, but that is way deeper into the economics than this blog usually goes.)

      In any case, the main thesis still stands, in part for the reason you cite. Bartenders are going to be much better informed about hazards than janitors. Any everyone "knows" that ETS is a serious hazard (which is to say, pretty much everyone will overestimate the risk because they are fed a constant barrage of exaggerations". Thus, not only does a bartender know what she is exposing herself to, but she probably overestimates the hazard. With that knowledge, she *chooses* to take the job at the given wage level, freely and legitimately accepting -- as Glantz argues -- a level of exposure that we might choose to not force on people who are involuntarily present in the room. (Which, since most pubs do not take hostages or conscript people, is no one who is there.)

  2. I'd like to hear Glantz's, or anybody else's, justification of the UK smoking ban. Not many people know that it specifically includes volunteer workers. This is to prevent smokers renting or buying premises and forming a smoking club, staffed on a rota by volunteer (smoking) members. Of course, we have gone way past this argument when the anti tobacco industry has shown its true colours by mutating into the the anti nicotine (except nicotine sold by drug companies) industry and seeking a ban on ecigs.

    1. Most of them just talk in circles and avoid offering a clear justification for anything. Occasionally they are accidentally honest and make clear that they are just using workers, children, etc. for an agenda of "nobody *should* be doing that at all, ever". And I agree that the anti-smoke-free positions make it quite clear that their stated motives are lies.


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