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Evidence, ethics, hubris and the future of second-hand smoke policy
  1. Simon Chapman
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor S Chapman
 School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Edward Ford Building A27, Australia; sc{at}

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Smoke-free workplaces and public places—the ongoing debate

The news that French bars and restaurants will be smoke free by the end of 2007 led to hundreds of headlines, impelled by a “myth turned on its head” subtext. The tedious cliché that every second French citizen’s birthright requires them to sit in cafes smoking Gauloises and sipping pastis while reading Jean-Paul Sartre is about as accurate today as the view that Ireland is a nation of potato diggers or that all Italians obey the Pope’s dictums on contraception. Smokers have long been a minority in all three of these countries. Nonetheless, an “if they can, anyone can” incredulity has made these three nations’ decisions to ban smoking in bars globally newsworthy. Californian leadership was vital, but discounted by reasoning that alluded to their reputation for having all sorts of eccentric proclivities when it comes to diet and health. If, as expected, France follows the Irish and Italian experience with only minor enforcement problems and failure of the bar economy to collapse,1,2 doomsayers in the tobacco industry and its third-party acolytes will surely have nowhere to turn in halting the global domino effect.

But there are worrying signs in the euphoria of what has now become almost predictable, repeated policy success. A small minority on the fringe of tobacco control are starting to hand hostages to fortune and abandon the sacrosanct ethical3 and evidence-based principles that underpin all good public health policy.

The global push for smoke-free workplaces and public spaces was built on a bedrock of research about second-hand smoke (SHS) being harmful. Door-stopper-sized review volumes4 have synthesised this evidence, which has, with rare exceptions, been gathered from studying those who have been chronically …

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  • Competing interests: None declared.