Thursday, October 13, 2005

So here's what Bob's been up to

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:21 PM |  

Usually a troll in the comments of any blog posting anything about smoking bans, Bob Moffitt of the American Lung Association Minnesota Chapter has been noticeably absent from the Internet since declining to discuss smoking bans on the AM1280 The Patriot, thus in silence making his strongest defense of smoking bans. Apparently Bob has found a media more to his desire for opponentless presentation. This from a reader --

Yesterday the local branch of the American Lung Association called my house. A pleasant-sounding young woman asked whether I would add my name to a petition congratulating Peter McLaughlin for the Hennepin County smoking ban in eating and drinking establishments.

A year ago I probably would have said yes. However I told her no -- because I knew someone who owned an establishment that had been negatively impacted financially as a result, and I also felt this was an issue of civil liberties. I told her that I'm a nonsmoker and don't allow it in my house, but other people do need a place to smoke and socialize.

After the caller assured me that all opinions were respected and the conversation ended, I felt angry that taxpayers' or donors' money was being used in this politicized manner.
Key points -- the ALA campaign is intended to sway mayoral candidate Peter McLaughlin, who’s torn between a personal recognition that the smoking ban is causing many bar and restaurant owners economic harm and a politician's concern that smoking bans seem like a good idea to the majority of the public. Note the reader’s comment that a year ago she would have agreed to sign the petition -- a year ago when she was not informed and had not thought about the civil liberties issues.

Like most government regulation lacking criteria for consideration, a smoking ban looks like a no brainer. But when the idea is put in a larger and proper context, a thinking person quickly understands that health regulation without criteria and without scientific merit creates a government of unlimited power. Arbitrarily take away the economic liberty to pursue a legal business and one chips away the very foundation of individual rights.

A final point -- the reader’s reaction to the phone call is anger, and justly so. The ALA serves important education and research functions. But instead of pursing that mission, it’s spending donor contributions to rent the power of government and force individuals to act in a manner that its communications have failed to persuade them to do.

So, Bob has still been a busy little bee, and no doubt in the discussion-free world of telephone solicitation (using the charity exemption to get around the no-call law?) he’s gathering many names from uninformed citizens. But he’s also angering a lot of people as well by a gross misuse of donated funds. If he’s a worthy mayoral candidate, Peter McLaughlin will prove to be one of the angered.

UPDATE: I suppose it would be unreasonable to ask Bob for a copy of the study or an explanaition of the math or a timeframe for these statistics posted on his blog --

The Twin Cities Clean Cities Coalition (TC4) will join similar organizations across the country on Friday, Oct. 14, to celebrate displacing more than a billion gallons of oil, which could produce enough gasoline to fuel 2 million cars for a year! The United States now imports approximately two-thirds of the petroleum it uses. At $68 per barrel, we are now spending approximately $300 billion per year for imported petroleum; about $200 billion of this is for the transportation sector alone.

From a comment byMr. Moffitt on the Clearing the Air blog --

Secondhand smoke remains the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing as many as 62,000 nonsmokers each year.

Note the phrase "as many as 62,000." Any number less than 62,000 makes that a true statement. If 1 person dies of exposure to second hand smoke -- a person walks into a bar catches a wiff of secondhand smoke and rushes out into the street where he is hit by a bus, for example (Bob has never defined a "death from secondhand smoke") -- Bob's statement is true. The phrase also makes the number 62,000 irrelevant. Change the number of deaths to 100,000 and it doesn't change the validity of the statement.

A professional communicator should recognize the evasiveness value of the phrase "as many as." My only conclusion is that Bob is either a) intentionally misleading people, or b) he didn't recognize the evasiveness of the phrase, andas a professional communicator should revisit the study on which he based his statment and communicate a little more precisely -- especially as he is using these numbers to promote policies with economic impact on others.

I really am curious how Bob arrives at his conclusion. Bob could start by defining a secondhand smoke-caused death, then perhaps explain the function that is used to reach that conclusion and supports the number. Isn’t that the job of a communications professional?