Blog: The Fire Ninja takes a stand against smoking in the fire service
on 11 July, 2013

Imagine that I came up with a new product, let’s say a new candy, and I went before a board of investors and government officials and I proposed the following:

‘I would like to make a candy and market it to the world. It will have chemicals in it that make it habit forming so I’m hoping to eventually reach a market of 900 million people. Out of those 900 million, my product will kill 50% of them at a rate of approximately 5 million per year. If things go well, I hope to have those numbers up to 8 million per year by 2030. What’s more, my candy even kills people that aren’t even eating it. Around 49,000 people per year will die just from being exposed to it! But wait! Wait until you hear my finance numbers!

‘My budget for advertising the candy is 8.37 billion per year. That works out to about 23 million dollars per day, but I’m expecting to earn about 35 billion per year, so that’s a fair return on my advertising expenses. Here’s where it get really interesting. Although I’m going to make 35 billion per year, the annual expense to the public is going to be 193 billion. That’s 97 billion on lost productivity and 96 billion in related health care. So my profit is a tiny fraction of what it actually costs society to enjoy my candy!’

How do you think that proposal would fly today? 

Obviously my example is a fanciful attempt at highlighting the incredible numbers that are involved with smoking, but none of them were fabricated. These are all validated by the Center for Disease Control and can be found on its website.

This is an issue that’s been discussed and considered at great length, but any intelligent person that actually sits down and reads some of the data involved would be blown away by the facts. But it’s not just a simple matter of; ‘people should quit smoking.’ This is an insidious conspiracy to sell a toxic product to people and somehow validate it as a part of modern society. It’s absolutely mind-boggling to accept some of these truths. But what’s harder to believe is how slow we are to recognize them and do something about them.

Let’s discuss some history.

In the United States, we have what is currently known as the Food and Drug Administration, which got its official name on June 30th, 1930 but actually began with the passing of the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906. The origins of attempting to protect society go all the way back to 1848 when Lewis Caleb Beck was appointed as an inspector in the patent office and essentially tasked with verifying that manufacturer’s claims about their products were true. Most of the products that he reviewed were agricultural in nature, but it wasn’t much of a stretch to see the connections to the food we consumed as Americans.

In 1883, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley was appointed as the Chief Chemist for the Department of Agriculture and although he had a specific passion for agricultural chemistry he also maintained a secret curiosity for testing pharmaceuticals. While not specifically in his scope of responsibility, he began gathering data on common products that people were consuming. A standout among them was Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, which was intended for teething babies. We did not have the media networks or access to information that we enjoy today, but even for back then a series of baby deaths raised the attention of the public and Dr. Wiley began investigating the ingredients.

At the time, there were no regulations whatsoever on these types of products. The manufacturers weren’t required to list what was in them, the amount of ‘active ingredients’ or even the recommended dosage. The quaint label on the bottle said; ‘Mother’s Helper for Teething Children.’ Dr. Wiley determined that the babies were dying because the solution was mostly alcohol laced with morphine, which based on the dosage would depress the respiratory drive of the infant until they went into a coma and would finally submit to “chemical strangulation.”

Nothing gets people talking like dead babies and things really got rolling after the ‘Soothing syrup’ incident. Dr. Wiley began dedicating himself to foods and pharmaceuticals and in 1902 organized a group of young, healthy volunteers that called themselves the Poison Squad. These people would actually consume things that were suspected of being spoiled, diluted, tainted or sometimes even deliberately poisoned. In the early days they would consume some of the food in question as it was intended to be eaten, but Dr. Wiley eventually found it more efficient to make capsules of the ‘suspected poison’ and the volunteers would ingest them daily and track their symptoms. During one study, the members of the Poison Squad were asked to swallow 7.5 gram capsules of Borax every day for 60 days. (Borax, or sodium borate is a naturally occurring boron compound that has been used for everything from detergent booster to cockroach killer. In the 1900’s it was frequently added to food as a preservative / insect repellent.)

Dr. Wiley when writing his memoirs, recounted this charming anecdote: ‘Many of the men became symptomatic and unwell (although apparently not seriously so) and the results were accepted as proving that many preservatives were harmful. No deaths were attributed to the ‘poisons’, and one of the volunteers lived into his 90’s.’

Dr. Wiley and his team continued their research and they worked exhaustively to raise awareness of these issues in the early 1900’s until finally on the 30th of June 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Pure Food and Drugs Act. Dr. Wiley is a fascinating character and he fought incredible battles with special interests groups in the nation’s capital.  At times he frequently had multiple death threats pending against him. Even in the 1900’s the power of money and special interest in Washington was an incredible force. A ruling by Dr. Wiley, that a product was unsafe, was essentially a death sentence for that manufacturer and the political leverage involved was not lost on the Father of the FDA. If it puts it into perspective for you, Dr. Wiley is the reason that there is no longer cocaine in Coca-Cola, and he lobbied aggressively to have the caffeine removed as well.

So how does that bring us to today’s topic, smoking?

 Timeline, that’s where.

Here is the mission statement for the FDA:

The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation

From that mission statement, wouldn’t you be able to deduce that tobacco products were covered by the scope of the FDA? After all, tobacco is a plant and we know that nicotine is a drug, right? But, due to the lobbyists and deep pockets of the Tobacco industry, tobacco was excluded from federal oversight or regulation ever since the FDA was formed and officially recognized in 1930. It wasn’t until 1995, 65 years later that the FDA began to get involved and finally determined that cigarettes were a ‘drug delivery device.’ By 1996 they released the ‘FDA Rule’ which outlined the first efforts of regulation and education for the public, but Big Tobacco immediately took them to court, charging that the FDA had no right to impact the profit that they made off of selling poison to people.

It went back and forth in court until finally on March 19th, 2010 President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. An act that finally, after 80 years, gave clear and specific regulation to the FDA on tobacco products in the United States. But even recognizing that significant accomplishment, try to come to grips with this fact.

Now that tobacco officially falls under their jurisdiction, it is the only product that they regulate out of literally millions and millions of products that when used as the manufacturer recommends causes proven medical complications and DEATH!

We’re three years into it now, and there are an estimated 900 million people smoking. It is the single leading preventable cause of death on the planet! And yet still, there are those that want to argue the right to smoke, so let me bring this full circle and outline my concept on smoking in the fire service.

In a recent blog, (The Importance of staying fit as a firefighter/ 29 MAY) I explained how seriously I take that first pledge that every new firefighter makes.

Save Lives and Protect Property.

If I choose to participate in a personal habit that interferes with my ability to perform those functions, then I am not only dishonoring the fraternal order and noble history of the fire service, I am also cheating the very people that I’ve sworn to serve.

There is no place for smoking in the fire service.

 For god’s sake we wear thousands of dollars’ worth of protective equipment to prevent us from breathing smoke! How can a firefighter rationalise actually doing it on purpose?

If you’re a firefighter and you smoke, take a hard look at yourself.

Take a look at the perspective that you present to those around you.

Take a look at the facts involved, the data that’s been accumulated and the millions of lives that are affected by this absolutely OPTIONAL cause of death.

 Wherever, however…find a way to quit and inspire those around you to do the same.

~ Fire Ninja ~

  • Operation Florian

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