This is an archived article that was published on in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A couple of years ago, in response to data that showed wood smoke contributed as much of the deadliest particulate pollution as all our cars during a typical winter inversion, Gov. Gary Herbert appropriately proposed a winter time ban on wood stoves. But public hearings that followed were then turned into three ring circuses by a few hundred angry wood burners, with lots of help from the wood burning appliance industry, the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Assoc. (HPBA), who flew people in from out of state to help stoke up the push back (they handed out business cards at the hearings).

Then the Legislature went to work, as they often do, listening only to a small band of special interests — the "burners" and the HPBA — and promptly proceeded to make it easier, not harder, to burn wood. Now the wood burning industry is on the verge of receiving yet another round of special treatment. Manufacturers and sellers of meat smokers who want us all to "join the wood-fired revolution" and become "BBQ heroes" who stand to benefit handsomely if the governor signs the recently passed House Bill 65. The rest of us not so much.

This bill prohibits restriction on burning solid fuel (wood and coal) if the "primary purpose" is to cook food. The end result will be any burning device — a meat smoker, back yard fire pit, chiminea or even a pile of wet leaves — can be cranked up by a neighbor, grocery store or restaurant whenever they like, regardless of how much smoke is created, where it drifts or how long it goes on. This would be legalized even on no-burn days when the air quality is already seriously degraded, as long as there's a hot dog near by. The frosting on the cake is that it also prohibits any future regulation on cooking devices that the DAQ may consider necessary to meet air quality standards.

To smoke or cook food on an open flame is hardly anyone's necessity. In fact, the growing epicurial fad of smoking food represents a huge set back for public health, and a personal choice that is one of the most unhealthy of culinary endeavors. Wood smoke is probably the most toxic type of pollution the average person ever inhales. Burning 10 pounds of wood for one hour releases as many toxic chemicals as 6,000 packs of cigarettes. Wood smoke creates free radicals that are active 40 times longer than those found in second hand cigarette smoke and 12 times more prone to cause cancer. Wood smoke easily penetrates the indoor air of homes nearby and, with no indoor storm to blow it out, can linger there long after the smoked ribs have disappeared.

If an expensive restaurant advertised that they let their ribs sit on top of 6,000 smoldering packs of Marlboros for hours on end, would you be standing in line to get in? How about if they bragged that their meat had been saturated with diesel truck exhaust until mouth watering, tender and juicy? The toxic chemicals in wood smoke are as harmful if ingested, as if they are inhaled, causing chromosomal damage, immune system suppression, and multiple types of cancer, i.e. pancreatic, colorectal and prostate.

If someone smokes cigarettes despite their obvious dangers, physicians can only wish them on their merry way until they get sick. But we no longer allow those same people to impose tobacco's health risks on others. If someone wants to eat smoked meat despite the dangers, we wish them on their merry way as well. But the Legislature has no business granting unique sanctuary to anyone thoughtless enough to impose wood smoke's health risks on others.

Businesses, corporations and their paid lobbyists wielding their way through Utah's Capitol Hill is hardly anything new. But regardless of how common, citizens should never tolerate the Legislature catering to business interests more than protecting public health. Herbert has a chance to make this right. We urge him to veto HB 65, not just because we need to do everything we can to clean up our air, but because he should also send a message to legislators that protecting the health of Utah's families should be their number one priority.

Howie Garber, M.D., is on the board of directors of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.