Blowing smoke - fanned by big bucks - is what the tobacco industry does best. So a district judge's ruling that secondhand smoke is not a dangerous carcinogen should be treated as another industry smoke screen intended to deflect liability for the manufacturing and marketing of a deadly product.

Judge William Osteen - in the tobacco state of North Carolina, no less - struck down a pivotal 1993 Environmental Protection Agency ruling that secondhand smoke increases the risk of cancer. Fortunately, his profession allows for appeals - something not available to the estimated 3,000 who die annually from ingesting exhaled smoke.The danger is that Osteen's ruling will be taken seriously and used by an industry proven to be deceitful in efforts to overturn smoking bans in public places. Osteen said the EPA did not demonstrate a "significant association" between secondhand smoke and lung cancer, a fact contradicted by reams of scientific evidence. And he was critical that the federal government did not adequately bring the tobacco industry into the de-lib-er-a-tions.

Both charges are ludicrous, the first flying in the face of independent science and the second contrary to common sense. The government need not involve cigarette manufacturers in deliberations to objectively establish the harmful nature of cigarettes.

Big tobacco called the ruling vindication against the EPA for becoming a participant in the anti-smoking "industry's" effort to ban smoking. That anti-smoking "industry" is nothing more than a health-conscious, medically backed movement to eliminate America's deadliest and most expensive health enemy.

Working through their lawyers to gain every advantage while their scientists are conspicuously silent, cigarette producers claim the decision undermines all public smoking bans. What folly. Osteen said only that the EPA overstated the cancer risk from secondhand smoke.

That is vehemently disputed by many reputable entities and should not lead to policy changes in Utah or elsewhere. The hazards of secondhand smoke are well-documented. There is sufficient data and enough public sentiment to sustain bans that merely used the 1993 EPA study to support their positions. It would not be difficult, health considerations aside, to garner public sentiment opposed to smoking due to its patently offensive nature.

Finally, somewhat laughable is the notion of the tobacco industry calling into question the integrity of any ruling or policy not in its favor. This is the same bunch that, given recent revelations of its underhanded tactics to hook youthful consumers, should have zero credibility and public standing on matters directly related to its own bottom line - its only real concern.