How gas hobs became America’s latest culture war

Row caused by suggestion gas hobs might be banned on grounds of being a health hazard

Woman cooking on a gas hob
Around 40% of American households own a gas hob
(Image credit: Grace Cary/Getty Images)

Republicans’ capacity for launching “new dumb culture wars” never ceases to amaze, said James Downie on MSNBC. Their latest cause? Defending Americans’ God-given right to cook over an open flame.

A furore blew up following comments by Richard Trumka Jr, of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), who suggested in an interview that his agency was looking at regulating gas hobs, and might even ban them on the grounds that they’re a health hazard.

Amid an ensuing row, the CPSC walked back Trumka’s comments, insisting it had no plans to ban gas hobs, but that didn’t stop Republicans making out that the 40% of American households who own them are about to have their cookers confiscated. Florida congressman Matt Gaetz declared that they’d have to “pry” his gas cooker “from my COLD DEAD HANDS!”

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Not some imaginary threat

Talk about “gaslighting”, said Jonah Goldberg in The Dispatch. Sure, there was some “over-the-top” rhetoric from Republicans in the wake of Trumka’s interview – congressman Jim Jordan’s solemn tweet, “God. Guns. Gas stoves” was a particularly embarrassing example. But Republicans weren’t cooking up some imaginary threat: they were reacting to an unambiguous statement by a member of a federal agency empowered to regulate kitchen appliances. Trumka plainly meant what he said, until the uproar made him and his agency backtrack.

As crazy as it sounds, liberal policymakers “really are coming for your stove”, said The Wall Street Journal. San Francisco and New York City have already prohibited gas connections in new developments, and the New York governor, Kathy Hochul, recently called for a state-wide ban starting in 2025.

A sense of proportion

It’s true, there is a real movement to ban gas hobs, said Megan McArdle in The Washington Post. And whether or not you’re convinced by the recent study suggesting that more than 12% of childhood asthma cases in the US could be attributable to gas hobs, it’s clear that these cookers do present some mild health risks. Burning gas “produces carbon monoxide, fine particulate matter and other unlovely by-products you don’t want in your house”.

But we need to keep a sense of proportion. Most of the risks can no doubt be mitigated by turning on the extractor fan or ensuring your kitchen is decently ventilated. Environmentalists should stop trying to force the pace on this issue. Over time, Americans will likely switch to induction cookers, which are as responsive as gas ones but cleaner and more efficient.

Talking up the benefits of this technology, or lobbying for tax credits to incentivise people to switch, will achieve far more than pushing for a federal ban on gas hobs, which will only provoke Americans to cling more fiercely to them. What’s required here is more carrot and less stick.

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