Saturday, April 22, 2006

ACSH > Facts & Fears > Secondhand smoke danger overstated big time!

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"Second, the anti-smoking movement has gone off the deep end over secondhand smoke (also known as environmental tobacco smoke).

Sure, exposure to cigarette smoke has all types of negative acute effects, including increased risk of earaches, inner ear infections, asthma, upper respiratory ailments, and more. No argument about that. And it smells nasty, makes your clothes and hair stink, and can ruin a perfectly nice dinner (ACSH did a report in 1999 on the limited but real effects of secondhand smoke).

But anti-smokers can't let it rest at that. They claim that even transient exposure to secondhand smoke causes everything from breast cancer to heart disease.

A few egregious examples: a leading tobacco researcher made the improbable claim that the smoking ban in Helena, Montana resulted in a 40% decline in heart attack admissions in a six-month period after the ban. 'We used to think that heart disease came after years of exposure' said Dr. Richard Sargent, an anti-smoking Montana physician, who then went on to argue that even short-term exposure to exhaled smoke can damage the heart: 'if you go into a restaurant for a sandwich, if you go into a bar for a beer, and you get exposed to a heavy amount of secondhand smoke, you're just as at risk for a heart attack as a smoker.'

Sargent, vice chairman of the Montana Tobacco Advisory Board, noted that secondhand smoke has 'an acute, rapid effect on the heart...[T]hirty minutes of exposure doubles your risk for the next forty-eight hours.'

Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights makes similar claims: 'even a half hour of secondhand smoke exposure causes heart damage similar to that of habitual smokers. Nonsmokers' heart arteries showed a reduced ability to dilate, diminishing the ability of the heart to get life-giving blood.'

Give me a break.

While being exposed to cigarette smoke for hours a day for many years certainly could have negative effects, it is unacceptable to use such exaggerated claims to justify a ban on smoking.

The good news is that the radical anti-smoking movement may at last have met its, er, match. Dr. Michael Siegel, a physician specializing in preventive medicine -- and an anti-smoking activist in his own right -- is taking on these hyperbolists. In his Tobacco Analysis blog, he calls these claims -- often used to justify outdoor smoking bans -- 'ridiculous.'

Funny thing about communication in science and medicine. When a politically correct theory or claim takes hold and is loudly trumpeted ( as in 'secondhand smoke, even in trace amounts, kills'), dissenters are terrified to step forward and challenge that theory lest (a) they be called apologists for, in this case, the cigarette industry or (b) they be accused of not getting on the bandwagon of what is an inherently good public health cause.

At this point, with their hype and self-righteousness, the anti-smokers really have gone too far -- they have triggered a counterattack. Stay tuned for a major magazine expose by a well-known journalist (and network TV segment) on the smoke-and-mirrors statistics being spewed out by anti-smokers who decry the health effects of secondhand smoke to justify banning even outdoor smoking.

The moral of the story: stick to science. Cigarette smoking is a multi-faceted disaster for the smoker and for those who are exposed to secondhand smoke for long periods of time. Nothing is to be gained by exaggerating this already-grim story to get even more attention. The only result of such hyperbole is the loss of credibility of the public health profession."

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