ABC's 20/20 on Friday night revealed the common "myth" being disseminated widely to the public by more than 65 anti-smoking groups that just 20 or 30 minute of exposure to secondhand smoke substantially increases your risk of a fatal heart attack. This fallacious claim being made by anti-smoking groups has been discussed extensively on this blog.
According to the 20/20 segment: "activists now say just 20 or 30 minutes of smoke puts you on the road to a deadly heart attack. Dr. Michael Siegel, a leading advocate of bans on smoking in the workplace because of the harm from daily exposure to secondhand smoke, says the 20 or 30 minute claims are ridiculous. 'If someone is just exposed for 30 minutes, it's completely reversible, and it's not gonna cause hardening of the arteries,' Siegel said. Siegel, who helped ban smoking in restaurants and bars, now says his movement is distorting science. 'It has turned into more of a crusade,' Siegel said. 'The cause has kind of taken over." ... 'I think the documented health effects of secondhand smoke are enough. I don't think we need to be stretching the truth,' Siegel said."
The Rest of the Story
I think that John Stossel and the 20/20 production team did a tremendous job putting this segment together. I think they got it exactly right. And it is not an easy or simple story to get. There are a lot of subtleties that could have easily been lost with even slightly less care and attention.
The story is that the science is being distorted in order to support smoking bans. And in this case, completely fallacious scientific claims are being made to promote increasingly intrusive and now unjustified policies that are not supported by the actual science. The main subtlety is that while the claims regarding the chronic health effects of secondhand smoke are reasonable, the claims regarding the acute cardiovascular effects (the "20" and "30" minute claims) are not. And I think due to the hard work of the production team, 20/20 got it exactly right.
This story is now out there. I'm very glad that this is now in the public's view. I think that's where it needs to be, because so far, with the story being one only within the anti-smoking community, absolutely nothing has happened. There has been absolutely no response, no expression of any remorse, no admission that anything is wrong with this distortion of the truth.
So now the public is aware of the false claims being made by the anti-smoking groups. I'm glad that at least something is being done to prevent further damage that would be caused by continuing to make these fallacious and irresponsible claims.
This is just the first step. But eventually, I am hopeful that the truth will come out. The public deserves nothing less.