And a survey of the first 28 anti-smoking groups I reported were spreading fallacious information to the public reveals that not a single one of these organizations have corrected, retracted, or clarified their inaccurate claims in any way.
As of the writing of this post:
- SmokeFreeOhio is still telling the public that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure causes narrowing of blood vessels and hardening of the arteries;
- SmokeFreeOhio is still telling the public that 2 hours of secondhand smoke exposure increases your risk of a fatal or catastrophic cardiac arrhythmia;
- SmokeFreeOhio is still telling the public that just 20 minute of secondhand smoke exposure increases a nonsmoker's risk of a heart attack and reduces the ability of the heart to pump;
- Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights is still telling the public that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure causes as much heart damage in a nonsmoker as active smoking does in a chronic smoker;
- Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights is still telling the public that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure decreases the ability of the heart of a nonsmoker to get life-giving blood; and
- Action on Smoking and Health is still telling the public that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure among nonsmokers increases their risk of a fatal heart attack to that of a smoker.
- Hardening of the arteries takes many years; it cannot occur in 30 minutes;
- There is no evidence that 2 hours of secondhand smoke exposure causes fatal or catastrophic cardiac arrhythmias in nonsmokers;
- There is no evidence that 20 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure increases the risk of a heart attack in nonsmokers without severe existing coronary artery disease and there is no evidence that it affects the ability of the heart to pump;
- It is preposterous to suggest that just 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure can cause as much damage as lifelong exposure to tobacco smoke via active smoking;
- The evidence shows that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure does not reduce coronary blood flow;
- It is preposterous to claim that just 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure can increase a nonsmoker's risk of a fatal heart attack to the same level as if the same person smoked 1-2 packs per day for 40 years.
It is one thing to make a mistake. But it is another thing to continue spreading false information when you know it to be false.
If this is what is occurring, then the anti-smoking movement is going to quickly lose its credibility and ruin its reputation because it will become clear that we don't care about the accuracy of our public communications, only about the agenda that we are promoting.
Now I suppose one could argue that SmokeFreeOhio actually believes the crap they are putting out. But if this is the case, then the anti-smoking movement is also going to quickly lose its credibility and ruin its reputation because it will become clear that we have no competence in the scientific arena and cannot be trusted to make meaningful scientific claims.
The situation is quite depressing to me because it seems that either way we are in serious trouble.
Either we don't care about scientific integrity, in which case we are little better than the tobacco companies who we are fighting and who we attack all the time for their own lack of scientific integrity, or we are not competent to make accurate scientific claims, in which case we may be well-intentioned but unfortunately will be unable to retain any credibility (nor should we).
I would feel a whole lot better now if I saw anti-smoking groups reacting quickly and correcting their false scientific claims. Or if I saw them removing their claims right away while a careful review took place. But I don't see either one of these occurring.
I am deeply troubled by this not only because I fear that the reputation and credibility of the anti-smoking movement is at stake, but also because I view our movement as betraying the public trust. I think that as public health practitioners, we have accepted the responsibility of communicating science accurately to the public and we have been bestowed with a certain degree of public trust. Right now, we are not living up to that level of responsibility and we are betraying the public's trust.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not arguing that this is intentional. It may all just be a mistake in the interpretation or presentation of the science. But whatever the reason, the widespread claims that we are making are false and they need to be corrected. We owe it to the public. We owe it to our profession. And we owe it to our honor and integrity.