Monday, June 05, 2006

14 More Anti-Smoking Groups Found to Be Making Fallacious Claims about Acute Cardiovascular Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Here they are:

Tobacco Public Policy Center:"A recent study completed by Japanese researchers concluded that just 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to hardening of the arteries in nonsmokers."

That's absolutely impossible. You can't get atherosclerosis in just 30 minutes. It takes years of exposure. Even active smokers do not get atherosclerosis from just 30 minutes of smoking. You have to smoke for years to get atherosclerosis. Moreover, the study does not conclude that 30 minutes of exposure can lead to hardening of the arteries. It concludes that 30 minutes of exposure causes endothelial dysfunction, which if repeated over time due to chronic exposure, could result in atherosclerosis.

Asthma Initiative of Michigan: " as little as 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke, the nonsmokers’ blood flow dropped to the same level as people who had smoked a pack of cigarettes. After short amounts of exposure, secondhand smoke had caused damage to the cells that line the heart and blood vessels, causing them to narrow or constrict. This narrowing can lead to hardening or thickening of the arteries and heart disease."

Actually, the study showed that coronary blood flow in exposed nonsmokers was not affected. It did not drop to the level observed in active smokers. What fell was the coronary flow reserve velocity, or the arteries' ability to dilate in response to hyperemia. The coronary blood flow was documented not to be affected by acute secondhand smoke exposure. And again, it's impossible for a 30-minute exposure to lead to hardening of the arteries.

Minnesota Smoke-Free Coalition: "Non-smokers are harmed by even brief exposures to passive smoke, according to a study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. ... The study showed that after only short periods of exposure, secondhand smoke contributed to narrowing of blood vessels, restricted flow of blood and hardening of the arteries."

The study did not show any effect on narrowing of blood vessels or on hardening of the arteries. It documented no effect on basal coronary blood flow and obviously, did not study hardening of the arteries at all since it only followed subjects for 30 minutes.

Audubon Area Community Services, Inc.: "As little as 30 minutes of secondhand smoke can lead to hardening of the arteries in nonsmokers, Japanese researchers reported at an American Heart Association (AHA) meeting in November."

No further comment.

Central Iowa Tobacco-Free Partnership: "Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke for just 30 minutes experience hardening of the arteries."

No further comment.

Smoke-Free Environments Law Project: "Even 30 minutes of SHS exposure dramatically increases the short-term risk of heart attack due to the immediate effect that SHS has on the cardiovascular system of nonsmokers."

That sounds quite scary. And it sounds like it is intentionally trying to scare people. But other than someone with severe coronary artery disease, there is no evidence of any increased risk of heart attack due to an immediate effect of secondhand smoke. Even among those with coronary artery disease, there is no evidence of what the increased risk of heart attack may be, if any.

Smoke Free Catawba: "Only 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke puts the cardiovascular system (heart) of a nonsmoker in the same state as a regular smoker. ... Health Effects of Short-Term Exposure to Secondhand Smoke on the Heart: ... 30 Minutes of Exposure = Stiffened, Clogged Arteries ... All of these effects increase the long-term risks of developing heart disease and increase the immediate risk of heart attack."

You can't get clogged arteries in 30 minutes. So this claim is completely implausible. And if the state of an active smoker's heart is no worse than that of someone exposed to 30 minutes of secondhand smoke, then we are really going to discourage smokers from quitting. Why should they if their cardiac health is only as bad as someone who is temporarily exposed to secondhand smoke on a single occasion? This is not only an inaccurate and fallacious claim, but it undermines the public's appreciation of the risks of active smoking. All in an attempt to create a dramatic emotional response to the effects of secondhand smoke.

American Heart Association: "30 minutes exposure = stiffened, clogged arteries. ... All of these effects not only increase the long term risks of developing heart disease, but also increase
the immediate risk of heart attack."

No further comment.

North Carolina Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program: "After 30 minutes [of secondhand smoke exposure]: Your arteries show the same damage as a longtime smoker."

No further comment.

Michigan Tribal Tobacco Coalition: "Heart attack risk doubles for 48 hours after exposure to passive smoking."

This seems to come out of nowhere. Even if it were true that acute secondhand smoke exposure increases heart attack risk, as a theoretical concern, there is simply no evidence upon which to base a claim that there is a doubling of risk.

University of Kentucky College of Nursing: "30 minutes of exposure increases the build up of fat deposits in blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. 2-hours of exposure increases the chance of irregular heart beat that can be fatal or trigger a heart attack."

The evidence simply does not support the contention that a 2 hour exposure increases the risk of a catastrophic or fatal arrhythmia. This claim is fallacious.

Bradford City Teaching Primary Care Trust: "Within 30 minutes of exposure, platelets thicken, triggering clot formation."

Impossible. Clots cannot form in just 30 minutes. Even in active smokers, you don't see them developing clogged arteries before they reach about at least 40 years old.

Health Sponsorship Council (New Zealand): "if you spend just 30 minutes in a smoky venue, you risk damaging the lining of your arteries, your blood will become more sticky and you will increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke."

There is no evidence to support this claim.

New York City Department of Health: "WARNING: Just 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can greatly increase your risk of heart attack."

This claim apparently appeared in a New York Times advertisement taken out to support a proposed ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. In this case, the unsubstantiated and misleading claim was made to support a specific public policy by irresponsibly scaring people and trying to create an emotional reaction based on false or misleading data.

The Rest of the Story

I feel like I'm losing count, but I believe this brings us up to a total of no fewer than 82 anti-smoking and health groups that are making fallacious claims about the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke.

Obviously, this cannot be viewed as simply a few fringe groups getting carried away. It has become quite clear that these inaccurate claims are characteristic of the mainstream efforts of the anti-smoking movement to try to sensationalize the public's view of the hazards of secondhand smoke.

Two points are deserving of comment at this point.

First, for the sake of argument, let's stipulate that these anti-smoking groups are correct in their claims and that a transient exposure to secondhand smoke is enough to cause hardening of the arteries in nonsmokers. If that were the case, then it is irresponsible and inexcusable for these health groups not to be calling on an immediate ban on smoking. You'd have to ban it. That level of risk is simply not something that we could possibly allow as a society. There is nothing I am aware of that we are exposed to that presents that level of risk. It would make secondhand smoke the most hazardous substance known to man to which there is widespread exposure.

Of course, if the risk were that great, you'd also see people keeling over from heart attacks left and right in bars and restaurants. And in casinos. And, for that matter, they'd be keeling over on street corners, sidewalks, and outside buildings.

This brings us to the second point. I am finding it increasingly difficult to believe that anti-smoking groups actually believe the statements that they are making. It is difficult to believe that they actually think that a person could get clogged arteries or develop hardening of the arteries in just 30 minutes.

And if they don't believe what they are saying, then they are lying or intentionally deceiving the public.

I'm not prepared to make such a claim yet, because I suppose it's still possible that these anti-smoking groups do believe that what they have put forward is accurate. Or perhaps they simply haven't taken the time to consider the validity of the garbage science they are putting out. But we know that several groups are well aware of the challenge to their claims and that they have taken the time to consider the validity of their statements. These groups are truly running out of explanations.

Either they are going to have to retract their claims or we are going to be forced to conclude either that they are lying to the public or that they are simply incompetent to be making public scientific statements regarding the health effects of secondhand smoke.

The clock is rapidly running down, and without my being able to make anti-smoking groups aware of this serious problem (since I've now been thrown off two major list-serves by which I was previously able to widely and efficiently communicate my concerns to a large number of these groups), I don't see that the problem is going to be resolved in time.

It's not that there is a particular time limit allowed before one corrects a mistake. It's simply that there is a time limit in terms of the ability of the movement to maintain its credibility in light of the increasing number of absurd and scientifically fallacious statements that we are making to the public.

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