Did you know that your arteries can become clogged from a mere 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke?
That is the assertion that a number of anti-smoking groups continue to make to the public.
The claim, while false, is important because it sensationalizes the health effects of secondhand smoke and leads people to believe that even a brief exposure for a healthy person can result in a clogged artery, and therefore a severe or fatal consequence such as a heart attack or stroke.
The claim also implies that brief secondhand smoke exposure is as harmful for the arteries as chronic active smoking.
This claim is certainly misleading and deceptive, but even more it is just plain untruthful. You cannot develop a clogged artery from a mere 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke. Even in active smokers, it takes years and years of exposure (usually at least 20-30 years) before clogged arteries develop. So how can a nonsmoker possibly develop a clogged artery in just 30 minutes?
Here is a list of some of the groups which are currently making this claim, headlined by the American Heart Association:
American Heart Association: "30 minutes exposure = stiffened, clogged arteries"
Smoke Free Catawba: "30 Minutes of Exposure = Stiffened, Clogged Arteries"
University of North Carolina School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine: "30 minutes of exposure = stiffened, clogged arteries"
DuPage County Health Department: "30 minutes exposure = stiffened, clogged arteries"
Iowa Department of Public Health: "30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure results in stiffened, clogged arteries"
Tobacco Free Washington: "30 minutes exposure = stiffened, clogged arteries"
Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa: "Only 30 minutes of exposure can damage a non-smoker’s heart and increases the risk of heart disease by 30%."
TobaccoScam: "30 minutes exposure = smoker's arteries"
The Rest of the Story
I am truly discouraged by the fact that while it is now June 2007 - a full 18 months after I first reported the inaccurate claim being made by many anti-smoking groups that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure causes hardening of the arteries, clogged arteries, heart attacks, and heart disease - anti-smoking groups are still widely disseminating this false and misleading information to the public.
What is disturbing is that these claims above are not simply exaggerations. They are factually inaccurate, I would argue. It is simply not true that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure causes clogged arteries.
Obviously that is not true. If it were, you would see all kinds of people around you suffering strokes and heart attacks from being exposed briefly to secondhand smoke.
What I don't understand is this: how can these anti-smoking groups continue to make such claims, even when the claims are blatantly false on their face? Even when the claims belie common sense and the bounds of medical and scientific plausibility? Even when making such claims destroys the scientific credibility of the organization putting the assertion forward?
Why would these groups want to risk their scientific credibility like this?
Don't these groups have any ethical principles? Is telling the truth to the public not important to these groups?
Are the groups truly not aware that their claims are ridiculous? Can they actually defend themselves by arguing that they didn't realize that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure does not cause people's arteries to clog? And if they did realize that it is completely impossible that 30 minutes of exposure could cause an artery to clog (that was not already severely compromised), then aren't these untruthful communications deliberate lies?
Do the groups realize that they are disseminating untruthful information to the public? Are they doing this deliberately?
The questions continue to pile up for me. But I have to say that the longer this goes on without any response, the more inclined I am to believe that these actions are deliberate and not just some sort of very serious, but inadvertent mistake.
For my own conscience, although I strongly support workplace smoking laws, I have to distance myself from the organizations which are making these false statements and completely misrepresenting the science to the public.
If these were my websites, I could not sleep at night knowing that I was wildly deceiving the public. Fortunately, they are not my sites; however, I don't know that I can any longer say that I consider myself a part of the movement made up of the groups whose sites these are.
How can I, with any conscience or scientific integrity, consider myself to be a part of a movement which is putting out ridiculous, false statements like this, deceiving or possibly lying to the public, and completely misrepresenting the science???