Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Jacob Sullum's Take on the Thirdhand Smoke Issue

I thought readers might be interested to see Jacob Sullum's take on the thirdhand smoke issue, which appeared yesterday over at Reason Online's Hit & Run blog.

Sullum nicely summarizes the recent research, which was published in Pediatrics, as follows: "The genius of the study is that it tries to stir up alarm about thirdhand smoke without bothering to show that such trace levels of toxins and carcinogens cause any measurable harm to children (or to anyone else). Instead the authors simply assume that thirdhand smoke is dangerous and then do a survey to see how many people are aware of this 'fact.'"

The Rest of the Story

Sullum is right. This study, while measuring people's knowledge of the "facts" about thirdhand smoke, failed to document what those facts are. It cited only one paper to support the notion that exposure to thirdhand smoke actually causes clinically meaningful health damage, and as I showed, that study was flawed and didn't demonstrate what the authors purport that it did.

The fact that tobacco smoke residue that settles during the smoking process can later be subject to offgassing, in which vapors that contain toxic constituents are released into the air, can occur is not being questioned here. What is being questioned is whether the very low levels of exposure that result from this offgassing are clinically meaningful and cause demonstrated harm.

I've seen no evidence for that. But it isn't stopping anti-smoking groups from communicating the dangers of thirdhand smoke to the public and calling for measures to protect people from having to be exposed to smokers, whose "breathe" is so toxic that we cannot allow nonsmokers in the same room.

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