Friday, February 26, 2010

Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights Using New Research on Thirdhand Smoke to Claim that Secondhand Electronic Cigarette Vapor is Hazardous

ANR Also Encouraging Anti-Smoking Groups to Disseminate Alarmist Claims About Dangers of Thirdhand Smoke

ANR is Claiming That Nicotine Was Previously Not Thought to Be Toxic

In a communication sent to smoke-free advocates across the country, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) cites the recent study on thirdhand smoke as evidence of the health hazards of secondhand exposure to electronic cigarette vapor.

Referring to the laboratory study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which demonstrated that residual nicotine can react with ambient nitrous acid to form tobacco-specific nitrosamines, ANR writes: "It [the study] also validates concerns about the potential for health hazards from the use of e-cigarette products in enclosed spaces."

ANR also has prepared a sound bite which it encourages local anti-smoking groups to use with the media and the public in order to scare them about the hazards of thirdhand smoke: "While nicotine was previously thought to be a non-toxic substance, new research shows that when residual nicotine sticks to ordinary surfaces, it reacts with naturally occurring nitrous acid in the air, releasing a toxic soup of cancer-causing agents."

The Rest of the Story

The main importance of this story is that it demonstrates how the scientific integrity of ANR has completely disintegrated. I used to serve on the Executive Board of ANR and made great efforts to try to ensure that the organization adhered to the highest standards of scientific integrity and accuracy. I resigned from the Board after I was told that the organization's political credibility was more important than my scientific integrity.

You can now see how much ANR's scientific integrity has deteriorated since that time.

First, the thirdhand smoke study provides no evidence regarding the potential hazards of secondhand electronic cigarette vapor. ANR is making a completely unsupported extrapolation. There is no evidence that exhaled electronic smoke vapor contains significant amounts of nicotine or that such nicotine is deposited to any significant degree on surfaces, or that the quantity of any deposited nicotine is sufficient to result in significant nitrosamine formation.

The same claim could be made about nicotine inhalers. Using the level of scientific integrity that ANR is displaying here, one could say that the new thirdhand smoke study validates claims that the use of nicotine inhalers indoors should be banned because the exhaled air from users contains nicotine that will deposit and combine with ambient nitrous acid to produce a toxic soup of carcinogens.

I hope you see my point that this isn't science; this is hysteria.

Now to be sure, I am not disagreeing in any way with ANR's support for smoke-free workplaces. As you know, no one is a stronger supporter of smoke-free workplace laws - including smoking bans in bars, restaurants, and casinos - than I am. In fact, I was very critical of ANR for supporting the New Jersey law which banned smoking in all workplaces except casinos.

But I believe that one must support policies with solid scientific evidence.

The second element of ANR's lack of scientific accuracy is in its suggested sound bite - that thirdhand smoke is a "toxic soup of cancer-causing agents." We don't even have evidence that thirdhand smoke results in significant exposure among nonsmokers, much less that it is sufficient to cause cancer. If you're willing to make a statement like that based on the limited evidence currently available, then why require scientific evidence at all before disseminating alarmist health claims to the public?

A third element of ANR's lack of scientific accuracy is its assertion that nicotine was previously thought to be a non-toxic substance. What a damaging statement that is. It completely flies in the face of the scientific evidence we have about nicotine. And it runs counter to the overwhelming consensus of physicians and scientists throughout the country who warn their patients and the public that nicotine products are not "safe."

The FDA would cringe if it heard that ANR was telling people that other than the risks posed by conversion of nicotine to nitrosamines, nicotine is non-toxic.

Think about this: what ANR is actually asserting in its statement is that nicotine poses no danger to smokers. If the only toxicity related to nicotine is that when it deposits on surfaces it may be converted to nitrosamines, then the nicotine inhaled by smokers poses no danger.

While it may be news to ANR, nicotine is a highly toxic substance. Ingesting even small amounts of nicotine can kill you.

According to the EPA, ingestion or absorption of nicotine results in: "blockade of autonomic ganglia and skeletal muscle neuromuscular junctions, and direct effects on the central nervous system. Paralysis and vascular collapse are prominent features of acute poisoning, but death is often due to respiratory paralysis, which may ensue promptly after the first symptoms of poisoning."

So according to ANR, nicotine was not thought to be toxic prior to last month's study about thirdhand smoke. But according to the EPA, nicotine is in fact known to be potentially fatal.

So much for ANR's scientific integrity.

To be honest, even the tobacco industry has never had the gall to claim that nicotine is non-toxic, or was thought to be non-toxic prior to last month's research.

The rest of the story is that in its rush to create hysteria about thirdhand smoke, ANR has lost sight of even the most basic of scientific facts: that nicotine is highly toxic and has been known to be toxic for decades.

How could ANR possibly issue a statement to hundreds of public health practitioners throughout the country telling them that nicotine is a non-toxic substance (other than its implication in thirdhand smoke)?

I call on ANR to immediately issue a retraction and apology for lying to its constituents about the toxicity of nicotine. And I hope that in the future, ANR will renounce its current policy of placing politics ahead of science.

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