Thursday, April 22, 2010

Anti-Smoking Group Claims that 30 Minutes of Secondhand Smoke Causes Heart Attacks in Healthy Adults

According to an article on, an anti-smoking group pushing for a restaurant smoking ban in Missouri City (Texas) has claimed that 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart attacks among healthy adults. The claim comes from the Tobacco Free Fort Bend Coalition:

"'The medical evidence is overwhelming. A study of acute effects of passive smoking in healthy young adults shows that 30 minutes in a smoke-filled area can cause a heart attack,'” said Mary Ann Dolezal, Tobacco Free Fort Bend Coalition chairman."

The Tobacco Free Fort Bend Coalition is heavily funded by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, through a grant whose initial value was $94,000 in 2008.

The same article appeared in the Fort Bend Sun. Missouri City residents will vote on the proposed smoking ban (Proposition 1) on May 8.

The Rest of the Story

Assuming that the newspaper got the quote from the Tobacco Free Fort Bend coalition correctly, this piece of "medical evidence" was simply made up. It does not exist. There is no such study.

There is no medical evidence that 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can cause a heart attack in a healthy adult. In fact, such an effect is biologically implausible. You cannot develop coronary artery disease in 30 minutes. Even smokers who chain smoke heavily do not develop heart attacks until at least about 20 years of smoking. It simply doesn't happen in 30 minutes.

While my readers know that I strongly support smoking bans, I do not support the use of false scientific evidence to support these policies. I do not believe it is appropriate to spread lies and misinformation to the public in order to promote a public policy, even one which I strongly support.

This is not an isolated incident, but part of a recurrent pattern of misinformation being spread by anti-smoking groups about the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke. See my published article in the journal Epidemiologic Perspectives and Innovations for a detailed accounting of these claims.

(Thanks to Michael McFadden for the tip.)

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