Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Anti-Smoking Claims Getting More and More Ridiculous; Now 20 Minutes of Exposure Makes it More Difficult for the Heart to Beat

According to an article in today's The Daily American (West Frankfort, Illinois), an anti-smoking group is publicly claiming that 20 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke interferes with the heart's ability to beat.

The Franklin-Williamson Bi-County Health Department's Tobacco Prevention program was quoted as stating: "Studies have shown that even 20-minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke makes the blood get stickier and makes it harder for the heart to beat."

The claim was apparently made in an effort to promote the passage of local smoking bans in Illinois.

The Rest of the Story

While I support the goal of promoting smoking bans to protect workers from the hazards of secondhand smoke, I do not support the dissemination of false or misleading information to the public in order to achieve this goal. And this is one of the most absurd scientific claims I have ever heard.

Just 20 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure makes it harder for the heart to beat!

You've seriously got to be kidding me.

What secondhand smoke can do in 20 minutes is to activate platelets, decreasing their sensitivity to naturally occurring prostaglandins in the body, and therefore increasing their tendency to aggregate. So you could say that the blood gets a little "stickier." But in no way does this have any clinically meaningful effect on the heart's ability to pump. And suggesting that it does is not only wrong, but it is what I think is an irresponsible misrepresentation of the science.

I'm not necessarily putting the blame on this local group. The completely fallacious claims about the acute cardiovascular health effects of secondhand smoke are so widely rampant in the anti-smoking movement that this group likely got its information from other anti-smoking groups. As I noted Monday, no fewer than 28 anti-smoking groups have publicly misrepresented the science on this issue.

But regardless of where the information came from, it demonstrates how serious this problem is. This is, without question, a serious threat to the credibility of the entire anti-smoking movement.

Despite my repeatedly writing about this issue to bring it to the attention of anti-smoking groups, there as yet has been no apparent attempt to provide any clarifications, corrections, or retractions. There's still time, but not much. The movement has to immediately respond, and in a definitive fashion, in order to save its credibility.

The rest of the story is that the anti-smoking movement is facing a severe crisis of credibility. It has been overtaken by a complete lack of scientific integrity, evidenced by the widespread dissemination, day after day, of completely fallacious scientific claims. This is a serious violation of the public trust, and it needs to be immediately rectified.

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