Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Claims by ASH and Other Anti-Smoking Groups Lead to Conclusion that 30 Minutes of Secondhand Smoke Triples Heart Attack Risk

According to a newly-released 11-year study of 40,000 persons, smoking more than triples the risk of heart attack.

The study, conducted by The National Cancer Center in Japan, concluded that: "Men who smoked had 3.6 times the rate of cardiac infarction compared to male nonsmokers. For women the rate was 2.9 times. The risk increases the more one smokes. For men, smoking between one and 14 cigarettes daily made the risk of heart attack 3.2 times higher than for nonsmokers, 15 to 34 cigarettes increased it to 3.6 times, and more than 34 was 4.4 times riskier."

The Rest of the Story

The story here is not the increased risk of heart attacks among smokers, which has been recognized for many years. The story is the magnitude of the increase in heart attacks among nonsmokers exposed briefly to secondhand smoke, according to a number of major anti-smoking groups.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) currently claims that: "breathing drifting tobacco smoke for as little as 30 minutes (less than the time one might be exposed outdoors on a beach, sitting on a park bench, listening to a concert in a park, etc.) can raise a nonsmoker'’s risk of suffering a fatal heart attack to that of a smoker."

Since the risk of suffering a heart attack for a smoker is approximately three times greater, ASH is essentially claiming that a single, 30-minute exposure to secondhand smoke triples your risk of having a heart attack.

Obviously, such a claim is absurd and untrue (chronic exposure to secondhand smoke only increases heart disease risk by about 30%, so a single acute exposure couldn't possibly increase heart attack risk by 200%). But this is precisely what ASH is trying to convince the public.

Many other anti-smoking groups, as I have reported, have put out similar communications indicating that the health risks of a single 30-minute exposure to secondhand smoke are the same as those of active smoking. Not only are these claims highly misleading, if not inaccurate, but they are damaging, because they suggest to smokers that their risk of cardiovascular disease is minimal (equivalent to simply breathing in secondhand smoke for 30 minutes).

The tobacco industry has for years tried to undermine our efforts to impress upon smokers the severe hazards of smoking. We, as tobacco control advocates, should not be doing the industry's work for it.

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