Monday, April 24, 2006

Drifting Tobacco Smoke More Harmful than Active Smoking, Says Anti-Smoking Group

According to an article published yesterday in The Journal News, a New York anti-smoking group is claiming that drifting tobacco smoke is more harmful than active smoking.

According to the article, the director of a New York anti-smoking group stated: "A burning cigarette is more toxic to the people around it than it is to the person smoking it."

The Rest of the Story

I am not aware of any evidence that tobacco smoke poses more risks for people exposed passively than to active smokers themselves. So I don't particularly see any accuracy in this statement.

In fact, it is impossible for this statement to be true, because while the people around the smoker inhale only the diluted sidestream smoke from the cigarette, the person smoking inhales both the less diluted sidestream smoke and the mainstream smoke. So how could sidestream smoke plus mainstream smoke be less toxic than just the sidestream smoke? This makes absolutely no sense.

But more importantly, I think this type of communication is likely to undermine our efforts to convince smokers of the dangers of active smoking. If smokers are led to believe that the risks of active smoking are no worse than being exposed to drifting tobacco smoke, then why should they be particularly concerned about their health? Why should they quit smoking?

What this anti-smoking group appears to be saying is that active smoking is no worse than passive smoking. Not only is this untrue, but it could be quite damaging to public education efforts. It could easily undermine much of what we have accomplished over the past decades in educating smokers about the health effects of active smoking.

Why would an anti-smoking group make such a false claim? Presumably, because they are trying to promote smoking bans and want to try to sensationalize the effects of secondhand smoke as much as they can.

But in the process, what they have done is to seriously downplay the risks of active smoking.

I am all for making people aware of the hazards of secondhand smoke, but not at the expense of undermining the public's appreciation of the hazards of active smoking.

And not at the expense of scientific accuracy and honesty.

This example of yet another fallacious claim being made by an anti-smoking group suggests that these claims may well represent more than simply innocent mistakes. It seems that there is some sort of concerted effort to try to sensationalize the effects of secondhand smoke in order to affect public policy.

Here, a claim which cannot possibly be true is being advanced to try to scare people into thinking that a burning cigarette poses a greater health threat to exposed nonsmokers than to the smoker. In other words, a fallacious claim is being made in order to try to scare people into supporting smoking bans.

Make no mistake - I support smoking bans and have let my opinions be known repeatedly. But I don't support making fallacious claims to advance a policy that I support.

I don't think it's a particularly good idea, even from a strategic perspective, to make a claim that cannot possibly be true. In an apparent effort to try to generate more support for a smoking ban, these types of claims are going to do little more than expose the lack of scientific integrity of the present anti-smoking movement and threaten the credibility of the entire movement.

Why can't the truth stand on its own? I simply don't understand what is so threatening about the scientific truth that we can't represent the science as it is, rather than distort it beyond all reason.

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