Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ohio Anti-Smoking Group Warns Public of Heart Attack Risk from Eating in Restaurants

If you live in Ohio, you might not want to venture out of your home, according to the health claims being made by a state anti-smoking group. According to the organization - the Ohio Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation - brief exposure to secondhand smoke such as what you might inhale in a restaurant while eating dinner creates a serious and substantial risk of heart attacks.

The group was quoted in a Ohio News Network article last Friday as stating that: "Some people say maybe I'll get a heart attack in 20 years. No that's not the issue, you might get a heart attack later that evening. We need people to understand what the physiology is, what the impact of this substance is."

Since Ohio residents can easily be exposed to secondhand smoke almost anywhere - including outdoors (and especially if smoking is banned in restaurants, which will push many smokers out onto the streets) - it would clearly behoove Ohioans to remain safely in their homes, so they don't need to worry about having heart attacks.

The Rest of the Story

I'll tell you what the physiology is. The physiology is that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure has been documented not to affect basal coronary artery blood flow in nonsmokers. Thus, it represents no acute threat of a cardiac event to any person who doesn't have serious existing coronary artery disease that is so severe that any small insult to the system could trigger a heart attack.

The physiology is that atherosclerosis is a process that takes years to develop. So for a person without severe existing coronary disease, a 30-minute exposure to secondhand smoke cannot possibly cause a heart attack. And even in such a person who is chronically exposed to smoking in restaurants, it will not cause a heart attack immediately. The risk will ensue years later.

While it is theoretically possible that a person with severe coronary artery disease could have a cardiac event triggered by an exposure to secondhand smoke, there is no documentation that this is the case or that it has ever occurred.

Clearly, these are scare tactics being used to sensationalize the science in order to stir up Ohio residents to support banning smoking in restaurants. While I support that goal, I do not support the misrepresentation of the science to achieve that goal.

Ohioans can be assured that going to a restaurant, even one that allows smoking, puts them no more at risk of a heart attack than any other activity they might engage in outside of their homes. Unless your coronary arteries are almost completely clogged already, you are not going to suffer a heart attack one night because you were exposed to smoke in a restaurant during dinner that evening.

Why one would want to try to scare people in this manner is beyond me. Why one would want to risk losing all credibility with the public with a smoking ban referendum on the line baffles me. Why the science, and the plain, unadulterated truth, is not sufficient for the Ohio anti-smoking groups, is mysterious to me.

Why do the anti-smoking advocates in Ohio have to take everything to an absurd extreme? What is wrong with simply communicating the significant hazards of secondhand smoke among those who are exposed chronically to high levels, such as those who work in bars and restaurants. Why is it necessary to suggest to the public that an otherwise healthy person walking into a restaurant for dinner may keel over from a heart attack that night because of exposure to smoke for an hour or two?

This quote might just take the award for "Fallacious Anti-Smoking Claim of the Year." Why? Because it purports to be communicated in the context of an organization that is an expert in the physiology of the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke. In other words, by bringing physiology into it, the organization makes it appear that it has some sort of expertise in this subject matter that people should listen to, despite what they might otherwise think.

What we need now, I think, is not for people to understand what the physiology is. First, I think we need the anti-smoking groups in Ohio to understand what the physiology is. Then we can worry about transmitting that information correctly and appropriately to the public.

No comments: