Monday, August 07, 2006

Anti-Smoking Group Quoted as Stating that Secondhand Smoke Contains Asbestos: The Newest Fallacious Scientific Claim

According to an article on the KMOV (St. Louis) website, a Missouri anti-smoking group has informed the public that secondhand smoke contains asbestos.

According to the article, Pat Lindsey, director of the St. Louis University Tobacco Prevention Center, stated: "Why would you want to inhale lethal substances? We're not made to do that kind of thing. And when asbestos was declared lethal, it was eliminated. There's asbestos in second hand smoke."

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is that there is no asbestos in secondhand smoke.

I've reviewed reports of hundreds of the chemicals in secondhand smoke. I've testified about the chemicals present in secondhand smoke. I've even been in the same room as the safe that contained the secret list of additives in cigarettes (which is now public). And nowhere have I seen any support for the contention that secondhand smoke contains asbestos.

That is a fallacious claim if I've ever seen one.

Now let me say that I think there are enough nasty things in secondhand smoke that we certainly don't have to resort to deceiving the public about what's in it in order to promote our agenda.

Apparently, it's not enough any more for anti-smoking groups to simply report the scientific truth. We now have to exaggerate and distort it in order to create the maximum possible emotional appeal. And if the actual list of components of tobacco smoke isn't scary enough, then we can just embellish it a little to frighten people.

After all, secondhand smoke is bad for you. So what does it matter whether we stretch the truth a little by making people think that it contains asbestos? No harm is done.

Unfortunately, there is harm done. The harm is that the anti-smoking movement is quickly losing its scientific credibility. This is the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Eventually, the public will not believe what we are stating, even when it is true and we need the public to trust us in order to take the appropriate action.

Not surprisingly, when I examined the St. Louis University Tobacco Prevention Center website, I found that it is yet another one of the 80+ anti-smoking organizations that are making misleading and fallacious scientific claims to the public about the acute cardiovascular hazards of secondhand smoke.

According to a "fact sheet" on the site written by a number of Missouri anti-smoking groups: "Even half an hour of secondhand smoke exposure causes heart damage similar to that of habitual smokers."

This so-called "fact sheet" is suggesting to the public that just 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure causes the same heart damage to a nonsmoker as it does to someone who actively smokes day in and day out for many years.

What rubbish!

First of all, a 30-minute exposure to secondhand smoke was not found to do any "heart damage" in the study that is cited to support this claim. What the brief exposure did was cause transient endothelial dysfunction, which in and of itself did not cause any damage to the heart.

But in an active smoker, the heart damage can be severe. Chronic active smoking can cause atherosclerosis, which can completely block coronary arteries and cause heart attacks that virtually destroy the heart muscle, making it unable to pump blood and sustain life.

I don't think that 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can do that!

What the Tobacco Prevention Center's (and other Missouri anti-smoking groups') claim suggests is that there is no reason for smokers to quit. If just being exposed once for 30 minutes is going to cause the same amount of damage to their heart as years of smoking, then what possible incentive is there for people to quit smoking?

We in tobacco control accuse the tobacco companies of a lot of wrongdoing. We certainly accuse them of lying and distorting the truth. But seldom do we find blatant examples of absolutely fallacious factual misrepresentations. Usually it is more on the line of misleading or deceptive statements.

Well here is an example of an outright factual misrepresentation. Unfortunately, it is coming not from the tobacco companies, but from our own camp.

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