Tuesday, October 31, 2006

IN MY VIEW: Glaring Scientific Inconsistency in SmokeFreeOhio's Campaign and More Misleading Campaign Statements

SmokeFreeOhio is defending its public contention that breathing secondhand smoke for even a short time increases heart attack risk by insisting that since the Surgeon General made this statement, it must be correct.

At the same time, however, SmokeFreeOhio is ignoring the Surgeon General's conclusion that there is not adequate evidence to link secondhand smoke with emphysema, and telling the public nonetheless that: "Secondhand smoke can cause the debilitating disease pulmonary emphysema, causing severe damage to the walls of the air sacs, with the lungs eventually losing their capacity to expand and contract."

This certainly has the appearance of what might be called cherry-picking. When you like what the Surgeon General says, then repeat it. When you don't like what the Surgeon General says, then defy it.

If SmokeFreeOhio were presenting any scientific arguments of their own to back up their claims, then this wouldn't necessarily be a problem. One is entitled to agree selectively with elements of a scientific report. However, SmokeFreeOhio is not backing up its claims, and instead has relied on the shallow argument that it can claim that brief secondhand smoke exposure causes heart attacks because the Surgeon General said so.

This is perhaps not an unreasonable justification, except for the fact that the group is ignoring the Surgeon General's conclusions about the relationship between secondhand smoke and emphysema.

But I think SmokeFreeOhio has an obligation to go beyond this in backing up its claims. I think when you make a statement that the Surgeon General's report has concluded that a brief secondhand smoke exposure causes heart attacks, you need to at least verify that the report draws such a conclusion. In other words, you have to actually read the report.

Apparently, SmokeFreeOhio has not read the report, because if it had, it would have noted that nowhere in the report does it conclude that a brief exposure to secondhand smoke causes heart attacks.

This might be excusable because the organization just assumed that the report contained this conclusion. However, I informed them that the report did not contain such a conclusion, and by now they have had the time to realize this and correct their fact sheet, something they have not done.

One would think that with just 1 week until the election, when voters will be relying on their campaign statements in the voting booth, SmokeFreeOhio would want to be as accurate as possible with their campaign claims. This does not appear to be the case.

The Rest of the Story

To make matters worse, I am today revealing that SmokeFreeOhio is making yet another misleading public claim. The group is telling the public that the effects of a brief (minutes to hours) exposure to secondhand smoke on atherosclerosis among nonsmokers are nearly the same as those of chronic active smoking on smokers.

In its secondhand smoke "fact sheet," the group claims: "Evidence is rapidly accumulating that the cardiovascular system - —platelet and endothelial function, arterial stiffness, atherosclerosis, oxidative stress, inflammation, heart rate variability, energy metabolism and increased infarct size - —is exquisitely sensitive to toxins in secondhand smoke. The effects of even brief (minutes to hours) passive smoking are often nearly as large (averaging 80% to 90%) as chronic active smoking."

Clearly, one of the effects SmokeFreeOhio is referring to is atherosclerosis, since that is listed in the preceding sentence.

Is it true, then, that a brief exposure to secondhand smoke (minutes to hours) has nearly as large an effect on atherosclerosis as chronic active smoking?

The answer is a resounding NO. In fact, a brief exposure to secondhand smoke has NO effect on atherosclerosis among nonsmokers. You simply cannot develop atherosclerosis from a several-hour exposure. It's medically impossible.

In contrast, chronic active smoking can cause severe atherosclerosis. I have seen patients with greater than 95% stenosis (narrowing) of their coronary arteries due to chronic active smoking.

Is 0% nearly as large as 95%? I don't think so.

In my opinion, SmokeFreeOhio is misleading the public into thinking that the effects of a brief exposure to secondhand smoke on atherosclerosis are nearly the same as those of chronic active smoking. I don't think I'm stretching here since that's exactly what the "fact sheet" states. Yet this claim is untruthful. It's fallacious. The statement, then, is very misleading.

I should also point out that even if one were to accept that a brief exposure to secondhand smoke could cause a heart attack, this increased risk would only apply to persons with severe existing coronary artery disease. SmokeFreeOhio does not even take pains to clarify that its statement refers only to such individuals. Thus, it misleads the public into thinking that anyone exposed to secondhand smoke briefly could drop dead from a heart attack. I find that to be irresponsible.

I think it is really a shame that with just one week left before the election, SmokeFreeOhio continues to rely upon a campaign of deception, rather than on one of scientific accuracy.

I know that SmokeFreeOhio has made some attempt to correct their statements. They did delete several of the statements that I reported many months ago were misleading. But they are well aware that several misleading statements remain. It looks, however, like the misleading of voters is going to continue right up until the time they enter the polling booths.

This political season has been very disturbing to me. I've observed lots of national and regional campaigns that appear to me to be based more on deception than on sticking to the documented facts. All kinds of misleading insinuations have been made about particular candidates. It is very disappointing to me that we as anti-smoking groups are part of these tactics of misleading people to try to obtain their votes.

To me, the election is kind of tainted if people's votes are based on having been misled about the facts, rather than on educating people about the actual facts and letting them make a decision based on the whole truth.

In Ohio, both sides have been misleading the public. I don't know which side is worse, but from my perspective, I simply cannot imagine, with any integrity, telling people that a brief exposure to secondhand smoke has effects on atherosclerosis that are nearly the same as the effects of chronic active smoking.

That's just absurd.

In some ways, I think SmokeFreeOhio is probably misleading more people than Smoke Less Ohio. Because there has been a fair amount of publicity about the misleading tactics of the Smoke Less group. But there has not been much publicity about how SmokeFreeOhio is telling people that they can develop narrowing of their coronary arteries from a mere minutes to hours-long exposure to secondhand smoke, something that in reality takes about 15-20 years, at a minimum, to occur.

I could have written this off to just scientific sloppiness, if it weren't for the fact that SmokeFreeOhio has shown zero interest in considering my arguments and engaging in a dialogue that might actually result in correcting their so-called fact sheets so that they do not mislead the public. SmokeFreeOhio apparently has enough confidence in my scientific ability to rely upon my research and arguments to support a number of their public claims. But they don't want to listen when what I'm arguing runs against what they want to be able to claim.

It's one thing when you see politicians mislead the public in order to gain votes. But to see my fellow anti-smoking groups doing this is not something I'm used to. And it is very sad and disappointing to me.

I thought we were better than this.

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