Today I am issuing a challenge to the Association of Nonsmokers - Minnesota to retract its fallacious and absurd public claim that 30 seconds of secondhand smoke exposure can cause as much deterioration of coronary artery function as that seen in chronic active smokers.
According to an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Minnesota anti-smoking group publicly claimed that 30 seconds of secondhand smoke is as bad as a lifetime of active smoking in terms of coronary artery function. The group - Association for Nonsmokers (Minnesota) - issued a press release which declared that a mere 30 seconds of secondhand smoke exposure results in coronary artery damage that is indistinguishable from the damage suffered by active smokers (many of whom have smoked for decades).
According to the article, the Association for Nonsmokers press release claimed that: "Just 30 seconds of exposure can make coronary artery function of nonsmokers indistinguishable from smokers."
The Rest of the Story obtained a copy of the press release, dated August 30, which indeed stated:
"Research studies have shown that even just thirty seconds of exposure to secondhand smoke can make coronary artery function of non-smokers indistinguishable from smokers."
The challenge, being issued today and the result to be reported on Thursday, is simple. The Association of Nonsmokers - Minnesota is being challenged to simply publicly acknowledge that the claim was fallacious, retract it, and apologize.
A similar challenge is simultaneously being issued to ClearWay Minnesota regarding its public claim that eating in a smoky restaurant increases the risk of a fatal or non-fatal heart attack by 30%.
As I revealed in September, ClearWay Minnesota is actively deceiving the public about important information regarding secondhand smoke. Specifically, I believe they are deceiving the public about the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke. In their smoking ban manual on their web site, they claim that a brief exposure to secondhand smoke decreases coronary blood flow in young, healthy individuals:
"Blood flow in the coronary arteries is decreased in healthy young adults exposed to secondhand smoke."
I think this claim is wildly misleading and deceptive. The truth is that exposure to secondhand smoke has been found not to affect basal coronary blood flow in healthy adults. In fact, the same study upon which this statement is based is the one that actually reports no difference in the blood flow in the coronary arteries of exposed adults.
Sure, the coronary reserve flow is reduced in exposed nonsmokers, but this reserve flow reduction is simply an indication of endothelial dysfunction, and it has no acute clinical significance.
I think it is irresponsible to mislead healthy young adults and to scare them by thinking that if they are exposed to secondhand smoke, the blood flow in their coronary arteries is going to decrease. It is not, and the claim is therefore wildly misleading.
Unfortunately, this is not the worst of it. Elsewhere in the same manual, ClearWay claims that eating in a smoky restaurant increases your risk of heart disease by 30%. Not eating in a smoky restaurant every day of your life, I might add. Just eating (presumably once) in a smoky restaurant:
"Current scientific data suggest that eating in a smoky restaurant can precipitate myocardial infarctions in nonsmokers and increase the risk of fatal and non-fatal cardiac events in nonsmokers by about 30 percent."
There is no evidence that eating in a smoky restaurant causes heart attacks in nonsmokers, but that's not the part of the claim that I'm most concerned about. The part I'm concerned most about is the claim that eating in a smoky restaurant increases your heart disease risk by 30%. Because that's not just a misleading or deceptive claim, it's completely fallacious.
The scientific evidence shows that chronic exposure (over many years) may increase your risk of heart disease by 30%. But eating once in a smoky restaurant? Obviously, this claim is false.
The challenge issued today to ClearWay Minnesota is to publicly acknowledge these mistakes, correct these two misleading claims, and apologize.
The Rest of the Story
While there are a large number of fallacious claims that are being made by anti-smoking groups, the claim made by Association for Nonsmokers - Minnesota is probably the most important because it is so absurd that it is obviously false on its face. There is absolutely no scientific documentation to support a claim that 30 seconds of secondhand smoke exposure causes as much damage to the coronary artery function of nonsmokers as chronic active smoking causes to the coronary artery function of smokers. Yet this claim was made in a press release disseminated to the media.
I am willing to give the group the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was just an innocent mistake. However, if this were the case, it is imperative, for the scientific integrity of the tobacco control movement and the reputation of all of us, that the group publicly acknowledge the mistake, retract or correct its claim, and issue some sort of apology for the mistake.
The same is true of ClearWay Minnesota's claims. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that the 30% increased heart attack risk from eating in a smoky restaurant was meant to refer to chronic secondhand smoke exposure rather than a single acute exposure. However, it is again imperative for the scientific integrity of the tobacco control movement and all of our reputations that the group publicly acknowledge the mistake, correct it (since the manual is still widely available on the internet and intended to serve as a guidebook for many anti-smoking organizations), and apologize.
I will be the first to admit that it is easy to make mistakes when you are reporting lots of scientific data. I would be lying if I said that I had never made such a mistake myself. However, when I have and it has been called to my attention, I have immediately acknowledged the mistake, corrected it, and apologized. I will not hold tobacco control groups responsible for making mistakes; but it is quite another thing to refuse to acknowledge, correct, and apologize for the mistake.
On Thursday, I will report back on the response to this challenge, which is being communicated directly to the two organizations. So check back here on Thursday for the rest of the story.