In their zeal to scare people about acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke that do not exist in order to promote public support for smoking bans, anti-smoking groups have engaged in what essentially amounts to a strategy of misrepresenting the science: taking evidence of minor, transient, physiologic effects and telling the public that this translates into major, permanent, clinically significant damage to healthy nonsmokers.
The claims have ranged from severe exaggerations to complete absurdity, but they all have one thing in common: they are distorting and misrepresenting the science.
The groups involved range from the smallest of anti-smoking organizations to the largest and most prominent figure in tobacco control - the Surgeon General himself.
Anti-smoking groups have told the public that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke is enough to cause hardening of the arteries. They have told the public that 30 minutes of exposure reduces coronary blood flow and deprives the heart of life-giving blood. They have told the public that brief secondhand smoke exposure causes reduced oxygen delivery that is comparable to that observed in cyanotic heart disease. They have even told the public that just 30 seconds of secondhand smoke is enough to make coronary artery function in nonsmokers indistinguishable from that in chronic active smokers.
The net effect of all of these deceptive and inaccurate claims is to undermine the true scientific basis for tobacco control policy, especially for the regulation of smoking in public places and workplaces. By virtually making up the science as they go along, these anti-smoking groups (or at least those feeding them the misleading information) are not only destroying the scientific credibility and integrity of the tobacco control movement, but they are also rendering as meaningless the years of research into the effects of secondhand smoke that scientists like myself have conducted.
What good is all the research that I've conducted on the actual hazards of secondhand smoke when anti-smoking groups are going to tell the public that a few whiffs of tobacco smoke can cause atherosclerosis? What value is there in my research when these groups are going to tell the public that brief exposure to secondhand smoke causes as much damage to the heart as years of active smoking?
What exactly is the purpose of conducting careful scientific research on the effects of secondhand smoke if anti-smoking groups are essentially just going to make things up, making whatever claims they want to the public in order to embellish the emotional appeal of the message?
Why am I needed anymore? If the groups are going to say that 30 minutes of tobacco smoke causes hardening of the arteries, then who needs to know exactly what the actual risk of chronic secondhand smoke exposure on heart disease is? If the groups are going to say that even a minor dose of secondhand smoke causes as much damage as a lifetime of active smoking, then why do we need to know what the actual levels of secondhand smoke exposure are for workers in different occupational settings?
In many ways, I feel that the nonsense that is going on in the tobacco control movement has made a mockery of my own career in tobacco control. Had I known 15 years ago that we were going to send a widespread message to the public that brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart disease, then I would never have devoted the past 15 years of my career to researching the actual health effects of secondhand smoke.
What importance is there to knowing the actual health effects of secondhand smoke if we are going to deceive the public about what those health effects are?
One of the reasons that the events of the past several months sadden me so much is that it renders my research meaningless. What value did I add to the movement by carefully documenting the levels of exposure of restaurant workers and the health effects of chronic secondhand smoke exposure if these groups are simply going to tell people that 30 seconds of exposure is enough to kill anyone?
It makes me feel like all of my efforts were a waste, or at least, that my research is virtually worthless (at least irrelevant) at this point.
I remember being disturbed at a tobacco trial once when the tobacco industry attorneys kept standing up and objecting to my testimony on the grounds that it was "irrelevant and immaterial."
Well right now I feel as though my testimony about the health effects of secondhand smoke and what the evidence actually shows is "irrelevant and immaterial" because the anti-smoking groups are going to push their pre-ordained agenda regardless of what the evidence actually shows. They are going to make whatever claims they feel they need to in order to garner support for their increasingly draconian proposals, even if those claims defy the research, the science, and common sense.
So the tobacco company lawyers were right - my testimony, knowledge, and expertise in this area truly is irrelevant at this point. Once anti-smoking groups are telling the public that 30 minutes of exposure is enough to cause atherosclerosis, I don't really feel like I'm needed anymore.
And I think that's the truth: I'm not needed anymore.
More than that, I'm not wanted any more. When I was generating evidence that could be used to support the agenda, I was very much wanted in the movement. But now that I'm questioning the tactics and statements being used to promote the agenda (which I largely support) and questioning aspects of the agenda itself, I'm no longer wanted. There really isn't any room for someone like me in the tobacco control movement.
In fact, I'm a grave danger to the movement, because my parents instilled a value in me which I refuse to reqlinquish: something called the truth.
There really is not any room in the movement for someone who speaks the truth and refuses to shade the truth in order to follow the party line. There is simply no place for a person like me in this movement. When you speak the truth, you're forced out of the movement because you become a threat to it.
So now I join the tobacco company attorneys in standing to voice objection to the value of my own research and testimony: "Irrelevant and immaterial," I say.