Tuesday, April 03, 2007

According to Article, Claim that Brief Secondhand Smoke Exposure Can Cause Heart Disease and Lung Cancer is Being Used to Support Car Smoking Bans

According to an article in today's Auburn Journal, supporters of California's proposed ban on smoking in cars with children present are relying upon the claim that brief exposure to secondhand smoke in cars sharply increases kids' risk of heart disease and lung cancer.

According to the article: "Adults who smoke in a vehicle carrying children in California could be fined $100 under a bill that cleared its first state Senate committee this week. 'Second-hand smoke hurts everyone, but children are particularly vulnerable,' said the bill's author, state Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, a cancer survivor. Oropeza cited a 2006 report by the Harvard School of Public Health that said particulate matter in a smoker's car can be as much as 10 times higher than in a smoker's home. That can sharply increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and other ailments, Oropeza told the Senate Health Committee Wednesday."

The Rest of the Story

The newspaper reporter certainly got the impression that Senator Oropeza was testifying that the brief exposure to secondhand smoke in cars sharply increases the risk of heart disease and lung cancer among children. Without having the actual testimony in front of me, I cannot determine exactly what was claimed, and therefore I am not stating with certainty that Oropeza made such a claim. It is always possible that the reporter got it wrong. But at very least, it appears that the claim was interpreted as one that brief exposure such as that in cars sharply increases heart disease and lung cancer risk. At least one reporter came away with that impression.

To set the record straight, there is no evidence that brief exposure to secondhand smoke, such as that in a car, sharply increases heart disease and lung cancer risk among exposed children. In fact, there is not convincing evidence that even chronic childhood exposure to secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer.

Heart disease takes many years to develop, and it is not even plausible that brief exposure to secondhand smoke in cars during childhood could cause heart disease.

I have made the reasons for my opposition to car smoking bans clear in previous posts. However, even if I were in favor of these policies, I still think it would be inappropriate to promote them using misleading health claims, such as this one as reported by the Auburn Journal and attributed to bill supporters.

Hopefully, this was simply a mistake in reporting. If not, then it represents a fallacious claim being used to support car smoking bans. Even if it was a mistake, however, it suggests that anti-smoking advocates need to be clearer in their communication, because the message coming across is that car smoking bans are needed because they will prevent kids from getting serious diseases such as heart disease and lung cancer later in life. That is not true. It is not even clear that car smoking bans would prevent ear and upper respiratory infections, but they certainly are not going to reduce the incidence of heart disease and lung cancer.

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