Blowing Secondhand Smoke:
New Research Uncovers False Claims Spread by Anti-Smoking Groups
A new study published this week in the journal Epidemiologic Perspectives & Innovations reveals that many anti-smoking groups are deceiving the public by exaggerating the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke. The study’s author, Dr. Michael Siegel – a professor at Boston University School of Public Health – is a long-time anti-smoking advocate, researcher, and a supporter of workplace smoking bans who believes that many anti-smoking groups are acting unethically by misrepresenting the facts about secondhand smoke to the public and that this may harm their credibility and effectiveness in future efforts. The study, which provides a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence regarding the cardiovascular effects of brief exposure to secondhand smoke, is available on the journal’s web site at:
The article provides a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence relevant to the acute cardiovascular health effects of secondhand smoke. It then evaluates claims made by at least 100 anti-smoking groups that brief exposure to secondhand smoke causes a number of severe health effects - including atherosclerosis, reduced coronary artery flow, heart damage, heart disease, heart attacks, fatal and catastrophic arrhythmias, and strokes - in otherwise healthy individuals (those without severe, pre-existing coronary artery disease).
The article concludes that: "Based on the analysis, it appears that a large number of anti-smoking organizations are making inaccurate claims that a single, acute, transient exposure to secondhand smoke can cause severe and even fatal cardiovascular events in healthy nonsmokers. The dissemination of inaccurate information by anti-smoking groups to the public in support of smoking bans is unfortunate because it may harm the tobacco control movement by undermining its credibility, reputation, and effectiveness. Disseminating inaccurate information also represents a violation of basic ethical principles that are a core value of public health practice that cannot and should not be sacrificed, even for a noble end such as protecting nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure. How the tobacco control movement responds to this crisis of credibility will go a long way towards determining the future effectiveness of the movement and its ability to continue to save lives and protect the public's health."
Among the groups implicated in making inaccurate and/or misleading health claims are Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR), Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Smoke-Free Ohio, the New York City Department of Health, the Montana Tobacco Advisory Board, TobaccoScam, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (TFK).
The article goes on to explain that provision of accurate health information to the public is a core ethical principle of public health practice. The right of the public to accurate and non-misleading health information is supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The paper's final conclusion is as follows:
"While there is ample evidence that chronic exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, and therefore heart attack risk, and there is some suggestive evidence that acute exposure to secondhand smoke may present some degree of risk to individuals with existing severe coronary artery disease, there appears to be no scientific basis for claims that brief, acute, transient exposure to secondhand smoke increases heart attack risk in individuals without coronary disease, that it increases such risk to the level observed in smokers, that it can cause atherosclerosis, that it can cause fatal or catastrophic cardiac arrhythmias, or that it represents any other significant acute cardiovascular health hazard in nonsmokers."
"In light of this, the claims that are being widely disseminated by a large number of tobacco control groups appear to be scientifically unjustified and inaccurate."
"The dissemination of inaccurate information by anti-smoking groups to the public in support of smoking bans is unfortunate because it may harm the tobacco control movement by undermining its credibility, reputation, and effectiveness."
"While anti-smoking groups may provide a utilitarian-based argument that these inaccurate and/or misleading communications are doing more good than harm in the long run because they are helping to promote smoke-free policies which will protect the public's health and save lives, the problem is that even if this were true, disseminating inaccurate information represents a violation of basic ethical principles that are a core value of public health practice that cannot and should not be sacrificed. The ends do not justify the means, especially when those means are violating principles of autonomy and self-determination that form the essential bases for free societies. These are values which cannot and should not be trodden upon by public health organizations simply to promote a favored policy."
Examples of Inaccurate and Misleading Claims by Anti-Smoking Groups,
with Links to Active Websites Containing these Claims
Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights: "Even a half hour of secondhand smoke exposure causes heart damage similar to that of habitual smokers. Nonsmokers’ heart arteries showed a reduced ability to dilate, diminishing the ability of the heart to get life-giving blood." [LINK]
Coalition for a Tobacco-Free
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: "as little as 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger harmful cardiovascular changes, such as increased blood clotting, that increase the risk of a heart attack." [LINK]
DuPage County Health Department: "30 minutes exposure = stiffened, clogged arteries" [LINK]
Tobacco Public Policy Center: " A recent study completed by Japanese researchers concluded that just 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to hardening of the arteries in nonsmokers." [LINK]
University of North Carolina Department of Family Medicine: "30 minutes of exposure = stiffened, clogged arteries" [LINK]
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: "Just 30 minutes of exposure to second-hand smoke produces some of the same physical reactions that would occur from long-term smoking, and increases the risk of heart disease in non-smokers." [LINK]
Clean Air for Everyone (C.A.F.E.)
Washington State Department of Health: "Only 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure may cause heart damage similar to that of regular smokers. This exposure can reduce the ability of the arteries close to the heart to expand, which reduces the ability of the heart to receive life-giving blood." [LINK]
Campaign for a Healthy and Responsible Tennessee: "The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that just 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke changes blood chemistry and increases the risk of heart disease in non-smokers." [LINK]
Tobacco Free Coalitions of