Monday, January 14, 2008

Anti-Smoking Group Claims 30 Minutes of Secondhand Smoke Can Cause Atherosclerosis

An anti-smoking group in Missouri - the Campus-Community Alliances for Smoke-Free Environments (CASE), run out of the University of Missouri in Columbia - is claiming that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure can cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in nonsmokers.

According to CASE: "The same half hour of secondhand smoke can cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which leads to heart attacks and strokes."

The Rest of the Story

This claim appears on the organization's "Get the Facts" web page. Unfortunately, if you want to get the actual facts, you'll have to turn somewhere other than this web page. Because 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure cannot possibly cause atherosclerosis. Even in active smokers, it takes many years of tobacco smoke exposure before hardening of the arteries occurs. You cannot develop atherosclerosis in 30 minutes!

This claim is so blatantly false - on its face - that it is really hard to imagine that CASE actually believes the statement is true.

The research article upon which this claim is based demonstrates that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure increases platelet activity. Somehow, the facts got lost in the translation. Instead of stating that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke activation causes platelet activation in nonsmokers, CASE instead embellished this to state that 30 minutes of smoke exposure causes hardening of the arteries. Unfortunately, the embellishment changed an accurate scientific finding into a false representation of the science.

I feel it is important that public health groups accurately represent science to the public. Studies such as the one by Burghuber et al. are difficult for the public to understand and people depend upon public health groups to accurately interpret and present scientific findings.

My hope was that 2008 would bring greater scientific accuracy in the tobacco control movement. Unfortunately, so far we are headed in the opposite direction.

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