Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Smoking Still Killing 340 Young People a Day; Secondhand Smoke Now Killing Thousands of Children

According to Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trials, smoking is still killing 340 young people every day. And according to a press release issued by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), thousands of children are now dying each year from secondhand smoke.

According to the Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails web site: "Smoking kills about 340 young people a day."

According to Jacob Sullum's commentary yesterday at Reason Magazine's Hit & Run blog, ASH issued a press release yesterday stating: "A man's home may be his castle, but that doesn't mean he is free to abuse his children inside it by unnecessarily subjecting them to a substance which is known to cause cancer, and which kills thousands of children every year."

While the ASH claim that thousands of children die each year from secondhand smoke appears to be new, the claim by Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails that 340 young people die each day from smoking has been on its web site for months, despite my having contacted the organization two months ago to point out the inaccuracy of the claim. The organization responded by suggesting that it might fix it but had to wait until the web master returned from vacation.

The Rest of the Story

Apparently, the web master is on a long vacation. All efforts to contact him or her have been unsuccessful. Even a beach towel to beach towel search in Tortola was apparently unsuccessful in locating this guy.

Perhaps the web master is on a two-month vacation. But is it not also possible that Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails doesn't really care about the fact that for the past several months, its web site has contained a blatantly false statement? I'm beginning to think so.

ASH's claim that thousands of children die each year from secondhand smoke is equally inaccurate. At very best, ASH could contend that thousands of infants die each year from SIDS caused by secondhand smoke. Even that claim would be suspect, although at least there is some scientific evidence to support it. But to claim that thousands of children die each year from secondhand smoke is ridiculous. There is no evidence at all I am aware of that thousands of children die from secondhand smoke.

While it is true that secondhand smoke causes thousands of respiratory and ear infections and hundreds of thousands of asthma exacerbations among children each year, I have seen no evidence that this is resulting in thousands of deaths among these children. Thousands of hospitalizations - yes. Thousands of deaths - fortunately, no.

Given the fact that I am a strong proponent of workplace smoking bans and of educational efforts to protect children from secondhand smoke, my point is obviously not to challenge the evidence that secondhand smoke is a severe health hazard. In fact, quite the opposite. By making ridiculous statements like this, anti-smoking groups are risking undermining of the public's appreciation of the hazards of secondhand smoke. If people find that anti-smoking groups are distorting and exaggerating their claims, people may end up dismissing all anti-smoking claims, even legitimate ones regarding the real health effects of secondhand smoke.

Why do these anti-smoking groups need to distort the truth? Why is the truth not enough? Why risk the entire credibility and reputation of the tobacco control movement simply to be able to make more outlandish statements? And most ironically, why distort the truth when anti-smoking groups spend so much time criticizing tobacco companies for doing just that?

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