Friday, January 07, 2011

Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights: Active Smoking is No Worse than Secondhand Smoke Exposure

According to Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) - a leading national smoke-free air advocacy - active smoking is no worse than secondhand smoke exposure.

In a fact sheet entitled "Secondhand Smoke: The Science," the group claims that the health effects of secondhand smoke are virtually the same as those of active smoking. According to the fact sheet, "there are virtually no health disparities between active and passive smoking."

The fact sheet also states that active smoking only causes the same amount of heart damage as 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke.

The precise statements made by ANR are as follows:

1. "A June 2004 study published in the British Medical Journal reaffirmed that there are virtually no health disparities between active and passive smoking. The risks of heart disease associated with secondhand smoke are twice what were previously thought and are virtually indistinguishable from those associated with active smoking."

2. "Just thirty minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart damage similar to that of habitual smokers."

The Rest of the Story

These false claims are damaging because they undermine decades of public education about the hazards of active smoking. They represent a lie that is every bit as false as anything the tobacco industry has fraudulently asserted in the historical annals of tobacco industry lies and deception.

The claims are particularly damaging because if believed by the public, they remove any incentive for smokers to quit. If smoking is only as bad as secondhand smoke exposure, then the hazards of active smoking are no where near as great as previously thought. Moreover, if smokers are going to be around people who smoke anyway, then there is no incentive for them to quit.

At this point, I am convinced that this statement by Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights is not a simple mistake or oversight. It is a deliberate lie. I say this because I have informed the group on multiple occasions of these factual errors and it has apparently decided not to remove, change, or even clarify these claims. I have offered specific language that would correct the claims, but those changes were apparently rejected by ANR. Thus, I can only assume that the organization has made an intentional decision to retain these factually inaccurate claims on its web site.

This is particularly sad to me because I used to be on the Executive Board of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. At that time, the organization was very concerned about the scientific accuracy of its statements. I wrote a number of documents that were used by the organization and helped to ensure the scientific integrity of many the claims that we made about the health effects of secondhand smoke.

But suddenly, things changed. In 1999, ANR refused to clarify a statement I made in a document on its web site in order to ensure that it would be properly interpreted. Even though the document was mine (I wrote it), ANR would not post a slight revision that corrected a statement that inadvertently was misleading. After ANR refused to post my revised document, I demanded that the organization remove the document from its web site. It refused and instead, simply took my name off. You can read the entire story here.

The explanation for ANR's refusal to honor my copyright and to post my minor correction: "ANR must put its political credibility ahead of what you consider to be your scientific credibility." The organization admitted that its political concerns were more important than the scientific truth.

I therefore resigned from the ANR Board. Sadly, it appears that the same philosophy of putting politics ahead of scientific honesty continues in the organization to this day.

As I have said before, this is quite unfortunate because the simple truth would be enough to promote policies to protect workers and the public from the hazards of secondhand smoke exposure. I have testified in more than 100 cities in favor of 100% smokefree workplace laws and have been successful in the overwhelming majority of them, simply by speaking the truth about the health effects of secondhand smoke and by providing accurate scientific information. There simply is no need to lie in order to promote smoke-free policies.

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