Stop It—You're Killing Me!
Michael Siegel lays into Action on Smoking and Health for pushing outdoor smoking bans by claiming that transient exposure to secondhand smoke might just kill you. "Breathing drifting tobacco smoke for even brief periods can be deadly," ASH claims in a background document that accompanied a press release it issued on Saturday. "For example, the Centers for Disease Controls [CDC] has warned that breathing drifting tobacco smoke for as little as 30 minutes ( less than the time one might be exposed outdoors on a beach, sitting on a park bench, listening to a concert in a park, etc.) can raise a nonsmoker's risk of suffering a fatal heart attack to that of a smoker." Siegel, who supports smoking bans for indoor workplaces, says this scare mongering is "the lowest I have observed the anti-smoking movement sinking in terms of misleading the public." He elaborates:
It is simply not the case that breathing drifting tobacco smoke for as little as 30 minutes can raise a nonsmoker's risk of suffering a fatal heart attack to that of a smoker, and in my view, it is not the case that CDC made such a claim.
The truth is that an otherwise healthy nonsmoker cannot suffer a heart attack as a result of 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke. A nonsmoker's risk of a heart attack from breathing tobacco smoke for 30 minutes is not the same as that of a smoker. It is actually ZERO.
You are not going to have a heart attack if you don't have coronary artery disease; and 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke is not going to clog your coronary arteries.
I cannot over-emphasize the fact that ASH's claim is completely fallacious. It's not like ASH is distorting the truth here. In my opinion, they are just completely making this up, or at least, misinterpreting the data so badly that it has the appearance of coming out of nowhere. You simply aren't going to get atherosclerosis and clogged coronary arteries in 30 minutes!!!
Siegel worries that such baseless claims will hurt the credibility of the anti-smoking movement and weaken public support for indoor smoking bans. I wish. But it seems to me that people will pretend to believe almost anything, no matter how ridiculous, if it helps them get what they want, and most people want to avoid cigarette smoke.