And Just Thinking About the Sandwich Will Give You Palpitations

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Richard Sargent, the physician and anti-smoking activist who co-authored the 2003 study that claimed a smoking ban in Helena, Montana, led to an immediate 40 percent drop in heart attacks, explains how such a dramatic effect is possible:

"We used to think that heart disease came after years of exposure," said Dr. Richard Sargent, board-certified in family practice with St. Peter's Community hospital in Helena, Mont.

Then studies in the 1990s began pointing to heart attacks that were happening very rapidly from short-term exposure to second-hand smoke, Sargent said in a phone interview.

"If you go into a restaurant for a sandwich, if you go into a bar for a beer and you get exposed to a heavy amount of second-hand smoke, you're just as at risk for a heart attack as a smoker," he said. "Working eight hours a day in a smoke-filled environment is the equivalent of smoking a pack a day."

Michael Siegel, another physician and anti-smoking activist, explains why Sargent is full of crap. Siegel worries that "the anti-smoking movement is quickly becoming a complete joke."

Notice that Sargent initially seems to be claiming that dosage doesn't matter: One sandwich in a smoky restaurant gives you the same heart attack risk as decades of smoking–in which case diners exposed to secondhand smoke could start smoking without raising their heart attack risk. Does that seem like sound health advice for a family doctor to give?

But then Sargent says, in effect, "Forget what I said about eating a sandwich or drinking a beer; it's actually working all day in a bar or restaurant where smoking is allowed that's equivalent to a pack-a-day habit." Again, this implies that waiters and bartenders in such establishments might as well start smoking, at least when it comes to heart disease. So far Sargent is not claiming that exposure to secondhand smoke poses the same lung cancer and emphysema risks as smoking. But give him time.

[Thanks to Linda Stewart for the tip.]

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  1. Holy shit. I walked by some guy on the street yesterday who was smoking. I’m fucked, man, FUCKED! I might as well go out and start smoking now. It’s too late for me. You guys, you remember me…remember the…good…times…

  2. Who cares? I prefer Dick York, anyway.

  3. Yup, if a particle of second-hand smoke has ever wafted in your general direction you are already doomed! So, just kick back, relax, and enjoy a smoke or two while you wait for the cardiac arrest, lung and throat cancer, impotentcy, and kidney failure that will hit you all at once in about 30 minutes.

  4. I can see the ads now:

    Smoking is worse than Ebola!

    Don’t smoke, you’ll die tomorrow!

    Brought to you by the Council for Condescending Paternalism.

  5. “the anti-smoking movement is quickly becoming a complete joke.”

    I wouldn’t call it a joke, because I don’t find it funny. As long as they keep writing the punchline into law, each one topping the last, I aint laughing.

  6. About a year ago, there were radio ads claiming “some studies have shown second-hand tobacco smoke is more harmful than first-hand”.

    Put out by the Government Anti-Smoking bunch. At first, I thought I heard it wrong, but it ran for over a month.

    Smoking seems to be a good defense against second-hand smoke. Might have to go back to Camels.

  7. i love smoking

  8. Every movement similar to this has chicken littles that have a terrible effect on the credibility of the entire group. Go back and watch Reefer Madness, it’s the same thing. Or any PSA that came out during the Reagan administration. Or go read the stuff that was put out during the breast implant scare. It’s unfortunate, but entirely predictable. And the poeple who are guilty of it end up staking their entire careers on obviously false overstatements, so they can’t reasonably back away from them. We’ve seen it before, and we’ll see it again.

  9. Dick Sargent reminds me of the old joke:

    Q: What do you call the guy who graduatess last in his class in from Grenada Medical Center?

    A: Doctor

  10. “the anti-smoking movement is quickly becoming a complete joke.”

    There IS something amusing about new-agey Puritans who pretend to care about other peoples’ health.
    Perhaps they should all sue each other for false advertising; the EPA, CDC and WHO would be good places to start.

    Italics not working here, so quotes:
    “I wouldn’t call it a joke, because I don’t find it funny. As long as they keep writing the punchline into law, each one topping the last, I aint laughing.”

    I was tempted to say something about these silly new laws ending up on the “stupid laws” websites of the future, but that’s unlikely because C.S. Lewis was probably right –

    “Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.”

  11. You all SHOULD smoke! Please smoke.

    The quicker you wing nuts die off, the better off the whole world will be.

  12. C’mon, drx, you’re going to have to work a little harder than that. With Jersey McJones on the scene, you’ve got some competition now.

  13. …but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.

    They have consciences?????

  14. Drx, I’m sorry that your mother didn’t give you enough attention in your childhood, but that wasn’t our fault. Stop taking it out on us.

  15. You all SHOULD smoke! Please smoke.

    The quicker you wing nuts die off, the better off the whole world will be.

    According to Richard Sargent, we already do. The exposure– even minute and temporary– to second hand smoke gives us the same heart attack risk as the actual smoker. Sorry, you’re screwed to. So, as the logic follows, take up smoking, you won’t increase your risk.

    Siegel worries that “the anti-smoking movement is quickly becoming a complete joke.”

    Siegel’s a little slow on the uptake. It’s been a joke for a very, very long time.

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