Did Carmona Read His Own Report?

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Michael Siegel, a tobacco control activist who supports government-imposed smoking bans, slams the Office of the Surgeon General for falsely claiming or implying that brief, transient exposure to secondhand smoke raises the risk of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and heart attack. The inaccurate or misleading statements appear not in the surgeon general's report on secondhand smoke but in the press release, fact sheet, and remarks by Surgeon General Richard Carmona that accompanied the report's publication. The press release, for example, claims that "even brief exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung cancer," attributing this finding to the report. Siegel, who believes that long-term, intense exposure to secondhand smoke (such as that experienced by people married to smokers for decades) can cause lung cancer and heart disease, faults the surgeon general for "distort[ing] the science in an effort to sensationalize it and increase the emotional impact of the communication":

There is absolutely no evidence to support this claim. Certainly, no evidence is presented in the Surgeon General's report to support this claim. And certainly, the Surgeon General's report draws no such conclusion.

In fact, such a conclusion flies in the face of common medical sense. How could it possibly be that a brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart disease? It takes many years for heart disease to develop. It takes years of exposure to tobacco smoke even for a smoker to develop heart disease. I estimate that it takes at least 25 years of exposure (based on the fact that very few smokers are diagnosed with heart disease before age 40).

So how could it possibly be that for an active smoker, heart disease takes 25 years of exposure to tobacco smoke to develop, but for a passive smoker, it only takes a single, transient, brief exposure?

It is also quite misleading to tell the public that a brief exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer. There is certainly no evidence for this and the Surgeon General's report itself draws no such conclusion. In fact, the report makes it clear that most of the studies linking secondhand smoke and lung cancer studied nonsmokers with many years of intense exposure.

In his remarks, Carmona similarly claimed that "breathing secondhand smoke for even a short time can damage cells and set the cancer process in motion. Brief exposure can have immediate harmful effects on blood and blood vessels, potentially increasing the risk of a heart attack." Clearly, it's not just the news media that are misrepresenting the findings of the surgeon general's report. So is the surgeon general.

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  1. 1. Yesterday’s Tribune commuter rag had only one headline, with a silhouette of a dastardly looking young mang smoking: “Public Enemy Number One! Exposure to Second-Hand Smoke Even Once can Kill You!”

    2. I went out for a smoke today in my usual spot outside the building, (25 feet from door, well on the sidewalk) only to be told by a guard that “you can’t smoke here anymore” because there is an air vent near there.

  2. This is an error that is made by almost everyone in the anti-second-hand-smoke crowd. The studies which purport to show that SHS has an effect on cancer risk or heart disease almost always involved subjects that are chronically exposed to SHS, such as the non-smoking spouses of smokers or people who work in smoky environments for hours every day.

  3. Hey, everybody I know who has died or gotten sick has been exposed to second hand smoke for at least a brief period. I don’t think it’s very funny to diminish their suffering by ignoring the root cause.

    Perhaps we should look more into the interaction of second hand smoke and heavy use of dihydrogen monoxide, since everybody I know who had died or gotten sick abused that chemical.

  4. nyc is running a lot of ads that pull shit like this, mostly about children and secondhand smoke.

  5. This is a depressing pattern I see over and over with these kinds of reports.

    The actual report is prepared by actual scientists, who have reputations to protect, so it tends to be valid science.

    But then the politicians get ahold of it, and they ignore the details and misrepresent the conclusions.

    Sometimes the political aspect sneaks into the study a bit, and the conclusions correspond to the politics. But if you read the study carefully, you can find all the ass-covering definitions and special methodologies needed to make the conclusion true. (E.g. if the study has to show that children are being harmed, the definition of child might include people up to 25 years old.)

    Even some of the most outrageous studies can have a core of good solid science that is being corrupted for political gain.

  6. Hey, that dihydrogen monoxide is dangerous stuff. If it gets into your lungs, you can die.

    In fact, most of the deaths attributed to hurricane Katrina were due to dihydrogen monoxide inhalation. Surprisingly, it’s also a leading cause of hurricanes.

  7. Ha ha, the “slam-dunk” turns out to be a brick.

  8. “”The actual report is prepared by actual scientists, who have reputations to protect, so it tends to be valid science.

    But then the politicians get ahold of it, and they ignore the details and misrepresent the conclusions”””

    Pretty much sums up Bush’s administration.

  9. There is a significant correlation between people who get lung cancer and people who breathe.

  10. Or Al Gore’s movie.

  11. The actual report is prepared by actual scientists, who have reputations to protect, so it tends to be valid science.

    But then the politicians get ahold of it, and they ignore the details and misrepresent the conclusions.

    You must be talking about last week’s Global Warming report….

  12. Carmona Not True

  13. 3. I just went to buy cigarettes at Walgreens and was accosted by a stranger at the checkout line.

    It’s almost as if there were a bunch of people who were just sitting and waiting for an announcement like this so that they could spew rudeness and hate and feel justified. Imagine that!

  14. “cigarrette madness” anyone?

  15. Carmona Not True

    Ha ha!
    I get it.
    That should have been the title for this post.

  16. This is an error that is made by almost everyone in the anti-second-hand-smoke crowd. The studies which purport to show that SHS has an effect on cancer risk or heart disease almost always involved subjects that are chronically exposed to SHS, such as the non-smoking spouses of smokers or people who work in smoky environments for hours every day.

    It’s not an error. It’s intentional.

  17. “It’s TV’s fault why I am this way.”

  18. Here’s the part I don’t get. I don’t think smoking is dangerous for kids. It seems to be much more dangerous for 50 year olds. I smoked when I was a kid, as did many of my now non-smoking peers. Maybe we should change the laws so you have to be under 50 to buy a pack of smokes?

  19. These dumb remarks are pretty typical for Reason these days – a bunch of nicotine junkies gather around to “debunk” what’s long been established past any disputing other than in the heads of drug addicts jonesing for their next hit of the loathsome weed, as if any amount of “debunking” of the Surgeon General’s remarks would change the fact that smokers are nothing but selfish drug addicts who insist on polluting the lungs, skin, hair and eyes of others who don’t share their filthy habit under the name of “freedom”, ignoring the rights of those of us without a tobacco drug problem to be free of the carcinogens they spew out with every ash-tainted breath.

    I long to see the day when Reason’s posters and commenters engage with an issue like this seriously by looking with a detached mind at the evidence against their preferred position instead of engaging in cheap sniping and circle-jerking as if most of them knew what a p-test or a type II error was, let alone were in any position to pass judgment on the scientific evidence against passive smoking. Of course, to look seriously at evidence running counter to one’s disposition would actually make this site a place for serious thought rather than a haven for ideologues looking for reinforcement of their stale nonsense. Tobacco is a filthy, highly carcinogenic drug, those who use it are just as much drug addicts as heroin users are drug addicts, and at least it can be said on behalf of heroin shooters that they don’t foul the air in public places and business establishments with their drug of choice, a point nicotine addicts can’t even make on their own behalf in between taking another puff on the death-sticks between their yellow-stained fingers.

  20. Sorry, NJT, but you’re asking for inconsistency on this issue. Smoke is an air pollutant. If it were coming from any source other than a tobacco fire, you wouldn’t recognize any inconsistency on their part in being skeptical that low enough concentrations are harmful. It’s ACSH that’s inconsistent there.

  21. Ayatollah Usoe, there are a lot of things kids can handle more of than old folks. Spicy food, mild injury, pizza, illness, sunburn, and maybe smoke too.

    Is Carmona a homeopath?

  22. A letter to the editor I sent out today;

    Hello I am writing in response to the Hamilton Spec article by Sharon Murray July 4 2006
    The article titled
    “City urged to get tough on smokers at shop entrances as children dodge cigarettes”

    My response;

    I am writing in respect to the misguided comments of a grandmother stated as dodging smokers in an attempt to enter a retail establishment in the west end.
    Her demands of the precautionary principle in respect to avoiding smokers and a belief a danger exists, in the presence of cigarette smoke in outdoor air. I would propose to this woman caution in her presentations. Sometimes the exaggerations go too far.

    Take your offspring and get ye to the mountain foolish woman. On a day such as today gaze out over the panorama of the city. The yellow haze hanging above the city has little to do with cigarette smoke. If you seek to protect your descendants perhaps a little more intelligence in respect to a real danger should be observed.

    The Six cities study presented to the American EPA this year by the American Lung Foundation, was largely ignored. I believe because a lot of credibility was on the line which could be dashed if the public were allowed to see the whole truth. The multi year study proved with physical observations [more realistic than statistical calculations]. A 26% disparity between most and least polluted cities in every category now known as smoking related diseases. The level proposed was a reduction of a mere five micro grams per cubic meter of air. The reduction of just one, was proven to result in a savings of 75,000 lives per year. Something to think about in a rally call to punish smokers in dealing with an addiction.

    One would think a grandmother would be old enough and wise enough to remember the cause of the second world war. The abuse of others seems to align her with the principles so many brave Canadians died to oppose. In respect to a prevalence of smokers in the 60s when 100% of the population was exposed to the deadly tobacco smoke every day. One has to wonder how this woman lived long enough to be a grandmother a miracle to behold, based in the credibility of the rhetoric she uses against her neighbors. She demonstrates a hateful flaw in her character, a trait hopefully her grandchild will not be forced to share.

    Smokers should demonstrate defiantly the reality in human testing of hundreds of years, no cancers were found in human biological assay. In dealing with urban myths and health care professionals, dedicated to saving you from your self. Show them the long term effects of second hand smoke; that nicotine stained middle finger, reality beyond a level of exposure ever applied to a lab rat, millions of times the dosage a non smoker could ever inhale, how many cancerous fingers have they found?

    In dealing with the exaggerations; coercion in distributing misleading medical information is actually an international crime, based in autonomy and the right to free will. These are principles derived of the Nuremberg trials, yes they did hang doctors didn?t they, funny no one realizes why. When facing the criminals in health advocacy offer them a finger for inspection. In real science one test is available to establish a fact; reproducible consistently. Repeat as often as required.
    Best Regards;

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