JAMA Reports on a Public Health Controversy: Should the Surgeon General Lie, or Should He Tell the Truth?


An article in the current Journal of the American Medical Association reports on criticism of the Surgeon General's Office for misrepresenting its own report on the health hazards of secondhand smoke by implying that "brief exposure" can cause heart disease and lung cancer. This claim strongly influenced news coverage of the report, which played up the "no safe level" angle and suggested that if you're going to stand near a smoker you might as well be swallowing botulin. You have to pay for the full text of the JAMA article, but Michael Siegel, whose criticism is quoted in the piece, has a summary. Instead of defending the surgeon general's statements, a CDC official changed the subject, pretending the point was that people who already have heart or lung disease should avoid secondhand smoke.