Tobacco

Surgeon General's Warning: Living Causes Cancer

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The CDC seems to be simultaneously defending and backing away from its warnings that a few errant molecules of secondhand smoke just might give you heart disease or lung cancer. Last summer, in a statement that accompanied his report on secondhand smoke, then-Surgeon General Richard Carmona claimed "even brief exposure…increases risk for heart disease and lung cancer." Responding to criticism that such statements are scientifically unfounded and biologically absurd, since these diseases take decades to develop even in smokers, Terry Pechacek, associate director for science at the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, recently told Inside Bay Area "we can't quantify what is 'brief.'" Could it be, say, 40 years? Pechacek won't say. At the same, Pechacek "explained the reason for the Surgeon General's warning that even brief exposure could trigger cancer. 'There is some risk that even a very small amount can damage a cell,' he said, setting off a chain reaction that causes cancer.'"

This position renders irrelevant any attempt to determine what level of exposure to a possibly dangerous chemical is associated with a measurable increase in cancer risk. It implies that any substance that causes cancer in some doses under some circumstances should not be tolerated in any dose under any circumstances. Michael Siegel sums it up well on his tobacco policy blog:  

By this reasoning, the CDC should also be warning the public that:

• A single chest X-ray causes cancer.

• Being in the sun for thirty seconds causes cancer.

• Breathing in diesel fumes for ten seconds causes cancer.

• Eating peanut butter causes cancer.

• Eating a single char-broiled burger causes cancer.

• Drinking a sip of chlorinated water causes cancer.  

In fact, just the process of living every day could be said to cause cancer, since there is always damage being done to our cells that could potentially trigger cancer. The body has defense mechanisms that repair this damage constantly. This is the reason why it takes more than a single exposure to cause cancer. The exposure has to overwhelm the body's ability to repair the damage….Once you are willing to state that a single exposure to a carcinogen that could potentially damage one cell is enough to warrant a public statement that the exposure causes cancer, then all of your statements about carcinogenic exposures become meaningless. 

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  1. And what is the CDC going to do about all that carbon 14 in my body that is constantly emitting radiation and damaging my cellular structure?

  2. I love Michael Siegel, and I love even more how he is the turd in the punch bowl among anti-smoking advocates.

    Nitpicky pedantic note: Smoke is a colloidal suspension, not a homogenous cluster of molecules, although I’m sure you already know that and were just taking a shortcut.

  3. A single chest X-ray causes cancer.
    Check
    ? Being in the sun for thirty seconds causes cancer.
    Check
    ? Breathing in diesel fumes for ten seconds causes cancer.
    Missed it
    ? Eating peanut butter causes cancer.
    Triple points on this one.
    ? Eating a single char-broiled burger causes cancer.
    Double points
    ? Drinking a sip of chlorinated water causes cancer.
    Lost count here

    Five out of six ain’t bad.

    Funny, I don’t feel dead.

  4. In related news, PA Governor Rendell today proposed a new health plan that basically is going to guarantee health coverage to everyone in Pennsylvania and improve the quality of healthcare in Pennsylvania. Sounds tough, I know, but it’s really simple.

    He’s going to introduce “…a series of quality and safety initiatives to tackle hospital-acquired infections and other often preventable medical errors. His administration estimates it could save billions of dollars and reduce the human toll from preventable complications during care.” Billions! Who knew a handful of new regulations could accomplish so much?

    But I digress. The real reason this is related is that Rendell wants to make PA a “smoke free state”. Smoking would be banned in all workplaces, bars, restaurants and public places, and it would be partially funded through “a new tax on smokeless tobacco and cigars, [and] an increase in the cigarette tax”. Because, of course, tobacco use is the main obstacle to working socialized medicine in this state.

  5. I missed the peanut butter reference, but:

    Eating foods with vitamin E, like whole grains, peanuts, nuts, peanut butter, vegetable oils, and seeds, can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, according to two break-through studies just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The same benefits did not hold true for vitamin E from supplements, making the case for getting antioxidants from a healthy diet, instead of a bottle of pills.

    And haven’t I heard somewhere that antioxidants help prevent cancer?

  6. “But smoking is bad!”
    Watch the Rob Riener episode of South Park, and this will all make sense.

  7. Once you are willing to state that a single exposure to a carcinogen that could potentially damage one cell is enough to warrant a public statement that the exposure causes cancer, then all of your statements about carcinogenic exposures become meaningless.

    Nonsense. You’d have to issue a lot of absurd statements over a period of time ; an occasional one is just the normal hazard of writing.

    I look forward to better posts in the future.

  8. Yeah, but secondhand smoke smells terrible.

  9. The space-time continuum causes cancer. Everybody drink.

  10. all that carbon 14 in my body that is constantly emitting radiation and damaging my cellular structure

    Actually, radioactive decay is just a theory. It’s possible that radioactive decay doesn’t work the way that scientists think it does, and so the earth is really much younger than they think.

    🙂

  11. Even if the dangerous effects of secondhand smoke are a pipedream, the world sure seems nicer without clouds of tobacco smoke everywhere. Smokers are free to smoke in private. Isn’t that enough?

  12. Yeah, but secondhand smoke smells terrible.

    Depends upon how long it’s been since your last smoke.

    Some quitters become Nazi’s, others encourage smokers to blow a little smoke their way.

  13. Thow-row, by old buddy Gonzalez aged a chunk of 2 x 4 by putting in the bushes by the Sunset Blvd onramp to the 405 for a semester (trimester?).

    He got a hellaciously old carbon dating on it. It was for some project he was doing at UCLA before they kicked him out of the Anthropology program for stealing an entire human skeleton and arranging it to lie in state on his glass top coffee table complete with potted pothos growing out of the rib cage. We never could figure out how they knew.

  14. Edward, I’m as happy as anyone to be free of swirling smoke. I’d be really happy to be free of the perfume wafting from old ladies whose nostrils are decayed from decades of cocaine snorting or old age, one. The unhappy result is that they can’t smell the crap until they’re drenched in it. I’m allergic and it smells a lot worse to me than cigarette smoke. Can we please ban these people along with the smokers?

    Disclaimer: I let people smoke in the house but most of them step out onto the deck out of courtesy anyway. I don’t let people smoke in my car.

    It goes without saying though that the property owner should get to set the rules, at least it did according to the First Edition of Libertarian rules and regs on morals, rights, and ethics.

  15. Clicking on the ‘comments’ link causes cancer.

  16. Warning! Most of you will die at some point in your lives.

  17. Some quitters become Nazi’s, others encourage smokers to blow a little smoke their way.

    I love the smell of cigar smoke.

  18. > Warning! Most of you will die at some point in your lives.

    At the end, I believe.

  19. They’ll have to kill me before I die!

  20. “Even if the dangerous effects of secondhand smoke are a pipedream, the world sure seems nicer without clouds of tobacco smoke everywhere.”

    Yes, because there’s nothing that makes the world a blue-skied, puppy ‘n’ kitten-eyed utopia quite like the unspoken threat of government force.

  21. Smokers are free to smoke in private. Isn’t that enough?

    .. like a privately owned restaurant or bar??

    .. Hobbit

  22. As there are fewer grams of air in the Earths atmosphere (

  23. As there are fewer grams of air in the Earths atmosphere (

  24. As there are fewer grams of air in the Earths atmosphere– some

  25. C’mon Russel, spit it out.

    i recently had a conversation about smoking in bars with my father. In Tempe, AZ the bars are smoke free. I went to Chicago for New Year’s Eve, and all the bars we went to were not smoke free. I commented that it ‘was’ nice to be able to go out and not come home smelling to high heave. But, he and I both agreed that I would rather go to a smoky bar than have the gummint telling me how to live my life. Also, my parents own a diner in our hometown, they plan on fighting anyone who tries to tell them they can’t allow smoking. They are both non-smokers.

  26. Amazingly, I never get to run into the bright potheads, I only get to run into the ones who espouse crazy nonsense like this.

    When I point out to them that inhailing any smoke is harmfuly, they come back with “nobody smokes enough weed to get cancer” and they they try to tell me I have been listening to fairy tails. Basically, only tobcco smoke is bad for people, no other smoke. Now add to that only radiation from a doctor is okay and no other.

    Yes, I smoke tobacco like a freight train and I don’t care what others smoke, so just do your thing and leave me alone, I don’t want to join you.

    Like I sad several times before, when pot is legal the shop keeper will be prohibited from preventing it, but tobacco is “evil”.

  27. ? Eating peanut butter causes cancer.

    ? Eating a single char-broiled burger causes cancer.

    I’m attempting to carve a niche as H & R’s most frequent poster of recipes. So, here goes my two favorite uses for the cited carcinogens:

    Thai Peanut Sauce

    1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
    1/4 cup peanut butter
    2tbls. sesame oil —
    1 tsp chili oil
    3 tbls. canola or other vegetable oil. Peanut oil if you have it, as it provides extra bad cancer-things.
    1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
    chopped cilantro
    chopped scallions

    You can mix everything but the green stuff up to three days before use.

    Karen’s special hamburger recipe (amounts stated for 3 pounds of ground meat)

    Spice mix:

    1 tbls. ground coriander seeds
    1 tbls. cumin
    1/2 tlbs cayenne or chili powder
    salt
    black pepper

    Add spices to ground meat along with sufficient Worchester sauce to soften and bind the meat. Shape into patties and grill — only grill, do not even think about using the stove top for this — to desired done-ness. (I’m a real idiot and still like my burgers medium, with visible pink. I’m just extra careful to use ground meat the day I buy it and only buy it from a grocer I trust.)

    Special fanciness:

    Cook about two slices of bacon for each burger. Meanwhile, slice one yellow onion. Separate the rings and saute in bacon fat until the onions are translucent or lightly browned and slightly crisp.

    Serve on the patties, in your favorite hamburger manner.

    If you want to really fake out your biochemistry, serve the peanut sauce on broccoli, which contains potent antioxidents. You can drink red wine with the burgers.

  28. Everything gives you cancer
    There’s no cure, there’s no answer..

  29. “The exposure has to overwhelm the body’s ability to repair the damage….”

    This statement is erroneous.

    An interesting article on cancer…
    http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2007/116/2

    It differs from the above post by providing actual information.

  30. Karen, you rule. I love Thai food. And that all looks pretty simple! I’ll try it.

    This meal needs a heart-healthy chocolate cake for dessert, though. =)

  31. 2tbls. sesame oil

    I hope you mean roasted sesame oil. If not, you should try it.

  32. Oh, and it is quite strong, so …

  33. Nazi must be the most overused epithet in the language.

  34. “Like I sad several times before, when pot is legal the shop keeper will be prohibited from preventing it, but tobacco is “evil”.”

    are you imagining some sort of hippie takeover of the united states where pot suddenly becomes a protected form of intoxication?

  35. pigwiggle, the original recipe called for regular sesame oil, but I’ll bet substituting one tablespoon of the roasted kind would be wonderful.

  36. Shortly before George Burns died, an interviewer asked him what his doctor thought of his smoking cigars.

    Burns said “Aw, he’s dead.” Or something to that effect.

    Beautiful.

  37. well, Guy, far be it from me to resist responding to a straw man set up by a troll, but tobacco and marijuana are two different species of plants. they contain different chemicals. the chemicals that are released in the smoke when they are burned are also different. therefore, it is entirely possible that tobacco smoke causes cancer and marijuana smoke does not. In fact, there are studies that suggest that the preceding statement may be factual. they have been reported on this very blog in the past.

    as for “fairy tails”, I’m reminded of VM’s Noam Chomsky blow-up doll, for some reason.

  38. Thanks for the peanut sauce recipe, Karen! I like Bangkok Padang brand peanut sauce, but I was trying to find a homemade recipe because the bottled stuff can get a tad pricey at times.

  39. Both the government and the media continue to play the no acceptable risk/exposure mantra which will increasly become the defacto regulatory limit. This is (and always was) dangerous and stupid and will begat even more egregious regulatory and spending bonanzas.

    Every congressional bill should come with a cost benefit and risk reduction analysis. Unfortunately, Congress would ignore the conclusions and the Executive Branch would build up a whole new federal agency to do the work that they would manipulate to their ends.

    Sigh.

  40. Sorry the posting software hiccuped earlier –
    As there are fewer grams of air in the Earths atmosphere (

  41. In fact, just the process of living every day could be said to cause cancer, since there is always damage being done to our cells that could potentially trigger cancer.

    All of this reminds me of the suggestion that if a man lived his entire life on a desert island having no exposure to cigarettes, but dies of a heart attack, it can be said that he died of something ‘smoking related’.

  42. All we can hope is that theser smokin bans which are so popular will finally put a stop to second-hand THC.

  43. apologies for the typos… i’m one handed after I broke my wrist on a snowboard this weekend. Not smoking related.

  44. As there are fewer grams of air in the Earths atmosphere —

  45. As there are ten times fewer grams of air in the Earths atmosphere than molecules in a single mole of any chemical compound , it is a mere fact of natural history that every one-gram breath of air we draw tends to contain not one but many molecule s of every known carcinogen man or nature has produced .

    Wild tobacco is a widespread weed . With lightning strikes perpetually igniting brush and forest fires, no human has ever drawn a breath without inhaling well traveled first-hand smoke. Like it or not, your lungs constantly contain not one, but many molecules of all the carcinogens smoke contains – whether it’s from incense ,creosote , or tobacco does not greatly signify.

  46. Karen, coriander is the BOMB for anything vaguely resembling bbq sauce.

  47. Oh, and coriander is the seed of, well, cilantro. Strange world we live in.

  48. Watching anti-smoking PSAs made by self-congratulating college assholes will give you cancer.

  49. “Yeah, but secondhand smoke smells terrible.”

    So do farts!

  50. Russell,

    Yea, thanks for reminding me about that horrid incense, especially punk.

    Somehow there is not endless drumbeat of attacks on incense producers. I suspect a hidden agenda.

    What is the markup on that stuff anyway? Betcha it is a lot more than tobacco or oil. No windfall profits taxe in the works there?

  51. Russell also reminds me that i am having a molar problam. Anybody have Dr. Avagadro’s number?

  52. “Yeah, but secondhand smoke smells terrible.”

    So do farts!

    They’ve already made that comparison. There’s a radio PSA with a solemn baritone voice intoning “Passing gas … it’s rude … it releases deadly chemicals … cracking a window is not enough … it can be deadly” interspersed with kids theatrically coughing and whining “I’m eating here!” and “Gross, Dad!” and then at the end you find out that passing gas means secondhand smoke! Because there’s gas! But you thought it was a fart! Those wacky PSAs!

  53. Reason is published by the Reason Foundation, which is funded by Philip Morris.
    But I’m sure you were going to mention that soon.

    Incidentally, two pro-smoking posts in two days? They’re definitely getting their money’s worth.

  54. ajay,

    So what? Greenpiece is funded by every hippy with a trust fund. That does not make their hypocracy and fake science false, it is the hypocracy and fake science on it’s own that makes what they say false.

    Reason happens to be correct, unless it is something in agreement with TNR, IMHO.

  55. Anything not good for you is bad, therefore, should be illegal.

    The mantra for the Democrats is: Too much Freedom, not enough Rules.

  56. Cathy Siepp is currently suffering from lung cancer. She says having the disease gives one perverse pleasures; scaring the hell out of people by explaining that she is thin, has always ate properly and exercised and never smoked or lived with a smoker, yet still has lung cancer.

  57. This position renders irrelevant any attempt to determine what level of exposure to a possibly dangerous chemical is associated with a measurable increase in cancer risk.

    Well, you have apparently thought about these issues considerably, Big J. Where do you, Jacob Sullum, Reasonwriter and policy maven, think the line should be drawn on the issue whose relevance you are here noting?

  58. John:
    Granted this is all first hand non statistical data, everyone I know, and there are several, who died from lung cancer were non-smokers.
    Perhaps the smokers died of heart attacks before they got lung cancer. But…
    What pisses me off is the sheer volume of money spent on “educating” smokers to quit (think Bloomberg’s 125 million)compared to the amount spent on early detection and actual lung cancer research. Guees if you are a non smoker with lung cancer, as more people will be due to longer lives, well screw you.

  59. If a 95 year old women, who smoked her whole life, dies of a heart attack – is her death still “smoking-related”?

  60. If a 95 year old women, who smoked her whole life, dies of a heart attack – is her death still “smoking-related”?

    If you are an anti tobacco zealot, undeniably.

  61. It’s the “no threshold” theory of carcinogenesis. Theoretically you could get cancer from one molecule of a carcinogen. The problem is that we are exposed to a host of carcinogens in daily life, so it would be impossible to attribute developing cancer to a minute exposure to one thing due to all the background noise created by baseline exposures.

    Paracelsus said almost 500 years ago “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”

    BTW
    –peanuts may contain aflatoxin from mold
    –charcoal grilled food contains pyrolysis products and polyaromatic hydrocarbons from burning organic material

  62. I never get to run into the bright potheads

    Actually, I’ll bet you do, you just don’t know they’re potheads, and they just don’t trust you enough to tell you.

  63. Actually there’s a great deal of science to prove what common sense observes. It’s indeed necessary for the body’s defenses to be “overwhelmed” before a cancer is initiated, and for almost every everyday substance under the sun, that takes a truly gigantic dose. For proof of that, google the work of Bruce Ames, a beyond-reproach scientist.

  64. “It’s indeed necessary for the body’s defenses to be “overwhelmed” before a cancer is initiated”

    This sesms to be a misunderstanding of Ames work. And ignores a great deal of good science.

    Apurinic sites produced in DNA from the loss of depurinating adducts can be converted into mutations by error-prone repair, which may initiate cancer and other diseases. This does not require the system to be “overwhelmed” in the sense that Sullum implies.

    Here’s a review worth reading.
    http://www.ratical.org/radiation/CNR/NoSafeThresh.html

  65. The point being that sometimes low dose can lead to cancer. It depends on the type of cancer, the type of exposure, and the interaction of a many complex processes.

    It only takes unrepaired or misrepaired damage to a single cell.

    Statistically, low doses have a smaller chance of causing cancer. This does not mean that the large doses overwhelm the bodies repair systems.

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