Public Health

And Then She Realized That the Smoke Was Coming From Inside the House…


In what reads like a parody of a local TV news teaser, anti-smoking activist John  Banzhaf warns anxious parents that the "Biggest Halloween Risk for Kids Is Surprising." Hmm. What could it be? It's not deadly treats, since "the National Confectioners Association and others say that the idea that Halloween candy is likely to be tainted with razor blades or poison is largely an urban myth." Nor is it car collisions, since "only a handful of children are killed in auto accidents every Halloween in the United States." You don't have to wait until the 11 o'clock news to find out the terrifying truth:

The number [of children who die in traffic accidents on Halloween] pales in comparison to the death toll from tobacco smoke.

According to the Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine and the New York Times, secondhand tobacco smoke kills more than one thousand children every year from diseases including respiratory syncytial bronchiolitis, asthmatic attacks, and other respiratory complications….

Thus, suggests Prof. John Banzhaf of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), adults should warn their children this Halloween, and also on other days, against visiting, going to parties, or playing in homes where adults smoke, especially in their presence.

Let's not question Banzhaf's reliance on a New York Times story as evidence that secondhand smoke kills 1,000 kids a year. Let's assume it's true. Divide 1,000 by 365, and you get fewer than three fatalities per day—presumably even on Halloween, unless there is something especially deadly about secondhand smoke on October 31. (Wouldn't going outside for trick or treating reduce exposure to secondhand smoke?) Technically, three is less than the "handful" killed by cars, and by no stretch of the imagination does the latter number "pale" in comparison to the former. An even bigger leap is suggesting, based on concerns about the health effects of chronic, long-term exposure to secondhand smoke, that the smoke wafting from neighbors' homes while they hand out candy just might kill your kid. It's the sort of scary story that only a grownup could believe.

Yesterday Jesse Walker noted an essay by Lenore Skenazy about Halloween fears.