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Don’t believe the lies about secondhand smoke

Photo of Theodore J. King
Theodore J. King
Author, The War on Smokers

Recently, Alan, a friend on my Facebook fan page for my book, The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, asked me: “…what’s your take on the report from the surgeon general, Thursday, that only one cigarette kills millions of people and causes global warming and makes kittens cry?” Well, my take on that is this: what the new, portly surgeon general, Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, reported, if not as Alan described it, is also absurd, and she thinks people will believe it because she is, after all, a doctor and a government official. Her absurd report is this: even only brief exposure to secondhand smoke causes really bad health problems.

I should explain why I refer to the new surgeon general as portly, i.e. somewhat stout. I do so because she is. I could, I suppose, just say she is fat. The point is that her rotund size is significant because she is the chief of the health police. Why should we pay attention to her pronouncements on health when she is fat? Unlike the Labor Department secretary during the Clinton years who was ridiculed because he was of short stature and couldn’t grow taller, the S.G. can do something about her weight, i.e. lose some of it, not only for the sake of her health but also for her credibility when pontificating on a purported health issue.

I criticize her report that only brief exposure to secondhand smoke causes really bad health problems. Her report is absurd, but you needn’t take my word for it. Instead, read the recent words quoted below, written by Dr. Michael Siegel. Dr. Siegel is a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health. He has spent 25 years in the field of tobacco control and spent two years working in the Office of Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control, where he conducted research on secondhand smoke and cigarette advertising:

Fortunately, it is simply not true that even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease. Luckily, it takes many years of exposure before the process of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) can occur. If brief tobacco smoke exposure could cause heart disease, we would sadly see many young people in their twenties and thirties walking around with cardiovascular disease, and many dying from it at those ages. Even active smoking does not generally lead to heart disease unless you smoke for many years. Thus, it is simply untrue to assert that brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease. [Emphasis mine.]

This is a man who has published nearly 70 papers related to tobacco. He testified in the landmark Engle lawsuit against the tobacco companies, which resulted in an unprecedented $145 billion verdict against the tobacco industry. He is definitely not a fan of tobacco. He is a thin man of science, not a portly political appointee.

In Oklahoma, where I live, the State Department of Health advertises ad nauseam on television and radio the phony evils of secondhand smoke by proclaiming: “Secondhand smoke — no one should have to breathe it.” Although this slogan is partly true because no one should have to breathe it, even though breathing it isn’t harmful unless it is breathed for “many years” (Dr. Siegel’s words), the slogan is mostly, basically, and essentially false because it implies that a nonsmoker may have to breathe secondhand smoke. It is false, a lie, because in Oklahoma and in virtually every other state, NO ONE HAS TO BREATHE SECONDHAND SMOKE BECAUSE SMOKING IS BANNED EVERYWHERE except in stand-alone bars and separately-ventilated rooms in restaurants where nonsmokers don’t go anyway. So, because smokers are not permitted by state law to smoke in the presence of nonsmokers, there is no secondhand smoke for them to breathe. There is not even the brief exposure that the portly S.G. has condemned. Oklahoma smokers may smoke only in their aforementioned ghettoes — and in their homes, at least until the nanny staters invade homes with smoking bans.

The myths about secondhand smoke are lies and the product of the mass hysteria the nanny state has wrought that has overcome reason. The hidden and sly purpose of the attack on secondhand smoke is to convince everyone, even rational, smart people, that smoking is not only unhealthy but evil and that all tobacco should be banished from the earth.

Theodore J. King is the author of the book The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books a Million. He has been a columnist for the conservative quarterly The Oklahoma Constitution newspaper since 2000.

  • Al20002

    Hi Mr. King,
    Interesting article, but I think you may be relying on a straw man to gin up some outrage. Does 30 seconds in a smoky room increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease a few decades? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

    But what about this from the report: “Low levels of exposure, including exposures to secondhand tobacco smoke, lead to a rapid and sharp increase in endothelial dysfunction and inflammation, which are implicated in acute cardiovascular events and thrombosis.”

    Is that also untrue? Or should we not worry about “acute cardiovascular events”?

    And what about the DNA-damaging effects of secondhand smoke? And what about the higher rates of asthma among children in smoking households? Asthma kills over 5,000 Americans every year.

    Millions of people are exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular basis. Children breathe their parents’ cigarette smoke. Wives breathe smoke from their husbands’ pipes. Friends breathe in smoke from their buddies’ cigars. And so on.

    I don’t mean to say that the Surgeon General’s office is perfect, or that there are no problems in their report. But I find it a little odd that you would focus on one (potential) error, and then demonize the entire agency.

    Smoking has caused millions of preventable deaths in this nation, and it is going to cause millions more in the future. Personally, that makes me madder than the idea that some bureaucrats in Washington are being overly aggressive in a public health campaign. How about you?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Harleyrider-Davidson/100000730722973 Harleyrider Davidson

      And what about the DNA-damaging effects of secondhand smoke? And what about the higher rates of asthma among children in smoking households? Asthma kills over 5,000 Americans every year

      Asthma Death Rates Are Lower in States With Higher Rates of Smoking. The states of Utah and California, which have the lowest rates of smoking at 13.0 and 17.1 percent of adults respectively, are also among the states with the highest death rates from asthma. (Asthma Deaths, 2000; and: Smoking Among Adolescents, 2001, and Smoking Among Adults, 2001. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2003 State Health Profiles, Atlanta, GA: US Deparment of Health and Human Services, 2003.

      http://www.smokershistory.com/SmokAsth.gif

      ………………………………….

      The EPA’s Sorry Status Report on Children and Asthma
      “America’s Children and the Environment. Measures of Contaminants, Body Burdens, and Illnesses,” Second Edition, US EPA, Feb. 2003. EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman boasts that “This report marks the progress we have made as a nation to reduce environmental risks faced by childen,” including “Implementing the Smoke-Free Home Pledge campaign, designed to protect millions of children from the risks of tobacco smoke at home.” On pdf p. 75, “Between 1980 and 1995, the percentage of children with asthma doubled, from 3.6 percent in 1980 to 7.5 percent in 1995.” The graph on pdf page 67 boasts of declines in cotinine levels during this same period.

      http://www.epa.gov/opeedweb/children/publications/ace_2003.pdf

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Harleyrider-Davidson/100000730722973 Harleyrider Davidson

        The inconvenient truth is that the only studies of children of smokers suggest it is PROTECTIVE in contracting atopy in the first place. The New Zealand study says by a staggering factor of 82%.

        “Participants with atopic parents were also less likely to have positive SPTs between ages 13 and 32 years if they smoked themselves (OR=0.18), and this reduction in risk remained significant after adjusting for confounders.

        The authors write: “We found that children who were exposed to parental smoking and those who took up cigarette smoking themselves had a lower incidence of atopy to a range of common inhaled allergens.
        “These associations were found only in those with a parental history of asthma or hay fever.”

        They conclude: Our findings suggest that preventing allergic sensitization is not one of them.”

        http://www.medwire-news.md/…/…gic_sensitization

        This is a Swedish study.

        “Children of mothers who smoked at least 15 cigarettes a day tended to have lower odds for suffering from allergic rhino-conjunctivitis, allergic asthma, atopic eczema and food allergy, compared to children of mothers who had never smoked (ORs 0.6-0.7)

        CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrates an association between current exposure to tobacco smoke and a low risk for atopic disorders in smokers themselves and a similar tendency in their children.”

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubm…pubmed/ 11422156

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Harleyrider-Davidson/100000730722973 Harleyrider Davidson

          In 2008 this paper was produced in America and concludes that nictotine and hence active smoking and passive smoking leads to less asthma. It also gives the aetiology (causation) why nicotine and the biologial process that reduces asthma in recipients.

          The results unequivocally show that, even after multiple allergen sensitizations, nicotine dramatically suppresses inflammatory/allergic parameters in the lung including the following: eosinophilic/lymphocytic emigration; mRNA and/or protein expression of the Th2 cytokines/chemokines IL-4, IL-5, IL-13, IL-25, and eotaxin; leukotriene C4; and total as well as allergen-specific IgE. unequivocally show that, even after multiple allergen sensitizations, nicotine dramatically suppresses inflammatory/allergic parameters in the lung including the following: eosinophilic/lymphocytic emigration; mRNA and/or protein expression of the Th2 cytokines/chemokines IL-4, IL-5, IL-13, IL-25, and eotaxin; leukotriene C4; and total as well as allergen-specific IgE. ”

          http://www.jimmunol.org/cgi/content/abstract/180/11/7655

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Harleyrider-Davidson/100000730722973 Harleyrider Davidson

            And what about the DNA-damaging effects of secondhand smoke?

            Have you ever been to a cookout or a campfire or just been alive and breathed?

            If you answered yes then your not alone all of us breathe in these PAH’S everyday of our lives just from the air itself!

            Basically these supposed researchers didnt bother to do a comparison group of
            campers or 4th of july family cookout victims of PAH’s.

            Remeber the grilled food scare of burned food causing cancer…pah’s again same thing diferent route…..

            But they would have found the same genetic changes in these same folks.

            Super doped levels of non-toxic phenanthrene……the stuff shows up in 15-30 minutes when tested……thats just proof positive of an immune system working properly!!!

            epa.gov/osw/hazard/wastemin/minimize/factshts/phenanth.pdf

            HUMAN TOXICITY………PAH’s leave the body within days in urined and feces

            exposure from everywhere………theres no way they could have stopped exposure from other sources……they gave the folks super doses to try and show genetic changes which they already knew to happen at super high doses………they chose this phenanthrene because it doesnt harm anyone………what they got was what they already knew was going to happen as its been know for decades……….remember dose makes the poison and they spun this one using mega doses to show genetic changes that they knew would happen at such high doses already……..

            PAH’s are in such low concentrations they can hardly detect them .They got like 144 ng benzo[a]pyrene per cigarette converted according to potency equivalency factors (PEFs).

            Fron littlewood and fennels toxic study for osha pels………..

            All this is in a small sealed room 9×20 and must occur in ONE HOUR.
            For Benzo[a]pyrene, 222,000 cigarettes.

            They knew the outcome before they did the study…….They used common science to spin another headline is all thats happened…….

    • http://www.amazon.com/Dissecting-Antismokers-Brains-Michael-McFadden/dp/0974497908/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF MichaelJMcFadden

      AI20002, you wrote, “But what about this from the report: ‘Low levels of exposure, including exposures to secondhand tobacco smoke, lead to a rapid and sharp increase in endothelial dysfunction and inflammation, which are implicated in acute cardiovascular events and thrombosis.’
      Is that also untrue?”


      Actually… yes. If you follow the references for that statement I believe you will find the Otsuka study, which I have analyzed in the past. Here is a brief, and rather pointed, analysis. If you disagree with it feel free to explain why.

      ===
      (Otsuka, R. et al. Acute Effects of Passive Smoking…. JAMA. Vol 286. #4. 2001)

      In July 2001 Ryo Otsuka supposedly showed that simply being near a smoker for 30 minutes could kill you but if you actually read the study rather than just the headlines you’d find that:

       The smoke level (6ppm CO) was 300% higher than smoking seats of pressurized airplanes. This was not just “being near a smoker” in a restaurant. Other studies use smoke chambers with up to 40 ppm. That’s 2,000% more smoke than in a smoky airplane cabin!

       The study used nonsmokers who religiously avoided smoke in their daily lives, forced them to sign papers acknowledging potentially dangerous conditions and then stuck them in a smoke-choked room. The actual result? A small blood level change similar to what’s seen after a meal. The most amazing thing is that there were no heart attacks just from the stress!

       There was no control. Even a school science project would have had a sham model and “protocol signing” with subjects exposed to harmless but irritating odors and fog. The control study results would probably have been identical.

       Why wasn’t such a control set up? Could it be simply that the results would have negated the point of the study and the Antismoking grant money would have dried up? Perhaps… I honestly can’t think of any other reason. Otsuka’s study didn’t show a physical reaction to smoke: it showed a physical reaction to fear and stress… conditions promoted more by Antismokers than by smoke.

      Otsuka is at fault for deliberately using extreme experimental conditions without reasonable controls. The media is at fault in not reporting those conditions or the likely reaction of extreme nonsmokers. And Smoking Prohibitionists are at fault for using this study to convince people that simply being near smokers for 30 minutes causes heart attacks.

      This study and its abuse is an example of fear-mongering in the ugliest sense.

      See: http://kuneman.smokersclub.com/PASAN/StilettoGenv5h.pdf for analyses of some of the other studies in the SGR 2010 and then consider whether it’s really what you thought it was.

      - MJM

      Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2011/01/22/dont-believe-the-lies-about-secondhand-smoke/#ixzz1ErptWGwL

  • http://www.amazon.com/Dissecting-Antismokers-Brains-Michael-McFadden/dp/0974497908/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF MichaelJMcFadden

    Well written article Mr. King! I’d like to extend the criticism of the SGR2010 a bit further however to explain some of the “how” behind it reaching its conclusions.

    If you go to page 370 in the Report you will find a section on Cororony Flow problems as they relate to smoking. Virtually the entire section refers to studies about smoking itself. One sentence, right at the end, brings in secondhand smoke and sets the stage for the “Conclusion” to state that the coronary flow problems show the need for smoking bans to protect nonsmokers.

    Heh… the only problem is that aside from only citing ONE study in support of that conclusion, the study they selected, Otsuka 2001, most explicitly did NOT find coronary flow problems among ordinary people exposed to ordinary amounts of smoke.

    1) It didn’t use ordinary people: it used virtually religious smoke-avoiders in Japan who managed to avoid all contact with spousal, workplace and social exposures in their daily lives.

    2) It didn’t use ordinary levels of exposure: it used a sealed smoke chamber at an exposure level 300% more concentrated than the FAA measured in the middle of the smoking sections on pressurized aircraft in the 1980s.

    3) It forced the participants to sign documents clearly stating that they were potentially going to be exposed to dangerous smoke conditions.

    4) It didn’t bother to set up even the most basic “control” procedure — something that would have been quite simple to arrange with harmless fog and a stinky smell chamber alternating with the smoke chambers.

    5) It didn’t really find “problems” at all: just a very minor change in a scientific measurement… nothing at the clinical level at all. What it found was not much diffeent from what other researchers have found after subjects ate a bowl of milk and cornflakes for breakfast.

    I can’t say that *ALL* of the Surgeon General’s Report consisted of such garbage, but from my experience in reading these things I’m sure enough of it did to void any confidence in the extreme statements that have flowed from its publication.

    Mr. King, as you have pointed out in your book, “The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State,” this *IS* a war on smokers and the antismoking advocates will use every twist, every innuendo, and every lie that they can find to throw into the fight. Keep on fighting!

    Michael J. McFadden,
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  • kbull

    Our portly surgeon general, Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, says that only one cigarette kills millions of people, causes global warming and makes kittens cry?

    Never mind the messenger being unhealthy or the global consequences… but if it makes kittens cry then tobacco smoke has got to go!!!!

    Oh, and so does Dr. Regina M. Benjamin.

  • CrazyHungarian

    New report maintains that smoking damages the body within minutes.
    http://gawker.com/5735339/

  • CrazyHungarian

    Mr. King, I don’t care if you want to damage your body, however your column is obviously full of smoking-related-diseases denier lies.
    The death of my wife from smoking caused lung cancer at age thirty disagrees with your assertion that there aren’t people in their twenties and thirties with smoking caused diseases.
    Your assertion that since smoking is banned in public buildings stops second hand smoke ignores that fact that outside of all these places there exists a gauntlet of smokers hovering around the front door that I can’t pass through without “smoking” myself.
    Also, how dare you tell me that as a non-smoker I have no effect from your smoking. My lungs have a detectable pain in them as soon as anyone in the room lights up. I am absolutely tired of this filthy, self-destroying habit dirtying up my world.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Theodore-King/1424720356 Theodore King

      Mr. CrazyHungarian,

      You wrote me the following: “your column is obviously full of smoking-related-diseases denier lies.”

      Where am I lying pray tell? Shouldn’t you be having this argument with Dr. Michael Siegel at The University of Boston?

      You mentioned your wife passing away from smoking. I am truly sorry for your loss. However, this column is about passive smoking not active smoking.

      You also wrote: “Your assertion that since smoking is banned in public buildings stops second hand smoke ignores that fact that outside of all these places there exists a gauntlet of smokers hovering around the front door that I can’t pass through without “smoking” myself.
      Also, how dare you tell me that as a non-smoker I have no effect from your smoking. My lungs have a detectable pain in them as soon as anyone in the room lights up. I am absolutely tired of this filthy, self-destroying habit dirtying up my world.”

      You should really read my DC column on smoking and abortion and my book – The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State.

      If smokers are outside a building puffing away, especially a bar, wouldn’t it be better for you if they were inside?
      Also, do you object to cigar bars and hooka lounges? Should they be allowed to light up inside if you are not going to go there in the first place? Or do you as a nonsmoker have a believed “right” to go anywhere you wish, even smoking venues, without being bothered with smoking?

      The author of this column

    • ChickFight

      Your Blessed wife acquired cancer from smoking – not intermittent, passive exposure to second hand smoke.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Madison-Jefferson/100000176045720 Madison Jefferson

    Jasmine Clark…No one is saying that second hand smoke (SHS) is “fine and healthy”. It makes you cough because it irritates your throat….That is not the point of this article. The point, Ms. Clark, is that disseminating false information is wrong. The Surgeon general made a blatantly false statement, period. Your refrain of “contrary to your little fantasy world where smoking is harmless” is misleading. No one is saying that smoking is healthy and harmless. What the author is stating is that SHS will not cause the aforementioned heart disease from even one cigarette. Ask your doctor how many people smoke and get lung cancer? Sure people have an increase in incidence of lung cancer with active smoking but how many people (or percentage) actually get cancer from smoking? I am not condoning smoking and as an ex-smoker I hate the smell. Cigarettes are addicting to be sure and I hope that parents can teach their kids not to do it (set an example).

  • Pistol_Pete

    As a 35 year old 25 year smoker and non-driver, I can assure you that your car’s exhaust will kill all of us faster than my smoking at the bus stop ever will. Don’t let facts get in the way of a dramatic comment though…

  • sawdustking

    The reason to ban smoking in public places is not because of the inconvenience it creates for non smokers but for the health of those who have to work around it. Smokers complain most about not being able to smoke in bars, but there are people who have to work 40 hours a week in those bars where the smoke used to get rather concentrated. In a perfect world we’d have a national organization to regulate such things – I’d call it the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But as of yet we have no national regulatory body.

    • http://www.amazon.com/Dissecting-Antismokers-Brains-Michael-McFadden/dp/0974497908/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF MichaelJMcFadden

      Er, Sawdust, you *ARE* aware I hope that OSHA studied ETS for years and eventually decided it wasn’t enough of a problem to bother regulating? When ASH sued them to try to force a ban they basically told ASH to drop the lawsuit or they’d issue regulations mandating reasonable ventilation but allowing smoking. ASH dropped the lawsuit and OSHA turned regulation over to the states (which OSHA said were handling it quite well although only two or three states had bans at that point.)

      - MJM

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jasmine-Clark/1785223171 Jasmine Clark

    if secondhand smoke is so fine and healthy then how come when i even breathe it in one time (like, i’m walking behind someone who smokes) i hate it and it makes me cough? i’m sorry, i don’t want that crap anywhere near me, it’s disgusting. i’m so glad it’s banned in many restaraunts. go make your lungs black somewhere else, thank you.

    but anyway. now people are going to read this article and say, “it takes years for smoking to cause any harm for me. great! now i’ll try some cigarettes and it’ll be okay because i’ll only smoke for a short time, not ‘years.’ i’ll be fine.” this article is so one-sided. you act like smoking is not a big deal. you fail to mention how addictive cigs are- even someone who plans to only smoke a little bit can end up going on for years. this would be a fair article if you included info about the dangers of smoking. (there ARE dangers, contrary to your little fantasy world where smoking is harmless)

    people who get addicted to cigs, people who get health problems because of smoking, did they plan this? did they do it on purpose? or are they people who said “those bad things won’t happen to me, they just happen to other people, i’ll be fine.”

    • ChickFight

      “If secondhand smoke is so fine and healthy then how come when i even breathe it in one time (like, I’m walking behind someone who smokes) i hate it and it makes me cough…” Where does this article state that SHS is ‘so fine and healthy’???

      Do you have the same coughing reaction from car exhaust – a much more toxic and more widespread free radical when imbibed? How about pollen? Fumes from the barbecue grill or frying pan? Methane gas, aka farts? Carbon Dioxide [according to the EPA zealots]? Trace levels of Arsenic in drinking water? Radiation from your cell phone and/or microwave? Ultraviolet rays? How about bacteria and/or viruses? All of these things, and much more are far more harmful than exposure to second hand smoke. Smoking is dangerous – risk associated with second hand smoke exposure is so low as to be insignificant, and in 1998, a Federal Court again ruled the EPA study making the claim, to be specious and designed to result in a predetermined outcome. All other studies by American Heart & Lung Association, etc. also based their own conclusions on the biased EPA findings. Look up Judge Osteen’s ruling.

      http://www.heartland.org/policybot/results/13833/Federal_Court_Rejects_EPA_Secondhand_Smoke_Study.html

      The EPA is agenda driven.

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