Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Third-Hand Smoke Redux

A year ago, in a previous post, we discussed the relatively new and unfounded scares about third-hand smoke.  This concept is typically defined as the residue from tobacco smoke that sticks to various surfaces, including the smokers themselves.  We have warned that this bogus scare may lead to frivolous lawsuits and further loss of civil liberties in the future, and expressed great concern about such prospects.  Thus, we had hoped the issue would go away, but apparently it did not.

One recent study found that tobacco smoke residue on cellulose substrates (to mimic fabric surfaces) has the potential to "desorb" from such substrates upon exposure to ozone (O3), and become airborne in the future.  However, even the researchers admit that this would requires much lower levels of humidity and much higher levels of ozone that would be found in a typical home.  Perhaps on an airplane this may be true, due to dry cabin air and stratospheric ozone, but smoking is already banned on American airplanes.  This was similar to another study from last year that found that the pollutant nitrous acid (HONO) can react with nicotine to form small amounts of carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs). very, very afraid!  However, what the media didn't report was that the amount of HONO used was an order of magnitude higher than would be encountered in a typical home--if your levels are that high, that in itself is a health hazard, and it often indicates the presence of toxic NO and NO2 as well.  Bottom line:  neither study demonstrated that so-called third-hand smoke poses a practically significant health hazard under non-extreme circumstances, if even at all.  And it is junk science to claim otherwise.

But what about the new study that found that toxins supposedly linger in a building long after a smoker moves out?  Again, no proof of any actual health hazard, just the observation that surfaces tested positive for nicotine, and the urine of new nonsmoking residents tested positive for cotinine (a nicotine metabolite), the latter of which may very well be confounded.  So what?  It's the dose that makes the poison, and there's a safe level for everything, even arsenic and (gasp!) radiation.  And the actual amounts of nicotine and cotinine were quite small indeed, and not at levels proven to be hazardous.  In fact, even the authors readily admit that "this study was not designed to investigate health outcomes of exposure"--despite the media's insinuations otherwise.

Another study apparently found that even when smoking occurs in an unventilated room and surfaces are vigorously agitated the following day, the concentration of "third-hand smoke" particles that do become airborne is 100 times lower than second-hand smoke, which itself is more dilute than first-hand smoke.  Thus, even anti-smoking activist Michael Siegel considers the alleged risk from such exposure to be theoretical rather than practical, and that there ought to be no concern at all about the residues carried on the clothing of smokers after smoking outdoors.  Finally, some sanity for once!

And furthermore, I suggest all the true believers take a look at the following links:

As for further erosion of civil rights and liberties, It appears our fears may very well come true if our society lets them.  For example, the town of Great Neck, NY just recently banned outdoor smoking on the sidewalks, punishable by a whopping $1000 fine.  Worse still, the state of Maine is actually considering a bill that will deny medical treatment (through Medicaid) to smokers, despite the fact that smokers actually save society money (on balance) by dying earlier than nonsmokers.  Talk about playing God--should also we deny medical treatment to obese people, or anyone else some people deem deficient in character?

The TSAP is definitely NOT pro-smoking or pro-tobacco, and we hate the merchants of death known as tobacco companies, who willfully lied for decades about the dangers of their products and who continue to add harmful adulterants to this day. We believe that smoking or otherwise using any form of tobacco (all-natural or otherwise) is quite foolish given what we know today. But we fully support the right of all legal adults to choose pleasure over longevity, as long as they do not endanger nonconsenting others more than the minimum. Our society's love affair with the chimera of a no-risk society is a farce, plain and simple. Life is a risk, and there will be many things in this world you don't like.  Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it.  Remember that this is America, the land of the free, not Soviet Russia or North Korea.  Those that can't handle living in a free society should take advantage of the best freedom we can offer you--the freedom to leave.

Thus, we recommend that governments do the following:

  • Ban the use of radioactive fertilizers completely, period
  • Ban the use of any harmful additives or pesticides for tobacco products, and require all new additives (if any) to be FDA-approved
  • Require full disclosure of ingredients in tobacco products on the package
  • Require all cigarettes to be fire-safe, like many states already do
  • Set a national price floor of $5 per pack ($50 per carton) to discourage interstate smuggling, and index the federal tobacco tax to inflation
  • End all tobacco farming subsidies
  • Ban workplace discrimination for smoking on one's own time, or any other lifestyle choice that does not adversely affect one's job or directly harm nonconsenting others
State and local

  • Repeal all outdoor smoking bans, and pre-empt any future ones
  • Repeal smoking bans in bars, and let the owners decide for themselves
  • Repeal any smoking bans in residences, or at least set aside some apartments (and dorms) that do allow smoking
  • Set (and enforce) reasonable air quality standards for bars and restaurants that must be met, smoking or not
  • Give tax credits for the purchase of high-tech ventilation and air-cleaning equipment to bars and restaurants
  • Repeal smoking bans in private clubs
  • Maintain existing indoor smoking bans in areas other than bars and residences
 At all levels

  • Throw any lawsuit related to "third-hand smoke" out of court, and allow such plaintiffs to be countersued for filing a frivolous lawsuit
  • Do not interfere with parental rights relating to smoking (within reason)
  • Do not ban e-cigarettes, snus, or other smokeless tobacco products, and do not restrict them more severely than cigarettes 
  • Divest from Big Tobacco completely
  • Increase honest anti-tobacco education programs
  • Quit harassing smokers--their taxes pay your salary

Final thought:  whenever anyone says "there is absolutely no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke (or its residue)", just replace the word "tobacco" with "campfire" or "barbecue". Now do you see how absurd it sounds?

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