Blowing Second Hand Smoke
New Surgeon General’s Report Focuses on the Effects of Secondhand Smoke. Of course the mainstream media has jumped all over the dangers of secondhand smoke bandwagon.
The lonely libertarian wonders how many journalists actually looked at the report, which the government kindly makes available here.
The second chapter of the report focuses on the toxicology of secondhand smoke. As the media reports have focused on the carcinogenic effects of secondhand smoke, I figured I'd take a look at what the report actually says. Yes, there is a lot of science in there, but the conclusions are crystal clear:
4. The mechanisms by which second hand smoke causes lung cancer are probably similar to those observed in smokers. The overall risk of secondhand smoke exposure, compared with active smoking, is diminished by a substantially lower carcinogenic dose.
So, as Jacob Sullum points out at Hit and Run, the dose really does make the poison. Sullum tells us,
As I noted in my book For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health, two studies using personal air monitors conducted in the 1990s found that nonsmokers with the heaviest exposure to secondhand smoke were absorbing between 0.8 and 1.5 milligrams of "tar" a day. By comparison, a single regular Marlboro has an official (machine-measured) tar yield of 12 milligrams.
In other words, a pack a day smoker- you know, the kind who MAY develop lung cancer 30-40-50 years down the road- is taking in 240 milligrams of tar per day (20 cigarettes times 12 mg per cigarette). That's anywhere from 160 to 300 times the amount of tar a nonsmoker with heavy exposure to secondhand smoke is receiving. Or in other words, our common sense- which tells us that secondhand smoke is probably a lot less dangerous than actually smoking- is correct.
We could compare two hypothetical individuals, one a pack a day smoker, and another, a non-smoker with heavy exposure to second hand smoke. For the smoker in a year, that's 87,600 mg, or 87.6 grams- After 40 years of smoking, that's 3504 grams. For the non-smoker, that's 547.5 mg per year (using the high number of 1.5 mg per day), and 21900 mg, or 21.9 grams after 40 years of heavy exposure to secondhand smoke.
So why are we convinced that secondhand smoke is going to kill us, so much so that state after state, and city after city have begun to implement all sorts of wacky smoking bans? You've got me. These smoking bans aren't science, they're politics disguised as public health.
One final note- it's amazing to me the way in which any announcements George Bush makes about Iraq are cast into doubt by the media, regardless of whether or not they have actual evidence to challenge him, while the media happily announces results like these without even bothering to look at the report.