Friday, May 06, 2011

Outdoor Secondhand Smoke

Should outdoor smoking in public places be banned?

Some anti-smoking advocates seem to believe that any exposure to secondhand smoke can be dangerous. In yesterday's New York Times, Michael B. Siegel, professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health writes: evidence demonstrates that the duration of outdoor exposure — in places where people can move freely about — is long enough to cause substantial health damage.

But that hasn’t stopped many opponents of smoking. Citing new research, they have argued that even transient exposure to tobacco smoke can cause severe health effects like heart disease and lung cancer. For example, last year the surgeon general’s office claimed that “even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease and could trigger acute cardiac events, such as heart attack,” and that “inhaling even the smallest amount of tobacco smoke can also damage your DNA, which can lead to cancer.”

... A ban on outdoor smoking may provide a symbolic victory. But from a public health perspective, it’s pointless. Instead, antismoking organizations should focus on extending workplace protections, already enjoyed by millions of New Yorkers, to the 100 million Americans still denied the right to work without having to breathe in secondhand smoke.

This was exactly the point I made in my 2008 article in the Skeptical Inquirer ("No Safe Level?" Skeptical Inquirer, Sept./Oct. 2008), though that article was first rejected by a major U.S. science magazine.

Look: I hate smoking more than you do, or anyone you can name. It's obnoxious, disgusting, and unsightly, and it has killed or maimed several members of my family. But that doesn't mean we should ignore what science actually says.

1 comment:

Steve Bloom said...

My impression of the public bans around here (SF Bay Area) is that they're largely aimed at discouraging smoking. Another aspect is not having children see it. That's all good IMHO.

In general, I think an attitude of zero tolerance is justifiable even where there is no evidence that the reduction in smoke directly benefits public health.

BTW, logically Siegel's view seems to be that there is an amount of cigarette smoke that can be shown to not affect health. Really? Hard to measure isn't the same as non-existent. This is a little reminiscent of the NRC's lame BRC campaign of a couple of decades ago.