Thursday, March 22, 2007

Unfounded Scares about Secondhand Smoke

Everyday I swallow a pill with rat poison. Millions of other people have been doing the same thing. It is a common drug prescribed as a blood thinner for people with a heart condition. Tuesday I made a routine visit to a cardiology clinic; periodic tests are needed to determine if the level of the drug in my blood is appropriate or needs to be adjusted up or down. While waiting my turn for the test, I picked up a magazine titled Minnesota Health Care, March 2007. Inside the back cover was a full-page ad by ClearWay Minnesota. The entire page was covered with a picture of bugs and the alarmist message—in very large print—that secondhand tobacco smoke contains the same chemicals as insecticides to kill bugs. Then it asks the blatantly scary message “Are you OK with this?” Of course I am OK with this! I burst out laughing, which brought incredulous stares from those around me since medical waiting rooms are usually not sources of hilarity. But not only is it “OK with me” since I am already not frightened by taking a rat poison, I happen to know that a basic principle of toxicology is “The dose determines the poison.” Anything is toxic or carcinogenic if the dose is large enough. Enough distilled water will kill you if you drink several gallons at one time. (It upsets the electrolyte balance in the brain). Conversely, if the dose is small enough, otherwise dangerous chemicals are harmless—and often beneficial. So the crude and essentially dishonest attempt to scare people about the very small doses of chemicals in secondhand smoke—which science has shown to be harmless—is so ludicrous that I erupted in laughter.

But the general public does not know the facts on this issue, and ads that play on people's ignorance are evidently successful no matter how unethical and misleading they are. So I decided to write this blog to inform people about some facts regarding secondhand smoke and ads like the one I encountered, which many anti-smoking groups are using in attempting to sway public opinion.

At the bottom of the page, the ad said secondhand smoke contains hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, and formaldehyde. Boy that sounds scary! At least to those with no knowledge of chemistry and biological processes. But as I pointed out in my book MAKERS AND TAKERS, hydrogen cyanide is present in lima beans, cherries, plums, apricots, peaches, pears and peas. Even cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower contain cyanide compounds.

Arsenic is found in many fruits, vegetables, cereals, meats and dairy products. Seafood can contain even more. Shrimp, oyster, mussels, prawns and other marine foods have been found to contain up to 174 ppm of arsenic—far more than the doses anyone will ever get from secondhand smoke. Yet the smoking ban activists chant unrelentingly, “there is no safe level of secondhand smoke”, “any dose is dangerous.” How can any dose of chemicals be dangerous in secondhand smoke when our bodies take in much larger amounts of these same chemicals from other sources? Furthermore, arsenic—despite its scary reputation—has been found to be essential to human life. At least ten other elements that are essential to human life are carcinogens at high doses—including and iron and even oxygen. Do the smoking ban activist know what they are talking about when they claim any dose of a carcinogen is dangerous, that there is no safe level for the chemicals in secondhand smoke?

Arsenic is naturally occurring in air, soil and water. The largest concentrations are found in soil, on which cattle graze on on which we grow fruits and vegetables.

The threshold OSHA has set for airborne arsenic is 10ug for an 8-hour work shift. This is the PEL (permissible exposure limit), below which the chemical is considered safe. And OSHA is being very conservative. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, no symptoms are evident below “about 100 ug.” The World Health Organization estimates that pack-a-day smokers of American cigarettes inhale 2.6 ug arsenic per 8-hour work shift. The National Research Council says nonsmokers inhale 0.1 to 1% of what smokers inhale. Now, if a bartender has 25 seats in his bar and 10 are occupied by smokers, each smoking two cigarettes per hour, 160 cigarettes would be smoked per 8 hour shift. L. Stewart, author of Epidemiology 101, or How to Read and Understand a Study, shows that even if the 160 cigarettes could somehow all be smoked in a 40-inch cube without ventilation, the airborne arsenic inhaled in that cube would be only 0.064 ug—which is far, far, far below the OSHA standard. If instead of being confined to a 40-inch cube, the smoke was dispersed throughout a room large enough to hold 25 people, the concentration would be far, far, far less. He then notes:
“the same kinds of calculations can be made for every "poison" and "toxin" in all the ads.  Which is why OSHA has stated that it's well-nigh impossible to find any actual workplace where its PELs for secondhand smoke or any constituent thereof would be met, let alone exceeded.
“The point we're trying to make is that while Arsenic!! is a 'poison' and even a 'carcinogen' it's neither at these doses.  And further, people's normal exposure from other sources is greater by great amounts.”
Finally, there is formaldehyde, the last of the chemicals ClearWay Minnesota is trying to scare people with in its ad. Formaldehyde sounds scary. But how can it be dangerous in any amount in secondhand smoke (“no safe level”) when we are exposed to small amounts from auto exhaust and other sources of combustion as well as from sunlight and oxygen acting on methane and other naturally occurring hydrocarbons in the atmosphere? Furthermore, our own bodies produce formaldehyde through internal biological processes having nothing to do with industry, pollution or tobacco. How can a chemical be dangerous in any amount in secondhand smoke when the same chemical is produced by our own bodies?


Anonymous said...

Here here! I just saw their rat poison ad on a bus and was profoundly offended by its intellectual dishonsty. I sent them a message letting them know they should be ashamed of themselves. Is honest persuasion and debate gone from American life, or has public education succeeded in dumbing down the population enough to control public opinion with repetetive lies, sound bites and talking points?

Anonymous said...

Strange that there's over 100 peer-reviewed, independent studies that show SHS causes death and disease in non-smokers?

Edmund Contoski said...

There aren't 100 such studies, as claimed above. I challenge the writer of the above comment to cite even ONE study done according to established biostatistical standards that shows SHS produces death and disease in nonsmokers. All the studies that purport to show danger from ETS depend on invalid statistical manipulations, debasing scientific standards, misrepresentation of the actual studies, or other corruption. Michael Siegel is both a medical doctor and a public health official. He has 21 years experience in tobacco research and currently teaches at Boston University, School of Public Health. Though adamantly opposed to smoking, he says “the anti-smoking movement is driven by an agenda —an agenda that will not allow science, sound policy analysis, the law, or ethics to get in its way.” On his website (, Dr. Siegel MD documents that nearly 100 anti-smoking organizations—including the once-respected American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association—are “making a mockery of secondhand smoke science” with “wildly misleading and deceptive” allegations, “absurd” claims, and “conscious and intentional misrepresentation of” various research. The corruption goes all the way to the top—the U.S. Surgeon general himself. See my posting

The Congressional Research Service is a branch of the Library of Congress and has all the resources of that esteemed institution at its disposal. It is highly respected, accepted by both Republicans and Democrats as fair and impartial, has no ties to tobacco, no regulatory or other agenda, and accepts no outside funding. But the CRS, at the request of the U.S. Congress, looked at the issue and concluded: “It is possible that very few or even no deaths can be attributed to ETS [environmental tobacco smoke].” Further, it stated that nonsmokers exposed to pack-a-day ETS every day for 40 years have “little or no risk of developing lung cancer”—much less dying from it.

Then there’s the Congressional Investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives, which accused EPA of “ ignoring or discounting major studies, and deviating from generally accepted scientific standards.” Further, the investigation found EPA guilty of “conscious misuse of science and the scientific process to achieve a political agenda that could not otherwise be justified.” It also stated: “The agency [EPA] has deliberately abused and manipulated scientific data in order to reach a predetermined, politically motivated result.”

The most powerful statistical study ever done was the Enstrom-Kabat study. It covered 100,000 people over 38 years. The American Cancer Society financed it, help set it up, and provided data for it—until preliminary results indicated the opposite of what the ACS wanted. It then withdrew its financial support and denounced the study. Other funding was found, and the study, published in the British Medical Journal (one of the world's foremost medical journals), concluded “no significant associations were found for current or former exposure to environmental tobacco smoke….The results do not support a causal relation between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality.” Unable to refute the results, the ACS attacked Dr. Enstrom personally with slanderous charges, leading to an investigation that completely exonerated him. Other ACS studies all show relative risks below the level where such risks are too small to even be realistically identified, much less be of any significance, according to the American Cancer Society’s own director of analytic epidemiology. Yet the ACS prattles on about the “dangers” of secondhand smoke, epitomizing a conclusion of the Littlewood & Fennell report regarding the dishonest efforts in the campaign against secondhand smoke. The independent health consulting firm Littlewood & Fennell, in its report to the National Toxicology Program Board of Scientific Counselors on Carcinogens, said it appears “conclusions and calculations have been willfully manipulated to make it appear that ETS is a human carcinogen…[by] avowed anti-smoking advocates determined to somehow prove that ETS is a human carcinogen in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary.” shows evidence that heart attack hospitalizations INCREASED after the passage of smoking bans. That is precisely the opposite of what would be expected if secondhand smoke were causing heart disease. This posting also explains relative risk (risk ratio) and shows why most studies that claim to show danger from ETS are statistically insignificant. See also

Anonymous said...

Glad you put anonymous right Mr Contoski- someone just put a link to here on the site.
We have enjoyed reading your blog. James Enstrom and Geoffery? Kabat study, rarely gets used does it. But then that would not help the anti movement would it!
I cannot believe the amount of utter tosh and misinformation flying around the internet. I am glad we still have the freedom to look at enough information to make our own minds up? have some great information also, they are not funded by any Big anything either.
Micheal Siegel althoug instrumental in these bans,has integrity, the antis once upon a time hero, has now become their biggest headache I would imagine LOL.
Well thank you again

The Pub Consultancy Service said...

Having read the majority of studies on ETS as the former head of, I also find the contention as stated in comment 2 absolutely laughable. Exactly the opposite is the case. It may well be anonymous just reads press releases and believes them to be true, and whilst he can be forgiven for that he/she should really look a bit beyond the Drug Company Propaganda.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr Contoski, at last someone who is honest and knows what he is talking about. the rubbish that is printed these days about SHS does Science no good at all the lies bring it into disrepute. After all if they have lied about this what else have they lied about. Well done for speaking the truth although be prepared to be attached by every anti smoking organisation known to man.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article Mr. Contoski! Some similar but expanded thoughts about concentrations can be found at:

and as far as Anonymous's posting about 100 studies... ::sigh:: Anonymous Antismokers LOVE to post stuff about anonymous studies, ever notice that? To read some analyses of the REAL nonsense studies that the Antismokers use, go to

and read the "Stiletto" you'll find there.

Smoking bans are bad laws based upon lies, and the more people we can share such information with the faster the "Great Smoking Prohibition Experiment" will be reversed.

Michael J. McFadden
Author of Dissecting Antismokers' Brains

Anonymous said...

I used to believe in the dangers of SHS until a friend got me to sit down with Google Search and find the name of someone, anyone and from anywhere, who had died of AIDS.

It took me about a minute.

Then he told me to find the name of someone, anyone and from anywhere or anytime, who had died of SHS.

That was a few months ago and, damn him, I KNOW I'll find one soon!

Since this dreaded pox on society supposedly kills so many thousands of people in the United States ALONE, you'd think an in-depth Internet search would provide the name of at least ONE person it has killed. Well, it doesn't. There isn't one. I give up.

Michael J. McFadden said...

Luke wrote, "Then he told me to find the name of someone, anyone and from anywhere or anytime, who had died of SHS. That was a few months ago and, damn him, I KNOW I'll find one soon!"

Heh... Luke, according to the Antis there have been FIVE MILLION such deaths in the last 20 years! LOL! They do have a few names they drag out once in a while, but all that shows is that some people die and some people are sometimes exposed to smoke. The big surprise would be if they discovered that NO ONE who was ever exposed to smoke died!

Now THAT would be quite a kicker, wouldn't it?

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

Michael J. McFadden said...

Whoops! ::sigh:: I hate it when I catch myself in a stupid math error, but at least it's better than having someone ELSE catch me! LOL!

My figure of "five million" just above should really read "one million," i.e. 50,000 supposed deaths per year times 20 years.

Now the argument COULD be made however that since secondhand smoke exposure 20 years ago was FAR more common than it is today that the Antis' body count should really be up around 2 million to be consistent.

But hey, no one can ever say the Antis' small minds were plagued by a foolish consistency, eh?


Rebecca M. said...

Although I applaud anyone bringing wisdom and truth to the public, I think that overlooking the real risks of SHS is misleading. Although there may not be a link to cancer or heart disease supported by science, secondhand smoke can worsen asthma in children, and puts them at risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections, and ear problems. These are real issues and I would hate for people to manipulate the truth you are sharing to say SHS is never a problem and is harmless. Although it is clearly not as harmful as some people claim it is not harmless either.

Edmund Contoski said...

Rebecca, your fears about secondhand smoke affecting asthma, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections and ear problems are unfounded. You need to understand some basic facts about statistical studies. “Relative risk” (or risk ratio), RR, is a measurement used to quantify the severity of a variety of health risks. On the scale of relative risk, zero risk is set at 1.0—not 0.0. If the RR is greater than 1.0, the risk is “positive.” If it is below 1.0 it is “negative,” indicating a beneficial or protective effect.

Drs. Huber/Brockie/Mahajan state: “A strong relative risk would be reflected by a risk ratio of 5 to 20 or greater. Weak relative risks, by conventional definition, have risk ratios in the range of 1 to 3 or so....It may be 1.08 or it may be 1.34 or it may be 1.42, but all of those still represent a weak relative risk.”

Geoffrey Kabat, Senior Epidemiologist, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says, “An association is generally considered weak if the odds ratio [relative risk] is under 3.0 and particularly when it is under 2.0.”

Both the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute have clearly stated that RRs below 2.0 are too low to be relied upon. The same is true of the federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence and various textbooks.

In 1993 EPA wanted to claim ETS was a carcinogen but could only come up with a RR of 1.19, for a relative risk of 19 percent. So it changed the standard from 2.0 to 1.0 in order to validate its finding of a RR of 1.19. This is what the Congressional Investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives meant when it charged EPA with “deviating from generally accepted scientific standards.” Keep in mind that a RR of 2.0 shows a risk more than than FIVE TIMES(!) greater than 1.19. (Five times the 19 percent relative risk would be an RR of only 1.95.) Now consider that the relative risk of getting lung cancer from drinking pasteurized whole milk is 2.14. That would make it several times more dangerous than secondhand smoke, yet milk drinking doesn't seem to be dangerous. So is secondhand smoke really dangerous? Also, millions of Americans in hundreds of cities in the U.S. drink municipal tap water every day with RRs of 2.0 to 4.0, but where are all the dead bodies? The point is that even these RRs have very little risk. So we need not be concerned by RRs less than 2.0. But if you will check the studies on SIDS, hearing problems, and other health problems attributed to ETS, you will find they have very low RRs. I am not going to write about those; you can look them up for yourself. But I'll say something further about asthma.

There is a convincing study in the journal Clinical Experimental Allergy and Asthma, which involved about 10,000 people. It found a strong negative association, meaning a beneficial (protective) effect, for asthma and allergies for children whose mothers smoked 15 or more cigarettes a day. It found a similar tendency where fathers had smoked 15 or more cigarettes per day. The study shows ORs below 1.0 and an appropriate CI (confidence interval).

That is not as surprising as it first might seem to you, because there are many examples of hormesis, which means a small amount of a toxin or carcinogen can be beneficial, because it can stimulate your body's immune system to protect you better. We all know that sunlight can cause cancer, but smaller doses of it can protect you against several types of cancer, including bone cancer and breast cancer. Selenium and Vitamin A are both carcinogens, but in small doses they are anti-carcinogens. And a study by the World Health Organization found that children are 22 percent less likely to lung cancer if both parents smoked than if neither of them smoked.

Rachele said...


genius786 said...

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