Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Smoke Free Indy Peddles Unsupported Health Claims

I was in the breakroom at work when I came across a warning contained in a Smoke Free Indy flier:

Secondhand and Thirdhand smoke is common in multi-unit housing, the toxins of tobacco and nicotine can be left behind in vents, walls and floors. This can lead to serious health issues such as, (sic) lung cancer, heart disease and complications with asthma.  Exposure to smoke and the toxins left behind not only affect the user but also their neighbors as smoke travels through cracks, doorways and vents.

The flier then asks people to share "their experiences and thoughts regarding second-hand and third-hand smoke exposure in multi-unit housing" by taking an anonymous survey.  It is clear that Smoke Free Indy's next target is to outlaw smoking in private apartments.

In participating in the survey, Smoke Free Indy insists you accept as established fact that second and third-hand smoke (what is third-hand smoke?) has terrible health consequences.  But that is a lie. The dangers of secondhand smoking have never been established.

Several years ago, I with co-counsel Mark Small, represented several establishments in an effort to overturn Indianapolis' ban on smoking in bars.   (It should be noted that casinos and cigar bars were inexplicably exempt from the ban despite the supposed dangers being exactly the same.)  In that role, Mark and I became very knowledgeable about the studies done regarding the health effects of secondhand smoke.  

In determining whether something causes health problems, epidemiologists review studies and develop something called a "risk factor" that has a basis of 1.  If a review of the studies indicates a risk factor below 1, that means there is a negative association between thing being studied and health consequences. If it is above 1, that means there is a positive association.  But as epidemiologists will tell you, association is not the same thing as causation.  There may be a number of reasons for a positive association.  To establish causation, epidemiologists require that the risk factor be 1.95 or more.

The risk factor between second-hand smoking and cancer and/or heart disease is about 1.3, a very weak association.  Even that 1.3 level was only accomplished by epidemiologists putting their finger on the scale by omitting from consideration several legitimate second-hand smoke studies that showed a much lower association than 1.3.  One very credible study that was not included even showed a negative association.

For comparison purposes, directly smoking cigarettes carries a risk factor of about 10.  Causation is clearly established.    

Don't get me wrong.  I detest smoking.  It's a nasty habit and I always prefer establishments that choose not to allow it.  But to say my health is threatened by second-hand smoke?  Well, that's just a lie.  Scientific studies have never shown that.

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