Reuters hypes thirdhand smoke fears

Reuters reporter Maggie Fox buys into the thirdhand smoke scare:

Old tobacco smoke does more than simply make a room smell stale — it can leave cancer-causing toxins behind, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

They found cancer-causing agents called tobacco-specific nitrosamines stick to a variety of surfaces, where they can get into dust or be picked up on the fingers. Children and infants are the most likely to pick them up, the team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California reported.

“These findings raise concerns about exposures to the tobacco smoke residue that has been recently dubbed ‘third-hand smoke’,” the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, available here.

Of course there are policy implications:

James Pankow, who also worked on the study, said it may raise questions about the safety of electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes.” which produce a nicotine vapor but not smoke.

The researchers said regulators who have cracked down on second-hand smoke with smoking bans may decide to consider policies on third-hand smoke.

That nicotine works on surfaces in this way is interesting from an abstract, scientific point of view. What the article fails to mention is that there is essentially no evidence that anyone, anywhere, has ever suffered from exposure to so-called “thirdhand smoke.” The reason these carcinogens are so deadly to cigarette smokers is that smokers inhale them deeply through their mouths directly into sensitive lung tissues dozens of times per day. Exposure from surfaces or from dust inhalation through the nose is going to be far less substantial.

Nonetheless, you probably shouldn’t wrap your infant in smoky blankets. Fair enough. But spreading paranoia about thirdhand smoke has significant negative consequences. We’ve already seen employers discriminate against smokers using these fears as justification. And if this research is used to back legislation against e-cigarettes — devices that are unequivocally safer to smoke than actual tobacco — that will be a blow to public health.

Unfortunately journalists tend to be extremely credulous of any research that condemns tobacco and its related products. Last year The New York Times gave significant coverage to a thirdhand smoke study that consisted entirely of conducting a telephone poll of random people. Soon after Scientific American published an uncritical interview with the study’s author, Jonathan Winickoff, who said in an unmeasured words, “Smokers themselves are also contaminated…smokers actually emit toxins.”

If reporters are going to cover these sorts of stories, they owe it to readers to put the actual risks in proper perspective.

[Via Lene Johansen's Twitter feed.]

Update: Since writing this some debate has gone back and forth on Twitter among science writer Lene Johansen, Jeff Stier at the American Counsel on Science and Health, and Reuters health editor Ivan Oransky. Since Twitter isn’t the most conducive format for extended comments I thought I’d clarify here why I object to the article.

The problem is not that this is junk science or that it shouldn’t be covered. The problem is that people reading the article aren’t interested in the abstract question of how nicotine reacts with other chemicals on a household surface. What they want to know is whether tobacco residue presents a real health hazard to them and whether there are policy implications stemming from the research.

A layman reading about all the carcinogens mentioned in the article would conclude that the health hazard is real. Given the dosages involved this belief is likely false and is certainly unproven. As science journalism, the article fails to give readers the context they need to make sense of the research.

As for policy, the article itself notes that the research is bound up with political goals. The findings may be used to justify such measures as employment discrimination, bans on e-cigarettes, and further restrictions on smokers. This makes providing the proper context doubly important. There are plenty of reputable skeptics of these measures and at the very least the article could have quoted one.

Update 2/9/10: Chris Snowdon’s lengthy debunking of thirdhand smoke fears from last year is worth rereading.

Comments

  1. harleyrider1978 says:

    Jacob I looked all this stuff up and what I see is your so correct about this latest 3rd hand smoke scare is just more tobacco control trash science.

    Just a little bit more about the N’-nitrosonornicotine found in SHS/ETS.

    “Thus, non-smokers can be exposed to highly carcinogenic TSNA.”

    However, the dose makes the poison!!

    This stuff is NOT present in quantities known to be hazardous!!!

    The concentration of N’-nitrosonornicotine (NNN) ranged from not detected to 23 pg/l, that of N’-nitrosoanata-bine ranged from not detected to 9 pg/l, while 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) was detected in concentrations ranging from 1 to 29 pg/l.

    Thus, non-smokers can be exposed to highly carcinogenic TSNA.

    NNN = 0 to 23 picograms per liter

    NNK = 0 to 29 picograms per liter

    1 cubic meter = 1,000 liters

    1 nanogram(NG) = 1,000 picograms

    Thus, NNN of 0 to 23 picograms per liter is the same as 0 to 23 nanograms(ng) per cubic meter

    NNK of 0 to 29 picograms per liter is the same as 0 to 29 nanograms(ng) per cubic meter.

    The question is whether or not 0 to 29 nanograms(ng) per cubic meter of a carcinogenic substance is a dangerous level?

    The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has concluded that inorganic arsenic is known to be a human carcinogen.

    The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) cites sufficient evidence of a relationship between exposure to arsenic and human cancer. The IARC classification of arsenic is Group 1.

    The EPA has determined that inorganic arsenic is a human carcinogen by the inhalation and oral routes, and has assigned it the cancer classification, Group A.

    http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprof…iles/tp2- c6.pdf
    6.4.1 Air

    Mean arsenic levels in ambient air in the United States have been reported to range from 20 to 30 ng/m3 in urban areas (Davidson et al. 1985; EPA 1982c; IARC 1980; NAS 1977a).

    NOTE: 20 to 30 ng/m3 is NOT stated to be a hazardous level of exposure to this known human carcinogen.

    Levels of arsenic in the air generally range from less than 1 to about 2,000 nanograms (1 nanogram equals a billionth of a gram) of arsenic per cubic meter of air (less than 1–2,000 ng/m3), depending on location, weather conditions, and the level of industrial activity in the area. However, urban areas generally have mean arsenic levels in air ranging from 20 to 30 ng/m3.

    Both inorganic and organic forms leave your body in your urine. Most of the inorganic arsenic will be gone within several days, although some will remain in your body for several months or even longer. If you are exposed to organic arsenic, most of it will leave your body within several days.

    http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp2-c1.pdf

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
    has set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 10 micrograms
    of arsenic per cubic meter of workplace air (10 μg/m³) for 8
    hour shifts and 40 hour work weeks.

    so thats 10,000 nanograms per cubic meter of air per 8 hours

    1 cig gives 29 nanograms per cubic meter

    so we take 10,000 divided by 29 = 186,000 cigs burning simultaneously to meet oshas pel of 10ugs per 8 hour shift in a 20x9x9 sealed room.

    cotton contains the same stuff from insecticide spraying,so your clothes and underwear will have this tnsa’s in it too!

    How can inorganic arsenic affect my health?
    Breathing high levels of inorganic arsenic can give you a
    sore throat or irritated lungs.
    Ingesting very high levels of arsenic can result in death.
    Exposure to lower levels can cause nausea and vomiting,
    decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal
    heart rhythm, damage to blood vessels, and a sensation of
    “pins and needles” in hands and feet.
    Ingesting or breathing low levels of inorganic arsenic for a
    long time can cause a darkening of the skin and the
    appearance of small “corns” or “warts” on the palms, soles,
    and torso.
    Skin contact with inorganic arsenic may cause redness and
    swelling.

    Levels of arsenic in food range from about 20 to 140 ppb. However, levels of inorganic arsenic, the form of most concern, are far lower. Levels of arsenic in the air generally range from less than 1 to about 2,000 nanograms (1 nanogram equals a billionth of a gram) of arsenic per cubic meter of air (less than 1–2,000 ng/m3), depending on location, weather conditions, and the level of industrial activity in the area. However, urban areas generally have mean arsenic levels in air ranging from 20 to 30 ng/m3.
    You normally take in small amounts of arsenic in the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the food you eat. Of these, food is usually the largest source of arsenic. The predominant dietary source of arsenic is seafood, followed by rice/rice cereal, mushrooms, and poultry. While seafood contains the greatest amounts of arsenic, for fish and shellfish, this is mostly in an organic form of arsenic called arsenobetaine that is much less harmful. Some seaweeds may.

    Children are likely to eat small amounts of dust or soil each day, so this is another way they may be exposed to arsenic. The total amount of arsenic you take in from these sources is generally about 50 micrograms (1 microgram equals one-millionth of a gram) each day. The level of inorganic arsenic (the form of most concern) you take in from these sources is generally about 3.5 microgram/day. Children may be exposed to small amounts of arsenic from hand-to-mouth activities from playing on play structures or decks constructed out of CCA-treated wood. The potential exposure that children may receive from playing in play structures constructed from CCA-treated wood is generally smaller than that they would receive from food and water.

    http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp2-c1.pdf

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    n-nitrosomines is inorganic arsenic,they dont tell you this and a quick run to the cdc website
    tells us all we need to know.

    Children are likely to eat small amounts of dust or soil each day, so this is another way they may be exposed to arsenic. The total amount of arsenic you take in from these sources is generally about 50 micrograms (1 microgram equals one-millionth of a gram) each day. The level of inorganic arsenic (the form of most concern) you take in from these sources is generally about 3.5 microgram/day. Children may be exposed to small amounts of arsenic from hand-to-mouth activities from playing on play structures or decks constructed out of CCA-treated wood.

    http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp2-c1.p

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
    has set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 10 micrograms
    of arsenic per cubic meter of workplace air (10 μg/m³) for 8
    hour shifts and 40 hour work weeks.

    http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts2.pdf

    10ugs is equal to 186,000 cigs per hour in a sealed room 20x9x9.

    note 3.5 micrograms is equal to roughly 60,000 cigs per hour in our small sealed room….Imagine that those rugrats eat up all that n-nitrosomines/inorganic arsenic in a single day…..
    But why didnt they put it to us like this so we could understand in easier terms!

    Your body turns the nitrosomines into inorganic arsenic in your body,then you pee it away within days……..whether by eating foods or by inhaling it,its a constant.The air outside contains upwards of 2000nanograms per cubic meter of air but its usually at 29 nanograms per meter of air………these fools dont even say they had figured for the naturally occuring inorganic arsenic in the air they were testing!
    So, in effect no kid is gonna get anything from licking the floors except what he would ordinarily get anyway.Its just as I thoght the second I saw this new HEALTHSCARE headline….they will run with this scare tactic for at least 60 days.

    More trash science from tobacco control!

    you wanna see a study on nitrous acid,get ready to laugh!!!!!!
    and remember these guys used 60ppb in their junk science study

    Nitrous acid, a component of photochemical smog and a common indoor air pollutant, may reach levels of 100 ppb where gas stoves and unvented portable kerosene heaters are used. Nitrous acid is a primary product of combustion and may also be a secondary product by reaction of nitrogen dioxide with water. Because the usual assays for nitrogen dioxide measure several oxides of nitrogen (including nitrous acid) together, previous studies of indoor nitrogen dioxide may have included exposure to and health effects of nitrous acid. To assess the respiratory effects of nitrous acid exposure alone, we carried out a double-blinded crossover chamber exposure study with 11 mildly asthmatic adult subjects. Each underwent 3-hr exposures to 650 ppb nitrous acid and to filtered room air with three 20-min periods of moderate cycle exercise
    . Symptoms, respiratory parameters during exercise, and spirometry after exercise were measured. A statistically significant decrease in forced vital capacity was seen on days when subjects were exposed to nitrous acid. This effect was most marked at 25 min and 85 min after exposure began. Aggregate respiratory and mucous membrane symptoms were also significantly higher with nitrous acid. We conclude that this concentration and duration of exposure to nitrous acid alters lung mechanics slightly, does not induce significant airflow obstruction, and produces mild irritant symptoms in asthmatics

  3. harleyrider1978 says:
  4. John says:

    To understand the typical delinquent antismoking conduct of the last three decades, we need to understand the goal of antismoking (the Godber Blueprint) and the social/media marketing tricks and tactics, i.e., inflammatory propaganda, adopted in the mid-1980’s. The only accomplishment of antismoking, itself a mental dysfunction, has been the brainwashing of larger segments of the nonsmoking population into bigotry, somatization, and anxiety reactions.
    http://www.rampant-antismoking.com
    Antismokers should be asked why they have need of media/public manipulation manuals and why employment discrimination against smokers is official policy (see original Blueprint and Countdown 2000, 1990).
    “Third-hand smoke” is just another manipulation tool.

  5. harleyrider1978 says:

    Heres what someone else dug up

    This study appears to be wall to wall junk science. They seem to be most worried about “carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines or TSNAs..several hundred nanograms per square meter of nitrosamines” (1)

    Guess where Nitrosamines are also formed? Cooking fish, where TSNAs are measured in microgrammes, but in the Berkeley paper nanogrammes a factor of a thousand times smaller. (2)

    Nitrosamines are also found in ham, milk, children’s balloons and tap water. (3)

    Finally the World Health Organization’s cancer mouthpiece the International Agency Research on Cancer says on Nitrosamines: “5.2 Human carcinogenicity data. No data were (sic) available to the Working Group.” (4)

    So we have a dose that is so low, cooking a fish produces 1,000 times more “carcinogens” on a chemical which has not been proven to cause cancer in the first place.

    Junk science that insults the intelligence.

    http://newscenter.lbl.gov/feature-stories/2010/02/08/dangers-of-third-hand-smoke/

    http://rms1.agsearch.agropedia.affrc.go.jp/contents/JASI/pdf/society/21-1629.pdf

    http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/reprint/134/8/2011.pdf

    http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol89/mono89-7E.pdf

  6. Jacob Grier says:

    @harleyrider1978: Thanks for all the links! The case for this being anything to worry about does appear very weak.

  7. Ed says:

    “The most important step parents can take to protect their families from the dangers of cigarette smoke is to make their homes and cars smokefree”
    Ed Young of Cancer Research UK

  8. harleyrider1978 says:

    Ed your full of it mate! stop drinking the KOOLE AIDE.

  9. harleyrider1978 says:

    Ed if you havent read these studies yet you should!

    More ill informed smoker bashing. I do not think the authors would argue with me that smoking over the last 60 years smoking has more than halved (UK 1948 66% of the population, 2009 22.5%) but asthma has risen by 300% (again in the UK). So smoking is not the primary cause of asthma and atopy, I assume the doctor’s cars and industrial pollution. The inconvenient truth is that the only studies of children of smokers suggest it is PROTECTIVE in contracting atopy in the first place. The New Zealand study says by a staggering factor of 82%.

    “Participants with atopic parents were also less likely to have positive SPTs between ages 13 and 32 years if they smoked themselves (OR=0.18), and this reduction in risk remained significant after adjusting for confounders.

    The authors write: “We found that children who were exposed to parental smoking and those who took up cigarette smoking themselves had a lower incidence of atopy to a range of common inhaled allergens.
    “These associations were found only in those with a parental history of asthma or hay fever.”

    They conclude: Our findings suggest that preventing allergic sensitization is not one of them.”

    http://www.medwire-news.md/…/…gic_sensitization_.html

    This is a Swedish study.

    “Children of mothers who smoked at least 15 cigarettes a day tended to have lower odds for suffering from allergic rhino-conjunctivitis, allergic asthma, atopic eczema and food allergy, compared to children of mothers who had never smoked (ORs 0.6-0.7)

    CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrates an association between current exposure to tobacco smoke and a low risk for atopic disorders in smokers themselves and a similar tendency in their children.”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubm…pubmed/ 11422156

  10. harleyrider1978 says:

    Lets not forget that the EPA study on second hand smoke was tossed as junk science by a federal judge and 2 congressional comittees thru independent review. That EPA study is what the tobacco control folks have tried to use to make shs/ets a carcinogen…….

    Since 1981 there have been 148 reported studies on ETS, involving spouses, children and workplace exposure. 124 of these studies showed no significant causal relationship between second hand smoke and lung cancer. Of the 24 which showed some risk, only two had a Relative Risk Factor over 3.0 and none higher. What does this mean. To put it in perspective, Robert Temple, director of drug evaluation at the Food and Drug Administration said “My basic rule is if the relative risk isn’t at least 3 or 4, forget it.” The National Cancer Institute states “Relative risks of less than 2 are considered small and are usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to mere chance, statistical bias, or the effect of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident.” Dr. Kabat, IAQC epidemiologist states “An association is generally considered weak if the relative risk is under 3.0 and particularly when it is under 2.0, as is the case in the relationship of ETS and lung cancer. Therefore, you can see any concern of second hand smoke causing lung cancer is highly questionable.” Note that the Relative Risk (RR) of lung cancer for persons drinking whole milk is 2.14 and all cancers from chlorinated water ranked at 1.25. These are higher risks than the average ETS risk. If we believe second hand smoke to be a danger for lung cancer then we should also never drink milk or chlorinated water.

  11. harleyrider1978 says:

    Ed Id like to ask you to tell me what percentage of tobacco smoke is water vapor? This should be easy for you since those supposed 4000 chemicals are theorized rather than actually present………also tell us what percentage of tobacco smoke contains those supposed 4000 chemicals!!!!!

  12. Mark Z. says:

    harleyrider1978: “n-nitrosomines is inorganic arsenic”

    No, they’re really not.

    “Your body turns the nitrosomines into inorganic arsenic in your body”

    Again, no. You can’t turn anything into arsenic; the only way to be exposed is to eat or drink or breathe something with arsenic in it. About halfway through your first comment you say that NNN and NNK are present at up to 30 pg/l, and then suddenly start talking about the toxic dose of arsenic. That’s irrelevant.

    Tobacco smoke does contain arsenic, but that’s a separate issue.

  13. MeanDean says:

    I fear that I suffer from seventh-hand smoke exposure.

    My 43-year-old neighbor considered taking up smoking when he was in college, but didn’t.

    Still, close enough, eh? After all, I have to have someone to blame for any health problems I may develop…

  14. Paula says:

    I am extremely grateful for the coining of the phrase “third-hand” smoke. In 2006, out of nowhere, I developed a severe allergy to third-hand smoke. Suddenly if a person walked by me and they just had a cigarette, my throat would close up leaving me gasping for air. Prior to that, I NEVER had a breathing problem. As a matter of fact I was a swimmer with excellent lung function all my life.

    ONce this triggered I saw doctors, lung and ear, nose and throat specialists, pulmonary specialists, allergists and none could help me. My allergist blamed all the chemicals being added to cigarettes, but we had nothing to call this anomoly except to say I was allergic to smokers residue.

    I have had to quit jobs, drop classes and move twice because of exposure to third hand smoke. Every day I am attacked by this…when I go to the grocery store, the library, school, work, getting gas…there is nowhere to go to avoid smokers and my life for the past four years has turned into a LIVING HELL!! This isn’t asthma so it doesn’t respond to asthma meds…it responds to NOTHING so I just have to SUFFER!

    So please don’t say this is a made up term to support anti smoking. There is something harmful in third hand smoke and it has harmed someone…ME!

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