Why debunking junk tobacco science matters

In the past year alarmist studies about “thirdhand smoke,” the particles left behind from tobacco combustion, have proliferated. There’s no evidence such residuals are actually causing cancer but that hasn’t stopped anti-smoking activists and journalists from running with the story. Michael Siegel has recently spotted a couple ways this research has been abused to discriminate against smokers. First there’s the “sniff test” policy now in place at Kimball Physics, a technology company in New Hampshire:

No tobacco-residuals emitting person, article of clothing, or other object is allowed inside any Kimball Physics building. This restriction also applies to anyone or anything emitting characteristic tobacco odors. Anyone who has used a tobacco product within the previous two hours is automatically to be turned away, unless measures have been taken such that residuals-sensitive persons are not exposed. The determining factor, regarding allowable residuals levels and/or exposure durations, is whether anyone is either significantly bothered, or even worse, made ill.

This is an absurd policy and it should come as no surprise that the person who created it is a board member of the extremist anti-tobacco group Action on Smoking and Health. Nonetheless it creates a precedent that less fanatical employers might decide to follow.

Speaking of ASH, Siegel also catches them advocating bans on smokers adopting or fostering children. From ASH’s press release:

Midlothian Council in the U.K. is just the latest entity to prohibit smokers from adopting or providing foster care for children, a step Portsmouth, Hants, in England and other jurisdictions took several years ago, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Anyone wanting to care for a child under the age of five will be required not to have smoked for at least six months, even if they only smoke outdoors. […]

… thirdhand tobacco smoke, what the New York Times called “the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers’ hair and clothing,” has just been reported by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory to combine with a common indoor air pollutant to form very potent cancer causing substances. This, the researchers say, places children at serious risk, even if parents smoke only outside the home, because they carry the residues inside with them.

I criticized that Times article when it came out last year for taking such a credulous approach to the “thirdhand smoke” study it covered, buying into the researchers’ hype despite the fact that the study consisted of nothing but a phone survey. At the time the author couldn’t have known that her words and the reputation of the paper would be used to deny children foster care, but that’s how low the anti-smoking movement has sunk. Reporters need to realize that today’s anti-tobacco researchers should be treated with just as much skepticism as the Big Tobacco-funded scientists of the pre-Master Settlement days.


7 thoughts on “Why debunking junk tobacco science matters”

  1. I’m with you entirely on “third-hand” smoke being a blown-out-of-proportion health boogeyman, but smoke particles can actually be a big problem for precision manufacturing of electronics, which seems to be the business Kimball Physics is in. Plenty of companies ban smokers from working in their clean rooms for this reason. I have no idea if that’s something Kimball is building on and expanding to their entire facility for some reason, or what their relation to ASH is or why they went overboard and drafted a policy based on people claiming to be sick from third-hand exposure. I just thought you might want to know it may be no coincidence that it’s a company in one of the few types of industries with legit 3rd-hand risks is that is adopting this policy.

  2. The headline is truly a joke–third-hand smoke has never been proven to be a health hazard, let alone a major one. This kind of irresponsible reporting is classic junk science. The study only found that trace amounts of carcinogens can form from residual nicotine on surfaces under SOME conditions. That’s all we know–not the size, if any, of the risk resulting from exposure. And exposure is not the same as toxicity. It’s the DOSE that makes the poison. People really need to think critically.

  3. A particularly nasty peice of junk science too.
    The inference that smokers are themselves toxic lepers is particularly vitriolic.
    Maybe you should have mentioned the actuall science itself whereby the only way the quacks could get even a trace result of toxins from a heavily nicotine stained surface was to spray the surface with Nitrous acid.
    The MSM will not question this junk science or dare it would seem to critisise it.
    Probably because of the revenue they recieve printing column inches paid for by the well funded anti smoking lobby.
    As nasty and divisive a set of puritanical nut jobs ever to tread god’s earth.

  4. …but smoke particles can actually be a big problem for precision manufacturing of electronics

    Does this include smoke particles carried on people who have solid fuel fires? What about smoke particles from cooking and scented candles? Are people who work in these clean rooms forbidden from going to barbeque parties? Or driving to work? Or walking to work through built-up areas?

    Or is there some property unique to the smoke of burnt tobacco leaf that is completely lacking in all other combusted material?

    I can understand the banning of smoking in sterile rooms, but to extend that to smokers themselves seems a mite zealous especially if, as I suspect, the answer to all of the above is ‘no’.

  5. Wells Fargo Bank, which offers a national online payroll service throughout the United States, has added a field to the employee records which allows a selection of “Yes” or “No”, in response to the question, “Is Employee a Smoker?”.

    So in that regard they are preparing the databases to keep tabs on who is and who isn’t – and in regard to employees working in clean-rooms and soon other workplaces for which “purity of the workers”, only in regard to exposure to tobacco smoke and nothing else – expect this campaign against so-called “third hand smoke” to become of “paramount importance” – next.

    It wouldn’t be a dicatorship if they can’t control everything, everyone cut “down to size”, everyone “the same”, and everyone making sure to be looking out for anyone else whom they can report and “turn in” to authority figures – in this case the company owners, the boss, the management – to get that check mark next to their names, “Smoker – Yes” – so come the next consolidation of the righteous, those people can be left out of the hiring and only the “pure” will remain.

    Sounds a lot like eugenics and Hitler in its quest for material purity.

  6. the pittsburgh urban farming article cracked me up- ‘”Anytime you see something growing and expanding and there are no rules, you need to regulate it,” she said. ‘

    nannyism in a nutshell.

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