Third Hand Cigarette Smoking - Legitimate Worry Or Shark Jumping By Zealots?
    By Hank Campbell | December 28th 2008 01:40 PM | 18 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

    View Hank's Profile
    For the dwindling minority that still smokes and don't feel oppressed enough, here's something new to worry about;  even if you choose to smoke outside of your house, thinking that you're keeping your kids away from second-hand smoke, you're still exposing them to toxins and potentially cognitive deficits, say researchers in the January issue of Pediatrics.  Did they do a clinical study?   No, they did a survey and found people who agree.  That is why I use the term jumping the shark.  Anti-smoking fundamentalists may have done it.

    They say tobacco smoke contamination lingers even after a cigarette is extinguished and, to keep it simple and inflammatory, they define that as "third-hand" smoking, even though there is no smoke.  That's what we call framing the debate.

    I don't smoke, I have never smoked a cigarette, though both my parents did when I was growing up and one still does, but I am not much for social policy that takes science and uses it as a bludgeon for value judgments.   I wouldn't like for church groups to do it and  I don't like for lobbyists and fundraising groups against tobacco to do it.

    There's an entire industry, nearly as large as tobacco itself, built up around stopping smoking.  Smokers are the one minority in America it is okay to ridicule and segregate but it became the archeype of a 'slippery slope' issue.   Virtually any legal or social restriction can be passed now if it's "for the children" and there doesn't need to be much science to it.   Like science bloggers on other sites who compare everyone who disputes their political position-based science to "Holocaust deniers", I have to worry about being told I hate children if I dispute these shaky findings.    

    In this case, the comparison is to evil "lead exposure" as the boogeyman.   They don't say cigarette smoke is  lead poisoning or even like lead poisoning, because that would be total rubbish, they instead say tobacco 'particulates' are correlated to cognitive deficits, just like lead.    So you see what  I mean about 'framing'.

    If you've read science long enough, you know that virtually anything can be correlated to cognitive deficits.    In physics and numerical modeling we call it converging on the wrong answer.   If your model is bad you will get the correct answer eventually, math can do that if you try, but it will be for a model that makes no sense.  So you can be statistically accurate and totally wrong.

    Particulate matter from tobacco smoke has obviously been proven toxic, that is not the issue, and according to the National Toxicology Program, there are up to 250 poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals include hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, butane, ammonia, toluene (found in paint thinners), arsenic, lead, chromium (used to make steel), cadmium (used to make batteries), and polonium-210 (highly radioactive carcinogen) in cigarette smoke, and eleven of the compounds are classified as Group 1 carcinogens, the most dangerous. 

    So I am not arguing in favor of smoking, though someone will claim I am a shill for 'Big Tobacco' anyway.  Smoking is obviously bad for you and smokers are a dwindling population that we continue to throw money at chastising and raising punitive taxes on, but the boogeyman for anyone who wants to allege evil corporate influence is a comparison to the tobacco industry, who are perceived to magically be able to hypnotize people into smoking.     Activists like Rob Reiner in Hollywood, who would cry "McCarthyism"  if there were calls to remove sex scenes from his movies, has no issue at all saying smoking should be mandated out of films.

    Yes, he is saying It's A Wonderful Life is bad for your kids because Jimmy Stewart smokes.   If that's the only message you get  out of  that movie, you have much bigger problems.

    There are kernels of truth in these studies, like there are in most bad use of data.   Tobacco particulates are harmful, children are smaller than adults yet the particulates are the same size so their impact will be greater in kids - but that's only if they are actually getting them, which is what is suspect.

     It's very difficult to eliminate every particulate in the interests of child safety, but child safety advocates have tried to pass laws mandating booster seats for 8 year-olds too, so nothing is surprising.    Second-hand smoke does less damage to children in Los Angeles - though some claim that second hand smoke actually has more smoke than smokers who smoke inhale - than the air they breathe naturally but no actor in Hollywood says cars for their assistants should be banned and they should have to walk to get Frappucinos.

    No one wants to get have children who can't read, of course, but the first 70 years of the 20th century were the time of the greatest technological prosperity in world history - and everyone smoked.  They smoked in their homes, they smoked at work, in restaurants, in movies, in television and magazine ads, around their kids, all of the time.    Yet they, and their children, and their grandchildren,  had much better non-adjusted scores in all academics areas than children today when the smoking rate is  half what it was in 1945.

    And there is no scientific study that can claim a single death linked to second-hand smoke, much less third.    Anyone trying to do so is picking their position and massaging data to match it.   This doesn't mean you should run out and start blowing smoke in the faces of your children, but it probably does mean that you are not making them stupid if you have a cigarette outside and then walk back in without undergoing decontamination.

    "When you smoke – anyplace – toxic particulate matter from tobacco smoke gets into your hair and clothing," says lead study author, Jonathan Winickoff, MD, MPH, assistant director of the MGHfC Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy. "When you come into contact with your baby, even if you're not smoking at the time, she comes in contact with those toxins. And if you breastfeed, the toxins will transfer to your baby in your breastmilk."   Winickoff notes that nursing a baby if you're a smoker is still preferable to bottle-feeding, however.

    Wait, a smoking mother's breastmilk is somehow harmful yet still better than bottlefeeding?     How dangerous can third hand smoke be if the hundreds of millions of children who have been bottlefed without any impairment at all are worse off than a smoking mom who breastfeeds?

    But you don't need data if you can have a survey.  

    So survey they did and they found that of more than 1,500 households, 95.4 percent of nonsmokers versus 84.1 percent of smokers agreed that second-hand smoke harms the health of children.    Well, how could they not?   Who in their right mind is going to take a survey and contend that smoke can't harm children?   All air pollution harms children.   Inhaling bacon fumes can harm children if they do enough of it but we won't ban bacon.

    These researchers went a step further and asked if 'third hand smoke' - not whether or not stray particulate matter from a cigarette smoked an hour ago could cause brain damage in a child but specifically third hand smoke - could also harm kids and found that and 65.2 percent of nonsmokers and 43.3 percent of smokers believed that third-hand smoke harms children, yet most of them could not possibly have ever heard the term 'third hand smoke' before.  Choosing the name made it dangerous.

    What is their goal?  A home smoking ban, of course, despite the fact that even the American Cancer Society dismisses such a thing as expensive, intrusive and unenforceable.  Big government at its worst.

    Some people are going to smoke.  Some kids will grow up and smoke.    Some kids will also die in accidents but that doesn't mean we can lower the speed limit to 5 MPH.   Some people will die from bad medical care unless we ban doctors.

    The actual data on second hand smoke is suspect but it's common sense that breathing any form of pollution is not a good idea for your kids.    But this third hand smoke stuff, the idea that left over particulates from a cigarette will cause your child to not be able to read, is the kind of societal witch hunt science needs to make sure we all avoid.


    ''The actual data on second hand smoke is suspect but it's common sense that breathing any form of pollution is not a good idea for your kids.''

    Without even getting into the 3rd hand smoke nonsense (thank you for doing it so eloquently) the actual data on second hand smoke is more than suspect, it is flawed if not a total fraud, and it is also common sense that if the babyboomers and their children were leading healthier lives than children today, we must look elsewhere than the second hand smoke boogy man. We can of course confine our children to totally sterilized environments just to play it ''safe'', however isn't this exactly what is making today's children sick with allergies unheard of at one time? Are we really doing our children any favors by protecting them from each and every real or manufactured hysteria du jour?

    Everything is poisonous, including water and milk but it is the dose that makes the poison and second hand smoke hardly has enough of the poison to be considered a serious menace. So please don't be so timid when yelling out that the emperor has no clothes. And one more thing, from experience, you can count on being labeled a Big tobacco stooge whether you only whisper it or yell it out, so if you're going to speak out, please do it loudly and clearly as it is the only language that can and will eventually defeat the lies and the distortion of science to fit the agenda! Thank you for your article.

    The metals from said third party cigarette smoke must have been in the original natural tobacco leaf, your next leafy salad, potato skin, fruit or root vegetable. These are eaten in much larger quanties than third party cigarette smoke exposure and are not tested for the toxic materials found in cigarette smoke.

    Gerhard Adam
    The issue with third hand smoke is complete rubbish.  Given the level of air pollution from cars in large cities, I'm amazed that anyone is still naive enough to pick on the easy targets alone (if that were the true concern).

    I would suggest that given the rise in childhood obesity and diabetes, perhaps parents need to be paying more attention to what they put into their kid's mouths, rather than non-existent particles into their lungs. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Non-existent particles in their lungs? Hmmm... then why is it that I can smell smoke in a room, or even a place that has been smoked in many times? Lingering smoke in the air? Then why do I smell smoke on the clothes of smoking long after they have left the area they smoked? Given that we better understand that what our nose picks up as "smell" is actually particles in the air, it wouldn't take much of a leap to hypothesize that since these particles are entering my nose (and i doubt selectively only my nose) they are entering the lungs. Though i agree it may not be the greatest threat to child-health, but that doesn't mean every health threat should be ignored except for the worst.

    Gerhard Adam
    Are you suggesting that the "particles" of smell regarding cigarettes is worse for you that the "particles" of smell from cooking beef?  After all, it can hardly be argued that either one is "natural" in the lungs. 

    More importantly, you don't seem concerned for those "particles" that you breath in regularly that are odorless (like carbon monoxide).  Seems like your standards are a bit too flexible.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Becky Jungbauer
    I'd read your article but somewhere someone in the U.S. smoked while I was growing up and therefore I cannot read. Which is probably a good thing, considering I don't like to read anything by children-hating big tobacco shills.
    If I had a business card, I would put this on it.   
    children-hating big tobacco shills.
    Becky Jungbauer
    You should put that on a bumper sticker. And a picture of yourself, glaring evilly at the sticker readers. With a cigarette, of course.
    Gerhard Adam
    Well .. I must confess this is one of the primary reasons why I do smoke.  Given all the hazards associated with second and now third-hand smoke, it seemed the only reasonable way to protect myself.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Tobacco is vegetable matter.
    A campfire is burning vegetable matter.
    Keep kids away from campfires.

    I have to disagree with the Vegetable-Matter Logic. You could've stated that Tobacco is an example of burning vegetable matter. What separates Tobacco from campfires is the severity of Tobacco's effect to one's lungs as against to the smoke produced by campfires.

    If you inhale a campfire the same way you inhale a cigarette a campfire is much worse.    What is unlikely is that your child will get lung cancer or a learning deficit from being around a campfire.   Even more unlikely is that if you have a kid and he is a Boy Scout and goes on a campout that the residual particles he brings home from the campfire will make his brother less likely to read.
    I agree actually, I keep kids away from the direction of the wind when by a fire.

    In case some folks don't know, campfires, outdoor fires, fireplaces, bar-b-q pits, candles and on and on, are being considered for banning in some places. And have actually been banned in some places. Good going, anti-tobacco - your extreme dislike of smoking has carried over into all the good things that provide light, warmth and well-being. And yes, even survival to some people.

    it's not the tobacco that is being questioned here. it's the other chemicals they put into the cigarette. chemicals that aren't naturally found in plants...

    Actually, the burning of tobacco plant is a combustion chemical reaction that produces many chemicals. Hence why it is called a chemical reaction, just because the chemicals aren't present in the plant before the reaction doesn't mean different chemicals cant be produced through burning the plant.

    The research paper this article is based upon is titled: 'Beliefs About the Health Effects of “Thirdhand” Smoke and Home Smoking Bans'. Their objective was to assess the health beliefs of adults regarding 3rd hand smoke, so I find the article kind of ridiculous based on this.
    I do notice they mention the same sources as the research paper did in their background information (National Toxicology Program), so they obviously aren't refutting the fact that toxins remain in the air long after a cigarette has been extinguished.

    Toxins exist long after anything enters the air, including every human being.  The contention that 'third hand smoke' can cause problems is silly cultural posturing by anti-smoking fundamentalists and has nothing at all to do with data.