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.