Second hand smoke doesn't cause cancer
March 26, 2001 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Second hand smoke doesn't cause cancer I am shocked that an organization would withhold information that is damaging to their cause.
posted by jonny rook (31 comments total)
Well that's genuinely good news to those of us who don't smoke but spend many an evening in smokey bars and such.

I wonder how this study will affect all the lawsuits over secondhand smoke currently in litigation. I also wonder if tobacco companies can call a "redo" on past lawsuits (like the one where the 60,000 stewardesses successfully sued tobacco companies for secondhand smoke related illnesses) if this study turns out to be true ...
posted by Shadowkeeper at 2:17 PM on March 26, 2001

Well that's genuinely good news to those of us who don't smoke but spend many an evening in smokey bars and such.

True; now people only have to deal with smelling awful! How wonderful.
posted by hijinx at 2:22 PM on March 26, 2001

Uh . . . check the date. Sunday 8 March 1998. Three years ago! I tried doing a couple Google searches for more recent info, but I was instantly tired of seeing hysterical screeds and boldly worded agendas.

However, here's what Cecil Adams had to say about the topic last year: the original column and the followup.

And--while I don't focus much on lung cancer, I do work in cancer research--he's right. The link is as yet unproven. But that's mainly due to the inherent difficulties in setting up an unambiguous study that could isolate secondhand smoke from, well, the rest of people's lives when studying disease vectors. But I doubt there's many people in the field who would disagree with the notion that getting smoke into your lungs is generally a Bad Thing, from whatever source.

PS--I'm a smoker. How lame is that?
posted by Skot at 2:31 PM on March 26, 2001

My wife was fortunate enough to live in a house with a smoker all her adolescent life. Now I think it's only appropriate for her to take up smoking and give me the "protective" benefits that I have been waiting patiently for...(wink, wink)

I don't know about this. I guess I'll just wait awhile for the next study to be released to refute this, then the next, and on and on...
posted by 7sharp11 at 2:34 PM on March 26, 2001

Good heavens...somebody actually the cajones to say that smoking doesn't kill you dead within an instant of lighting the first cigarette. That seems to be the prevailing attitude about tobacco, you know...mention that you're a smoker (as I am) and many people seem to think that you've been handed a death sentence - a very early one, at that. Hey - smoking may be hazardous to my health, but the ODDS are that if it kills me, it won't happen for many, many years. Compare that to, say, morons who imbibe & then drive, or who fly commuter jets regularly, or do "stunt" activities like sky-diving, extreme skiing, etc. Worse yet, consider those who DON'T drink & drive, but go driving late at night on crowded roads travelled by drunk drivers (we all know when/where those situations occur). If they die during those activities, it will likely be immediate. I know I'm taking a chance by smoking, but on balance, I don't think it's much worse than some of those other activities. My two cents.
posted by davidmsc at 3:18 PM on March 26, 2001

davidmsc, we seem to have a difference of opinions here - I'd far prefer death by collapsed parachute, car accident, skiing over a cliff, etc to the long, drawn out misery that is death by lung cancer or emphysema. The immediacy is precisely what makes it appealing... but maybe that's just me.

I'm a little worried about the second-hand smoke thing, as I absorb a lot of smoke hanging out for hours in clubs... and I don't believe that the same smoke which kills the person holding the cigarette won't kill the person sitting across the table. There has to be something this study missed.

Why aren't there nicotine pills on the market yet? Is there some chemical obstacle to their production? Seems like it'd be just as efficient a way for people to get their fix, without the stench, fire hazard, and health risk of ingested smoke.

posted by Mars Saxman at 3:37 PM on March 26, 2001

As a former smoker, I have to say that a pill wouldn't cut it. What I always liked best was the way it felt when you inhaled. It tore up your throat, but in a good way.
posted by sonofsamiam at 3:39 PM on March 26, 2001

My father has been smoking for more than thirty years and does NOT have cancer. Is he living proof of this study or is cancer passed down genetically to your children.

I am aware of the fact that everyone has cancer cells in their bodies, but not everyone develops cancer.
posted by Zool at 3:44 PM on March 26, 2001


Looks like they've been considered at least once.

And also, the study didn't necessarily have to "miss" anything to be inconclusive. You've got a data set of people who smoke or don't smoke, but that same data set contains people who are/aren't coal miners, do/don't consume processed foods, are/aren't using birth control, drink/don't drink water full of heavy metals, live/don't live in a heavy-air-polluted area etc. It gets very, very difficult to screen out the various factors. In fact, I get extremely wary when a study purports to provide "conclusive" evidence of this sort: there is almost always an agenda present.
posted by Skot at 3:49 PM on March 26, 2001

This is great news! Now I can tell the wife I am going off to a few bars to get the second-hand smoke because it offerse some protection. She always is concerned for what is best for me and my health.
posted by Postroad at 4:31 PM on March 26, 2001

Agreed Skot.

Here we have a study performed by the world health organization. One would assume they do not have a vested interest in the outcome of their tests. However they do have the same budget restraints.

Does it shock me that they "withheld" their findings? No. I think that might be a rather subjective call on the part of the journalist (who is in effect "interpreting" this "finding" for us, instead of giving us, the reader, some substantive facts and figures)

How long does the WHO generally take to release their findings? This isn't made clear. So we have no comparison point to go on. However the finding of some studies can take years to be released into the public domain. This is not at all unusual in the scientific and medical world. There was no threat to people's health in the meantime.

One could say that any "delay" (assuming there was one, which I am unsure of) may have impacted on one or other of several high profile court cases. But look at the date of this document, it's fairly ancient by any measure. There have been scored of successful cases won in courts all over the world SINCE this document has been released, based on findings that are contradicted within this report.

It does look as though, this finding has probably been submitted at these and similar cases for the last four years, and has been effectively debunked by the legal team acting for the plaintiff.

I can't even recall reading about this finding at the time that it originally was released to the worldwide media (8 March 1998)

The most impact any "delay' might have had on our lives (unless anyone can bring forward evidence that this study has impacted on court cases since it's release) is that we might have spent more time in the "non-smoking" area of a bar, than the smoking area. Surely a good idea anyway, since the dangers of emphysema, asthma etc are very real and compelling reasons not to spend too much time in a smoky room if one can avoid it.

Or, the many and very credible studies that have been undertaken, both in the past and (I assume) far more recently than this one, which find a conclusive link between passive smoking and cancer, not to mention the weight of anecdotal evidence.... It would seem that it is wise to remain aware of the link between passive smoking and cancer.

I'm not smoker-phobic whatsoever, far from it. However there is much about this article which makes me doubt the claims made within it.
posted by lucien at 6:16 PM on March 26, 2001

The most recent US National Institutes of Health report on Environmental Tobacco Smoke [pdf]. I'm trying to read it but Acrobat just crashed my browser.
posted by dhartung at 6:51 PM on March 26, 2001

cray that's probably not the best way to look at it-- so many more people fly than drive that just holding up the gross numbers doesn't really tell you anything. Although in the end I'm sure even by percentage you're much more likely to die in a plane than in a car.
posted by chaz at 8:24 PM on March 26, 2001

As a Respiratory Therapist (not currently practicing), I'm a bit bemused by the reactions. Folks seem to make their decisions about their health based on the latest single study. Feh.

The study does not appear to address the incidence of emplysema and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in people exposed to secondhand smoke, the incidence of childhood illness and asthma in homes with passive smoking, or anything else.

As to the positive effects of secondhand smoke, there's something a priori about what happens when you blow smoke in someone's face. They cough and sputter. Do those particulates matter up close? Clearly. At a great distance outdoors? No. How about downwind? How about in an enclosed space?

And I wonder how this correlates with the incidence of illness in people who work in bars and restaurants, and other enclosed spaces.

My own professional organization has a patient education page on the topic.

And hey, don't lump me in with those who would ban smoking everywhere. That's not my opinion. Allowing and disallowing smoking in public spaces is up to your own local jurisdiction. My own interest is simply to make people aware of risks. And these kinds of issues are about risk, as in odds. Maybe you'll smoke all your life and never get cancer or have any ill effects. Maybe you'll smoke all your life and create a chronic, debilitating illness for yourself where you'll find yourself gasping for breath and the slightest exertion. You will incur medical bills up the ass, and be in and out of the hospital, being poked and prodded by people by me. Freedom of choice is a great thing eh?
posted by artlung at 9:21 PM on March 26, 2001

oops I wrote it wrong (drunk again, sorry) meant to say the precise opposite-- so many more people drive than fly.

I think it basically boils down to what kind of person you are: Some people look at the stats, and feel safe in a plane, others think more about the quality of the death experience, and the feeling that you have no control whatsoever, and that scares them more. It's like the ocean-- you're more likely to die from a cramp than a shark, but you don't see CRAMP the movie...
posted by chaz at 1:27 AM on March 27, 2001

I'm just wondering what Jonny Rook thinks is the "cause" of the World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations, and how exactly withholding this information -- if that can truly be said to have happened -- would "damage" it.

chaz, you have no knowledge whatsoever of basic statistics if you think you're safer in a car than a plane. If you look at passenger-miles, that is, the difference in safety between taking the exact same trip either by road or by air, the airplane wins in a landslide. Even if you look at the odds of dying on a particular trip, the plane is going to be significantly safer.

Most people today have no concept of how to quantify, compare, and judge risk. It's basic innumeracy. See the numbers that one mathematical journal came up with: the same 1000 mile trip is 12 times more dangerous on a plane, though individual trips of typical length for either mode have roughly the same risk. The difference is the exposure, the cumulative risk.

Second-hand smoke is just such a risk (to drag us back on topic). Smoking doesn't automatically GIVE you cancer -- it just creates highly risky conditions. The more you smoke, the longer, the greater your exposure, and the greater the cumulative effects of other conditions. Eventually the odds add up to really high numbers. Second-hand smoke contains the exact same ingredients, but the exposure is less, so it takes much more exposure to reach a measurable level, let alone prove a correlation.

To say that second-hand smoke does not ever cause cancer is ridiculous. Second-hand smoke may simply cause cancer at a level which is not generally measurable against the background of other causes. Second-hand smoke is also a grab-bag factor. Going to a bar once a week is probably not a risk worth worrying about; working in a bar 30-40 hours a week probably is. The exposure is what tells the difference in risk for the individual, and yet still it remains only a risk, like the risk of dying when you drive to work today. You don't think about it. But every time you do it you roll the dice anew, and if you understand probability, you know that rolling the dice today is not related to how the dice rolled yesterday. They are independent events.
posted by dhartung at 6:39 AM on March 27, 2001

Whether or not second-hand smoke causes cancer, it stinks. It makes my eyes dry out, it makes my nose get extra sensitive and it can make me want to vomit, and I'm a smoker.

I like places that have smoking sections, obviously, and actually last night I walked out of a restaurant that I discovered was non-smoking only, but that doesn't mean I feel any kind of justification in sharing my habit with other people.

Besides, I paid all the sin taxes for the damn smoke, why should they get their throats ripped in a good way (which, disturbingly enough, is the perfect way to describe why smokers get enjoyment) for free? :-)

Some, they don't mind. They tell me to go ahead and light up when I ask if they're alright with it, others tell me it really bothers them and I go away to do it.

I just don't understand why most smokers feel any justification in forcing someone to smell our stanky habit. If you're in a crowd of people, wander off to the side or something and enjoy your smoke in peace. At least that way you don't have to deal with haughty non-smokers (or worse, those righteous ex-smokers [not you sonofsamiam] :-).

It's really just a matter of courtesy.
posted by cCranium at 7:29 AM on March 27, 2001

I agree with the whole courtesy aspect. I'm from New Orleans, where everyone smokes in as tightly packed of a space as possible, but I have always been conscious of where my smoke goes. That said...

If you live in California, you know how militant the non-smoking crowd is. We are legally forced to remove ourselves from the premises -- rain or shine. While this has some positive benefits, I'm not sure (especially considering the WHO release) that it should be legislated any more than legislating that anyone who make wild hand gestures or speaks in an annoying tone should go outside to do so...

On another, somewhat related topic, I went to get a parking sticker so that I could park on the street in my own neighboorhood for more than 2 hours at a time (another joy of San Francisco). I was being a nice guy by getting someone else a sticker as well but needed their license plate number. So, I picked up my cell phone and dialed the number. Speaking more quietly than everyone else in the place, I asked the person on the other side for the information. I suddenly became aware of a loud asian voice saying "Sir! Sir!! Sir!". I tried hard to ignore this person, as I was almost finished with the call, but another good samaritan activist tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at the lady behind the counter. I looked up at the office worker.

"Answer call outside, sir! Answer call outside!"

Note that this woman's voice was raised to unnecessary decibels. I stated "I'm not answering a call, I called someone to get information necessary to fill out your forms".

"Answer call outside, sir! Answer call outside!"

So, I fumed and fumed hard. Here I am, being quiet as a mouse, trying to get business done, with papers all over my lap and a laptop bag next to me. If she had shut her trap for another 20 seconds, I would have been off of the phone. How *&@(*#$ rude is that!?

As I walked outside, I saw a sign saying "Please take all cell phone calls outside".

Now exactly why is this necessary and at a state office no less? Are they worried about irradiation? Sorry, they're getting it 24x7 and not from my phone. Are they worried about loud conversations? Apparently not. Are they worried that I'm using the phone as a wireless trigger to set off a bomb in the office? Why would I need to, and why would I, do that from within the office?

I'm basically convinced that Californians simply need something to villify. Now that smoking is being taken away, surely something will have to replace it... Sigh...
posted by fooljay at 4:30 PM on March 27, 2001

Well that does sound irritating, but maybe they made the rule because people answer their phones while transacting business, thereby slowing everything down, and demonstrating unnecessary rudeness towards the person who's assisting him or her? Rather than deal with each situation as it occurs, it's easier to just point to a sign and say, "NO!"
posted by megnut at 5:26 PM on March 27, 2001

> So, I picked up my cell phone ...

A big problem with cell phones is that the typical user does not keep his or her voice down. To the contrary, most cell-phone users speak at a significantly raised volume, presumably to be heard above background noise on both ends of the connection, though perhaps also out of plain egotism and rudeness.

And when you get more than one person using the same strategy at once, fighting to hear and be heard over one another and the ongoing background noise, the cacophony grows. I don't blame them for banning calls in already chaotic offices. They need to start building passive jamming into office buildings.

By the way, why did you say the woman was Asian? Are Asian accents more annoying to you?
posted by pracowity at 11:01 PM on March 27, 2001

Meg, you may be right, but "zero tolerance" is ridiculous as stated in many other posts. I wasn't in line. I was sitting on a chair near one of the walls filling out my paperwork.

Pracowity, I said that the woman was Asian because I was painting a picture of someone yelling in a loud voice. If you've ever been on a bus in San Francisco (especially the 30 line), you'd know what I'm talking about. It has something to do with the Chinese (and perhaps other Asian) laguages. Apparently emphasis/inflection actually changes the meaning of many of the words, so to show emphasis, the simply raise the volume of the entire sentance. That often makes for a very loud conversation.

Combine that with pigeon english, and you have an aural event which is very hard to miss. So my point is, she was 10x worse than I was. Let's put it this way: no one noticed (except for her) that I was using my cell phone, yet no one failed to look up in surprise at her antics.

It comes down to the letter vs spirit of the law. Sure, I broke the letter of the "law", but I followed the spirit of the law. She did not, perhaps because she didn't know why the rule was in place? Perhaps because the only excitement they get in that office all day is enforcement of that rule.
posted by fooljay at 10:27 AM on March 28, 2001

Sort of back on topic:

74 Things that you can die from: Rates of death by age and race and gender (age adjusted). (They're both PDFs) You'll probably die from something you can't pronounce.

You may now go back to your cell phone conversation.
posted by iceberg273 at 10:51 AM on March 28, 2001

> Almost every land-line telephone has a circuit in it that
> connect the microphone to the speaker, so that when
> you're talking, you can hear your voice.
> Cell phones don't do this, however.

Then cell-phone designers are idiots, because the constant yammering from cell-phone users drives people crazy.

They're trying to save power, you might say, but if it's at the cost of making their products so annoying that people want to ban them, perhaps they should think again (or even think the first time).
posted by pracowity at 11:02 PM on March 28, 2001

Is annoyance reason enough for legislation?
posted by fooljay at 3:36 AM on March 29, 2001

> Is annoyance reason enough for legislation?


For instance, when is a good time to use a leaf blower? I say 'never,' but let's assume you think they are good to use.

Is it appropriate for your neighbor to use a leaf blower at midnight when you want to sleep? It's just noise, isn't it?

Or would it be fair for the town to forbid their use between certain hours and to fine offenders? I think so.
posted by pracowity at 9:21 AM on March 29, 2001

Almost every land-line telephone has a circuit in it that connect the microphone to the speaker, so that when you're talking, you can hear your voice. Cell phones don't do this, however.

Don't be silly. Of course they do. Believe me, if they didn't, people would notice -- they'd think their phone was dead. I just blew into the mic of my Qualcomm PCS phone and heard it loud and clear in the earpiece.
posted by kindall at 11:02 AM on March 29, 2001

So what would you rather, pracowity?

a) Your neighbor using his leaf blower at midnight
b) The person next to you using a cell phone

I don't find people talking on a cell phone annoying at all (and I also don't think that annoyances are enough cause for legislation, but I was baiting you. Sorry. :). I do find the rings to often times be very annoying, but for the most part, I don't hear a lot of in restaurants or bars. I have never heard a phone ring during a movie.

Why isn't there legislation about people on the street having one-sided conversations. They often do it very loudly and sometimes they get closer to you as you stand there. That's more annoying right?

Those where rhetorical... :)
posted by fooljay at 11:16 AM on March 29, 2001

> So what would you rather, pracowity?

Neither. No cretin blowing leaves. No cretin on a cell phone.

There's nothing wrong wtth legislation to keep morons under control.

> I don't find people talking on a cell phone annoying at all

Then your life is sadly noisy and without beauty.
posted by pracowity at 10:35 PM on March 29, 2001

Pracowity, it must be hard go through life bothered by so many things.

My life is sometimes noisy (I live in San Francisco), sometimes not but almost always beautiful.
posted by fooljay at 11:11 AM on March 30, 2001

Bah, almost everything I encounter bothers me but I'm plenty happy.

The one advantage about being irritated by 99% of the things (including people) you encounter is that those 1% really, really stand out. :-)
posted by cCranium at 6:28 PM on March 30, 2001

> almost everything I encounter bothers me but I'm
> plenty happy.

Me, too. I like finding dumb things and fixing them.
posted by pracowity at 2:43 AM on March 31, 2001 [1 favorite]

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