Third Hand Nonsense

This is usually the purview of the other Michael Siegel, but I thought I’d tackle it as well.

Some people have their boxers in bunch over third-hand smoke:

Need another reason to add “Quit Smoking” to your New Year’s resolutions list? How about the fact that even if you choose to smoke outside of your home or only smoke in your home when your children are not there – thinking that you’re keeping them away from second-hand smoke – you’re still exposing them to toxins? In the January issue of Pediatrics, researchers at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) and colleagues across the country describe how tobacco smoke contamination lingers even after a cigarette is extinguished – a phenomenon they define as “third-hand” smoke.

What they’re talking about is the smell of smoke that lingers in your clothes after you’ve smoked or been in a bar. It’s unpleasant but I highly doubt that it is dangerous. There evidence that second hand smoke is dangerous is tenuous at best.

Keep in mind: there is no science in anything you are about to read. Only panic-mongering. Their “study” consists of asking people if they think third-hand smoke is dangerous. By that standard, I could do a survey of kids and conclude that we need to establish strict laws against the boogeyman.

Particulate matter from tobacco smoke has been proven toxic. According to the National Toxicology Program, these 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). Eleven of the compounds are classified as Group 1 carcinogens, the most dangerous.

This sounds scary but it’s garbage. They have no statement of how prevalent these things are. You can find trace amounts of dangerous chemicals in almost anything. Lima beans have traces of cyanogen; potatoes contain arsenic and celery contains psoralen. They mostly drag this stuff out of the ground, which is how this stuff gets into tobacco and hence, smoke. But that doesn’t mean it’s killing people or causing neurological damage.

Even if something is a carcinogen, low levels are not necessarily dangerous. Selenium is an important mineral to human health. In large amounts, it is extremely toxic.

Are we through yet? What’s the next thing we’re supposed to panic about?

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