Friday, February 12, 2010

BS Alert:--The 'third-hand smoke' hoax

NOTE TO READER: This study has been spread around the world by such notables as Brian Williams of NBC, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, and of course, the anti-tobacco forces which are out to treat those who smoke as pariah's, this time with a study by Dr. Hugo Destaillats who was awarded $704,901.00 by TRDRP and the taxpaying smokers of California to prepare this travesty of science.

---Becky Johnson, editor

BS Alert: The ‘third-hand smoke' hoax

February 10, 8:23 PM
from: Louisville Public Policy Examiner
by Thomas McAdam

found online at:

(Graphic: McAdam/

What’s that you say? You’ve never even heard of the horrors of “third-hand smoke?” Well, we here at the Louisville Public Policy Examiner like to keep our readers on the cutting edge of pseudoscience, so that they may demonstrate their newly-acquired erudition at Sierra Club meetings and Metro Health Department seminars. Worse than DDT, Radon, and Trans-Fats combined, third-hand smoke—or, THS—may well prove to be the greatest scientific scare of the century. Not since the Great Cranberry Scare of 1959 has junk science been ratcheted up to such a hysterical level.

It all started in January of 2009, with a silly little article in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. A consumer telephone poll about beliefs surrounding the health risks of smoking, that had been conducted in 2005, had asked 1,500 people if they agreed with the statements:

  • “Breathing air in a car today where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of babies and children.”
  • “Breathing air in a room where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of babies and children.”


Those surveyed who stated they agreed or agreed strongly were categorized as believing third-hand smoke harmed the health of babies and children. Predictably, respondents who self-identified themselves as smokers, tended to minimize any perceived harm; while non-smokers were more likely to assume some harm from THS. Only 65 percent of nonsmokers and 43 percent of smokers agreed with the statements, which researchers interpreted as acknowledgement of the risks of third-hand smoke.

The survey results were cited in the article as “evidence” that third-hand smoke had been “identified as a health danger.” This article in Pediatrics was not a clinical study, so it provided no original research that THS is an actual medical or scientific observable or definable entity, or that it has ever been shown to harm babies or children… or how such a thing might scientifically even be plausible.

Dr. Jonathan P. Winickoff (pronounced “when-I-cough;” that’s really his name), the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, said in the Pediatrics article:

Everyone knows that second-hand smoke is bad, but they don’t know about this. We needed a term to describe these tobacco toxins that aren’t visible. Third-hand smoke is what one smells when a smoker gets in an elevator after going outside for a cigarette, or in a hotel room where people were smoking. Your nose isn’t lying, the stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: ’Get away.’


So, the clever wordsmith Dr. Winickoff sent press releases around to the usual suspects in the leftist press, and soon got a bite from Roni Rabin at the New York Times, who wrote a perfectly outrageous article titled, A New Cigarette Hazard: ‘Third-Hand Smoke.’

Rabin talks about “…the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers’ hair and clothing, not to mention cushions and carpeting, that lingers long after second-hand smoke has cleared from a room. The residue includes heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials that young children can get on their hands and ingest, especially if they’re crawling or playing on the floor.” Mercy me! Those poor little tykes crawling about in all those carcinogens and radioactive materials! The horror!


Then, Ms. Rabin really jumps the shark: “Among the substances in third-hand smoke are hydrogen cyanide, used in chemical weapons; butane, which is used in lighter fluid; toluene, found in paint thinners; arsenic; lead; carbon monoxide; and even Polonium-210, the highly radioactive carcinogen that was used to murder former Russian spy Alexander V. Litvinenko in 2006. Eleven of the compounds are highly carcinogenic.”

For our Physics-challenged readers, we need to remind you that Polonium is a radioactive element discovered by Marie Curie and Pierre Curie in 1898 that is naturally occurring and widely distributed in small amounts across the earth’s crust. Your average diet naturally includes 1 to 10 picocuries (billionth of a curie) of Polonium-210 a day. Most (50-90%) leaves the body promptly in our stool and the rest decreases in our body with a half-time of 50 days. A smoker who smokes a pack of 20 cigarettes a day takes in about 0.72 picocuries of Polonium-210.

To put these numbers into perspective, that Russian spy, Litvinenko, is believed to have been exposed to 5,000,000,000 picocuries (5 millicuries). As is the fundamental principle of toxicology, the dose makes the poison. Ms. Rabin chose to make a lurid reference to Polonium-210 in a yellow-journalistic attempt to scare the hell out of her readers and start the junk-science ball rolling.

(Graphic: McAdam/

And roll it did. Within months, the neologism “third-hand smoke” was getting more than 3 million references in a Google search. (Interestingly, the term “fourth-hand smoke”—the theory that you can get cancer from simply watching a movie in which Humphrey Bogart is smoking—is now getting 56,600 Google references. Stay tuned.)

By the way, if you’re still worried that Junior’s crawling about in all that THS left in the living room from Uncle Albert’s pipe smoking will render him unto the same fate as the late Russian spy, you need to check out Michael J. McFadden’s computations in Reason Magazine:

It would take one quadrillion days (2.74 trillion years) for that child to absorb 5 millicuries. Unfortunately the universe is only 10 billion years old, so the child would have to lick floors for 274 cycles of our expanding universe to match our radioactive Russian. Of course since he'd normally excrete most of that polonium we'd have to refuse to change his diaper until the end of that period... not a very pleasant thought. And then there's that whole annoying fact that polonium's half-life is only 138 days, so we'd just have to ignore the laws of physics as well in order to justify the story's thesis…

Dr. Hugo Destaillats (Photo: Arizona State Univ.)

Money-hungry “scientists” across the land were quick to spot THS as a possible research goldmine. Dr. Hugo Destaillats, a chemist with the Indoor Environment Department of Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division, recently came out with a marvelous little “study,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), in which he reports:

The burning of tobacco releases nicotine in the form of a vapor that adsorbs strongly onto indoor surfaces, such as walls, floors, carpeting, drapes and furniture. Nicotine can persist on those materials for days, weeks and even months. Our study shows that when this residual nicotine reacts with nitrous acid it forms carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines or TSNAs.

Now, Dr. Hugo is not a medical doctor; he’s an Assistant Research Professor at Arizona State University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. His CV lists a Ph.D. in Chemistry (1998), from the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina. His “study” did not involve any clinical trials with actual human beings (or even actual mice or rats). He and his student assistants simply applied tobacco smoke to sheets of cellulose as a model indoor material, and determined that TSNAs detected on cellulose surfaces were 10 times higher than those originally present in the sample. That is, after spraying the cellulose sheets with nitrous acid.

In the PNAS paper, Dr. Hugo suggests various ways to limit the impact of the third hand smoke health hazard, including, replacing nicotine-laden furnishings, carpets and wallboard. Presumably, this simple—albeit pricey—technique will also eradicate all residue and vestiges of Radon and Trans-Fats also. Unanswered, of course, is the question of whether you could have equal success in reducing TSNAs on your rugs and furniture by just refraining from spraying everything with nitrous acid in the first place.

(Illustration: Dr. Hugo Destaillats)

Before you jump to the conclusion that Dr. Hugo is some sort of moron, you need to know about California’s Proposition 99. In November 1988, California voters approved Prop. 99, “The Tobacco Tax and Health Protection Act”, which instituted a 25¢-per-pack cigarette surtax. Part of this tax revenue is deposited into a Research Account, to be appropriated for research on tobacco-related disease, by the TRDRP. For the bizarre little study we have outlined above, Dr. Hugo Destaillats was awarded $704,901.00 by TRDRP and the taxpaying smokers of California. Maybe Dr. Hugo’s not such a moron after all.

By the way, if you thought we just made up that reference to Humphrey Bogart a few paragraphs back, you need to check out Dr. Hugo’s research monograph: Indoor fate and transport of secondhand tobacco smoke. The Bogart photo you see above was lifted from that article.

God help us if the Louisville Metro Council finds out about THS. The city will never find enough landfill space for all those miles of carpet, wallboard, and tons of furnishings to be discarded when the Council bans THS. And Uncle Albert’s cardigan smoking sweater will have to be buried somewhere in the Yucca Mountains; encased in concrete. To protect future generations, you see.

Watch the video: Uncle Albert smoking…


List of Naturally Occurring Mutagens and Carcinogens Found in Foods and Beverages
(From Environment & Climate News, November 2002, the American Council on Science and Health)

Acetaldehyde (apples, bread, coffee, tomatoes)—mutagen and potent rodent carcinogen
Acrylamide (bread, rolls)—rodent and human neurotoxin; rodent carcinogen
Aflatoxin (nuts)—mutagen and potent rodent carcinogen; also a human carcinogen
Allyl isothiocyanate (arugula, broccoli, mustard)—mutagen and rodent carcinogen
Aniline (carrots)—rodent carcinogen
Benzaldehyde (apples, coffee, tomatoes)—rodent carcinogen
Benzene (butter, coffee, roast beef)—rodent carcinogen
Benzo(a)pyrene (bread, coffee, pumpkin pie, rolls, tea)—mutagen and rodent carcinogen
Benzofuran (coffee)—rodent carcinogen
Benzyl acetate (jasmine tea)—rodent carcinogen
Caffeic acid (apples, carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, coffee, grapes, lettuce, mangos, pears, potatoes)—rodent carcinogen
Catechol (coffee)—rodent carcinogen
Coumarin (cinnamon in pies)—rodent carcinogen
1,2,5,6-dibenz(a)anthracene (coffee)—rodent carcinogen
Estragole (apples, basil)—rodent carcinogen
Ethyl alcohol (bread, red wine, rolls)—rodent and human carcinogen
Ethyl acrylate (pineapple)—rodent carcinogen
Ethyl benzene (coffee)—rodent carcinogen
Ethyl carbamate (bread, rolls, red wine)—mutagen and rodent carcinogen
Furan and furan derivatives (bread, onions, celery, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, rolls, cranberry sauce, coffee)—many are mutagens
Furfural (bread, coffee, nuts, rolls, sweet potatoes)—furan derivative and rodent carcinogen
Heterocyclic amines (roast beef, turkey)—mutagens and rodent carcinogens
Hydrazines (mushrooms)—mutagens and rodent carcinogens
Hydrogen peroxide (coffee, tomatoes)—mutagen and rodent carcinogen
Hydroquinone (coffee)—rodent carcinogen
d-limonene (black pepper, mangos)—rodent carcinogen
4-methylcatechol (coffee)—rodent carcinogen
Methyl eugenol (basil, cinnamon and nutmeg in apple and pumpkin pies)—rodent carcinogen
Psoralens (celery, parsley)—mutagens; rodent and human carcinogens
Quercetin glycosides (apples, onions, tea, tomatoes)—mutagens and rodent carcinogens
Safrole (nutmeg in apple and pumpkin pies, black pepper)—rodent carcinogen

Note: We would be remiss if we didn’t give some credit to brother Merlyn Seeley, our Louisville Natural Health Examiner: Study shows third hand smoke just as bad for you

Watch the video: Third Hand Smoke Hysteria on NBC Today Show

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