Second Hand Smoke

I just saw a clip on Penn & Teller’s Bullsh*t (Showtime) that states the research on second hand smoke as a cause of lung cancer is bogus. I checked with Straight Dope (, and Cecil agrees. I’m curious though; is there any research that proves second hand smoke causes problems OTHER than cancer, such as upper respiratory infection, asthma, or emphysema? I could swear I read about one study that evaluated the health of non-smoking flight attendants before smoking was banned on planes, and another that studied the health of children in smoking vs. non-smoking families. If there are studies that prove second hand smoke causes problems OTHER than lung cancer, then I think we still have a duty to ban public smoking. After all, we ban driving while under the influence of alcohol because of the harm it causes. How is public tobacco smoke any different?

Second-hand smoke is a pain in the ass; it smells bad, and it makes me sneeze and cough. Multiply by millions and you have the drive against smoking. The risk of cancer, emphysema, etc. is negligible – it’s just a smokescreen (heh) because some knuckedragging assh… er, people don’t think irritation is a good enough reason to ban smoking anywhere.


Where do you live that second hand smoke is so prevalent? In the US, there’s no smoking in any airport I know of, no public buildings, offices, hospitals, supermarkets, buses, taxis, banks, meeting halls, churches, offices and a hell of a lot of restaurants. Additionally, with the exception of one brother-in-law, who is single, nobody I know allows smoking in the house.

I fact, the only public places I know of where you can smoke is in some bars (none in NY state) and cigar stores.

So where is all this smoke that’s irritating you? And where do you propose banning “public smoking”? My patio?

You apparently haven’t been to Nevada, where smoking is legal (or at least illegally permitted) just about everywhere(hospitals excepted I’m sure).

2ndhand smoke presents a difficult dichotomy for me. On the one hand, I’m reluctant to impose sweeping restrictions on the general public, especially in adult-restricted areas like bars.

On the other hand, I hate being exposed to the stench and irritation (eyes and sinuses) of smokey places. I hate stinking of cigarettes for hours after being in such a place, and I hate the sticky nicotine coating that covers everything/body exposed to the nasty cloud. I know the pro-smoker crowd will tell me tough luck and I can stay away from bars if I don’t like it, but I don’t see that as a fair option, since I’d effectively cut myself off from the vast majority of social public places, and some private ones as well. Another example… my half-brother and his girlfriend smoke, and they hosted the family for xmas last year. They smoke indoors, despite the 9 year old living in the house and the guest dying from lung cancer. As much as I’d have liked to spend more time with the family, the non-smoking contingent was more-or-less forced to leave early due to the smoke. And this was with such half-assed anti-smoke measures as leaving the front door open.

It wouldn’t be such a big problem if smokers in general tended to be more considerate about their habit, but the vast majority don’t seem to give an F if I’m choking on their exhaust( not to mention the 36 zillion butts deposited throughout creation every day). Much like dog owners… but that’s a different rant.

So to answer the OP, it irritates MY mucous membranes(and my asthma), so I’m certain it aggravates asthma, emphysema. And the Surgeon General agrees:

Besides, if I can’t smoke my preferred dried plant matter in public places, why should your preferred dried plant matter be any different? :slight_smile:

I’ve often wondered how secondhand smoke (or ETS, to use the term Cecil used) could possibly not be harmful. It seems self-evident that any smoke at all is worse than clean air, and apparently Cecil more-or-less agrees, saying that any smoking at all presents some risk. So when I hear that studies on ETS causing lung cancer and whatnot are bogus, I think, maybe so, but that doesn’t meant that it isn’t actually harmful, right?

Or is it really safe? Is there some level of dilution in air below which the smoke doesn’t do anything to your lungs – or at least where the risk of developing cancer fades into the ordinary level of risk due to background radiation and the like? If so, where would that level be, roughly? It seems to me that if the smoke is thick enough to smell terrible, or if you can see it forming a haze in the air, it has to present some level of risk for cancer, doesn’t it? (As tadc indicated, in most casino-based restaurants in Nevada, the smoke is usually thick enough that you can see a haze.)

I asked a tobacco researcher I know about it, and she indicated that exposure to ETS does indeed present a real risk of cancer and emphysema and whatnot despite the EPA’s meta-analysis of studies not being terribly reliable. But she didn’t really offer any evidence, so I don’t know if she’s reliable.


Actually, I agree that most public places seem to have gotten pretty good about limiting the amount of smoke in their air. I was reacting more to the program I saw and the data it presented than any recent irritation. I do have asthma and grew up in a smoke-filled household so it’s somewhat of a passionate subject for me. I was VERY surprised, however, to hear NOT ONLY that the data to support the harmfulness of second hand smoke was so sketchy, but that some people are actually changing their mind about whether or not public smoking should be banned because of it. I am biased, of course, but I really hate that I can’t go have a drink with friends after work or go to a concert without fearing for the state of my lungs. Just VISITING a smoker’s house once sent me to the hospital. And my biggest pet peave of all is those people who smoke just outside the building so that I still have to walk through their crap to get inside. Dispite all that, however, what amazed me the most was the LACK OF DATA, data I took for granted. While my personal opinion about smoking hasn’t changed, I am disturbed by this new information and haven’t quite decided how to incorporate it into my world view.


I like your final comment! Although, as an asthmatic, should you be introducing ANY smoke into your lungs? Anyway, that’s another matter. I agree with your comments. I choose not to smoke, and therefore don’t want to be exposed to someone else’s crap while in public. However, I choose not to have children, too, and though I absolutely hate it, I’m sure they won’t ban screaming brats in public (unfortunately). So where do we draw the line. At physical harm? One person asked if we would then ban perfume because many people have allergies to that. I’m not sure how far this argument can go, but it’s definately one that concerns me.

I agree, all smoke should be banned, In fact all combustion products, as they are a risk to public health should be banned.

Your right to drive a car ends at my nostrils.

<< One person asked if we would then ban perfume because many people have allergies to that. I’m not sure how far this argument can go, but it’s definately one that concerns me. >>

[ Moderator hat on ] This is not the forum wherein to discuss such matters. If you’d like such a discussion, please open it in the forum called Great Debates. Here, we limit discussion to comments on Cecil’s column – namely, what health risks are associated with second-hand smoke.

There’s an old saying in toxicology: “The dose makes the poison”. Substances that are harmless (or even beneficial) at low doses can be lethal at higher doses. Vitamin A, for example, is essential for night vision, but at high doses it’ll give you vitamin A poisoning.

Furthermore, the risk factor does not usually proportional to the dose. If smoking 10 cigarettes per day gives you an 8% risk for lung cancer (say), it does not necessarily follow that smoking 5 cigarettes per day will give you a 4% risk for lung cancer. There may indeed be a level of tobacco smoke exposure below which there is no increased risk for lung cancer.