Is the tobacco control movement misrepresenting the acute cardiovascular health effects of secondhand smoke exposure? An analysis of the scientific evidence and commentary on the implications for tobacco control and public health practice
Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02118, USA
Epidemiologic Perspectives & Innovations 2007, 4:12 doi:10.1186/1742-5573-4-12Published: 10 October 2007
While chronic exposure to secondhand smoke has been well recognized as a cause of heart disease in nonsmokers, there has been recent speculation about the potential acute cardiovascular effects of transient exposure to secondhand smoke among nonsmokers; in particular, the possibility that such exposure could increase the risk of acute myocardial infarction even in an otherwise healthy nonsmoker. This paper reviews the claims being made by a number of anti-smoking and public health groups regarding the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke exposure among otherwise healthy adults, analyzes the validity of these claims based on a review of the scientific evidence, and discusses the implications of the findings for tobacco control and public health practice. Based on the analysis, it appears that a large number of anti-smoking organizations are making inaccurate claims that a single, acute, transient exposure to secondhand smoke can cause severe and even fatal cardiovascular events in healthy nonsmokers. The dissemination of inaccurate information by anti-smoking groups to the public in support of smoking bans is unfortunate because it may harm the tobacco control movement by undermining its credibility, reputation, and effectiveness. Disseminating inaccurate information also represents a violation of basic ethical principles that are a core value of public health practice that cannot and should not be sacrificed, even for a noble end such as protecting nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure. How the tobacco control movement responds to this crisis of credibility will go a long way towards determining the future effectiveness of the movement and its ability to continue to save lives and protect the public's health.