Passive Smoking

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Passive Smoking is a general catch-all phrase that attempts to describe the adsorption or absorption of the by-products of smoking by people and/or things other than the active smoker, usually with alleged deleterious effects.

For example, in the case of Second Hand Smoke, smoke from both the end of a lit cigarette, and that exhaled by the active smoker, may be inhaled by near-by people, or may settle on inanimate objects directly near-by.

In the case of Third Hand Smoke, the by-products that settle on inanimate objects that subsequently metamorphoses into other by-products.

No-one, yet, has seriously accused 'Fourth Hand Smoke' of causing harm, though it has been half-jokenly referred to as, among other things:

  • smoke exposure resulting from being in the presence of someone who themselves was in the presence of a smoker.[1]
  • when a person is forced to listen to someone complaining about how their friend’s clothes smelled of smoke from being at a bar the night before[2]
  • the presence in the family home, domicile or dwelling place (this includes motor vehicles some of which retain mobility) of unopened, un-smoked cigarettes contained in a pack, or individual cigarettes bought from less than reputable corner stores that are contained in re-sealable Ziploc bags[3]

Higher degrees of smokiness, have predictably been cited, usually in the same manner as Fourth Hand Smoke above.

On a more serious note, most mention of secondary smoke, when referred to by the anti-smokers, is usually accompanied by grisly descriptions of what may/will/has happened to 'victims' of it. These descriptions are usually worse than the symptoms attributable to 'First Hand Smoke,' somehow implying that the effects of SHS are of an order worse and totally different.

For example, one piece of research[4] claimed that while a smoker may have a 15% increased chance of some hearing loss over a non-smoker, a second-hand smoker would have double that increased chance (28%). The research concerned did not proffer any evidence to show why this may be, but did provide some speculation. The fact that the research was poorly conducted was not offered as a possible explanation however.

That the smoker themselves is also exposed to this second/third/fourth hand smoke, as well as the first hand smoke, and seem to suffer none of these effects is casually not mentioned.

Sadly, while there are few, if any, documented cases of people seriously suffering from SHS (asthma suffers susceptible to 'smoke' are susceptible to a lot of things for example) there are quite a few documented cases of people dying or suffering severe injury due do policies put in place to 'protect' people from SHS.

Second Hand Smoke

No-one has died from SHS.[5]

Despite all the articles you can find on the web citing the horrors of second hand smoke, not one person has had SHS cited as the reason for death.

Mario Labate's widow, despite his working in an office for 29 years exposed to a large amount of secondhand tobacco smoke, and subsequently died from lung cancer, failed to get the cause of death recorded as SHS[6], with the court recording:

While acknowledging Mr Labate’s exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke and finding no other cause for his lung cancer, the Medical Committee in its decision nonetheless stated that it could not establish with certainty the connection with his professional activities. The Commission accordingly denied the request, following the finding by the Medical Committee that the connection between the disease and Mr Labate’s professional activities was not sufficiently established.

The BMA on Second Hand Smoke

In 2011, the BMA released a briefing paper with the shocking revelation that

Further studies demonstrate that the concentration of toxins in a smoke-filled vehicle is 23 times greater than that of a smoky bar, even under realistic ventilation conditions[7]

So, even opening the windows while driving along, definitely results in 23 times more smoke hanging around than in a smoky pub. Fortunately, someone spotted that the 23x number was beyond even silly, and the BMA issued a correction:

Further studies demonstrate that the concentration of toxins in a smoke-filled vehicle could be up to 11 times greater than that of a smoky bar[7]

Not much better, but that 'could be up to' does include numbers between 0 and 1 such as

Further studies demonstrate that the concentration of toxins in a smoke-filled vehicle could be up to 0.01 times greater than that of a smoky bar...

Or less than 1% of that found in a smoky bar.

BMJ : Environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality in a prospective study of Californians, 1960-98

In 2003 the BMJ published a study[8], by James E Enstrom, Geoffrey C Kabat and Davey Smith, which found after studying 35,561 never-smokers who were married to a smoker, in conclusion, that:

The results do not support a causal relation between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality, although they do not rule out a small effect. The association between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease and lung cancer may be considerably weaker than generally believed.

Scotland on Second Hand Smoke

On being asked via FoI request for "d) All information on actual deaths in Scotland attributable to Second Hand Smoke otherwise known as “Passive Smoking” , "Sidestream Smoke" or “Environmental Tobacco Smoke” from the years 2000 - 2009," Mary Cuthbert, Head of Tobacco, Sexual Health and HIV Policy, replied (emphasis added):

We hold no information about actual deaths due to passive smoking. It is not possible to give precise figures on deaths resulting from tobacco use. However, it is estimated that each year more than 13,000 people in Scotland die from smoking-related diseases, including lung cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke. (figures taken from The UK Smoking Epidemic; deaths in 1995, produced by the London : Health Education Authority in 1998) . The numbers of deaths attributed to passive smoking are primarily estimated from studies comparing the rates of deaths due to smoking attributable diseases among similar people who have not had such exposure. A link to the most recent study commissioned on behalf of the Scottish Government is attached http://www.healthscotland.com/documents/448.aspx [9]

And for "e) all information held on “Third Hand Smoke,” replied:

Please note after reviewing our records we hold no information in connection with (e) of your request. [9]

Second hand smoke crosses the placenta

Seriously. Apparently. According to, it would appear from reports, Julia Dratva, a doctor at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute:

Atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries due to accumulation of, e.g., cholesterol] in children can begin in the womb as passive tobacco smoke crosses the placenta, leading to low birth-weight and impaired lung development. The condition can lead to blood clots and strokes later on in life.[10]

Quite how this sort of pseudo-science gets published is somewhat annoying - smoke cannot pass between mother and baby in utero, via the placenta or by any other method known to science. Unfortunately, the exact source of this statement is unclear, since Ms. Dratva is not quoted directly and (at the time of writing) all articles referring to it are copy/pasted - a phenomenon known as churnalism.

Passiv rygning giver ikke kræft (Passive smoking does not cause cancer)

Klaus Kjellerup points out in an article (English translation) that once statistical analysis is used to correct for errors..

The analysis shows that passive smoking cannot be a cause of lung cancer. The overall result of all of the 102 published studies indeed shows a small increase in lung cancer risk of 1.22 (corresponding to a 22% increased risk), but the 22% is reduced to zero after error corrections in the worst studies and confounder adjustments, write the British statisticians Lee, Fry, Forey, Hamling & Thornton.[11]

Third Hand Smoke

Third hand smoke is what is left behind after a cigarette has been extinguished[12], for example the non-consumed nicotine and other components of smoke that tend to settle on surfaces, or the smell of smoke on a smoker's clothes. Arguments that it is as noxious, or even more so, than primary or secondary smoke is defended with statements such as

"The level of toxicity in cigarette smoke is just astronomical when compared to other environmental toxins [such as particles found in automobile exhaust],"[13]

Suggestions have been made[14] that people believing this should test this by performing an experiment along the lines of:

  1. 10 smokers should be given 10 cigarettes each and all should be placed into a garage with the door closed, invited to smoke all their cigarettes within 2 hours
  2. 10 anti-smokers should be placed in a garage with the door closed, with a running vehicle, for 2 hours

After the two hours have passed, the two garages should be opened to see how many of the 20 participants are still conscious/alive.

The point being made here, is that those making the comparison are assuming the same volumes of noxious substances are produced per unit time, when in reality cigarettes produce magnitudes less of whatever it is they're comparing to that coming out of vehicles.

Articles, and scientists, espousing the alleged highly toxic nature of third hand smoke generally pad out their prose with weasel words such as "may," "might," "probably," "can."

For example:

And when nonsmokers move in[to a house previously occupied by a smoker,] they may absorb these toxic chemicals even if the home has been cleaned and vacant for months, researchers found.

The pollutants, which have been labeled “thirdhand smoke,” can coat all the surfaces of a dwelling and seep into every crevice, said the study’s lead author, Georg E. Matt, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. [15]

Abuse of small numbers is also not beyond those touting FUD

More troubling were the findings of nicotine on or in the bodies of nonsmokers who had moved into dwellings formerly occupied by smokers. Nicotine levels were seven to eight times higher on the fingertips of nonsmokers who’d moved into a smoker’s home compared to nonsmokers who had always lived in a nonsmoking home.[15]

The presumed shock-horror facet here relies on the implicit and unnoticed by the audience assumption that there is some large base-level of nicotine present in an ex-nonsmoker's home, and that the amount in the ex-smoker's home is 7-8 times this large base-level.

Presumably, however, the amount of nicotine in an ex-nonsmoker's home is likely to be miniscule to non-existent. And 7 or 8 times a miniscule number (or zero) is still miniscule (or zero.)

References