Number of children exposed to second-hand smoke falls, but was it really dangerous anyway?

There’s more good news for the anti-smoking lobby today. Data published in the scientific journal Addiction reveals that children are being exposed to 80 per cent less second-hand smoke than they were in 1998.

Tens of thousands of children participated in the study, enduring cheek swabs and checks for the presence of cotinine, a derivative of nicotine. Tobacco inhaled is converted into cotinine, which can stay in the body for up to five days, but recent findings show incidence of this on young children is on the decline.

This decline is remarkable. In the late 1980s the cotinine in the saliva of non-smoking children was measured at an average of 0.96 nanograms per millilitre. The researchers found that by 1998 that had fallen to 0.52 ng/ml. The most recent measurements, taken in 2012, found a further decrease to just 0.11 ng/ml. Now over two thirds of children have undetectable levels of cotinine in their bloodstream. When research in this area began that was almost unheard of.

Even more interesting is that though the prevalence of smoking has fallen significantly in the past 17 years, it hasn’t fallen by 80 per cent (the figure is closer to a third). Smoking around children clearly has. This shows that attitudes to smoking have changed fundamentally since the turn of the century. That’s indisputably good news. But it’s worth asking if second-hand smoke ever really harmed them anyway.

According to Vivienne Nathanson, senior director of the British Medical Association, ‘there is overwhelming evidence, built up over decades, that passive smoking causes lung cancer’. The 2006 US Surgeon General report claimed that there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke and that ‘the scientific evidence is now indisputable: secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that leads to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults.’

One of the most compelling pieces of evidence for Nathanson’s statement, and that of the US Surgeon General, is a study carried out in 1994 by Dr. Elizabeth Fontham. Amongst other things her research looked at women whose husbands smoked around them. It found that their relative risk of developing lung cancer was 1.29 (for that number to mean anything you need to know that a result of 2.0 would make that outcome twice as likely). But she found no association with exposure in childhood, or a negative relative risk of 0.89.

That’s just one study. As Christopher Snowdon points out in his book on the history of anti-smoking, the majority of similar research finds no link at all, or a negligible increased likelihood of lung cancer in people exposed to second-hand smoke.

This is important because in the future the anti-smoking lobby will inevitably push for an outright ban on tobacco in public places. And they tend to get their own way. Their arguments will basically consist of an appeal to ‘think of the children’. But the research suggests that it’s not them we should be worrying about. Lung cancer is on the rise amongst women, and no one is sure why. Smoking is less popular than ever – perhaps it’s time for public health puritans to focus on what’s really killing us.

  • Vinny Gracchus

    Second hand smoke is a construct developed to denormalize smoking.

    Multicenter Case-Control Study of Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Lung Cancer in Europe, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 90, No. 19, October 7, 1998:

    “Results: ETS exposure during childhood was not associated with an increased risk of lung cancer (odds ratio [OR] for ever exposure = 0.78; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.64-0.96). The OR for ever exposure to spousal ETS was 1.16 (95% CI = 0.93-1.44). No clear dose-response relationship could be demonstrated for cumulative spousal ETS exposure. The OR for ever exposure to workplace ETS was 1.17 (95% CI = 0.94-1.45), with possible evidence of increasing risk for increasing duration of exposure. No increase in risk was detected in subjects whose exposure to spousal or workplace ETS ended more than 15 years earlier. Ever exposure to ETS from other sources was not associated with lung cancer risk. Risks from combined exposure to spousal and workplace ETS were higher for squamous cell carcinoma and small-cell carcinoma than for adenocarcinoma, but the differences were not statistically significant.”

    Additional on the MultiCenter Case-Control Study:
    “Vehicles and public indoor settings did not represent an important source of ETS exposure.”

    Enstrom James E, Kabat Geoffrey C, Smith Davey. Environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality in a prospective study of Californians, 1960-98 BMJ 2003; 326:1057.
    This study found “No significant associations were found for current or former exposure to environmental tobacco smoke before or after adjusting for seven confounders and before or after excluding participants with pre-existing disease. No significant associations were found during the shorter follow up periods of 1960-5, 1966-72, 1973-85, and 1973-98.”
    “Conclusions: 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.”

  • DaveAtherton20

    Here is a list of 78 studies into environmental tobacco (ETS) smoke and lung cancer, the author Oxford educated Statistician Peter concluded: “Taken as a whole, the epidemiology does not support the claim that ETS causes lung cancer
    in non-smokers. “.

    • And to expand on Dr Peter’s list, here is a summary of results, complete with referencing as to sources, of roughly 130 lung cancer /ets studies from 1980 through 2000. Note that only 15 of those 130 found even a statistically significant relation between the two.

      Almost 92% of the studies failed to even find that.

      – MJM

  • DaveAtherton20

    This is an eye opener on asthma: This paper published in the British Thoracic Society in 2004 it bemoans;- “Trends in asthma indicators from population surveys (prevalence) and routine statistics (primary care, prescriptions, hospital admissions and mortality) in the UK were reviewed from 1955 to 2004. The prevalence of asthma increased in children by 2 to 3-fold…” While at the same time smoking more than halved in the adult population.

    • DaveAtherton20

      Here is the scientific reason, basically exposure to nicotine reduces asthma in children and adults. “2008 Mishra Paper, published in the American Journal of Immunology in 2008 found that; – “The results unequivocally show that, even after multiple allergen sensitizations, nicotine dramatically suppresses inflammatory/allergic parameters in the lung including the following: eosinophilic/lymphocytic emigration; mRNA and/or protein expression of the Th2 cytokines/chemokines IL-4, IL-5, IL-13, IL-25, and eotaxin; leukotriene C4; and total as well as allergen-specific IgE.”

      • DaveAtherton20

        Here are a scientific paper on asthma in Sweden, the Hjern paper from 2001 was a three generational study of children exposed to SHS. Exposed children had a 35% reduction in atopy.

        “Methods: A cross-sectional study of present and former smoking habits in relation to atopic disorders from data on 6909 young and middle-aged adults (16-49 years) and their 4472 children (3-15 years) from the Swedish Survey of Living Conditions in 1996-97.

        Children of mothers who smoked at least 15 cigarettes a day tended to have lower odds for suffering from allergic rhino-conjunctivitis, allergic asthma, atopic eczema and food allergy, compared to children of mothers who had never smoked (ORs 0.6-0.7)”

        • DaveAtherton20

          Another paper. ““MedWire News: Parental smoking during childhood and personal cigarette smoking in teenage and early adult life lowers the risk for allergic sensitization in those with a family history of atopy, according to the results of a study from New Zealand.
          Writing in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Robert Hancox (University of Otago, Dunedin) and colleagues explain that “the findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the immune-suppressant effects of cigarette smoke protect against atopy. The team found that the children of atopic parents were less likely to have positive SPTs at 13 years if either parent smoked (odds ratio [OR]= 0.55), although the significance of the association was lost after adjusting for confounders.”

  • DaveAtherton20

    For bare faced hypocrisy one only has to look at the research of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) a World Health Organization offshoot. As tobacco companies in the 1960s and 1970s continued wrongly to deny the link between ACTIVE smoking and lung cancer the IARC went out to prove that it did.

    They were at pains to point out the uniqueness of lung cancer in smokers, a benzo(a)pyrene induced P53 (genetic) mutation called a guanine to thymine transversion. The genetic mutations in non smokers tended to be Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) or guanine to adenine transversions. They also pointed out that smokers most often died of non small cell carcinoma, while non smokers dies of adenocarcinomas. The former at the top of the lung and the latter towards the bottom.

    The concluded: “We come to the conclusion that the p53 mutation spectra are different between smokers and non-smokers and that this difference is highly statistically significant.”

    The implication here is that the WHO/IARC and the anti smoking industry while proving that ACTIVE smoking causes lung cancer the causes in non smokers ARE NOT tobacco smoke, or they would have the same afflictions.

  • DaveAtherton20

    Below Vinny outlines the Enstrom/Kabat paper peer reviewed by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and published in 2003. Enstrom in particular was defamed and monstered by the anti smoking zealots, I will post this discussion later. It was paid for by anti smoking money (95%) from the Proposition 99 tax on cigarettes in California. The data and subjects (1960-1998) were from the American Cancer Society (ACS). By 1997 Enstrom had gathered the epidemiological data and was not the results that the ACS wanted. Enstrom was forced for the remaining 5% of the costs to go to tobacco companies. Honest research does not pay.

    Professor Carl Phillips is a former Professor of Public Health at Edmonton University and he too was a sceptic on the harm of SHS. He wrote this chilling paper in 2007:

    “Enstrom cites the reign of terror over biology under Stalin as one example of politics trumping science. Though the Soviet case is rather extreme (we North Americans who dare question the scientific orthodoxy only have our careers threatened; not our lives, at least so far), it is not the most extreme. Many cultures were hobbled for centuries because of religious adherence to pseudoscience, and damage to people’s health was one of the many results.”

    “This was a real scientific meeting, not an anti-tobacco conference….. It is an attempt to promote the kind of self-censorship of thought examined by Orwell and mastered by Stalin. This took place at a premier scientific meeting in the field of epidemiology, and yet the suggestion did not appear to be denounced by anyone.”

  • 80% less exposure today than in 1998.
    And, for anyone old enough to remember, likely 80% less in 1998 than in 1978.

    And yet Antismoking campaigners and the Surgeon General claimed 3,000 annual lung cancer deaths from that exposure in the late 1980s and early nineties.

    And today, with likely overall exposure down by over 90% they are claiming 7,330 lung cancer deaths in 2015.

    If we keep reducing exposure to smoke at the current rate, pretty soon EVERYONE will die from lung cancer it would seem.

    Does anyone else see anything wrong with this picture?

    Read “The Lies Behind The Smoking Bans” freely available at and feel free to offer any specific, substantive criticisms of anything you find in it. I promise I won’t mind, and I’ll try to stop back to respond.

    – MJM

  • ScottEwing

    Zero proven deaths from secondhand
    smoke. That’s right, zero. All these ‘numerous studies’ come from a
    computer program called SAMMEC. This program is owned and programmed
    by paid anti-tobacco shills. If they like the result, it gets
    published with great pomp. If not, it goes in the trash. As far as
    programming goes, you might as well ask a computer ‘if pigs could
    fly, how many a year would crash?’ It would dutifully run its program
    and spit out ’47’. Enter some busy-body legislator, who demands
    government action on the terrible number of deaths from flying pigs.
    The lib-tard news channels pick up on it and discuss this epidemic
    every hour on the hour, until the dumb sheep of society are wearing
    umbrella hats to protect themselves from the crashing pigs. (most
    likely made out of tin foil) Anti-smoking is a multi-billion dollar
    industry, paid in large part by Big-Pharma, that has some snake oil
    to sell you!

  • John Donnelly

    Wonderful article your phrases like ‘in effect the legalisation of corruption… opportunities are systematically created for the economic benefit of ambitious mediocrities… highly motivated idiocy of bureaucrats posing as shopkeepers’. Should be surgically implanted right up Jeremy H’s Ficus Griuo by a skilled Customer Relationship Manager obviously.

  • John Donnelly

    whoops should have typed ‘Focus Grouo’