I see that Chris Snowdon has a great post on the absurdity and a bit of history on the third hand smoke meme that refuses to die. It seems that while good ideas are often unnoticed or ignored that the really bad ones, and this one is bad in so many ways, tend to get a lot of press. I suppose that they do serve a purpose in uncovering which journalists uncritically repeat items without examining the source materials (for instance, this article from Roni Rabin at the NYT).
The third hand smoke nonsense is particularly dear to us here as we responded (quite some time prior to this blog’s existence) to the Journal of Pediatrics article when it came out. At the time, we had noticed how fast and furiously this story spread throughout the news media and the blogs. It was as though so many had been waiting for this, just like someone suddenly getting some small evidence of what previously rated as little more than a conspiracy theory. You could hear the “I knew it” s resounding throughout the land. Perhaps the most risible of the follow up stories was of Apple techs refusing to touch smokers’ computers.
One small excerpt from our letter:
The authors, in the article, press release and subsequent interviews, argue the danger of third hand smoke, such that smokers are encouraged to change clothing and bathe before holding their children. And yet, the authors still encourage the smoker to breastfeed the innocent child, rather than substitute a tobacco-free bottle of milk or formula (6). This can only mean that, despite repeating the nonsensical mantra of there is no safe level of exposure, whatever this non-safe level of exposure is, it must be much lower than the toxicity of bottle-feeding. The authors also suggest, not in the article but in related interviews, that the nose is an accurate determiner of toxicity, an interesting but outdated pre-scientific method that cynically takes advantage of the lay population (8, 19, 24, 26).
Many educated readers already have a jaundiced view of what passes for epidemiological research, and this article not only justifies their attitude but serves as the epitome of sloppy science, of politics and opinion and desire masquerading as science. We predict that a decade from now, if books and blogs continue to claim that epidemiology is junk science, they will still be citing this article as a perfect example.