Last year I mentioned the TRDRP's multi-million dollar cash bonanza on offer to any scientist prepared to sacrifice their integrity for the ludicrous cause of thirdhand smoke (THS). There has been no shortage of takers, as a study recently published in the American Journal of Physiology indicates:
Methods: Fetal rat lung explants were exposed to nicotine, 1-(N-methyl-N-nitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridinyl)-4-butanal (NNA), or 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK), the two main tobacco-specific N-nitrosamine constituents of THS, for 24h...
Conclusion: NNK and NNA exposure resulted in breakdown of alveolar epithelial-mesenchymal cross-talk, reflecting lipofibroblast-to-myofibroblast transdifferentiation, suggesting THS constituents as possible novel contributors to in utero smoke exposure-induced pulmonary damage. These data are particularly relevant for designing specific therapeutic strategies, and for formulating public health policies to minimize THS exposure.
There's nothing like calling for "public health policies" in your conclusion to show that you're a sober and disinterested scientist, is there? This comes from the pen of Virender Rehan and John Torday of UCLA (natch), two serial grant-receivers who have pocketed well over a million dollars from the TRDRP in recent years.
When I saw this abstract, my initial—if cynical—reaction was to assume that the researchers had exposed rats to high doses of known carcinogens and then acted as if this exposure was in some way comparable to getting a whiff of stale tobacco smoke from an old carpet.
Having now seen the full study, that is pretty much what they did. You see, NNK, NNN and NNA are tobacco-specific nitrosamines which are considered likely candidates for why smoking can cause lung cancer (although NNA is unproven). This is old news, as they acknowledge in their introduction.
The experimenters got some rats' lungs, chopped them up, put them on a petri dish with some penicillin and treated them with NNA and NNK for 24 hours. Varying degrees of lung damage ensued, as you might expect, most of which is far too technical for a layman like me, but we shall assume the experiment was well conducted and that the hypothesis that nitrosamines damage lungs was supported.
Fine. So what's this got to do with so-called thirdhand smoke?
This study was focused on the effects of NNA and NNK as surrogates for THS exposure within the context of our experimental design.
But NNA and NNK are not surrogates for THS exposure. Thirdhand smoke does not pump out these nitrosamines. The only way anyone has even pretended that THS creates nitrosamines was last year's laboratory experiment where nicotine was mixed with nitrous acid. That was an equally quixotic slice of chemistry because but there isn't enough nitrous acid in the air for this reaction to take place in real-life conditions. There wasn't anything technically wrong with that experiment, just as there isn't anything technically wrong with this one, it just didn't have any bearing on what goes on in the real world.
This study of rats' lungs does nothing but tell us, for the umpteenth time, that tobacco-specific nitrosamines cause molecular damage to lungs. It is possible that the results might come in handy in our understanding of the link between smoking and lung cancer but it's got bugger all to do with thirdhand smoke because thirdhand smoke does not cause nitrosamines to enter the lungs in the first place.
So while this expensive piece of research might not have been a complete waste of time if applied to active smoking, it doesn't provide the slightest justification for the American Lung Association to report:
Study: 'Thirdhand smoke' poses danger to young children, pregnant women
I'm picking out the ALA headline because the media did not widely report this study, not even the Daily Mail. Perhaps it's bullshit fatigue setting in, or perhaps the results were too sciencey for them. But while the results are written in such a way as to be impenetrable to all but specialist eyes, the discussion section is written with the clarity and hyperbole of a tabloid editorial. I don't think I have ever seen such a craven attempt to please one's sponsors. For example:
Currently, there is virtually no realization that THS is a danger to human health.
Talk about begging the question. Why would there be "realization" about something that is entirely theoretical and hugely improbable? If you substitute "shred of evidence" for "realization" in this sentence you get nearer the truth.
A recent study by Winickoff et al showed that only 65.2% of non-smokers and 43.2% of smokers believe that THS is harmful to children.
No it didn't. No one who has read that study could honestly interpret the results in that way. As Winickoff himself has admitted (in an e-mail to Rich White):
"Basically, the study found that IF you believe that thirdhand smoke is harmful to infants and children, then you were much more likely to have a home smoking ban."
Thus, there is a critical need to validate these projections in real-life situations in the field.
I can heartily agree with that. It's perverse to keep doing these obscure and irrelevant chemistry experiments when it would be so easy to do a randomised control trial. Get a bunch of rats and stick half of them in a cage with a shirt borrowed from a smoker and see how they get on. If they drop dead I will personally donate £1,000 to the charity of your choice. Fair?
Thirdhand smoke is a stealth toxin because it is present in the households of smokers where small children and elderly people live, the hotel rooms, casinos and cars owned by smokers, and where the unsuspecting vulnerable populations may be exposed to the toxicants without realizing the dangers.
It's actually quite sad to see scientists reduced to having to write this drivel just to please their employers. If it wasn't for the fact that their work will be used to make children scared of hugging their grandparents and to get smokers kicked out of their homes, I could almost feel sorry for them.
Because THS is essentially aged SHS that is adherent to surfaces, has smaller sized ultrafine particles, but much larger sized molecular weight moieties with greatly heightened asthma hazard index values, it is likely to be much more toxic that MSS [mainstream smoke] and fresh SSS [sidestream smoke].
I've long wondered whether some of these California secondhand smoke "researchers" would be practising homeopathy if tobacco control's loot hadn't come their way. Certainly the idea that secondhand smoke is more dangerous than firsthand smoke relies on the wacky principles of homeopathy. That belief—widely shared on the internet—revolves around a simple confusion between secondhand smoke and sidestream smoke; I've written about this at length. Similarly, the idea that THS, which isn't smoke at all, is more toxic than cigarette smoke has more than a touch of woo about it.
The same risk exists for adult workers who clean and change bed sheets in hotel rooms where cigarette smoking is allowed the world over, especially in China and other countries in Africa, Asia, South America and North America - a problem of global proportions!
I'd like to think that the exclamation mark has a touch of sarcasm to it, as if they're letting the reader know that they don't believe this utter bilge any more than he does. Alas, I fear it may actually have been added to emphasise what a pair of Gallileos these two characters are.
And that's about it. I'm off on holiday tomorrow so things will be quiet round here for a week but I've got an article going up on The Free Society next week so keep an eye on that. Cheery bye!