Thursday, 19 August 2010

Thirdhand Smoke: The Plot Thickens

Since my last blog post about thirdhand smoke and Winickoff's bogus study to further the anti-smoking ideology, I contacted the man himself with queries about his findings. I sent him the following email:
Dr Winickoff,

I read your latest ‘report’ with mixed feelings of great amusement and sadness. I fail to see exactly how you can claim that tobacco smoke travels down telephone lines and “air ducts, through cracks in the walls and floors, through elevator shafts, and along plumbing and electrical lines to affect units on other floors.”

Of course, I would be able to grasp rudimentary understanding of these claims had you provided evidence, but as you didn’t, I can’t. Referring to your own non-study on third-hand smoke is not proof of concept, especially when said non-study was utterly ridiculous anyway – sorry, but phoning people and asking if ‘third-hand smoke’ existed would it prompt them to quit smoking is not, in any level of study, demonstrative proof that third-hand smoke a) exists or b) poses a threat. The first rule of toxicology is the poison is the dose and furthermore, you admitted some time ago that third-hand smoke is mere smell.

You claim in your ‘report’ that Georg Matt and two other studies show that lingering tobacco toxins reach high levels, yet the levels are actually so low as to be barely present. Moreover, none of the three referenced studies mention tobacco smoke travelling between apartments. You must surely be aware that fabricating an argument is not science, is not persuasive, and actually means the evidence is lacking and therefore your entire premise is baseless?

It still perplexes me that decades ago upwards of 80% of American and British adult males smoked, in any area they pleased besides libraries, galleries and churches. If tobacco posed such a threat that the slightest wisp can cause disease, then living in a perpetual fog of the stuff should surely have killed off a vast percentage of the population. Instead, we saw a baby boom and generations getting stronger and living longer. While smoking rates dropped, cancer rates increased. While smoking rates dropped, asthma rates increased.

Please, can you provide justification for your continued insistence of the health threat of third-hand smoke and these notions that second-hand smoke can travel along plumbing and phone lines to pose a threat to neighbours?


This initially received no reply, so I sent a follow-up email asking for a response and received this:

Thank you for your interest and intellectual engagement. Many of the compounds exhibit a stochastic pattern of harm. Understanding this concept will help you understand the science better.

Also, there are important differences between childhood exposure and exposure for adults--related to neurophysiologic processes that occur during development.

Regret that I cannot carry on a personal dialogue with you on this but I hope these responses get you started on deeper scientific inquiry.

All the best,

The keyword here is "stochastic". What Winickoff is saying is that the harm is random. Or, in other words, the results were inconsistent to demonstrate any harm, so rather than admit defeat they said "oh, well the people who did get ill suffered as a result of thirdhand smoke". Put simply, it is a tacit admission that their study was bogus and demonstrated nothing except thirdhand smoke poses no risk.

Winickoff is no different to the other researchers in the anti-smoking field - avoiding questions and refusing to reply to specific queries, instead giving short undetailed responses that do nothing other than show he is alive. If the research demonstrated what they purport it does, no avoidance would be necessary.


  1. Rich, I actually spoke to this buffoon last year by phone-he soon cut me off!

  2. I have to admit that's a truly amazing response. LOL! Our results were random, so we know they must have proved what we wanted them to prove!

    That's as bad as Elizabeth Klein saying that while trying to show the effects of bans on bar and restaurant employment they simply decided that it was "most appropriate" to take the two areas and jumble them together (so the results would support their grant application obviously!)


    - MJM

  3. Credit for this post goes to you Michael!

  4. LOL! Not at all Rich! You're the one who followed up with the emails to Winnie The Poo and exposed his lack of proper response!