20/04/09 Study Attempts to Show Cotinine Levels in Non-smokers from Outdoor Smoking

A new study has emerged attempting to show that non-smokers in New York City with high cotinine levels is the result of passing smokers on the street.[1]

My first curiousity was the background of the researchers, to determine if they were objective scientists or not.  Sadly, I was unsurprised. The study was conducted by the following people:

Jennifer A. Ellis, Ph.D., Bureau of Tobacco Control, Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
Charon Gwynn, Ph.D., Division of Epidemiology, New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
Renu K. Garg, M.P.H., Division of Epidemiology, New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
Robyn Philburn, M.P.H., Division of Epidemiology, New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
Kenneth M. Aldous, Ph.D., Trace Elements Laboratory, Wadsworth Center
Sarah B. Perl, M.P.H., Bureau of Tobacco Control, Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
Lorna Thorpe, Ph.D., M.P.H., Division of Epidemiology, New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., Commissioner, New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene

So there are two members of tobacco control, a number of epidemiologists, and health commissioners.  In other words, not a single serious researcher amongst them.

They found that:

Although the smoking prevalence in NYC was lower than that found nationally (23.3% vs. 29.7%, p < .05), the proportion of nonsmoking adults in NYC with elevated cotinine levels was greater than the national average overall (56.7% vs. 44.9%, p < .05) and was higher for most demographic subgroups. In NYC, the highest cotinine levels among nonsmokers were among adults aged 20–39 years, males, and Asians.


and state that:

The finding of a higher prevalence of SHS exposure in NYC despite lower smoking rates is puzzling but suggests that SHS exposure in dense, urban settings may pose a particular challenge.


They also issued a press release stating:

More than half of non-smoking New Yorkers have elevated levels of cotinine in their blood – meaning that they were rec
ently exposed to toxic second-hand smoke in concentrations high enough to leave residues in the body.


I suspect know that this study is just a means of establishing an outdoor ban.  Some may think I am delusional, but given that the third-hand smoke scare has already led to smokers being denied jobs and the fact that outdoor bans already exist in some places like Nova Scotia, I am convinced this is the case. If this was not so, then they would not have jumped to the illogical conclusion that higher cotinine levels are the result of passing smokers outside.  Instead, they would have noted that the non-smokers may have just finished having a lunch with tomatoes, potatoes or aubergines – all foods that contain nicotine.  They may also have noted that many of the non-smokers may have lived with smokers, thereby accounting for an elevated cotinine level. And of course, they declined to mention that cotinine is not a cause for concern.  Whilst it is true that exposure to nicotine from smoke also means exposure to other chemicals will be inevitable, the doses of such chemicals will be in parts so small as to be immeasureable – as evidenced by the 1982 Surgeon General Report.

According to a New York Times article [2] study co-author Dr. Thomas Frieden said that “New Yorkers are being exposed primarily through sidewalk contact with smokers, passing through crowds smoking outside doorways or waiting with smokers at bus stops”.  Frieden said that, but he did not find that.  I know he did not find that because he did not research it, the ‘researchers’ merely tested cotinine levels and then decided that second hand smoke was to blame.  As Michael Siegel stated on his blog:

The study did not collect data on exposure in the home versus other places and no questions were asked about exposure on sidewalks or other public places, so there is really no way that the study can draw conclusions about the magnitude and importance of exposure on sidewalks. Making an assertion like this has the appearance of trying to make an advocacy point, rather than sticking to the science and drawing solid conclusions.


The researchers also neglect the point that whilst non-smokers are indeed exposed to second hand smoke outdoors, it is incredibly brief exposure. A few minutes at a bus stop, five seconds entering a building or a subway station.  This is not enough to claim a toxic effect, or indeed any biological effect such as elevated cotinine levels.

This study, in truth, finds nothing.  The elevated cotinine could be the result of non-smokers living with smokers, but with the third-hand smoke scare this probably will not be the case for very long.  The increased cotinine levels could also be from the food the participants had eaten half an hour beforehand.All in all, another junk science report from health fascists masquerading as scientists.

[1] http://ntr.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/ntp021v1
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/09/health/policy/09smoke.html?_r=1

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