Surgeon General Jumps the Shark

December 12, 2010

By Steve Milloy

Let’s all thank Surgeon General Regina Benjamin for demonstrating beyond all doubt last week that nannyism is more dangerous than smoking.

The Office of the Surgeon General just released a report claiming that a single puff of a cigarette or a single inhalation of secondhand smoke can permanently damage one’s health and perhaps lead to death. Now we know what all those blindfolded condemned men given one last puff as they stood before firing squads really died from.

While no one disputes that too much smoking is unhealthy, the new report demonizing any smoking or even incidental exposure to secondhand smoke is clearly over the top.

Certainly any exposure to tobacco smoke will have some sort of a discernible physiological effect — just like virtually every sensory experience. But Benjamin asserts that even one of those physiological events, however transient and reversible, can cause harm and possibly even lead to death. As commonsense and everyday experience informs (most of) us, this is ridiculous.

So how does Benjamin back up her assertions? Well, she really doesn’t.

The report contains the usual set of epidemiologic studies showing that smokers tend to be less healthy and die earlier than nonsmokers. None of this is news, though it should be noted that these studies often fail to isolate tobacco as the cause of the adverse health outcome as opposed to the entire suite of unhealthy behaviors that smokers tend to have – i.e., smokers tend to be heavier drinkers, have poorer diets, get less exercise, lead more stressful lives, and have less education and income than nonsmokers.

The report contains not a single example of anyone who had incidental or limited contact with tobacco smoke and then experienced an adverse health outcome or death.

“Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease and could trigger acute cardiac events like heart attack,” avers the Surgeon General’s media release. It’s a scary statement, but it’s not one supported by any real-world evidence of that happening despite the billions of people who have been so exposed over the centuries.

Supporting Benjamin with an op-ed in the Washington Post Also was former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw who recalled and lamented the smoking-related death of his father: “After 50 years of smoking unfiltered cigarettes, my father died, too young, of a massive heart attack. He was 69. It’s almost certain that all those years of nicotine inhalation were a major contributor to his clogged arteries.”

What is more than almost certain is the fact that, although Brokaw’s father was such a long-term and presumably heavy smoker, he surpassed the life expectancy for his birth year (1912) by about 14 years — not bad for someone actually permitted the dignity to make his own lifestyle decisions.

Like many, if not most people, I don’t care for smoking or inhaling anyone else’s tobacco smoke. That said I’m more concerned about the all-too-common and wanton disregard of facts and the misuse of science and statistics, especially by those in positions of power and prominence.

Today’s lifestyle nannies, aided by a gullible and scientifically illiterate media, feel at liberty to demonize any behavior or substance, and to tread upon any and all individual liberties without regard for the relevant facts. Making the situation worse is that the nannies have few vocal opponents, as they stand ready to demonize and ostracize anyone who dares speak up against their junk science.

The two most significant advances of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment were the development of science and the realization of individual liberty as an intrinsic right. Surgeon General Benjamin’s report is a clear sign that both are on the downswing of history.

Steve Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com and the author of “Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them” (Regnery 2009).

13 Responses to “Surgeon General Jumps the Shark”


  1. [...] What’s the Surgeon General Smoking? [...]


  2. [...] claims from climate scientists are one thing, but when nonsense claims about health come from the surgeon general you know it’s gone too far.  Yes, smoking is bad for you, but no, one puff will not kill [...]

  3. tonyrohl Says:

    Sue, I suggest you Google the History of Yosemite national Park for the history of climated change throughout millions of years of global warming and cooling.

  4. tonyrohl Says:

    Sue sez,”Because 40 years of studies, both epidemiological and clinical have suggested that and no studies have not suggested it?”
    Suggested? Is that science or politics.?The same is true for global warming alarmists. The use word like maybe, possibly, and might. Those weasel words obfustate the fact that they are making guesses based on speculation, not solid evidence.

    • sue4491 Says:

      “Suggested” is the scientific manner of referring to studies. No studies “prove” anything. They SUGGEST something. As for manmade Global warming, there is no basis for the theory and it’s easily been disproven by climatologists. Did you know that on the committee that first released the “Manmade global warming report”, there were NO climatologists? They were all paleontologists and the so called “record” of warming trends they referred to was found on coral (in the ocean)… that’s real accurate – NOT. That’s what those scientists advocating this theory admitted – I saw a film by them on the Research channel. It’s truly foolish to compare manmade global warming which has no studies backing it up with the dangers of smoking which has 40 years of peer reviewed studies backing it up.

  5. tonyrohl Says:

    sue4491 Says:”Smoking is, according to the American Medical Assn, a strong risk factor in every illness, heart attack, stroke, cancer and so on. They have linked 450,000 deaths a year directly to smoking.” Sue, How could they posibly know that? As for asthma, my grandson has it and he grew up in a family of non-smokers in clean-air rural northern California.
    The AMA is more a political than medical assn.

    • sue4491 Says:

      >>>Tonyrohl Says:”Smoking is, according to the American Medical Assn, a strong risk factor in every illness, heart attack, stroke, cancer and so on. They have linked 450,000 deaths a year directly to smoking.” Sue, How could they posibly know that?<<<

      Because 40 years of studies, both epidemiological and clinical have suggested that and no studies have not suggested it?

      Saying that because you knew someone with asthma who did not live with smokers, you don't believe that breathing second hand smoke increases the risk of asthma doesn't make sense. No one ever said second hand smoke CAUSES asthma – "increases the risk" is not "CAUSES".

      My quote cited a book by the way, i.e. "the American Medical Association's Guide to Health and Wellness". Can you cite a book to the contrary? When I still smoked in the 1970's and the evidence of the health risks was increasing with just about every study, I sought a book which denied the risks (because I didn't want to quit). I found one by an author called Kitchin called "You May Smoke". I read it with great hope of finding a rebuttal to all the negative information about smoking, but it only was a bunch of vague unsupported statements. The American Cancer Society states that cancer is 85% lifestyle caused. The denial of risks is not going to somehow magically take the risks away any more than the denial that your car needs gas to run, will make your car run on air.

  6. jameshrust Says:

    I was born in 1936 in Central Illionis. During my stay there for 18 years most adults smoked. They smoked at home, in the movie theaters, at department stores, drug stores, five-and-dimes, restaurants, etc. I had heard of the word asthma; but never met anyone who had it. According to information from the Surgeon General, my generation should not have survived.

    We are used to government employees and officials expounding ridiculous scientific numbers in order to run our lives. The claim carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels causes global warming is another example of this nonsense. Truth should always prevail and taxpayers should not have to support those who are too ignorant to know the truth or deliberatly lie.

  7. shrimper53 Says:

    Of course, Sue, you miss the entire point to Steve’s piece…. it is NOT that smoking is not bad for one’s health , of course it is, and anyone who doesn’t know this after the 30+ years of warnings, bans, studies, and psuedo studies, etc. is just clueless.

    The POINT is that the pronouncements and dictates are OUT OF PROPORTION with reality. The claims get more outrageous as time goes on, AND the studies and analyses are conducted to support a clearly pre-determined outcome. The global warming issue is being handled in exactly the same way. We must insist on regulatory decisions that are based on valid, truly science-based studies. Sadly, we see way too much public policy made based upon the reverse.

    Reread Steve article with this in mind.

    • sue4491 Says:

      You are not getting it. I agree about the global warming baloney but if people believe in global warming, they won’t die from it. If people believe that smoking won’t harm them, they MIGHT die from it or lose their quality of life — or both. The Surgeon General’s paper isn’t just about secondhand smoke – it’s a 700 page paper about smoking in general. The comments about second hand smoke which are based on peer reviewed studies (not just opinions as all this stuff here is) may or may not be true however – it’s a no brainer that if you constantly breathe in smoke it will go in your lungs and while it might not be as potent as actually snoking, I am not convinced it’s danger free either – that wouldn’t make sense and is not what studies have suggested. Instead of your opinion, show me a CLINICAL study which found that breathing in second hand smoke doesn’t raise risks. Opinions are like rectums – everyone has one and they all stink.

  8. sue4491 Says:

    Steve, I’ve really loved your junkscience articles all along but must say I was very disappointed with this article criticizing the Surgeon General’s new report on the dangers of tobacco usage. Smoking is, according to the American Medical Assn, a strong risk factor in every illness, heart attack, stroke, cancer and so on. They have linked 450,000 deaths a year directly to smoking. When I was a child, growing up in the house of a moderate smoker (a pack a day and/or pipe), and breathing the bad air, I wondered what it was doing to my lungs. Autopsies on people in cities of heavy pollution including a lot of smoke in it, like Chicago, have shown black lungs similar to smokers – long before the epidemiological studies you criticized in the Surgeon General’s report. Also, statistically, another study several years ago, suggested that the rate of chronic asthma in kids living in the homes of smokers, was something like 40% greater than those kids living in a non smoking house. Our son did suffer from asthma and hubby and I did smoke until 1981 when we both gave it up. I’ve watched him laboring just to breathe – it’s so not pretty. He had never smoked but had breathed OUR second hand smoke. They say obesity is dangerous but my slim father, a lifelong smoker, died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 63 and my clinically obese mother, a non smoker, was going strong at the age of 68 when she decided to end her own life. I have seen a lot of what Benjamin describes in her report in my own family in those who smoked – worse diabetic side effects etc. My aerobics teacher had a sister who quit smoking and gained 100 lbs. Her doctor’s reaction was interesting – he said he was glad she quit smoking and said nothing about the weight. When she asked for clarification, he said, “I’d rather have you 100 lbs overweight than smoking”. Sure there are exceptions to the rule. There are people who can take deadly chances with their lives and still live like Evel Kneibel the motorcycle jumper but that doesn’t mean I would advocate that. Because of the obesity hysteria (which you have written good articles on), there are more young people who are beginning to smoke today to “control their weight” than when I was young in the 1960′s. Two of those young people who are dear to me, are my grandkids, aged 18 and 20. I am disappointed that you would criticize Dr Benjamin’s report when it was so needed in our society… needed FOR those young people to not only give them a chance to live but QUALITY OF LIFE. Which most smokers my age do not have. I see them with heart interventions, stents and bypasses and so forth. I watched a lady who smoked until she was in her 60′s and then, gave it up, die of lung cancer in her 80′s. Lung cancer is one of the hardest cancers to treat because chemo doesn’t reach the lungs well. Watching her suffer that last year was very sad. Please Steve, don’t criticize something good and needed regardless of any glitches you see in it. It’s a good thing to tell the awful truth about smoking! It’s a good thing to try to make the public more aware of the dangers of tobacco usage regardless of whatever shortcomings you may see in the report. Thank you for reading this!

  9. tonyrohl Says:

    I smoked at least 2 packs of cigarettes for 45 years. I quit in 1979 and my lungs are as pink as a babies butt today. As for 2nd hand smoke, that’s as big a hoax as this. If 2nd hand smoke is as deadly as they say, all of us smokers would have been dead long ago.


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