February 2000


I would like to express concern that an important issue wasn’t raised in the article, “Hazy science behind second-hand smoke,” published in the January ORNL Reporter. A serious concern for a growing number of Americans is the allergy factor. Certainly, cancer is usually more deadly, but an asthma attack is capable of killing as well. For those suffering from asthma and allergies, second-hand smoke is more than an annoyance - it can cause acute discomfort and perhaps a quick trip to the emergency room. Mr. Jenkins needs to incorporate other factors besides cancer liability into his research concerning the health risks from second-hand smoke.

Debra J.S. Carpenter
Life Sciences Division

Roger Jenkins replies:

Just so that we are clear, our studies have not been about health risk, be it lung cancer, heart disease, lower respiratory disease, or asthma, but rather exposure. So what our studies have shown are, that, in general, most non-smokers are exposed to pretty small amounts of ETS. Most toxicologists accept the concept that the “poison is in the dose.” My goal is to try to get a good handle on exactly what that dose is.

Of course, one of the issues, as you so clearly point out, is, that for us asthmatics (I am one myself), our “assault recognition systems” are way out of whack. We react to a variety of airborne materials as though they were life threatening, and shut down our breathing systems.

One of the true measures of a scientist is the extent to which he or she is willing to undergo an investigation, the outcome of which may be personally to his disliking. I happen to find the odor of ETS particularly annoying. It gets on my clothes, hair, etc. However, just because I don’t like it … well, that’s just too bad. If as a scientist, you care about the outcome of your studies too much, you have ceased to be a scientist. That was the “message” in the article.

I am glad you found it thought provoking.

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