‘No Safe Level’

Ban advocates claim “there is no safe level of secondhand smoke,” which is nothing more than hollow wordplay intended to scare. If there’s a one in 200 trillion chance, advocates will claim it’s unsafe. The reason they use this carefully-crafted statement? Nothing is technically risk-free, so nothing can technically be called “safe.” Their statement about SHS is a statement that could be applied to everything, but they only apply it to smokers – and often.

One aspirin won’t kill you, but a thousand will. So does that mean one microscopic grain of aspirin is unsafe? Is there “no safe level” of aspirin?

“The dose makes the poison” is the real-world approach OSHA takes to the issue, which is why they’ve established Permissible Exposure Limits (PELS) in the workplace. These are levels of exposure for an 8-hour workday from which, according to OSHA, no harm will result.

Despite its complete lack of substance, the “no safe level” statement has been very effective. It’s largely what smoking bans are based on. But how much smoking would actually have to be taking place in order for the permissible exposure limit to be exceeded?

Let’s take a look at the most often-cited components and find out how many burning cigarettes you’d have to be exposed to to exceed OSHA’s PELS (and remember, these measurements presume an 8-hour workday in an un-ventilated room. Rooms with even rudimentary ventilation or an open window would drastically increase the number required):

Secondhand Smoke Component# Cigarettes to exceed PEL:
2-Toluidine 290,000
Acetaldehyde 14,285
Acetic acid 1,666
Acetone 118,700
Benzene 1,290
Benzo[a]Pyrene 222,000
Cadmium 1,430
Catechol 15,700
Dimethylamine 25,555
Formic acid 1,790
Hydrazine 14,444
Hydroquinone 1,250
Methylamine 13,000
Methylchloride 11,170
Nickel 40,000
Phenol 7,600
Polonium 210 (9) 750,000
Pyridine 4,100
Toluene 1,000,000