President Obama blames global warming for his daughter’s asthma. Today that’s politically useful spin, but the science says something different. If you’re looking for a culprit, it just might be Malia’s dad.
In an interview Wednesday in support of a new White House climate change awareness campaign, the president noted that his 16-year-old daughter had asthma when she was 4. He said that as a father, when your child says she has trouble breathing, “the fright you feel is terrible.” Fortunately, doctors were able to treat Malia’s condition quickly.
The president connected his daughter’s malady to global climate change. In a discussion Tuesday, he said “all of our families are going to be vulnerable” to global warming-induced health risks because “you can’t cordon yourself off from air or climate.”
A White House fact sheet connected the dots, saying that asthma rates have more than doubled in the past 30 years. “Climate change is putting these individuals … at greater risk of landing in the hospital.”
The good news is that there is less reason for alarm than the White House suggests. The Environmental Protection Agency cautions that “outdoor air pollution and pollen may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma.” Yet the EPA also reports that our air quality has improved; aggregate emissions of common pollutants have decreased 62 percent between 1980 and 2013. It is unlikely cleaner air is causing an increase in asthma.
Whether there is a link between asthma and global warming, Malia herself hasn’t really experienced much. The high school junior was born in 1998, when temperatures spiked. By some measurements, the world hasn’t warmed significantly since then.
Which brings us back to her father and his Marlboros. The president, who quit smoking years ago, has long kept his tobacco use out of doors. That’s a common-sense tactic. But sometimes, science can show common sense has less sense than you think.
Research funded by the National Institutes of Health has shown that smoking outside doesn’t totally protect children from secondhand smoke. Even when smoking is done outside, nicotine in infants’ hair is five times higher for babies with outside smoking parents than non-smoking parents. Smoking-related chemicals in infants’ urine are seven times higher. Other studies have found similar results.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “tobacco smoke is one of the most common asthma triggers.” CDC warns, “If you have asthma, it’s important that you avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.”
No father wants to feel that his habits might hurt his children. But sometimes you have to look in the mirror to find the guilty party, not search the stratosphere for a hidden culprit.