In discussions with medical patients about the well-documented air pollution risks from gas stoves, I am sometimes met with a degree of skepticism. People will ask: If gas stoves are this dangerous, how come I haven’t heard about it?
It’s a reasonable question. We have an expectation that our government will shield us from serious health risks. But despite research showing that roughly 20% of childhood asthma cases in California can be attributed to gas stove use, public awareness of the polluter in their kitchens remains alarmingly low.
A new report out last month from Climate Investigations Center makes clear why so many Americans are surprised to learn that gas stoves generate many of the same pollutants found in car exhaust. The culprit, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the gas industry.
Beginning in the 1970s, the American Gas Association responded to increased scrutiny from regulators into the air quality impacts from gas stoves by developing a campaign to manufacture controversy over the health research.
Their strategy mirrored the one employed by another unscrupulous industry facing growing concern over health risks: Big Tobacco.
AGA hired the same public relations company, Hill & Knowlton, that masterminded the tobacco industry’s response to research linking cigarettes to cancer. They even hired the same executives responsible for managing the firm’s tobacco account.
These executives told the gas industry that it needed to stay ahead of its ‘critics’ by mounting “massive, consistent, long range public relations programs.” They recommended countering independent studies with gas industry-funded studies. AGA specifically contracted private labs with a proven track record of publishing information “consistent with the Sponsor’s interests and wishes.”
AGA’s strategy worked. Industry-funded studies, which found no association between gas stoves and respiratory problems, muddied the waters for regulators, influencing decision-making at the Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission. Independent studies, on the other hand, documented links between gas stoves and a range of health problems, including childhood asthma.
Just like the tobacco industry was held legally responsible for the harm caused by their misinformation campaign, AGA should also be held to account. We should start by asking utilities across the country to withdraw their support for the association.
In the Bay Area, Pacific Gas & Electric is one of AGA’s largest financial contributors. Customers like myself pay for the fossil fuel trade association dues through our utility bills.
As a physician who is deeply concerned about the harms of fossil fuel pollution, I don’t want my money going to an organization like AGA, whose efforts to manufacture doubt on the harms of gas continue to this day.