RM Archive - onsite copies of linked stories

RM Issue #030704

Anti-smoking lobby steams over report

Peter McKnight
Vancouver Sun
Monday, June 30, 2003

What if I told you there's a group of people who have been blamed for countless thousands of deaths, yet there's precious little evidence of their guilt?

"Demand an inquiry," you'd say, "Overhaul the system that implicated them!"

But what if I then told you the people are smokers and the thousands of dead were alleged victims of second-hand smoke?

"Oh," you'd say, "you're in bed with the cloven-hoofed cabal running the tobacco companies aren't you?"

That's precisely the reaction researchers James Enstrom and Geoffrey Kabat received after they published a study on the effects of second-smoke in a recent issue of the British Medical Journal.

Using data gathered by the American Cancer Society, the authors followed more than 35,500 non-smoking spouses of smokers for 40 years. I'm sure the long suffering non-smokers had a lot of cigarette burns on their clothing, but the study discovered they weren't at a significantly increased risk of death.

Those results seem counter-intuitive since the non-smokers faced daily doses of second-hand smoke, and the received "wisdom" says that passive smoking increases the risk of lung cancer by 20 per cent and heart disease by 30 per cent.

Those results also got Dr. Enstrom and Prof. Kabat into a whole heap of trouble as the reaction to their heresy was swift and shrill.

The American Cancer Society -- whose leaders' blood pressure must have shot through the roof -- issued a statement before the ink on the pages of the British Medical Journal was dry.

"We are appalled that the tobacco industry has succeeded in giving visibility to a study with so many problems," they indignantly snorted, thereby dismissing, with a convenient ad hominem, a study they originally funded.

The ad hominem gets its currency from the fact that Dr. Enstrom received funding from the cloven-hoofed cabal and Prof. Kabat once worked for a law firm that represented tobacco companies. That the study was published in a peer reviewed scientific journal seems an irrelevant detail.

But all contrary scientific evidence, no matter how convincing, must be dismissed by the anti-smoking lobby, which now resembles a religious cult more than a community of scientists.

The cult also unquestioningly accepts any dubious evidence that suggests the deadliness of second-hand smoke.

For example, anti-smoking lobbyists will never tell you the British Medical Journal study isn't such a maverick -- many studies fail to find a correlation between passive smoking and mortality.

But they're often manipulated through statistical trickery -- treachery, really -- which turns insignificant results into significant ones, thereby producing the stunning statistic that second-hand smoke results in a 20-to-30-per-cent increase in the risk of lung cancer and heart disease.

It's only through the suppression of contrary evidence and the promotion of confirmatory, if dubious, evidence that the anti-smoking lobby has been successful in remaking the culture in its own image.

And it has been enormously successful. Most North American cities have passed strict bylaws prohibiting smoking in public places, and nowhere is the anti- smoking animus stronger than in Vancouver.

I've yet to complete an exhaustive study of Vancouver's bylaws, but if you smoke in a public building in this city, I'm pretty sure you get the chair.

That kind of revolution could never have been accomplished if cigarettes only harmed those who smoked them. In a liberal society, the state has no business in the lungs of the people unless those people cause harm to others.

That's why the dangers of passive smoking are key to the success of the anti- smoking movement. That second-hand smoke is killing thousands of non- smokers is all the proof needed to make public smoking a capital offence.

Even if the proof is liable to go up in a puff of smoke.


Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun

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