The Facts About A New Study On Tobacco And Lung Cancer
W. Hamilton

Date of original release: 4/13/00

On October 18, 1996 the New York Times Service ran a story on a study which reportedly provided the "missing link" in the connection between smoking and lung cancer. Newspapers throughout the country ran the story on their front pages, heralding this new "discovery."

However politically correct the story, which was delivered from an article in Science Magazine might have been, it failed to report the scientific facts about Benzo[a]Pyrene or B[a]P, the compound in tobacco smoke which the study linked to lung cancer. The facts are that B[a]P:

  • Has been classified as a carcinogen for many years
  • Occurs only in small quantities in cigarette smoke
  • Occurs a much higher levels in a variety of common sources, including broiled and grilled foods, smoke from fireplaces, barbecue pits, burning coal, oil and gas -- and in very large quantities in auto, bus, truck and jet plane exhaust. In other words, it is a byproduct of organic combustion of all sorts, not just tobacco.

Further, earlier research found abnormal p53 expression in less than half of the smokers' lung cancers (Dosaka-Akita, et al. Am J of Clinical Pathology, Nov. 1994). The researchers in that study stated that "Among the most common mutations in human lung cancer are those affecting the p53 gene," but these are obviously not the only kind. In a study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, the researchers found that "the food chain is the dominant pathway of human exposure, accounting for about 97% of the total daily intake of B[a]P" (H.A. Hattemer-Frey, C.C. Travis, Toxicology and Industrial Health, 1991, pp. 141-157).

When research has been conducted giving animals whole cigarette smoke containing B[a]P, no lung tumours have ever been produced.

Interestingly, despite the claims of the investigators of the "new" study, the substance investigated was NOT B[a]P as found in cigarette smoke, but B[a]PDE, a related compound.

News editors and journalists cannot be expected to be scientific experts on the subject of tobacco. But in order to present balanced coverage of the tobacco controversy, they should be expected to check sources other than anti-tobacco activists and self-promoting researchers. Unfortunately, when it comes to the tobacco issue, only one side is given media coverage. It may be politically correct to bash cigarettes, but journalists should be more interested in the truth than in pushing a single political agenda and presenting it as scientific fact.

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