M. Perske
Science You Won't Read In The Daily Newspapers

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Science You Won't Read in the Daily Newspapers

Date of original release: 6/9/98

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Until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its 1993 report classifying environmental tobacco smoke (also known as ETS or secondhand smoke) as a known human carcinogen, the anti-smoking forces in this country were losing their war for Prohibition. Americans, no matter what their smoking status or personal preferences, generally agreed that it was not their role -- or the role of the government -- to save a smoker from him or herself. As long as individuals are aware of the possible risks of a product, let them make their own choices, was the consensus.

Then came the secondhand smoke scare, and the battlefield dramatically changed. Despite serious questions raised by scientists and researchers regarding the EPA's claims, the anti-smoking movement has successfully used the report to promote their Prohibitionist goals. The media, in turn, has let anti-smokers' claims go largely unchallenged, and politicians, eager to jump on any politically correct bandwagon, have joined in the campaign.

Now hardly a week goes by without a story being reported somewhere about the "dangers" of secondhand smoke. These claims have led to smoking bans in public places nationwide, the most extreme example being the recent smoking ban in bars and restaurants across California.

Efforts by business owners in California and elsewhere to convince politicians that they should be free to make their own decisions regarding smoking policies -- just as customers are free to choose not to patronize establishments that allow smoking -- have largely been ignored. Even separate sections in restaurants and bars do not appease the prohibitionists, who claim workers in these places are facing health risks from secondhand smoke.

Their claims, however, are not grounded in fact. Of the approximately 25 published studies that deal with ETS in the workplace and lung cancer or heart disease risk, only one study [Fontham et al. 1994, "Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Lung Cancer in Nonsmoking Women," Journal of the American Medical Association, June 8, 1994] reports an overall statistically significant increased risk. Even then, the increased risk reported in the study was so small that, according to standards put forth by the National Cancer Institute, it could be due simply to chance, statistical bias or effects of unknown confounding factors.

Virtually all studies reach the same conclusion: They find no statistically significant increased risk for non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace. A few examples, with direct quotes from the studies, are listed below. This is what you won't read in your local newspaper:

"In general, there was no elevated lung cancer risk associated with passive smoke exposure in the workplace. ..." - Brownson et. al., 1992

"Passive Smoking and Lung Cancer in Nonsmoking Women" - American Journal of Public Health, November 1992, Vol. 82, No. 11

"... an odds ratio of 0.91 ... indicating no evidence of an adverse effect of environmental tobacco smoke in the workplace." - Janerich et al., 1990

"Lung Cancer and Exposure to Tobacco Smoke in the Household" - New England Journal of Medicine, Sept. 6, 1990

"... the association with exposure to passive smoking at work was small and not statistically significant." -Kalandidi et al., 1990

"Passive Smoking and Diet in the Etiology of Lung Cancer Among Non- Smokers" - Cancer Causes and Control, 1, 15-21, 1990

"Among women exposed only at work, the multivariate relative risks of total CHD were 1.49 ... among those occasionally exposed and 1.92 ... among those regularly exposed to secondhand smoke [neither of which is statistically significant according to commonly accepted scientific standards]."  - Kawachi et al., 1997

"A Prospective Study of Passive Smoking and Coronary Heart Disease" - Circulation, Vol. 95, No. 10, May 20, 1997

"No association was observed between the risk of lung cancer and smoking of husband or passive smoke exposure at work." - Shimizu et al., 1988

"A Case-Control Study of Lung Cancer in Nonsmoking Women" - Tohoku J. Exp. Med., 154:389-397, 1988

"We did not generally find an increase in CHD [coronary heart disease] risk associated with ETS exposure at work or in other settings." - Steenland et al., 1996

"Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Coronary Heart Disease in the American Cancer Society CPS-II Cohort" - Circulation, Vol. 94, No. 4, August 15, 1996

"... no statistically significant increase in risk associated with exposure to environmental tobacco smoke at work or during social activities...." - Stockwell et al., 1992

"Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Lung Cancer Risk in Nonsmoking Women" - Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 84:1417-1422, 1992

"There was no association between exposure to ETS at the workplace and risk of lung cancer." - Zaridze et al., 1998

"Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Risk of Lung Cancer in Non- Smoking Women from Moscow, Russia" - International Journal of Cancer, 1998, 75, 335-338

Bottom line: Workplace findings such at the ones cited above are not reported in the media. In some cases, it appears that a deliberate attempt was made to hide the facts. For example, the American Heart Association issued a news release on the 1996 Steenland et al. study, but withheld the fact that this study, the largest ever done on ETS and coronary heart disease, found no adverse effect from workplace exposure to secondhand smoke.

It should be clear to all individuals -- smokers or non-smokers -- who want to see accurate scientific data on the issue of tobacco smoke that you're not going to get it from the media, politicians or public health officials.

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