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The Real Story

| By Marvin R. Shanken | From Groucho Marx, Spring 93

The antismoking crusade is in full swing again. The big news on the smoking war front came out of the Environmental Protection Agency in January when it released its report saying that "passive" smoking or secondhand smoke creates an increased risk of lung cancer. Although the EPA and media reports focused on cigarette smoke only, you can be sure cigars won't escape the regulations or laws that are likely to be passed because of the EPA study.

The real travesty here is the research itself. First of all, the report. It was a risk assessment. That means the researchers analyzed other studies on the effects of secondhand smoke and came up with their results--passive smoking causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year.

But there's a lot more to the story. Since 1981, according to the journal Consumers' Research, there have been approximately 30 studies conducted on passive smoking. In a 1991 Consumers' Research ,article, authors Dr. Gary Huber of the University of Texas Health Science Center and two other physicians, wrote that 24 of the studies showed no increased risk of lung cancer from secondhand smoke or passive smoking. (It's also called Environmental Tobacco Smoke, or ETS.) And, if you average the risks over all the studies, it came out to between 1.08 and 1.42 depending on the method of analysis.

I don't want to get too scientific, but it's crucial to the whole argument. A risk ratio of 1.08 to 1.42 is virtually nothing; a risk ratio of 1 to 1 is in fact, zero risk. There are studies that show drinking pasteurized milk has a risk factor for lung cancer of 2.01. U.S. Representative Tom Bliley, a Virginia Republican writing in a 1991 issue of Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newsletter, noted that most scientific studies require that risk ratios exceed two to one--and usually three to one is preferred--before they can eliminate the possibility that chance, or researcher bias, or some other unrelated phenomenon, contributed to the results.

The bottom line is this: The passive smoking numbers are flawed. They've been politicized and manipulated to support a fanatical antismoking agenda being pushed by the federal health bureaucracy and some of the large medical associations in the United States. They want to deny people's right to make their own choices about risk-taking behavior, and they simply want to control all avenues of access to tobacco: higher taxes, tougher smoking restrictions and, eventually a ban. To show you how far these people are willing to go, the EPA report did not include a National Cancer Institute study on passive smoking. Why? It's simple. The report didn't turn up any increased risk of lung cancer from secondhand smoke. Furthermore, the EPA violated its own guidelines by eliminating animal studies from its report; if they had been included, they would have revealed no increased risk. By excluding information like that, it's clear politics, not science, determined the outcome of the EPA report.

Now, don't get me wrong. No one is going to argue these days that excessive use of cigarettes, or even cigars, is healthy for you. But let's get real. The truth is that passive smoking is not a killer. Is it annoying to some people? No doubt about it. But that can be dealt with through better ventilation and separate areas for non-smokers, not by banning smoking.



Marvin R. Shanken
Editor and Publisher