Monday, March 10, 2008

Sault MPP claims “irresponsible & unethical”

I read it first in Dr. Michael Siegel’s blog, “Canadian anti-smoking advocates following U.S. counterparts and making false or unsubstantiated secondhand smoke claims to support car smoking bans”. Damn. Learning about what’s happening in my own back yard from an American tobacco control site is not good.

Apparently, in a press release issued last December, Sault Ste. Marie MPP David Orazietti, the sponsor of legislation to ban smoking in cars when children are present, stated: "This bill is important because research shows young people are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of second hand smoke and as a result they are more likely to suffer from cancer, heart disease, asthma and a number of other respiratory problems."

At the same time, the Canadian Cancer Society stated, in support of the same legislation, that secondhand smoke exposure among children is related to "childhood leukemia, lymphomas, and brain tumours."

But according to Dr. Siegel, “The claim by Mr. Orazietti is false and that by the Canadian Cancer Society is premature.” He goes on, “In the first case, I find the communication to be unethical and irresponsible, because I don't think it is appropriate to make false statements to the public in order to promote public policies.” Ouch.

Claims that secondhand smoke exposure causes heart disease among children or young people, explains Dr. Siegel, are simply false. He notes that even heavy active smokers don’t generally develop heart disease until their forties, after at least 20 years of exposure. Cases of heart disease among young people due to secondhand smoke exposure are few and far between. So, as he points out, “It is factually inaccurate to state that young people are more likely to suffer from heart disease due to secondhand smoke exposure.

Hedging his bets, he says the claim by the Canadian Cancer Society is “more of a strategic mistake”, rather than a matter of ethics or responsibility.

I believe that it is premature and unwarranted because the evidence is not yet sufficient to warrant a causal conclusion. Both the US Surgeon General and the California EPA reviewed the relationship between childhood secondhand smoke exposure and childhood leukemia, lymphoma, and brain tumors. Both concluded that while there is some evidence suggestive of a causal relationship, there is not enough evidence to conclude that a causal relationship exists.”

If tobacco control groups are too quick to pull the trigger and communicate to the public that there is a causal relationship between secondhand smoke and a particular disease when there is only suggestive evidence, then, it becomes much more difficult for these groups to convince the public that their conclusions are sound.

Dr. Siegel’s concerns are well founded. Once the Canadian public realizes that scientific fact has been distorted to promote a political agenda, they will be reluctant to believe anything their elected officials have to tell them about the real hazards of secondhand smoke.

And, just why is the Canadian Cancer Society joining the ranks of the tobacco prohibitionists and making claims that have not been definitively proven by any scientific study?

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