Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Does the anti-smoker crowd intimidate critics

A respected scientist and former president of the the prestigious Necker Research Institute in France, expressed for the first time publicly his doubts about the real harm of secondhand smoke. In an interview conducted by Thibault Raissi for leParisien, Professor Phillipe Even said: “Clearly, the harm [of secondhand smoke] is either nonexistent, or it is extremely low.”

Professor Even explained in the interview that the only reason he feels free to speak out against the prevarications at this time is because he's now retired. “As an official, dean of the largest medical faculty in France, I was given the obligation of confidentiality. If I had deviated from official positions, I had to pay the consequences. Today, I am a free man.”

He argues that there is no “solid scientific evidence” that passive smoking is responsible for cardiovascular disease. “In the case of cardiovascular diseases: the four main causes are obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. To determine whether passive smoking is an aggravating factor, it should be a study on people who have none of these four symptoms.” Adding: “But this was never done.”

And, he's right, of course. In fact most of the “scientific studies” done on the hazards of secondhand smoke failed to take these (and other) confounders into consideration. The science has never been as conclusive on the subject as the anti-smoker brigade has led the public to believe.

Professor Even explains that: “The anti-smoking campaigns and higher cigarette prices had failed, [the anti-smoking lobby] had to find a new way to reduce the number of smokers. By waving the red flag of passive smoking, they found a tool that really works: the social pressure.”

Non-smokers, says Even, felt in danger and started to stand up against smokers. Secondhand smoke became a public health problem, paving the way for smoking bans in public places (as well as other interventions designed to force smokers to quit). But, he says: “Even if the cause is good, I do not think it is good to pass laws based on a lie. And the worst part is that it's not working; since the smoking ban went into effect, cigarette sales are rising again.”

I've noted on many occasions on this blog that smokers are often their own worst enemy. Although the primary target of the secondhand smoke scare was non-smokers, many smokers were convinced that the extravagant claims of the zealots were supported by the science. They were/are prepared to accept the bogus body counts of the anti-smoker brigade and the guilt trip that goes with them.

Professor Even is not the first in France to criticize anti-smoker prevarications. For several years, French tobacco specialist, Professor Robert Molimard, has denounced a "fight against smoking, which [has] turned into a fight against smokers." Last year, Molimard took issue with an EU report prepared in 2006 which claimed France had 5,863 deaths per year due to passive smoking, claiming they were intentionally inaccurate and deceptive

But, what makes Professor Evens assertions worthy of mention is that he cited the potential consequences of expressing a professional opinion contrary to accepted doctrine as his reason for remaining silent on this issue until after his retirement.

And, there is good reason for his concern. One of the most comprehensive studies to date was published in the British Medical Journal in 2002. The authors, James Enstrom and Geoffrey Kabat, were harshly criticized when they concluded that no association could be found between secondhand smoke and lung cancer or chronic heart disease mortality among non-smokers in California. Opponents chose to attack the study based on the fact that it was completed with funding from the tobacco industry, rather than its scientific merits.

Their study was ignored both by the press and those responsible for the 2006 Surgeon-General's report. I commented on the attacks on Enstrom and Kabat in a post last February

Dr. Terry Simpson (among many others) noted the vindictive tactics used by the anti-smoker crowd against researchers and medical practitioners who did not adhere to official anti-smoker doctrine.

In an article on his website, he wrote: 'Second hand smoke may be an irritant and an annoyance, but it’s not a cause of death. There are no body bags filled with those who have developed tumors or heart disease as a result of second-hand smoke. The body bags are filled, however, with scientists and physicians who dare go against the anti-smoking lobby and state the obvious; the science isn’t there. As much as they want to ban all smoking in all places, the health risk is grossly overstated. “

Yet, despite the lack of scientific evidence, over 80% of Americans (with similar numbers in Canada and around the world) believe that secondhand smoke is a deadly toxin killing non-smokers by the tens of thousands every year.

And, a large part of the problem is that, like Professor Evens, legitimate researchers, scientists and medical professionals have been bullied into remaining silent. The truth is unlikely to surface while honest scientists are afraid to speak out against the junk science promulgated by the zealots.

By silencing their critics, the anti-smoker zealots are free to distribute their propaganda unopposed and leave a perception in the minds of the public that is simply not supported by the science.

Note: Professor Even's interview with leParisien is in French and my translation is rather liberal. I've tried to convey the nuance of what he was saying rather than providing a strictly literal translation.

Iro Cyr at CAGE (Canadians Against Government Encroachment) has published a proper English translation of the interview with Professor Even. You'll find it here.

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