THE WEB OF UNTRUTH BEHIND THE PASSIVE SMOKING WARRIORS
The latest WHO report on passive smoking hides a world of pc skulduggery
The new World Health Organisation report ‘proving’ a damning link between passive smoking and early mortality has dominated much of the health pages of our media today. But its methodology is not as robust as earlier studies before 2005 – almost all of which showed little or no correlation.
And significantly, the one man whose massive 2003 study condemned the ‘passive smoking myth’ was hounded from his California research job just ten weeks ago. The hand of bad-science political correctness is obvious for anyone to see in this man’s dismissal. Eco-warrior (and UCLA ‘colleague’ of Professor James E. Enstrom) Beate Ritz told the US media at the time:
“…based on his 2003 findings that second-hand cigarette smoke doesn’t kill people, he has been allowing his interpretations go beyond the data and his personal biases to be strong enough to not allow for a balanced and appropriately cautious interpretation of the numbers.”
The British Medical Journal disagreed. It published Enstrom’s paper in full at the time, and has never rubbished it since. But UCLA backed Ms Ritz with this extraordinary statement on 17th August this year:
“…his research is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department.”
This could very easily be interpreted as code for ‘the guy’s off-message’. And let’s be clear about this, Beate’s message about environmental pollution is consistent bordering on missionary. In recent years she has ‘discovered’ risk-factors between air pollution and infant children, Statin and Parkinson’s Disease, air pollution and congenital anomalies, and pesticides and birth defects. Every last one of her studies finds ‘a link’ which the media then catch onto, but very few of whom are ever interrogated. Ms Beate’s business is finding links between pollutants and nasty stuff.
Beate Ritz is as feminist, pc and green-obsessed as it’s possible to be. She is a leading light of the Chemical Policy Reform Group. The website is the standard chest-prodding stuff even those of us who recognise global warming have come to loathe: all polemic and no contradictions, if you please. For the CRF, everything is a health-risk.
Parting shots: Beate Ritz ‘uses geographic information system (GIS) modelling of environmental exposures including pesticide use and traffic related air pollution’ in her research. Thus she is a modeller, not an empiricist. I am not a major fan of modellers: modellers told us that 2008’s financial meltdown was impossible.
Footnote: The Professor of Epidemiology at UCLA is now….Beate Ritz. Well well well.
An unknown humorist once said that “Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics.” I’ve studied more than my fair share over the years, because in the 1970s I had a tobacco client for many years. I resigned from the account in the end, because I could no longer square my own certainty of tobacco’s massive danger as a drug with helping the company market tobacco products.
But even then, I was convinced by several studies showing that passive smoking was only a danger at all in very high doses. Beyond that, the data were at best flakey.
As with all research, the agenda – who funded it and what the researcher wants to prove – are the key things to know. Enstrom’s research was UCLA funded, because it required little or no fieldwork: he was analysing 38 years of data from 1960-1998….data that had never been spliced together before. Not only did he therefore have a massive sample – nearly 120,000 Americans – he created genuine panel data – followed up all the respondents – and focused on one of the supposed greatest dangers of all: living with a spouse who smoked, when the respondent didn’t.
The study is far and away the most robust available, and the only major one based on empirical results rather than varietal (and thus dodgy) causal relationships between lifestyle and passively ‘caught’ smoking diseases. It concluded in 2003:
‘The results do not support a causal relationship between passive smoking and mortality. There is a positive correlation, but it is too small to be significant.’
Speaking on a US radio programme at the time, Enstrom said:
“Basically I found that there was no relationship in terms of increased risk between the spousal smoking history and the long-term risk of death from coronary heart disease and lung cancer. There’s a possibility for a slight increase for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but none of the results were statistically significant.”
The medical Establishment and its mother jumped on the study at the time, but last year James remained unrepentant, explaining:
“Not a single error was ever identified in that paper and I refuted all claims made against me and my research,” he said. “My work isn’t about being politically correct, it’s about honest research and being faithful to the science.”
But James Enstrom is not the first neutral researcher to cast doubt on the Health & Safety sector’s obsession with passive smoking. In February 2000, a team from Warwick University led by Professor John Copas and Dr Jian Qing Shi argued that findings from previous anti-smoking funded field studies were ‘unreliable’. Copas himself went on the record as a scientist to say that
“…research which suggests an increased risk is more likely to be published than research which does not…”
The team re-analysed 37 trials, concluding that most passive smoking risks were much lower than earlier findings suggested.
Now let’s turn to today’s release of the WHO study. Like a surveyor employed by the purchaser to find something wrong in a prospective property, so too a massive group like The World Health Organisation is hardly going to find that there’s nothing to worry about: and the same applies to our own Health & Safety Executive.
On the BBC website this morning, nothing in the WHO report is questioned. One has become accustomed to this with the overwhelmingly conformist news culture that exists there. Its health page leads with ‘passive smoking kills 600,000 worldwide’. Other gems of rigorous analysis include:
‘….passive smoking is particularly dangerous for children, said to be at higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome, pneumonia and asthma….Passive smoking causes heart disease, respiratory illness and lung cancer….. One-third of those killed are children, often exposed to smoke at home….’.
Neither the Enstrom study nor the Warwick reanalyses warranted a mention. Significantly, both categorically refute what the BBC presented as fact.
“This helps us understand the real toll of tobacco,” said Armando Peruga, of the WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative, who led the study, “the mix of infectious diseases and second-hand smoke is a deadly combination.” The assertion is ex cathedra, and completely unsupported by even a reference to anything in the study.
In the same year that Enstrom’s UCLA research broke cover, Peruga was working for a ban on all smoking in public places in South America. The study he co-authored baldly stated:
‘Passive smoking is a significant but avoidable cause of premature death worldwide.’
But the study measured no such thing: this assertion was gratuitously thrown into the report as a taster for the converted. The study measured airborne nicotine in public places: it did not prove any harm from this, and yet reached this insane conclusion:
‘The finding of airborne nicotine in crucial locations provides a basis for enforcing smoke-free initiatives’.
But what did this latest WHO study – ‘carried out in 192 countries’ – actually use as its methodology? Well, you shouldn’t hold your breath trying to get an answer. The best you’ll manage is this jargonized gobbledygook from yesterday’s Lancet – note my italics:
‘The burden of disease from second-hand smoke was estimated as deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) for children and adult non-smokers. The calculations were based on disease-specific relative risk estimates and area-specific estimates of the proportion of people exposed to second-hand smoke, by comparative risk assessment methods, with data from 192 countries during 2004.’
Now this is what I would regard as shit masquerading as putty. Why wait until now before revealing 2004 data – in the hope that Enstrom’s research has been forgotten? Plus, if you choose to use norms and estimates, then it would be possible to conclude anything that suited your book…and, dare I suggest such a thing, suppress everything that denies your hypothesis.
Don’t reject that accusation out of hand: the WHO has form when it comes to suppressing things detrimental to its aims. In a very early online edition of the Daily Telegraph in 1998, then Health Correspondent Victoria MacDonald revealed a cover-up at the heart of WHO’s passive smoking programme. She wrote:
‘THE world’s leading health organisation has withheld from publication a study which shows that not only might there be no link between passive smoking and lung cancer but that it could even have a protective effect. The World Health Organisation, which commissioned the 12-centre, seven-country European study has failed to make the findings public, and has instead produced only a summary of the results in an internal report….Yet the scientists have found that there was no statistical evidence that passive smoking caused lung cancer. The research compared 650 lung cancer patients with 1,542 healthy people. It looked at people who were married to smokers, worked with smokers, both worked and were married to smokers, and those who grew up with smokers.
The results are consistent with their being no additional risk for a person living or working with a smoker and could be consistent with passive smoke having a protective effect against lung cancer. The summary, seen by The Telegraph, also states: “There was no association between lung cancer risk and ETS [environmental tobacco smoke] exposure during childhood.”
In other words, entirely consistent with Enstrom’s findings….and therefore thrown in the off-message bin.
Yet despite all this evidence of exaggeration and cover-up, Wikipedia’s current page on the subject notes, ‘Currently, the health risks of secondhand smoke are a matter of scientific consensus, and these risks have been one of the major motivations smoking bans in workplaces and indoor public places, including restaurants, bars and night clubs.’
A whole group of people have been force-fitted into the role of social outcast – and a massive industry created – based on yet more ‘settled science’. But, it seems, the scientific reality of risk may well be negligible. Perhaps more to the point, the libertarian arguments against smoking bans suddenly begin to look much more solid.
I gave up smoking just short of thirty years ago, and I do not particularly like people smoking in my house. Tobacco smoking is a major killer, and no smoker anywhere on the planet can any longer be unaware of the grave health risks associated with the habit. However, on the Lockeian principle of self and other-regarding social actions, the foregoing evidence suggests that the public-places smoking-ban arguments may well be based on a fraud of gigantic proportions.
If doing no harm to others, all smokers have a right to kill themselves having enjoyed the habit. Looking at the data across the board, there is clearly a case to protect bar staff, stewards and entertainers in pubs and clubs….but no case I’ve seen to enforce a total ban. Both there and in restaurants, it seems to me, as a social researcher, that designated smoking areas (given that now only a dwindling minority smoke at all) would be more than sufficient to reduce the passive-inhalation risk to near-zero. And in that case, the personal liberty argument would hold sway.
Here we have, yet again, bogus research and bad science being used to support the nannying nature of Western governments. The passive-smoking ‘story’ now rivals those in favour of multiculturalism, State child-snatching, radical feminism, globalism, and the multinational business model as an idea ignoring the lessons of history, over-egging the pudding of research findings, and bending ‘informed’opinion to its will.
One is left asking whether the obsessive hubris of scientists with a mission can ever again be trusted. But this is an old lesson to be learned: never trust the findings of those who set out to find.