The anti-smoking lobby is full of Sh*t
Current mood: aggravated
Category: News and Politics
Recently the anti-smoking lobby has been in the press via the Surgeon General's "study." Never mind that this study has no new research and that it is just a cherry picked compilation of anti-smoking studies, but even the press releases corresponding to it are incredibly biased.
Please understand this is all coming from a non-smoker (and I actually hate smoke drifting in my direction, but my person preferences shouldnt affect others lives), but the way the government, movie stars, left wingers, and generally non-thinking people attack a perfectly legal industry infuriates me. While I am mainly speaking to the crap science and PR spins they are using here, the deeper issue for me is that in a free-market economy it should not be legal for the government to tell a restaurant or bar they cant have smoking inside the building that they own. Should a bar like to be a smokers only establishment, that should be their right, if it makes for bad business, it will quickly go out of business and the market will correct itself to the eventual non-smoking of society. This step towards regulation is the slippery slope towards further controlling of privately owned business and will only end when all rights are taken away from business owners and in the hands of the government... But I digress.....
The mainstream media seems pretty dedicated to writing to the masses on this one, but there are a few of sites and programs out there that actually look at the studies and don't just reprint the press release from "the truth." Here is one of the better non-partisan looks I found on the internet. It begins talking about a Penn and Teller "Bullshit" episode I once watched that explores the deception around the "second hand smoke definitively causes cancer" myth. The article then goes into some of the other studies performed about this question and breaks down some of the math.
For all of you non-statistics people, this article gets into some statistics stuff; the most important parts are just the sections on statistical significance. Basically statistical significance is the % chance something is true. The most common significance level is .05, which means that there is only a 5% chance that your results are a result of random luck and a 95% chance they represent a real finding.
Here is the article from the Skeptics Dictionary:
Red are his own updates:
"In the last newsletter, I mentioned that Penn and Teller were challenged at James Randi's Amazing Meeting 2 last January regarding their Bullshit! episode that claimed the studies on secondhand smoke were bogus. I said I'd look into it. I did and P & T are right. No, P & T are wrong about the study being bogus. (I'm not the only one who thinks so.) They are right, however, in claiming that: Almost everybody who claims that the scientific evidence supports the claim that passive smoking causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year cite a single source: our own Environmental Protection Agency's 1993 report.
The EPA's data show no significant link between passive smoke and lung cancer. This is true only if you accept the tobacco industry's claim that an epidemiological study should demonstrate an increased risk of 100 percent to be significant. Even after lowering the standard from p=0.05 to p=0.1 (i.e., from a one in twenty to a one in ten chance of a spurious correlation), they were still able to get a relative risk of only 1.19. This number is significant according to epidemiologists Jonathan M. Samet and Thomas A. Burke of Johns Hopkins university. According to John Brignell, "risk ratios of greater than 3 are normally considered significant. One might even stretch a point and go down to 2, but never lower" (Sorry Wrong Number, p. 129). John is pushing for a standard even the tobacco industry might marvel at. The standard of a risk ratio of 2 or higher was pushed for the tobacco industry by Jim Tozzi, the force behind the data quality act, an act aimed at promoting the republican plan for the deregulation of America. If the tobacco industry had its way, it would be impossible to ban just about any environmental toxin, not just secondhand smoke. (see Chris Mooney's The Republican War On Science). Yet, the EPA has not backed off. Neither has the World Health Organization (nor should they), which published a study in 1998 that concluded: "Our results indicate no association between childhood exposure to ETS [environmental tobacco smoke] and lung cancer risk." The WHO study also noted that there was only "weak evidence" for a risk of lung cancer from spousal or workplace ETS. Yet WHO put out a press release that contradicts their own conclusions. The website I link to for comments on the WHO study claims the following:
Fact: The study found a Relative Risk (RR) for spousal exposure of 1.16, with a Confidence Interval (CI) of .93 - 1.44. In layman's terms, that means
Exposure to the ETS from a spouse increases the risk of getting lung cancer by 16%. Where you'd normally find 100 cases of lung cancer, you'd find 116.
The 1.16 number is not statistically significant.
It may not be statistically significant but it does not support the claim that the WHO study contradicts its own conclusions, nor does it support the claim that the study indicates no association between passive smoke and risk of lung cancer. [The results could be "consistent with risks considerably higher than generally accepted - the upper bound of the 95% confidence interval is a relative risk of 1.44 - whereas the generally accepted range is 1.1 to 1.3."* To see to what lengths the tobacco lobby and their frontmen will go to in their effort at discrediting studies, see this article from Lancet.] Here's another statistic from WHO that might interest the reader:
The World Health Organization has estimated that tobacco could kill as many as 10 million people per year (globally) within two or three decades [Tobacco or Health: A Global Status Report (Geneva: WHO, 1997)], and the total number of tobacco deaths in the 21st century, world-wide, could be as high as a thousand million [Robert N. Proctor, "Tobacco and the Global Lung Cancer Epidemic," Nature Reviews Cancer, 1 (2001): 82-86.].*
There have been other studies on secondhand smoke but the evidence goes against the EPA, which likes the work of Elizabeth Fontham, whose data has been questioned for treating ex-smokers as non-smokers. If there is a causal connection between passive smoke and lung cancer, it is a very small contributing factor. Again, that claim depends on which standard you use.
Penn & Teller had somebody do the math. There is a 25% higher risk of dying of lung cancer from being regularly exposed to passive smoke. For those regularly exposed to ETS, the death rate from lung cancer is 1 in 80,000. For those not exposed, it is 1 in 100,000. Looked at another way: For every million people exposed to ETS, there will be 12.5 deaths from lung cancer; for every million people not exposed to ETS, there will be 10 deaths due to lung cancer. This is statistically of no significance. Again, the claim that the statistic is of "no significance" depends on which standard you use. [See episode 5 of their DVD: Bullshit! ]"
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