Key Issues

in Opposition to Clean Air Laws, Second-hand Smoke

Junk Science

For a fact sheet on Second-hand Smoke and “Junk Science”: click here

Big Tobacco has known for years that SHS is toxic and dangerous to people’s health. One way for the tobacco industry to fight back is to deny and/or point the blame elsewhere. Two particular strategies have been used together quite effectively: fabricate counter-evidence to confuse people, and criticize existing evidence by calling it “junk”. In 1978 the tobacco industry commissioned the Roper Organization to conduct a poll, which recommended that “the strategic and long run antidote to the passive smoking issue is, as we see it, developing and widely publicizing clear cut, credible, medical evidence that passive smoking is not harmful to the non-smoker’s health…”

Health physicist and ventilation expert James Repace sums up Big Tobacco’s junk science strategy:

“The tobacco companies have also tried to cast doubt on the epidemiological evidence of SHS by focusing on the statistical significance of individual epidemiological studies…the industry rejects a “weight of evidence” argument, in contradistinction to standard public or environmental health practice. They have tried to change the standards by which epidemiological studies are judged.”

One particularly spectacular example of a cigarette company’s efforts to subvert a major study on SHS has been well documented. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), spent 10 years between 1988 and 1998 studying lung cancer and SHS. It was the largest European epidemiological study to date, costing approximately $2 million and involving 12 centres in 7 countries. Philip Morris feared that the study would lead to major legislative changes restricting smoking in Europe, and launched a concerted effort to derail the study and its results. Internal documents reveal the company’s proactive action plan, which included attempts to delay the progress and/or release of the study, affect the wording of its conclusions and official statements of results, neutralize possible negative results, especially as a regulatory tool, and to counteract the potential impact on government policy and public opinion. As well as commissioning its own counter-studies on SHS, Philip Morris launched long-term programs via third parties on such topics as “sound science” and “good epidemiological practices.” In all, Philip Morris budgeted $2 million in one year alone, and allocated another $4 million for research.

Big Tobacco wants to change the goal posts on how risk is managed. At what threshold will they be satisfied? Cigarette companies’ stubbornness to accept the staggering weight of evidence against SHS, even as hundreds of Canadians fall sick and die each year, is truly mind-boggling.

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