I begin this rant about bowties, which has really nothing to do with the actual subject matter of this blog post. It’s just for some weird reason, the conservative-right are wearing an “academic costume” consisting of a button down collar, bowtie and sometimes even glasses. I was puzzled at first by this choice of clothing, as I mention it has the appearance of a nerdy professor or scientist (think Bill Nye – the science guy or Dr. Who), something the right hates. Smart people. So why would they borrow this costume, and then it dawned on me. They want to be taken more seriously.
Well, it’s not working. Case in point: CBC Shock Jock Michael Enright (the old dude above with the round, tortoiseshell glasses). Yes, I’m calling him out on this because he likes to drop little bombs like: in a ’97 Globe and Mail article referred to the Catholic Church as “the greatest criminal organization outside the mafia”, wrote an essay on his CBC blog “Could Atheists please stop complaining?” and most recently “Exploding the myth that second-hand smoke causes cancer”.
I’ll admit my own bias here, as I always do. I hate smoking and second hand smoke. After working as a server in many smoking sections of restaurants and lounges while I made my way through university, my uniform and my hair reeked of it. Exposed to years of second hand smoke and myself smoking since high school, I finally gave up the filthy habit about 15 years ago. It wasn’t until I finally gave up the habit and my smell and taste sensors were fully restored that I realized how nasty the stuff stinks: a bitter, chemical odour.
So let me break down his essay: Exploding the myth that second-hand smoke causes cancer.
At first, I thought it was a joke. He starts his essay off by mentioning the 50th anniversary of the special report on smoking by pioneer Dr. Luther Terry, then Surgeon General of the United States. He states that the Surgeon General saved countless lives in America by making the connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases and emphysema. But then he digresses into a conspiracy theory that the anti-smoking lobby have created a myth about the dangers of second hand smoke to ban smoking in public places and uses a recent study to prove his theory.
Here’s my biggest issue with it. It has no references or citations, which makes me believe one of two things: he’s making it up OR he’s too lazy to provide the links.
After asking the question in his essay: “How could a few wisps of smoke not inhaled deeply cause lung cancer?” he refers to an old radio interview on As It Happens where he writes: “I put these and other questions to a researcher for the Environmental Protection Agency. After some heated back and forth, he admitted: ‘Sure it’s crappy science, but look at the outcome–a smoke-free America.’” Sorry, who is this nameless researcher from the EPA, what year was this broadcast and is this actually quoting from the original radio broadcast or is he just paraphrasing.
He states, “Anti-smoking activists were quick to pronounce that “Second Hand Smoke Kills.” Well, no, it doesn’t, actually.” Then he proceeds to debunk the theory that second hand smoke causes cancer by referring to a recent article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. No link, no citation, but after some digging, I found the actual study:
My issue with this whole thing is because I think Michael Enright is being intentionally provocative in his statement. There is such a vast amount of knowledge to be filtered, and as someone with no science or clinical background, the sea of information can be overwhelming. But like with climate science or GMO’s, I can try and sort through the info to get some sort of truth:
- The Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (WHI-OS) involves only post-menopausal women between the ages 50-79. No men, no children and no women under 50. The original enrollment number of 93,676 had a high drop-out rate, leaving 76,304 participants.
- The study states that there is no clear link between passive smoking and lung cancer, but further reading in the article showed that there was an increased risk of lung cancer living with a smoker for 30 years or more.
- From the same study, an increased risk of breast cancer when exposed to second hand smoke : Association of active and passive smoking with risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women
- An Assessment of the NIH Women’s Health Initiative was written in 1993, looking at four aspects of the observational study: topics considered, methodology, costs, and justification, concluded: “The committee thought it likely that much of the information could be obtained in better designed, smaller, more focused studies that could have a greater chance of success and probably be less costly.”
- The study was observational rather than clinical. Dr. Richard Nahin states in his article Observational Studies and Secondary Data Analyses: “Well-designed pragmatic clinical trials are the most rigorous way to study effectiveness,” and while observational studies “provide information on “real world” use and practice… observational studies cannot provide definitive evidence of safety, efficacy, or effectiveness”.
I happened upon another non-clinical study from 2010, headed up by Dr. Alisa Naiman of University of Toronto that: “studied rates of hospital admission attributable to three cardiovascular conditions (acute myocardial infarction, angina, and stroke) and three respiratory conditions (asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pneumonia or bronchitis) after the implementation of smoking bans”. The results from the abstract state: “…admission to hospital because of cardiovascular conditions decreased by 39% and admissions because of respiratory conditions decreased by 33% during the ban period affecting restaurant settings.”
As well, there are hundreds of studies that have concluded that while passive smoking to a lesser extent is somewhat risky, exposure to long term and frequent second hand smoke is deadly:
Update 30/03/2014: Another study related to childhood asthma
And just one more thing to conclude before I sign off. Who has the most to gain from all of this? Why are conservatives all over this like a bad stinky-ashtray smell? Because they have something to gain by all of this. More money and less government. Now that the ship has sailed correlating smoking with lung cancer and cardiovascular death, the last bastion for the tobacco lobby is second-hand smoke.
In the press release Tobacco Industry Interference with WHO’S Research on Passive Smoke and Cancer from the World Health Organization – International Agency for Research on Cancer website states: “The documents provide evidence that the tobacco industry has closely monitored and tried to actively interfere with the conduct of an international epidemiological study on lung cancer in non-smokers following exposure to passive smoking.”
Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Or don’t, it might give me cancer.
Update May 3, 2014: After a complaint was lodged against Michael Enright, he wrote a sad-assed clarification found here: