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The Tobacco Industry’s Counter-Attack

Speaking Points

As with most issues surrounding tobacco and health, the tobacco industry has misled the public about the health effects of ETS.  The fact that they have actively disseminated misinformation about involuntary smoking illustrates how important this issue is to them.

According to a memo obtained by the Washington Post, the tobacco industry actively sought to recruit scientists who would be friendly to the interests of Big Tobacco and, once identified,  generously funded their “research” into the health effects of secondhand smoke.  This was done to “keep the controversy alive,” according to the leaked memo.54

In 1998, the tobacco industry and its allies distorted the findings of a World Health Organization (WHO) and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) study on secondhand smoke and risk of developing lung cancer.  The industry misrepresented the results claiming that the study showed no increased risk of lung cancer due to secondhand smoke. The WHO and the IARC countered that the study had indeed found an estimated 16% increased risk of lung cancer among non-smoking spouses of smokers.  For workplace exposure the estimated increase in risk was 17%. Although the sample size in the study was not large enough to qualify these numbers as statistically significant, increased risk was found. 55 56 57

Tobacco industry propaganda disputing the health effects of ETS often relies on non-peer reviewed research, and typically focuses on small, individual studies while ignoring the full body of scientific evidence.

54 Schwartz, J.  Philip Morris sought experts to cloud issue: Memo details plan to prolong secondhand smoke controversy.  The Washington Post, May 9, 1997.

55 Macdonald, V., Passive smoking doesn't cause cancer – official.   Electronic Telegraph, issue 1017, March 8, 1998.  

56 World Health Organization (WHO). Passive smoking does cause lung cancer, do not let them fool you. World Health Organization (WHO), http://www.who.int/inf-pr-1998/en/pr98-29.html, March 9, 1998.

57 Gaudin, N. Passive smoking and lung cancer in Europe. France: International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), March 11, 1998.

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