Friday, February 02, 2007

"Second Hand Smoke" Blown Away

Those dratted fact-based scientists spoil everyone's fun. Here's a guy with credentials:

Gio Batta Gori, an epidemiologist and toxicologist, is a fellow of the Health Policy Center in Bethesda. He is a former deputy director of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention, and he received the U.S. Public Health Service Superior Service Award in 1976 for his efforts to define less hazardous cigarettes.

So what does he have to say?

...[D]o the studies Carmona references support his claims, and are their findings as sound as he suggests?

Lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases develop at advancing ages. Estimating the risk of those diseases posed by secondhand smoke requires knowing the sum of momentary secondhand smoke doses that nonsmokers have internalized over their lifetimes. Such lifetime summations of instant doses are obviously impossible, because concentrations of secondhand smoke in the air, individual rates of inhalation, and metabolic transformations vary from moment to moment, year after year, location to location.

In an effort to circumvent this capital obstacle, all secondhand smoke studies have estimated risk using a misleading marker of "lifetime exposure." Yet, instant exposures also vary uncontrollably over time, so lifetime summations of exposure could not be, and were not, measured.

Typically, the studies asked 60--70 year-old self-declared nonsmokers to recall how many cigarettes, cigars or pipes might have been smoked in their presence during their lifetimes, how thick the smoke might have been in the rooms, whether the windows were open, and similar vagaries. Obtained mostly during brief phone interviews, answers were then recorded as precise measures of lifetime individual exposures.

(This is called 'scientific studies'? Good heavens, I coulda hadda Ph.D.)

In reality, it is impossible to summarize accurately from momentary and vague recalls, and with an absurd expectation of precision, the total exposure to secondhand smoke over more than a half-century of a person's lifetime. No measure of cumulative lifetime secondhand smoke exposure was ever possible, so the epidemiologic studies estimated risk based not only on an improper marker of exposure, but also on exposure data that are illusory.

Adding confusion, people with lung cancer or cardiovascular disease are prone to amplify their recall of secondhand smoke exposure. Others will fib about being nonsmokers and will contaminate the results. More than two dozen causes of lung cancer are reported in the professional literature, and over 200 for cardiovascular diseases; their likely intrusions have never been credibly measured and controlled in secondhand smoke studies. Thus, the claimed risks are doubly deceptive because of interferences that could not be calculated and corrected.
In addition, results are not consistently reproducible. The majority of studies do not report a statistically significant change in risk from secondhand smoke exposure, some studies show an increase in risk, and--astoundingly--some show a reduction of risk.

Some prominent anti-smokers have been quietly forthcoming on what "the science" does and does not show. Asked to quantify secondhand smoke risks at a 2006 hearing at the UK House of Lords, Oxford epidemiologist Sir Richard Peto--a leader of the secondhand smoke crusade-- replied, "I am sorry not to be more helpful; you want numbers and I could give you numbers..., but what does one make of them? ...These hazards cannot be directly measured."

It has been fashionable to ignore the weakness of "the science" on secondhand smoke, perhaps in the belief that claiming "the science is settled" will lead to policies and public attitudes that will reduce the prevalence of smoking. But such a Faustian bargain is an ominous precedent in public health and political ethics. Consider how minimally such policies as smoking bans in bars and restaurants really reduce the prevalence of smoking, and yet how odious and socially unfair such prohibitions are.

By any sensible account, the anachronism of tobacco use should eventually vanish in an advancing civilization. Why must we promote this process under the tyranny of deception?
Presumably, we are grown-up people, with a civilized sense of fair play, and dedicated to disciplined and rational discourse. We are fortunate enough to live in a free country that is respectful of individual choices and rights, including the right to honest public policies. Still, while much is voiced about the merits of forceful advocacy, not enough is said about the fundamental requisite of advancing public health with sustainable evidence, rather than by dangerous, wanton conjectures.

A frank discussion is needed to restore straight thinking in the legitimate uses of "the science" of epidemiology--uses that go well beyond secondhand smoke issues. Today, health rights command high priority on many agendas, as they should. It is not admissible to presume that people expect those rights to be served less than truthfully.

Well, well.

They lied about "secondhand smoke." They're lying about "global warming" being caused by SUV's and industry.

What ELSE are they lying about? And to what ends?


James Quigley said...

You really would enjoy John Stossel's book...

Kate said...

I remember reading something from the WHO a while back that said pretty much the same thing, yet when I went back to find it, it had vanished from their site. No surprise there.

Random10 said...

When a physician plays golf it does not follow that golf is the practice of medicine. There are a whole lot of people calling themselves scientists engaging in activities that are not science. The biggest problems come when statistics and computer programming are represented as science to the public. Stats and software can be useful tools for analyzing accurately measured observational data, and both are worse than useless when applied to impressions, assumptions and wishful thinking.

Anonymous said...

"Here's a guy with credentials"

Just what the WP and Gori wanted you to think. Didn't you think it odd there was no mention of what he's been doing since 1976?? A little critical thinking, please. Who's this guy out of nowhere contradicting the entire medical and scientific community, who doesn't have a resume past 1976? Seem just a little odd to you?

Would it surprise you that he's been working, at times undercover, for Philip Morris? It shouldn't.

Here's this from a 1998 St. Paul Pioneer Press article:

>>Between December 1992 and July 1993, Gori was paid $20,137 for two letters to the Wall Street Journal, one letter to the British medical publication The Lancet, one letter to the NCI Journal and one opinion piece to the Wall Street Journal, the records show.

>>The opinion piece was rejected by the editors of the Wall Street Journal, but that didn't stop Gori from billing the law firm of Covington and Burling $4,137.50 for it.

>>Gori, now a private consultant for tobacco in Bethesda, Md., said he didn't particularly remember the letters. "This is six years ago. Who the hell remembers those things?" he said.

>>He said there was nothing wrong with getting paid to write the letters. That's his job, he said.

>>"Are you getting paid for what you're writing?" he asked. "We're all out there working."

In fact, Gori's extensive tobacco work is common knowledge. He appears quite often in Federal Judge Kessler's excoriation of the tobacco industry and its campaign to dispute the science of secondhand smoke. Here's just one menton:

>>3823. In 1999, B&W funded a book by Luik and fellow industry consultant Gio Gori through a third party, the Fraser Institute. Blackie WD, 143:6-12. The book, titled Passive Smoke: The EPA’s Betrayal of Science and Policy, alleged scientific misconduct on the part of the EPA in conducting its Risk Assessment. JDX2781834-1954 (JD 067661). The authors did not acknowledge tobacco industry funding. Blackie WD, 143:10-17.


Apparently, getting secretly paid to write funder-favorable items is not an ethical issue for him.

So the question is, did he get paid by tobacco to write the WP article too? It seems such an obvious issue that the WP should have at least asked.

Instead, WP solely cites his work for NCI--all of 30 years ago(!) WP fails to mention any of Gori's much more recent tobacco work.

It takes some doing--a conscious effort, actually-- to ignore a contributor's resume since 1976. So was the WP just plain blitheringly ignorant? Or did it deliberately hide the facts so people like you would swallow it wholesale?

Either way, is the Washington Post guilty of gross dereliction of duty to its readers? Of course.

But the question is: was it too paid?

Dad29 said...

Anony, the question is whether the "studies" were scientifically valid.

I note that you do not answer the question--rather, you choose some inane ramblings about "bias."

FACTS are not "biased," Anony.

YOU are.