Like several other blogs today, I’ve picked up on the interview with Professor Philippe Even, world-renowned pulmonologist, and past president of the Research Institute Necker.
PHILIPPE EVEN. There are about a hundred studies on the issue. First surprise: 40% of them claim a total absence of harmful effects of passive smoking on health. The remaining 60% estimate that the cancer risk is multiplied by 0.02 for the most optimistic and by 0.15 for the more pessimistic … compared to a risk multiplied by 10 or 20 for active smoking! It is therefore negligible. Clearly, the harm is either nonexistent, or it is extremely low.
It is an indisputable scientific fact. Anti-tobacco associations report 3 000-6 000 deaths per year in France …
I am curious to know their sources. No study has ever produced such a result.
Many experts argue that passive smoking is also responsible for cardiovascular disease and other asthma attacks. Not you?
They don’t base it on any solid scientific evidence. Take the case of cardiovascular diseases: the four main causes are obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. To determine whether passive smoking is an aggravating factor, there should be a study on people who have none of these four symptoms. But this was never done. Regarding chronic bronchitis, although the role of active smoking is undeniable, that of passive smoking is yet to be proven. For asthma, it is indeed a contributing factor … but not greater than pollen!
The purpose of the ban on smoking in public places, however, was to protect non-smokers. It was thus based on nothing?
Absolutely nothing! The psychosis began with the publication of a report by the IARC, International Agency for Research on Cancer, which depends on the WHO (Editor’s note: World Health Organization). The report released in 2002 says it is now proven that passive smoking carries serious health risks, but without showing the evidence. Where are the data? What was the methodology? It’s everything but a scientific approach. It was creating fear that is not based on anything.
Why would anti-tobacco organizations wave a threat that does not exist?
The anti-smoking campaigns and higher cigarette prices having failed, they had to find a new way to lower the number of smokers. By waving the threat of passive smoking, they found a tool that really works: social pressure. In good faith, non-smokers felt in danger and started to stand up against smokers. As a result, passive smoking has become a public health problem, paving the way for the Evin Law and the decree banning smoking in public places. The cause may be good, but I do not think it is good to legislate on a lie. And the worst part is that it does not work: since the entry into force of the decree, cigarette sales are rising again.
Why not speak up earlier?
As a civil servant, dean of the largest medical faculty in France, I was held to confidentiality. If I had deviated from official positions, I would have had to pay the consequences. Today, I am a free man.
Philippe Even isn’t the first French academic to blow the whistle on passive smoking. Robert Molimard, professor emeritus of physiology, and tabacologiste, was warning about it a year or two back.
None of this is news to anyone who has looked into passive smoking. Most of the studies show little or no danger. Some even show benefits. But despite this, antismoking campaigners claim that thousands of people are being killed by it. What is new is to see another prominent member of the French medical establishment calling the lie. And explaining the reason for the lie: it was in the good cause of making smokers give up smoking. And he admits that the lie doesn’t work: people smoke even more.
But it’s perhaps the reason he gives for speaking up that is the most revealing. He has retired, and no longer feels under pressure to lie. And where have we heard this before? Well, in the case of a number of prominent global warming sceptics, that’s where.
There’s clearly a systematic problem here, which lies deep in the fabric of institutional science. Researchers are prepared to lie in a good cause, whether it is about smoking or climate change. And once that starts happening, the only way it can end is with the collapse of public belief in the honesty and integrity of scientists. It is the death of science.
It won’t just end with antismoking and climate change. There almost certainly plenty of other examples of institutional dishonesty waiting to be discovered. It will be the good name of science as a whole which will be tarnished.
Recently I raised the example of a friend of mine who has begun to doubt that anyone ever landed on the Moon. When she finds out (as she has not yet found out) that many scientists have been duping her for years, is she going to be more likely or less likely to trust any of them, and to regain her waning belief in the Moon landings? Well, of course, she’ll be less likely. There’s no reason why she should automatically trust scientists any more than she trusts priests or politicians. There’s no reason why scientists should expect to be trusted or believed. And once trust has gone, it’s very hard to get back.
Science will only have itself to blame when public trust in science collapses. And increasingly I believe that it’s ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.
At present, in the wake of the Climategate scandal, the response of the scientific establishment in Britain seems to have been to circle their wagons around the beleaguered Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, and produce a series of whitewashing reports. In doing so, all they are ensuring is that, when the collapse comes, it will engulf the whole of science, and not just a few egregious bad apples. For in trying to brush it all under the carpet with a series of official whitewashes, they also are lying in a good cause. In this respect, the British scientific establishment would do well to follow the lead of a number of their French colleagues, who seem to have a rather better idea of scientific probity.