H/T Reinhold. On Sunday, the Swiss are voting on a total smoking ban, and the antismokers (who look set to win) having been using pictures of people killed by Mafia gangs to drive home their message that passive smoking kills. Romano Grieshaber recently gave an interview for a Basel newspaper, a translation of which appears below.
Romano Grieshaber, Professor of Preventive Medicine, aimed to start a debate with [his book] “Passivrauchen – Götterdämmerung der Wissenschaft (Passive smoking – Science’s twilight of the gods”). Yet he didn’t succeed. By Martina Rutschmann
Professor Romano Grieshaber accuses health organizations of acting more ideologically than scientifically in the field of passive smoking.
He has dedicated his life to preventive medicine. In one area, however, he speaks of “hysteria”: about passive smoking. Non-smoker Romano Grieshaber (66) would be the first to support the fight against it – if it really was harmful. But in his opinion it is not, as he explains in his book.
As the head of prevention and research of the German trade association Food and Restaurants, he conducted numerous studies of passive smoke exposure until he retired a year ago – coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t that harmful at all. Studies that drew different conclusions were scientifically untenable, and were used to enact laws such as the law proposed by the Swiss Lung League for the “protection from passive smoking”, on which Switzerland votes on 23rd September .
Mr. Grieshaber, how many cigarettes have you already inhaled involuntarily today?
If the “protection against passive smoking” initiative were to be adopted, as a non-smoker you’d be less at risk in Switzerland in future than in your home country: In Germany every year over 3300 non-smokers die from the after-effects of passive smoking, as a study by the German Cancer Research Center reports. You could be one of these dead.
I hardly think so. Because the risk of falling ill from second-hand smoke is minimal. It is recognized around the world as a relative risk of 1.16, which corresponds to a minimal risk. And even from this number no causal relationship with secondhand smoke can be derived.
That sounds different from the Swiss Lung League. With their initiative they follow the “liberal principle that one’s freedom ends where the health of others is at risk.” In your book, however, you write that such statements – e.g. by the World Health Organization WHO – are not scientifically sound. Please explain.
When we (the German trade association Food and Restaurants, note) began our research in 2000, we assumed that passive smoking was harmful too. So our own research findings in the restaurant area – the area with the greatest concentration of secondhand smoke – surprised us: According to our results, heart attacks, lung cancer, and chronic lung diseases in waiters were even less frequent than in the general population. For our study, we investigated the diseases of six million traders. No one had done so before us.
Other studies have come to a contrary conclusion: The risk of lung cancer would be higher among waiters than for other workers. Whom should we believe now?
Epidemiology (Science for quantitative research on risk factors and spread of diseases, note) worldwide doesn’t consider additional pollutants such as radon or asbestos, which are present along with second-hand smoke. This in turn falsifies the result. Also nonphysical factors such as depression or unemployment were not integrated in the investigation on which they came up with the 3300 dead – although it was already known at that time that depression is considered to be a cause for heart attacks at least as often as active smoking. These things are concealed, although epidemiologically they cannot be separated from passive smoking.
So science is doing a bad job?
Let me put it this way: All the studies on this subject worldwide are afflicted with the same problem: They don’t consider all the relevant factors that have a concurrent influence.
So the smokers club “Fümoar” is right when it writes in advertisements that there wasn’t a single scientifically suitable and reliable study worldwide that verifies health damage due to passive smoking?
You can say that, yes.
The Lung League, however, promotes the initiative by predicting fewer heart attacks and respiratory diseases. As a credible institution, with such statements it certainly wins over many voters.
I think so too, because the WHO has managed to give the public the impression that the threat was exactly as great as they state it to be. Already back in the seventies, the WHO split society into smokers and non-smokers. Against this background, the whole movement is to be regarded more pseudo-religious and less scientific.
In your opinion the health movement is ideologically driven, but can’t enact laws that way alone – which is why they’re pushing studies that aren’t scientifically valid after all?
In fact there is provably false evidence in this area. The study with the 3300 dead for example is missing its database. The data on which the study is based do not exist. In the study, neither age as a separate risk factor was taken into account, nor the previously mentioned other factors. Thus I may speak of whitewashing, if not of forgery.
Assuming that secondhand smoke really is as harmless as you say – what would be the point of fighting it?
The reason why secondhand smoke is being made a target is because active smoking can’t be tackled so directly yet. So the only way to take action against smokers is via passive smoking. For that, minimal risks are inflated. This is dangerous, because this way the real risks are not being fought anymore.
What are the real risks?
Asbestos, for instance, comes to mind. Russia delivers asbestos in quantities like never before. And in countries such as Canada, asbestos continues to be used. It is still the world’s number one issue. But the organizations hardly mention it any more.
Indirectly you’re saying that in many areas the WHO’s work is far from being independent.
This dependence shows up very clearly with regard to the pharmaceutical industry. This is largely promoted, as we last saw with swine flu, when panic and exaggeration was openly spread. Large quantities of vaccine needed to be destroyed later. Since the whole process was initiated by the WHO, then clearly it is fighting on the side of the pharma industry – also in the fight against the tobacco industry. And it is succeeding quite well.
That means you predict a Yes at the plebiscite?
In any case the WHO has managed to stir up people’s fears.
Back to your book: You wanted to kick off a debate – but by now you mostly met with anger to the point of death threats. Where’s the anger of some smoke opponents coming from?
You are right, in internet forums people write some very aggressive texts about my book and me. The media, in contrast, write nothing at all – they hush up the book, because they are often brought into line by the health movement.
Why do smoke opponents become so angry on this issue?
It’s related to the overall health hysteria. Probably many people are really afraid about passive smoking.
Did you expect such torrents of hatred?
Yes, but I’m mentally tough. (laughing).
Disagreements on this issue are undesirable. If you’re right, couldn’t a good argument be made that there is no need for laws to “protect against passive smoking”?
The public perception is otherwise, no matter what results the studies offer. This cannot be changed easily. The politicians are happy about that, because they need bans to control the citizens – just as religion requires prohibitions. And it doesn’t matter to the politicians to inflate something and to advance into the area of personal responsibility.
The initiators of the referendum say exactly the opposite, namely: Third parties must be protected from secondhand smoke to which they are involuntarily exposed – not by personal responsibility, that is.
If secondhand smoke really was harmful, even I would fight for the law.
You write that no illness caused by passive smoking would be prevented by this proposed amendment . How do you know?
You know that from just the relative risk of passive smoking. The relative risk of 1.16 is an overall risk for all sorts of factors, but so far no one has succeeded in separating secondhand smoke from them.
According to your theory, the term Passive Smoking is wrong, because it implies that someone smokes – and smoking is undisputedly harmful.
The word comes from the Third Reich, where the Nazis had already taken action against the so-called Passivrauchen (passive smoking), and the word remains in use today.
The opponents of the initiative ask people to be rational. They point to “serious consequences” for trade and industry. As a long-time director of the Prevention Research at the German trade association Food and Restaurants you could observe the corresponding consequences for the hospitality industry. Are the fears of the Swiss opponents of the initiative reasonable?
No question. The WHO denies though that smoking bans have economic consequences. But look at Ireland, England, France. Also in Germany thousands of pubs had to close down – even though in Germany the law is not as strict by far as the one that the Lung League wants for Switzerland.
Let’s take a look across the Atlantic to the U.S., where as a smoker one is often regarded with contempt, to the extent that there is any opportunity at all to light a cigarette. In other social spheres the West nowadays follows the U.S. less than before. With respect to smoking, do we still?
The trend goes in this direction, when one observes how doggedly health organizations are fighting. I’m afraid that in the near future smoking bans in homes and cars will be demanded over here, too.
And who’s turn will it be after the smokers? The overweight? The people who drink alcohol? The car drivers?
That’s a good question. If you add up the deaths caused by smoking, diet, and alcohol, you get more people than actually died – that means, apparently there are only these causes of death. And they’re all from the sector of personal responsibility. Everything else is left out.
Thus healthy living people are immortal?
(laughing) This impression is conveyed by health organizations, medicine, and press, yes. Probably the obese are the next. If you smoke less you gain weight. And the rate of diabetes is higher for stouter people. The fight against unhealthy diet is already in full swing.
What will our world look like in a few decades, when there won’t be smoking and obese people any more?
I’ve not yet thought that far. But there is a danger that the views of the health apostles will survive. I myself won’t be alive then.
Actually, the conversation would have ended here, but there still was a question – from the photographer, a father of four children, and a smoker. He asked: Until now, I’ve always gone out to the balcony to smoke. Can I smoke inside from now on?
We examined working people, not children, so I advise you to search other studies for the effects of passive smoking on children. But one thing I can tell you: Most people of my age grew up in smokers households – and a great many of them are still living, some even very well.