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EXCERPT from the preface to the book "Passivrauchen - Dokumentation eines Phänomens" ("Passive Smoking - Documentation of a Phenomena"), 1999


"Passive smoking" (also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) or second-hand smoke) has been a popular subject among politicians, scientists and the media for at least twenty years. Wherever tobacco is consumed, particularly in the form of cigarettes, ETS is at least the subject of discussion. Some countries have introduced laws and regulations to protect their citizens from tobacco smoke that are considered too strict by the people concerned (smokers and non-smokers alike). "Passive smoking" is a major issue for institutions with a good reputation – for example the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

A substantial proportion of their resources is spent on studying the subject and publishing their conclusions (this book and CD document in detail how they do this, what instruments they use and much more besides).

Anyone who works scientifically and/or prepares content for publication professionally will at least partly agree with the author on the following.

There are areas in which our knowledge grows larger, the longer we focus on them. Questions are asked and answered; hypotheses are advanced and either confirmed or rejected; certainly, the body of established knowledge increases. The history of medicine has many examples of this. It is good practice in the USA that specialized institutions document the state of the art and, in particular, record how the knowledge was arrived at. Once a consensus is found, such knowledge can the be regarded as reliable.

However, precisely the opposite can also happen in certain circumstances: the more intensely a subject is examined, the greater the feeling of confusion becomes if no clear, unequivocal picture emerges. Instead of a result that has been reached scientifically and is objectively comprehensible by definition, scientists are tormented by even more questions after they have completed their work than they were before they started. The amount of effort still needed to achieve the desired degree of clarity seems limitless, and there is a fear that, if they continue working, they will arte legis again be confronted by insurmountable difficulties and irritating inconsistencies.

In the author's view, the issue of environmental tobacco smoke lies somewhere between these two extremes. Many of the issues connected with ETS are not as clear as they should be – and could be. Some of the effects attributed to "passive smoking" are perfectly correct; others are doubtful and some downright wrong. Well-meant warnings go badly awry if they are based on invented data.

This is where the quick thinkers among the readers might be inclined to draw over-hasty conclusions: for example that the author does not take to ETS seriously enough, or perhaps that he takes it much too seriously, and so on. Anyone who puts "passive smoking" in quotation marks probably wants to play it down, or else dramatize it.

None of this is the case. What the author wants to do is to present what really is an extraordinarily difficult and complex topic in such a way that any reader of the book and user of the CD can look into the topic seriously. This is certainly not meant to imply that other authors have not worked on the subject seriously. But here is a work that enables the reader to approach the subject of ETS in a way that is qualitatively unique (as far as the author is aware).

 (What follows is a description of the documentation and the techniques used)

Use of the term ETS is becoming almost inflationary, yet the term is anything but practicable, since it is used to describe very different events, results and circumstances. A thousand discussions on ETS do not mean that one and the same subject has been talked about a thousand times, but perhaps that 900 subjects have been discussed that are not necessarily comparable.

Like the word "addiction", use of the term "ETS" has substantial consequences, particularly for the people affected. What might appear to some to be so much academic squabbling – like the discussion on definitions and their application arte legis – can often be a matter of life or death for real "addicts" or "passive smokers".


Hans-Joachim Maes


Berlin, November 1999


All files from CD-ROM 'WHO Scandal'
© Hans-Joachim Maes and W+D Wissenschaft + Dokumentation GmbH, Berlin, 2001