A splendid example of “political” science

This paper is not dissimilar from the very numerous ones that are part of the “mountain of evidence” about passive smoke. It is, in fact the usual, roundabout paper that takes hypotheses as facts, and builds a rationale on them to justify the adoption of smoking bans and the violation of private commercial property.

For example: it calls “persuasive” a 20-30% relative risk elevation, and then it proceeds from there as if that insignificant percentage were proof of causality; it considers ventilation options — but just as a cosmetic to demonstrate that there is no safe exposure to ETS, whose infinitesimal amounts of toxics are portrayed to be so dangerous; only a “storm” could remove them, thus making ventilation impractical — thus it must follow that the only way is banning smoking totally. About ventilation, it is stated that “Of proposed new technology, displacement ventilation is viewed as having the potential for a 90% reduction in ETS levels but even this would still leave exposure levels 1,500 to 2,500 times the acceptable risk level for hazardous air pollutants” — but no reference to such “acceptable” levels is provided, maybe expecting that the scientific reader makes an act of faith in the good will and disinterest of the authors. Incidentally, that statement is in stark contradiction with previous direct measurements of ETS pollutants, which clearly demonstrated that, in order to pass the threshold of safe toxic exposure, quantities ranging from 1,170 to 1,000,000 cigarettes must be smoked in a sealed room of 100 m3 (http://www.forcesitaly.org/italy/download/gori-mantel.pdf).

The study then uses the presence of cotinine (a harmless compound) in people as a marker for exposure, thus “demonstrating” that there is indeed exposure (we knew that without the need of any study), providing a vast list of the ETS components, but still failing to provide substantial evidence in any way, shape or form that the exposure to the infinitesimal quantities of those components causes harm. Nevertheless, the study proceeds building on the hypothesis that ETS is harmful no matter what, enumerating lists of other studies and charts of studies as reference – lists that totally ignore any and all study that found no association with disease or did not reach statistical significance (that is, the overwhelming majority of them) making a mockery of scientific methodology. The studies that have been ignored, in fact, do not serve the purpose of the paper, which seems to be the provision of a pseudo-scientific base for the political banning smoking on grounds that are disguised as “public health.”

Moreover, this “study” utterly fails to enlighten the reader on two fundamental points – apparently confirming the hypothesis that this study is not to establish IF ETS is harmful, but to convince the reader that banning smoking in public is the only way possible to preserve public health:

  • The basic principle of toxicology: “Mere exposure does not equate to toxicity; it’s the dose that makes the poison”;
  • The existence of any threshold of toxic exposure.

Rather, it makes sweeping statements such as “The evidence is highly persuasive of a causal relationship between ETS in the workplace and lung cancer”. Those statements may indeed appeal to emotions and sensationalism, but they provide no causality whatsoever — in fact, in the text there is the usual, vast constellation of “may” (mentioned 41 times in the document), “could” (12 times), “should” (23 times, of which 11 applied to the evidence), “suggests” and “suggestive” (12 times), “possible” and “possibly” (22 times), and so on. Such terminology is highly representative of the solidity of the “mountain of evidence” against passive smoke throughout.

Indeed the authors may not have any direct vested interest with pharmaceutical or tobacco industries as they claim in the document — but the study has been commissioned by the “Health and Safety Authority and the Office of Tobacco Control, Ireland, to identify and report on the degree of consensus that exists among leading international scientific authorities on the question of the hazard and risk posed by environmental tobacco smoke to human health in the workplace”. Two considerations come to mind:

  • Firstly, the entity footing the bill for the study is called “Tobacco Control,” which leaves very little doubt about the lean of such entity on the tobacco issue – hardly a neutral party — and therefore on the expectations from the study it pays for. The degree of objectivity and credibility is therefore not dissimilar from what can be expected from a study commissioned by McDonald’s on the nutritional value of its hamburgers, or by the Philip Morris of the past about the harmlessness of its products – unless, of course, we choose to believe that public health authorities are insensitive to the pressure of pharmaceutical lobby groups, and other special interest groups.
  • Second it is quite obvious that in 2002 the health authorities of Ireland were already under heavy political pressure by pharmaceutically-sponsored international groups to ban smoking, thus they were pressed to the quick generation of “domestic evidence” to politically justify the implementation of an already-made political decision on prohibition.

Finally, the fatal flaw on the credibility on this study (let alone the shaky scientific grounds) is in its opening lines, repeated here: “[to] Identify and report on the degree of consensus that exists among leading international scientific authorities on the question of the hazard and risk posed by environmental tobacco smoke to human health in the workplace.” That means that not only we depart from the unproven postulation that ETS is a risk for human health, but we intentionally confuse science with democracy for politicians’ and public’s consumption! We know as a scientific and epidemiological fact that 30% risk elevation does not even prove the EXISTENCE of the risk when multi-factorial diseases are involved (elevation required to establish the existence of a risk: 200-300%) – let alone whether the risk may actually turn into a disease or death. That reality is also confirmed, as already mentioned, by the infinitesimal amounts of toxic components in ETS, all well below the Threshold Limit Value (TLV), the industrial threshold of exposure on the workplace set forth by the United States.

In conclusion, this study is once again the confirmation of the deceptive scientific philosophy generally sponsored by pharmaceutical multinationals, lobbied and disseminated by special interest groups, promoted by incompetent and sensation-prone media, and embraced by “public health” politicians. According to this “philosophy,” if the majority of “scientists” expresses a “consensus” that 2 + 2 = 3, that must constitute the basis for policies, taxation, prohibition and segregation, without any verification of the database and rationale, nor any question whatsoever on the integrity or competence of those who propose the equation – taken as granted in virtue of their “authority” and academic position.

Download poster


  • "Es ist schwieriger, eine vorgefaßte Meinung zu zertrümmern als ein Atom."
    (Het is moeilijker een vooroordeel aan flarden te schieten dan een atoom.)
    Albert Einstein

  • "Als je alles zou laten dat slecht is voor je gezondheid, dan ging je kapot"
    Anonieme arts

  • "The effects of other people smoking in my presence is so small it doesn't worry me."
    Sir Richard Doll, 2001

  • "Een leugen wordt de waarheid als hij maar vaak genoeg wordt herhaald"
    Joseph Goebbels, Minister van Propaganda, Nazi Duitsland

  • "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
    Mahatma Gandhi

  • "There''s no such thing as perfect air. If there was, God wouldn''t have put bristles in our noses"
    Coun. Bill Clement

  • "Better a smoking freedom than a non-smoking tyranny"
    Antonio Martino, Italiaanse Minister van Defensie

  • "If smoking cigars is not permitted in heaven, I won't go."
    Mark Twain

  • I've alllllllways said that asking smokers "do you want to quit?" and reporting the results of that question, as is, is horribly misleading. It's a TWO part question. After asking if one wants to quit it must be followed up with "Why?" Ask why and the majority of the answers will be "because I'm supposed to" (victims of guilt and propaganda), not "because I want to."
    Audrey Silk, NYCCLASH