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Betrayal by government should have us smokin'

By Kathleen Parker, Tribune Media Services Copyright 1998 Chicago Tribune July 22, 1998


Everybody knows it. Breathing secondhand smoke kills non-smokers. Except that now, it seems, maybe it doesn't.

A North Carolina federal judge ruled Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency's 1993 report declaring environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) a Class A carcinogen was wrong.

The report was conducted improperly, he said, and the science was lousy. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Osteen wrote: "EPA publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun . . . adjusted established procedure and scientific norms to validate the agency's public conclusion, and aggressively utilized . . . authority to disseminate findings to establish a de facto regulatory scheme intended to restrict plaintiff's (the tobacco industry) products and to influence public opinion."

Which finding poses a troubling question for Americans: Whom can you trust?

Not the tobacco industry, of course. Corporate America is always suspect, but tobacco is especially, given recent admissions to having ignored or concealed findings related to nicotine addiction.

Not smoking activists, who have said that even though science doesn't necessarily support them, the end of stopping people from smoking justifies the means of bending the truth.Longtime anti-smoking activist Stanton Glantz, a University of California at San Francisco professor, summed it up nicely in 1990 at the Seventh World Conference on Tobacco and Health: "the main thing the science has done on the issue of ETS, in addition to help (ing) people like me pay mortgages, is it has legitimized the concerns that people have that they don't like cigarette smoke. And that needs to be harnessed and used . . . we are all on a roll and the bastards are on the run and I urge you to keep chasing them."

Not the media, some of whose members in recent weeks have apologized for everything from inventing facts and people to reporting events that may not have happened after all.

The betrayals of activists and corporate heads needn't disturb one's sleep. Both groups are driven by agendas, and both, ultimately, are motivated by money. Americans expect as much. The betrayals of media are more disturbing given that trust and credibility are imperative to the media's effectiveness.

Contrary to public opinion, most media people aren't agenda-driven. Most don't care who gets elected or how many papers sell--the majority are pathetically underpaid no matter how well the publisher eats. More to the point, they care about getting a good story, which translates into pay raises, better hours and private schools for their kids.

What should be keeping Americans awake nights is the betrayal of government. For the past five years, the federal government has been spreading the word that ETS kills non-smokers.

As a direct consequence of the EPA report, smokers have been banned as pariahs from offices, restaurants and, in some places, bars and sidewalks. Owing to government "proof" that secondhand smoke damages or eventually kills children exposed to it, some kids caught in custody disputes have been deprived of the parent who smokes.

It's one thing to say tobacco smoke exacerbates existing health problems--a claim that can be supported by scientific evidence--but another to say that tobacco smoke is killing people. No good end justifies such damaging means.

The alleged connection between exposure to ETS and development of lung cancer in non-smokers has been tenuous from the start. The EPA report wasn't a study but a "meta-analysis" of several studies, many of which weren't scientifically defensible.

Objective critics point out that most studies included were conducted outside the U.S. where confounding environmental factors weren't considered. Some studies were absurdly small, such that any result would be scientifically irrelevant.

All combined, the studies weren't "statistically significant," the measure scientists use to separate findings that are merely interesting from those that demonstrate a clear association.

In the years since the EPA report, other studies have only added to the confusion. The California EPA produced a study that confirmed the EPA's findings. A new--and reportedly better--study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer found no statistical significance.

Whom can you trust?

That's a question no one can answer, especially not your government. At best, the EPA report, which prompted life-altering judicial and legislative decisions, may be a numbing example of how government can fabricate information and modify behavior while the baffled masses are wondering what's for dessert.

Whom can you trust? Maybe a better question is, what's next?


Copyright 1998 Steven J. Milloy. All rights reserved on original material. Material copyrighted by others is used either with permission or under a claim of "fair use." Site developed and hosted by WestLake Solutions, Inc.

Found on the following Web address March 2005: http://www.junkscience.com/news2/parker.htm

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