It has been said that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will begin to believe it. That adage has served the anti-smoking zealots well.
We are told repeatedly that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke results in the annual deaths of 46,000 nonsmokers due to heart disease and 3,000 from lung cancer. The problem with these numbers is that they are not true.
When a substance is studied for adverse health affects, it is rated by Relative Risk and Confidence Intervals. Relative risk is determined by establishing a baseline as to how common a condition is in the real world. Studies that show a Relative Risk of 1.0 indicate no increased risk while numbers greater than 1.0 indicate increased risk (numbers less than 1.0 indicate decreased risk). In addition, a Confidence Interval is used to predict the precision of the Relative Risk. Usually a Confidence Interval of 95 percent is used. This means that the odds of the study results occurring by chance or due to random variables are 5 percent or less.
The infamous EPA study that classified ETS as a Class A carcinogen used a Confidence Interval of 90 percent, which effectively doubled the usually acceptable margin of error. The Relative Risk determined in this study for ETS was 1.19. Usually a Relative Risk of 2.0 is needed to support a cause-effect relationship and a Relative Risk of 3.0 is preferred. According to the National Cancer Institute, "Relative risks of less than 2 are considered small and are usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias or the effect of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident." The Relative Risk calculated by EPA studies for the consumption of chlorinated tap water is 1.5 -- higher than exposure to ETS -- but still considered an insignificant risk.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald
The EPA wanted to classify ETS as a carcinogen and did everything in its power to do so. Its conclusions were released before its study was completed, and when the results did not support the preconceived conclusions, the agency manipulated the data and increased the margin of error to bring validity to their conclusions.
In 1998, a North Carolina Judge named William Osteen vacated the EPA study declaring it, in effect, null and void. In his 92-page decision he wrote, "First, there is evidence in the record supporting the accusation that EPA cherry picked its data."
Judge Osteen also stated that, "the record and EPA's explanations to the court make it clear that using standard methodology, EPA could not produce statistically significant results with its selected studies."
The EPA managed to get Judge Osteen's decision overturned on a technicality -- that Judge Osteen's court did not have jurisdiction. The EPA, however, did not refute any of the comments in Judge Osteen's decision.
Another study being touted by those attempting to ban public smoking is the Helena study, which concluded that heart attacks in Helena, Mont., dropped by 40 percent during a six-month period when a smoking ban was in effect.
This is another discredited study. In actuality, the only drop in heart attacks occurred during the first three months of the ban but returned to previous levels in the second three months. Similar dips in heart attack rates were seen before the smoking ban but were not included in the study.
Henry Mizgala, emeritus professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, is one of many leading doctors and epidemiologists who spoke out against this study. He stated, "This is, in my opinion, gross misrepresentation designed to provide maximal public impact in furthering the biased and unscientific opinions of these authors. This so-called study does not even come close to meeting the basic criteria of a properly executed scientific study."
In conclusion, it is logical to seek to ban smoking due to many factors, odor, nuisance, etc. However, justifying such bans based on junk science and fear is inexcusable.
This weekly column features opposing views from readers. These opinions are contrary to those expressed on this page or which otherwise take issue with something that appears in The Herald. All commentaries submitted become the property of The Herald and may be republished in any format.