The Passive Smoking Scare: When Ruling Class Propaganda Masquerades as Science

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One of the
main news
items for today is yet another report on passive smoking. This one
was published by the World Health Organisation, and claims that,
every year and all over the world, 603,000 non-smokers die from
inhaling the tobacco smoke of others. A third of these, it adds,
are children, and they are often exposed to smoke in their homes.
These conclusions are based on looking at deaths during 2004 in
192 countries.

Science
or Propaganda?

As science,
this Report
is worthless. Common sense alone should tell us that. Its purpose,
beyond any reasonable doubt, is not to describe the world, but to
justify the power of those who rule the world. It is meant to justify
taxes and other aggressions against the masses, and to justify the
employment of an army of clients. Modern states have no precedent
in the scale of what they can steal, and no single ideology is nowadays
sufficient to legitimise what they do. But the anti-smoking movement
is an important strand in the coalition of forces that comprise
the managerial state. Together with political correctness, environmentalism,
health and safety, and a general desire to regulate every aspect
of our lives, the war against tobacco is an equivalent of the obsession
with religious conformity or the passion for big military establishments
that legitimised earlier ruling classes.

For evidence,
look at this quotation from the BBC
coverage
of the Report:

"This
helps us understand the real toll of tobacco," said Armando
Peruga, of the WHO's Tobacco-Free Initiative, who led the study.

The name alone
of this organisation tells us that the Report is propaganda. The
Tobacco-Free Initiative
was no more likely to find against passive
smoking than the Roman Catholic Church is to find against the Divinity
of Christ. Then there are the recommendations of the Report. These
are

that the
provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
should be enforced immediately to create complete smoke-free environments
in all indoor workplaces, public places, and on public transport.
[p7 of the Report]

It is accepted
that a ban on smoking at home is for the moment unenforceable. But
the Report continues:

[T]hese policies
contribute decisively to denormalise smoking, and help with the
approval and implementation of other policies that reduce tobacco
demand, such as increased tobacco taxes and a comprehensive ban
of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship. [ibid.]

It is all entirely
predictable. The Report is one more work of anti-smoking propaganda.
The final objective is a world where no one smokes. This is to be
achieved one step at a time. If it cannot yet be banned in the home,
smoking can be banned everywhere else. When I heard the wireless
coverage this morning, I dismissed the Report out of hand. Now that
I have read it, I am in no doubt of its nature.

However, since
I have taken the trouble to read it, I might as well explain why
the Report is worthless in its specific claims about the 603,000
deaths from passive smoking.

Proving
the Danger of Active Smoking

I will begin
by noting that around 60 million people are said to have died in
2004. Of this number, 603,000 is around one per cent. Most governments
are incapable of collecting even the more obvious vital statistics.
Probably most African governments have no idea how many people die
of diseases like tuberculosis or malaria — and these are direct
causes of death. Probably, they have no real idea of how many people
are born or die every year. Expecting there to be reliable statistics
about passive smoking — which is only said to be a cause of other
causes of death — from even a minority of the 192 countries surveyed
requires heroic faith in the honesty and competence of people notorious
for their incompetence and dishonesty. Indeed, the Report does not
claim reliable statistics. It admits that

[f]or countries
without survey data about second-hand smoke, exposure was modelled.
[p.3 of the Report]

That is, the
figures were guessed. Anyone who has followed the debate over "climate
change" will know that facts derived from computer modelling
are at best doubtful.

But, numbers
aside, I really doubt if there is reason to suppose that passive
smoking is a cause of other causes of death. Even for active smoking,
the evidence of harm is rather weak. It seems reasonable to say
that inhaling large amounts of vegetable smoke does the lungs no
good. But it is very hard to say what long-term harm it does. Once
we look beyond the propagandistic claim that smoking is the biggest
preventable cause of fatal illnesses, we see only a mass of conjectures.
Because we have been able to observe their entire progress, we know
the causes of tuberculosis and malaria. We have been able to gather
data and make and test hypotheses. We are not in this position where
heart disease and lung cancer are concerned. These appear to have
long preparatory stages, during which no symptoms are shown. Tracing
them back to any particular cause has not so far been possible.

After sixty
years of research into the effect of active smoking, the best anyone
has found are possible correlations. They are no more than possible
correlations because they are based on three inherently weak methods
of investigation.

First,
there are cohort studies. Two groups of people are taken, the only
significant difference between them being that one is comprised
of smokers and the other is not. These groups are then followed
through life, and periodically questioned, and their rates of cancer
in old age are compared. This method is unreliable because people
often lie about their behaviour, or are not able to keep accurate
records of it. Unlike with tuberculosis and malaria, direct observation
is replaced by questionnaire research. Also, it is possible for
other important variables to be overlooked.

Second,
there are case studies. Here, people who already have cancer are
asked whether they smoked in the past, and how heavily. This method
is still more unreliable. There are the same problems of evidence
based on self-reporting, and there is the same possibility that
other variables may be ignored. There is the further problem that
not everyone asked will agree to answer questions about past lifestyle.
The result is a biassed sample.

Third,
there are ecologic studies. Here, exposure is estimated to a possible
cause of illness, and then matched against incidence of the illness.
When plainly stated, this method is obviously defective. No individuals
are approached or tested. All that happens is that large statistics
are brought together to see what emerges. Imagine this possible
case:

In London three
people per 100,000 die of lung diseases. In Teheran, 12 people per
100,000 die of lung diseases. In Iran, lead is allowed in petrol,
but not in Britain. From this, we conclude that lead in petrol increases
deaths from lung disease by up to 400 per cent.

Such a claim
should never be made or accepted. It takes no account of any other
differences between London and Teheran — the climate, the amount
of industry in each city, the age and racial profile of each city,
the standards of medical treatment, and so forth. The only advantage
of ecologic studies is that, assuming the underlying statistics
are themselves grounded in reality, they do reveal correlations.

But, whether
strong or weak, correlation is not the same as cause. Correlations
may inspire hypotheses about cause, but do not themselves establish
cause. Saying, on the basis of any of the three methods, that smoking
causes cancer is about as valid as claiming that, because most drivers
who crash their cars have eaten bread that day, bread causes motor
accidents.

The Danger
of Passive Smoking

Now, I have
so far discussed the possibility of a link between active smoking
and heart disease or lung cancer. While they may not be reliable,
it is possible to speak of correlations. Allowing for different
rates of absorption, we do know what concentration of substances
one cigarette puts into the lungs. We can also discover very roughly
how many cigarettes some people smoke or did once smoke. But there
is no standard measurement of how much secondary tobacco smoke non-smokers
may inhale. There are too many obvious variations — size of room,
ventilation, how many cigarettes smoked in the room, how long spent
in the room, and so on and so on. As with active smoking, research
depends on asking questions of people. A man may be able to say
how many cigarettes he smoked each week in 1998. What can he say
about the density of the cigarette smoke in the pub where he used
to drink?

To be fair,
the authors of the Report do quietly admit the worthlessness of
their efforts:

There are
uncertainties inherent in any assessment of this type. These limitations
include uncertainties in: the underlying health data; the exposure
data; the choice of study population (particularly the exclusion
of potential effects in smokers); the effect sizes and their transferability
to other populations and exposure conditions; the burden of active
smoking (deduced from the total burden before estimation of the
burden from second-hand smoke); and the susceptibility of ex-smokers.
Estimation of exposure is one of the weaknesses of this approach
because of the gaps in data for specific regions, the age-groups
that had to be completed by modelling, and the variations in definitions
of exposure across available studies. [p.7 of the Report]

But none of
this seems to have found its way into any of the Tobacco-Free Initiative
news releases or any of the news reports. The authors were given
a brief. Except where children are concerned, claims about primary
smoking have usually been flattened by arguments about free choice.
It may be that smokers harm themselves, but that is their business.
The whole passive smoking scare seems to have been manufactured
as a way of showing that smokers harm others. This justifies oppression
on the formally liberal grounds of protecting third parties from
harm. The authors of this Report have argued their brief as best
they could, regardless of their not knowing what is actually meant
by passive smoking.

What is
to be Done?

Hostile reviews
of anti-smoking propaganda often conclude by accusing the body in
question of wasting the tax-payers' money, and calling for reforms
to its management. I think this shows a lack of understanding. So
far as our various rulers are concerned, the Tobacco-Free Initiative
has not been a waste of money. Nor are all the other research projects
and campaigns of other bodies. It is a central purpose of these
bodies to lie to us about the dangers of smoking. Those who work
for them are selected for their ability to conduct biased research
and to dress up the resulting propaganda as scientific fact.

There is no
point in demanding changes to the present health establishment.
Expecting these people to start telling the truth is as naïve
as expecting an estate agency to start offering driving lessons.

The only way
to stop this flood of propaganda and lifestyle regulation is to
shut all the relevant bodies down — to kick everyone employed by
them unpensioned into the street, and to burn all the records. It
may be that the wholesale research cuts I have in mind would deprive
us of some incidentally true and even useful knowledge. But living
in a freer world, where truth was more respected, would doubtless
compensate for the loss.

December
14, 2010

Sean
Gabb [send him mail]
is the author of Smoking, Class and the Legitimation of Power.
His book, Cultural Revolution,
Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back
,
can be downloaded for free. See his
website.

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