PASSIVE SMOKING: THE BIG LIE
Nicholas Farrell argues that the campaign
to ostracise smokers is based on puritanism, propaganda, and Mr Roy Castle
The young woman emerged from the pub onto the streets of Stoke Newington and began to cough, so determined was she to make her point before sailing off to her carefully cling-filmed existence in a flat somewhere. Her point was this: 'Your smoke is bad for my health.'
She explained that she 'used to' be asth- matic and smoke 'brings it on'. But how did she know? 'It just does.' Not on this occasion, however. She had conjured up the cough, pantomime-style, to make her point. Perhaps she should read a 1986 Yale University study which showed not only that passive smoke does not cause asthmatics any respiratory risk — it actual- ly decreases bronchial restriction.
But these days smoking in public places is — as Sherlock Holmes used to say of a particularly difficult case — a two-pipe problem. The smoker, who is not doing anything illegal, is being slowly and surely criminalised.
Laws banning the habit in all public places — except in designated areas — are now in place in a string of countries, most recently France, and last week the Italian government announced it is to follow suit. For designated, read: poky; miles away; ever dwindling. In America, smoking even in private is under threat as companies conduct urine tests on staff for nicotine.
So far in Britain there are no laws except in respect of the London Under- ground, but laws may not be necessary. Rarer and rarer becomes the office where people can smoke without being ostracised, or even sacked, and the discov- ery of an ashtray at a party is like the sight of a blessed font.
As one leading member of the anti- smoking lobby in America has said: 'We're on a roll, and the bastards are on the run.' The writing is on the wall and the words on it are: Passive Smoking. That and Roy Castle.
The television entertainer, aged 60, who sadly contracted lung cancer earlier this year, although he has never smoked, is convinced that his illness was caused by passive smoking after years of playing the trumpet in smoke-filled jazz clubs. His cancer has given him almost as many press cuttings in a year as he has had in his entire career.
Mr Castle is determined to get his mes- sage across that passive smoking causes lung cancer and his conviction goes virtu- ally unchallenged. Nowhere, for example, is it dwelt upon that he had had a 10-year drink problem, probably ate the wrong food regularly, and led such a stressful late-night life that he regularly arrived home at 4 aan• Instead, the headlines say: 'TV Star Who's Never Had a Cigarette Becomes Victim of Passive Smoking.' Reporters write: 'He genuinely believes he has been chosen to have the illness because he alone could make such good use of the chance to save others from secondary smoking' or `Roy has fought valiantly against the dis- ease caused by passive smoking . .
Mr Castle himself says: 'It's up to me now to try my best to make it known. I must keep the ball rolling and educate as many people as possible . . . If you're in contact with a chap smoking 20 cigarettes a day, you effectively inhale 17 of them. It is 50-100 times more dangerous than working in an asbestos room.'
This may be manna from heaven to the anti-smoking lobby, but Mr Castle, who, happily, seems to be beating his illness, is talking pernicious rubbish.
Passive smoking does not cause lung can- cer. Many doctors won't even go that far with smoking. They say smoking is a cause, not the cause, certainly not the only cause of lung cancer. Only 10 per cent of smokers get lung cancer? While it is true that 80 per cent of the 34,000 people who died in Britain from lung cancer in 1990 were smokers, all except 4,000 were aged 60 or over.
It is absurd to claim that contact with a 20-a-day chap is the equivalent of inhaling 17 cigarettes. There have been numerous studies showing that a non-smoker would have to spend between 11 and 50 hours in an extremely smoke-polluted environment to absorb as much nicotine as a smoker takes in from one cigarette — with or with- out a trumpet. The furthest even the Government will go, although firmly in the anti-smoking camp, is to say that passive smoking 'can be
hazardous to health'. This is what, for example, the then Environment Minister, Mr David Trippier, a smoker, said last December when he launched the Govern- ment's code of practice designed to encourage managers and owners of places frequented by the public, such as restau- rants and pubs, to provide non-smoking sections. The Government's 'can be haz- ardous' to health is a long way from 'is hazardous', let alone Mr Castle's 'causes' lung cancer.
But despite this, the Government is responsible for Mr Castle's getting away with his absurd statements. In 1988, it accepted the recommendations of the Froggatt Report on passive smoking by a team of scientists. This report, which looked at the 30 or so studies done to date on the subject, concluded that there was `a small increase in risk of lung cancer from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, in the range of 10 to 30 per cent, though some other workers have, however, argued for a much lower relative risk, or no increased risk at all.'
The report went on to say there 'might be' an extra 'one to three' lung cancer cases a year per 100,000 non-smokers. That meant there 'might be several hun- dred' such cases in all.
Just to put such a risk in perspective it is worth referring to three recent reports on the lung-cancer risks of keeping pet birds
— two of which were published in the British Medical Journal earlier this month.
These suggest that keepers of pigeons and the like are more than twice as likely to get lung cancer than those who do not — and between three and ten times more likely than passive smokers. And while passive smoking 'might' account for a few hundred lung cancer deaths a year some 1 per cent of the total — radon, which occurs naturally, is generally believed to account for between 5 per cent and 15 per cent.
There are a whole host of other con- founding factors. Most of the studies the first was done in 1981 — have concen- trated on non-smoking women married to smoking men and were in the form of questionnaires. But most scientists accept that, particularly when it comes to smok- ing, a lot of people do not tell the truth. Just what does 'smoker' mean? One a week? One once? Twenty a day? Also non-smoking wives/husbands tend to eat food similar to their smoking spouses. Fruit and vegetable diets are known to reduce lung cancer risk. And what of other potentially harmful pollutants? A 1987 Shanghai study found that non-smoking women who cooked with rape-seed oil had an incidence of lung cancer 2.5 times as high as those who cooked with soya-bean oil.
Peter Lee, a statistician and author of one of the reports on passive smoking which found that non-smokers married to smoking spouses were no more likely ther-
by to get lung cancer, says the case for passive smoking being a health risk is 'far from proven'.
He adds: 'That passive smoking has been given so much attention lies not in the strength of the evidence against it, nor in the magnitude of the risks claimed to be associated with it, but because it strength- ens the case of the anti-smoking cam- paigners.
`The medical establishment sees smok- ing as a great evil, and sees evidence of harm from passive smoking as a means of reducing smoking, forcing smokers to resort to smoking in private and causing them to be regarded as social outcasts.
`Such campaigners are not concerned with the accuracy of the scientific evi- dence, and do not care that science itself is degraded, provided that they achieve their goal. There is, in fact, no good scientific evidence that passive smoking causes lung cancer, but this is not the impression one gets from the medical profession and the anti-smoking lobby.'
Nevertheless, the Froggatt Report rec- ommended more publicity should be given to the risk of lung cancer from other peo- ple's smoke. The Government duly obliged. And in the wake have come all the smoking policies in places of work and pleasure and the prospect of a most pecu- liar form of apartheid.
Prior to the invention passive smoking, the contest was fairly even. Tobacco smoke may have irritated anti-smokers, but many things in life about other people irritate. Smoking may be bad for smokers, but that is surely up to them. After all, the last thing on the mind of anti-smokers is the health of a smoker. Their real objec- tion is that they cannot stand cigarette smoke. This is partly for reasons of smell and partly out of a puritanical fervour. This is made quite clear in the publicity material put out by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), the anti-smoking lobby, which receives half its £500,000 annual running costs from the Govern- ment. Its subscription form is headlined: `If you're annoyed by the nuisance of other people's smoke or concerned by the damage smoking causes to health, you should become a supporter of ASH.'
But we live in a society supposedly based on freedom of choice. So the argu- ments of the anti-smokers didn't really wash until the antis could come up with the perfect retort: `You have the right to kill yourself but not us.' The reason why the Government is so keen to back the passive smoking health hazard line is not difficult to fathom, though it is cleverly submerged. Mrs Virginia Bottomley in her `Health of the Nation' white paper, published earlier this year, set out a series of health targets to be achieved by the year 2000 through health promotion by general practitioners and publicity campaigns. These include cut- ting the proportion of smokers from the current 30 per cent — some 17 million adults — by around 10 per cent.
This ought to be no business of govern- ment. It is not for the health service to dish out moral prescription — merely medicine. But Mrs Bottomley and all the rest have in their wisdom decided moral medicine is their province. But the point is that she knows the only way to reduce smoking is not by targeting smokers but non-smokers. No use bom- barding smokers with campaigns warning them of the harm they are doing them- selves. Far better to make them social pari- ahs and outcasts by bombarding non-smokers with the very bogus but pow- erful passive smoking line. Many doctors know precisely what is going on but collude because they want to stamp out smoking, come what may, and feel that the means, any means, justifies the end.
Dr Voss, aged 72, a Danish general prac- titioner and cigar smoker of 50 years, and author of the recently published Smoking and Common Sense, writes: 'It is, however, on the basis of insufficient knowledge that the public at large chooses sides, that good people and school children are brain- washed, that sentiments are worked up, categorical positions become set in stone, emotions mobilised. And it is on this basis that we are given statutes and statutory instruments that penetrate deeply into working life, patterns of behaviour and social conditions, and limit citizens' free- dom to choose themselves.
`My entire family had life-long exposure to tobacco smoke, smoked directly or inhaled in smoke-filled drawing-rooms and bars. None of them had heart trouble and none got lung cancer. They all lived to a great age and to my knowledge never missed work because of illness.
`During these gatherings the rooms were thick with tobacco smoke, and by late evening we children had to take a bearing on the doors from memory, to get to them through the deepening fog.' The right to smoke has been taken away and been replaced with limited permission to smoke. ASH is out there campaigning for 'all public places and work-places to be smoke-free, with separate facilities for smokers where it is practical and desired The Government wants to make smoking bans in public places routine. It is time the bastards' fought back.
Nicholas Farrell is on the staff of the Sunday Telegraph.