Junk Science, #4: The Secondhand Smoke Fraud – Guesswork and Hearsay

cartoon cute girl smoking

As we’ve mentioned previously, secondhand smoke was conjured up by the World Health Organization in the 1970’s as a way to guilt smokers, influence their behavior, and to “justify” laws against them. Studies weren’t actually done on the subject until later. So what methods do such studies rely on?

A truly scientific  epidemiology study on passive smoking would be conducted as follows: Non-smokers would be randomly assigned to groups which were then exposed or not exposed to a measurable quantity of SHS for a length of time long enough for the potential development of disease.

But a scientific experiment such as this is impossible, because it would be not only be unpractical, but unethical.

“Epidemiological observations…have serious disadvantages…They can seldom be made according to the strict requirements of experimental science and therefore may be open to a variety of interpretations. A particular factor may be associated with some disease merely because of its association with some other factor that causes the disease, or the association may be an artifact due to some systematic bias in the information system.”

–The Causes of Cancer, JNCI 66:1192-1312

The purpose of an epidemiology study is supposed to be to determine where “proving-or-disproving” lab work should be done, but again, this crucial step is impossible in secondhand smoke studies. There are no measurements of exposure, there is no lab work, no experiments, and never any proof.

In short, passive smoking studies are not science experiments–they’re surveys.

Instead of measuring peoples’ lifetime exposure to SHS, studies simply rely on the memory of subjects and assume those memories are 100% accurate.  Even if they’re telling the truth as they think they know it, subjects in all likelihood will not accurately remember how many minutes per day they were exposed to SHS twelve years ago–let alone the quantity–yet they’re asked to make such wild estimations anyway.

Worse still, there is no satisfactory way of determining the margin of error from these already tenuous results, nor is there a way to correct for it. In other words, the studies on SHS are based upon guesswork. This is usually glossed over, and peoples’ level of exposure presented to science journals and the public as a precise.

Many surveys aren’t even conducted in person, but over the phone. It gets worse: some of the “subjects” in these “studies” are no longer among the living. Instead, their spouses or relatives are asked to guess, for example:

How many minutes per day was your late husband exposed to secondhand smoke between 1980 and 1984? How many lit cigarettes was he exposed to every four hours during one average day in that time period?

So ask yourself, how accurate could “scientific” studies conducted in this way possibly be? Should public policies really be based on such overtly weak data? And should governments really be telling the public smokers are a deadly threat to others based on this?

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