Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tobacco Control Scientists and Advocates Respond to My Challenge; However, They Respond With Personal Attacks and Insults; No Scientific Substance

Tuesday, I issued the following challenge to TobaccoScam (run by Dr. Stanton Glantz) and other anti-smoking advocates and organizations that have publicly defended the claim made by Action on Smoking and Health that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure puts a nonsmoker at the same risk of a fatal heart attack as an active smoker:

"Either provide the evidence to back up ASH's assertion that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure increases the fatal heart attack risk of nonsmokers to the same level as active smokers, or else apologize to me for having improperly suggested that I am criticizing anti-smoking organizations for no valid reason."

"I am challenging TobaccoScam, as well as other advocates and anti-smoking groups which have attacked me for criticizing what I believe are highly deceptive public communications, to provide evidence of each of the following:
1. Please document that the CDC has warned that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure increases a nonsmoker's risk of suffering a fatal heart attack to the same level as that of active smokers. 2. Please provide the scientific evidence to back up the assertion that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure increases a nonsmoker's risk of suffering a fatal heart attack to the same level as that of active smokers."

As a reminder, here is ASH's statement: "Even for people without such respiratory conditions, breathing drifting tobacco smoke for even brief periods can be deadly. For example, the Centers for Disease Controls [CDC] has warned that breathing drifting tobacco smoke for as little as 30 minutes (less than the time one might be exposed outdoors on a beach, sitting on a park bench, listening to a concert in a park, etc.) can raise a nonsmoker's risk of suffering a fatal heart attack to that of a smoker."

Unfortunately, I received no substantive response to this challenge. No anti-smoking advocate or group has defended ASH's claim by providing evidence either that CDC has warned that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure increases a nonsmoker's risk of suffering a fatal heart attack to the same level as that of active smokers or that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure increases a nonsmoker's risk of suffering a fatal heart attack to the same level as that of active smokers.

Not a shred of scientific evidence has been provided or put forward to support this scientific statement made by ASH.

In lieu of scientific evidence that I am wrong in my criticism of this statement, I did receive a number of personal attacks and insults. In other words, rather than address the scientific issue under discussion, TobaccoScam decided to instead engage in character assassination.

Here are some excerpts from Dr. Glantz' response to my challenge:

"I am now done with Mike Siegel and his blog." (source)

"I view him as a tragic figure - he has completely lost it. His view is that everybody in the tobacco control movement is corrupt and misguided except for him. You have to be careful what you say to preserve credibility in academic circles, and he is not doing that." (source)

Another very prominent anti-smoking advocate wrote: "His [Alex Beam's] embrace of Mike Siegel, unfortunately, speaks for itself." Notably, this advocate failed to even address the issue of whether the scientific argument I am making is valid or not.

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is that the tobacco control movement seems unable to respond to arguments regarding the science of secondhand smoke in a substantive way. The only method of response known to the movement to respond to challenges to any statements being made by anti-smoking groups is to attack the scientist who stands in disagreement.

Apparently, the playbook directs anti-smoking advocates to avoid, at all cost, any substantive discussion of the science used to support the need for smoking bans. That is in the territory of gospel truth, and it cannot be challenged. If it is, the scientist who disagrees needs to be personally attacked and publicly discredited. The playbook calls for character assassination, not substantive discussion of the science. The interpretation of the science by anti-smoking groups is simply not on the table for discussion.

Let me make one thing very clear. The issue up for discussion is not whether or not I have completely lost it, partially lost it, or not lost it at all. I admit that makes for an interesting discussion, but it is in no way relevant to the issue of whether the fatal heart attack risk of a nonsmoker exposed to secondhand smoke for 30 minutes is as high as that of an active smoker. Whether I've lost it or not does not provide evidence to support such an assertion.

There are interesting arguments on both sides of the debate, by the way, over whether I've lost it or not. I certainly can provide some quite incriminating and damning evidence for the former.

But what's most fascinating to me is that so far, no one - not a single anti-smoking advocate, researcher, or group - has provided a shred of evidence that if a nonsmoker is exposed to secondhand smoke for 30 minutes, his or her risk of dying from a heart attack rises to the level of risk of a fatal heart attack for an active smoker. So far, this seems to be a one-sided debate. No evidence has been advanced to support the other side.

I think it's unfortunate that these anti-smoking groups and advocates are so baseless in their claims that they cannot summon up even a single piece of evidence to support their position, and instead, they have to attack my character.

They also have to resort to mis-stating my position. I have never argued that any anti-smoking organizations are corrupt. I've simply argued that some anti-smoking organizations are wrong in their representation of certain aspects of the science regarding the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke. I'm not alleging any corruption; I'm simply alleging that there is scientific inaccuracy. I've also never confirmed that I am not corrupt, or that I am not misguided.

I do, however, agree that if you work in tobacco control, you have to be careful what you say. Because if you say something that is in disagreement with the established wisdom of the movement, if you say something that goes against the party line, you have just thrown your tobacco control career to the wolves. It's true. You do that and you instantly lose all credibility in tobacco control academic circles (luckily, not in all other academic circles).

As my credibility within the tobacco control academic circle has decreased, my credibility within the non-tobacco control academic circle has greatly increased. It is a tradeoff that I believe is well worth making.

The response of the other prominent anti-smoking advocate who I heard from is also typical of the anti-smoking playbook: attack the person who disagrees with the party line, but by no means address the actual substance of that person's argument.

Here, the fact that Alex Beam has highlighted this story immediately discredits me, regardless of whether my argument is valid or not. I am guilty merely by association. Merely by having been quoted by Alex Beam, I am automatically discredited and ostracized from the tobacco control scientific community.

I simply don't see the damage that would be done by admitting that a statement made by a particular anti-smoking group is wrong. Look - we all make mistakes and there is no reason why ASH is not allowed to make a mistake in one of their communications. But when this happens and it is so blatant, the leaders of the anti-smoking movement have to be willing to admit that it is an error. To defend grossly misleading distortion of the science is actually worse than the original mistake.

While I understand that in the short run, it may not be advantageous to reveal the truth, in the long run it is going to destroy the tobacco control movement to risk its credibility like this. This is why I am fighting so hard for the truth. It's to preserve the movement and its effectiveness in continuing to address the leading cause of preventable death in this nation.

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