Friday, November 03, 2006

IN MY VIEW: Discussion of Secondhand Smoke Health Effects Not Possible in Tobacco Control Movement

That is the lesson that I have learned this week. You simply cannot challenge statements made about the health effects of secondhand smoke. Even if you are speaking from within the movement and have contributed a fair amount to that science. Even if advocates and groups continue to cite your own work widely, side by side with the alleged inaccurate or misleading claims.

Several months ago, a number of readers asked why I chose to write publicly about the misleading claims that anti-smoking groups are making, rather than keeping the information internal and confronting the organizations directly. Now you can see why the latter approach is of no use. The groups are simply not interested in hearing about it. They are not interested in discussing it. They are not interested in the strength of the documentation behind their claims.

You see - anything that interferes with the ability of the groups to wage their campaigns is viewed as an unnecessary distraction. Or worse, it is seen as heresy. I get attacked by colleagues every time I do something like this. To dare to challenge the statements that are being made by anti-smoking groups is simply not allowed. It doesn't matter whether there are strong scientific grounds for offering such a challenge. The challenge itself is viewed as inappropriate.

It still surprises me that months and months after having brought these issues to the attention of the tobacco control community, there is essentially no discussion of this issue within the movement. There's no interest in such a discussion and frankly, right now I don't think such a discussion is possible.

So does it make any sense for me to continue bringing these issues to the attention of groups that don't want to hear about it, or is it time to bring this to the public's attention instead?

Moreover, not a single anti-smoking group has corrected its statements in response to my pointing out their scientific inaccuracies. So what's the point of continuing to bang my head against the wall? At this point, I think it makes more sense to make my appeal directly to the public.

If I sound disappointed, it's because I am. If you were wondering why I didn't post for a day and a half, it's because I was distraught. It is not easy to continue pushing for scientific integrity in a movement that seems to have no interest in that. And to sustain personal attacks from colleagues every time I do speak out.

I've never seen anything like this. Even those who I would have considered "enemies" have always treated me with greater respect than many of my colleagues have over the past few months.

The funny thing is that if I were to put out a commentary tomorrow stating that the scientific evidence supports the contention that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke increases heart attack risk, it would make the rounds and would be disseminated widely throughout the movement by the end of the day. I've learned that it's not the quality of the science you produce that gains respect in this movement, it's how favorable your research is to the cause.

I'm not disappointed because I think I'm right in my questioning of these fallacious or misleading claims. I'm actually disappointed because I haven't been shown to be wrong. It's the silence on the substance of my scientific arguments that I find unacceptable. I'd love to be shown wrong in my arguments. At this point, I'd settle for any discussion of the scientific issues.

It's clear, however, that it will not happen. It isn't about the science, I've found out. It's about allegiance to the cause, in spite of the science.

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