Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Econ Journal Watch Highlights Debate Over Misrepresentation of the Acute Cardiovascular Effects of Secondhand Smoke

An article by economist Michael L. Marlow, Professor of Economics at California Polytechnic State University, appearing in the May issue of Econ Journal Watch (home page here), highlights the ongoing debate over the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke which I have helped bring to light.

Professor Marlow discusses the paper I published in Epidemiologic Perpsectives and Innovations, in which I analyzed the scientific evidence related to the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke and concluded that numerous anti-smoking organizations are distorting and misrepresenting the scientific evidence in a way that grossly exaggerates the true acute health effects of brief tobacco smoke exposure.

Dr. Marlow writes: "Siegel’s (2007) paper discusses what he refers to as wild claims regarding adverse health effects of second-hand smoke of many pro-ban advocates and discusses how he has been personally attacked for criticizing such claims. ... The claims that Siegel is referring to are contained in his blog and interested readers might be rather surprised at the degree to which Siegel describes the “junking” of epidemiology. In brief, Siegel (2007) has been vehemently attacked for criticizing views of leading anti-tobacco activists on the extent of health risks to non-smokers. Siegel fears: 'The dissemination of inaccurate information by anti-smoking groups to the public in support of smoking bans is unfortunate because it may harm the tobacco control movement by undermining its credibility, reputation, and effectiveness.'"

"A rather public fight is ongoing between Siegel and Stanton Glantz, with the latter one of the leaders of the tobacco control movement and co-author of papers quoted here several times. As quoted in a recent Boston Globe article, Glantz states the following about Siegel: '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.' (Glantz qtd. in Beam 2007)."

Dr. Marlow also discusses the efforts to discredit Dr. James Enstrom of UCLA after he published findings which questioned the relationship of secondhand smoke exposure and lung cancer. As I highlighted here, Dr. Enstrom was falsely accused by the American Cancer Society of scientific misconduct.

The Rest of the Story

This is a very interesting article and I find it fascinating to observe how someone who really started out with only a passing interest in the tobacco science and policy debate slowly came to the appreciation that some inappropriate tactics are being used by the anti-tobacco movement. Most imporantly, the article discusses the false accusations that have been made against a number of researchers and the threats of career harm that may inhibit tobacco researchers from expressing opinions that run counter to those of the established dogma in tobacco control.

On a personal note, I do have to object to Dr. Glantz' comment about me. I have not "completely" lost it. I have only "partially" lost it. I think he is guilty here of quite an exaggeration.

Also, I do not ever remember stating that I am not corrupt and misguided, so that statement is wrong as well.

I do agree with one thing Dr. Glantz said: that you have to be careful what you say in the tobacco control academic circle. It is true that if you are not careful and you express an opinion that runs counter to the dogma in tobacco control, you run the risk of being ostracized and cast out from the movement. As I have learned, it's not your integrity or the quality of your science that is most important; it's the direction of the results that you publish. In other words, how favorable your results are in the eyes of the most extreme in the tobacco control movement.

When I published articles concluding that secondhand smoke is a health hazard for bar and restaurant workers, I was viewed as a reputable expert in the tobacco control movement. But as soon as I expressed my opinion, based on an equally rigorous analysis of scientific evidence, that anti-smoking groups were exaggerating the science by stating that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke can cause atherosclerosis, I was no longer a reputable expert. Instead, I instantly became a tobacco stooge, a traitor, a tragic figure, and a tobacco defender (these are their words, not mine).

Interestingly, this change occurred overnight. One day a heroic scientific expert in tobacco control. The next day a tragic figure losing his marbles completely. What a tragic story.

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