The primary finding of the new secondhand smoke study [Journal of the National Cancer Institute 1998;90:1440-50] is no statistically significant associations for lung cancer and exposure to environmental tobacco smoke from spouses, the workplace and/or social settings.
Simply based on these facts, the study results do not associate secondhand smoke with lung cancer. End of story.
But this doesn't mean the researchers didn't try to squeeze everything they could from this lemon:
- Although data was collected on potential confounding factors -- i.e., educational level, residence in urban areas, exposure to occupational carcinogens, and intake of vegetables, retinoids and carotenoids -- and regression analyses were run with these confounders, the results reported in the study were only adjusted for age and geography (the study involved 12 study centers from 7 European countries).
The authors say this is because the potential confounders "had no appreciable effect" on the reported results. Likely translation? "Our already-insignificant results are even weaker when we include confounding factors."
- Once again, the rules of the game have been changed. In ETS studies to date, nonsmokers are considered those who have not smoked more than 100 cigarettes in a lifetime. For this study, that number was bumped to 400. A potential outcome of this change is to include more smokers -- who have higher rates of lung cancer -- in the analysis. But, of course, they're called "nonsmokers."
- The authors admit "... we did not use an objective marker of past ETS exposure..." Exposure data was collected in the usual slipshod manner -- relying on subjects' and next-of-kin's recollections of past ETS exposure. None of these memories were verified.
- The authors report "Vehicles and public indoor setting did not represent an important source of ETS exposure." Bad news for smoking ban advocates.
- The authors report "The lack of full consistency of the results among the centers may limit the strength of our findings and the conclusions we can derive from them."
The saddest part is the editorial written by William J. Blot and Joseph K. McLaughlin of the International Epidemiology Institute, Rockville, MD -- a place where former government epidemiologists go to continue breastfeeding from the government.
Blot (one of the engineers on the EPA railroad that labelled ETS a lung carcinogen in 1993) and McLaughlin wrote "When all the evidence, including the important new data reported in this issue of the Journal, is assessed, the inescapable scientific conclusion is that ETS is a low-level lung carcinogen."
The only "inescapable scientific conclusion" is that claims implicating secondhand smoke as a lung carcinogen are junk science.
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