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Friday, 7 January 2011

The Surgeon Generals Report 2010

The Surgeon General in the USA has caused quite a stir as she tells the world how a puff of SHS can kill a non smoking passerby. Not everyone is waxing lyrical about her pronunciations though. Read Michael J. McFadden’s take on it in the second story below.

Also read how her “weird science” is being challenged in the first story.
Both stories have been pinched from The Smokers Club, Inc.


Surgeon General’s Report Called ‘Unscientific’ and Potentially Unethical

Columbus, Georgia  December 15, 2010 – A renowned member of the Boston University School of Public Health and members of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association are challenging as unscientific and potentially unethical this week’s report from the Office of Dr. Regina Benjamin, the U.S. Surgeon General, about the effects of tobacco smoke.
The report said that even brief exposure to secondhand smoke – as from one cigarette - can cause cardiovascular disease, trigger acute cardiac events and can damage one’s DNA and lead to cancer. These and other parts of the report are being challenged by the IPCPR which is comprised of some 2,000 members who are primarily small family businesses that operate neighborhood cigar stores or manufacture premium cigars, pipes, tobacco and related accoutrements.
“The mixed signals and misinformation coming from Dr. Benjamin’s office lead one to question everything they say and do,” said Chris McCalla, legislative director of the IPCPR.
McCalla cited the fact that one of the first actions of President Barack Obama’s administration was to push through draconian increases in tobacco taxes to fund an expanded children’s healthcare program.  Then the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was passed, giving new powers to the Federal Drug Administration to reduce smoking in the United States.  Now, the Surgeon General is saying, in effect, that walking past a smoker on the street could cause a person to develop cardiovascular disease and cancer.
“It is simply untrue to assert that brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause such results,” added Prof. Michael Siegel of Boston University’s School of Public Health. “If there is no safe level of exposure to any carcinogen, that would include exposure to automobile exhaust, the sun’s rays, benzene, radon in homes, arsenic in drinking water and many other everyday items.”
Prof. Siegel, who is not associated with the tobacco industry or IPCPR,  also said those statements are untrue and that nothing in the actual report supports those assertions.
“There is nothing in the report itself which … supports the assertions that a brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease or cancer.  These assertions … have been manufactured to create a sense of public hysteria, but they are unsupported by any science whatsoever,” he wrote in his blog at www.tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com on Dec. 13, 2010. “This is the second time that the Office of the Surgeon General has misrepresented and distorted the science of … secondhand smoke.  The press release which accompanied the Surgeon General’s 2006 report on secondhand smoke made the same false assertion,” he said.
McCalla also cited the fact that, prior to her nomination as U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Benjamin served as a trustee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which contributes tens of millions of dollars every year to promote smoking bans and fund anti-tobacco groups in the United States and internationally.
“Why is this a potential conflict of interest? Because the foundation’s sister organization is Johnson & Johnson, maker of Nicorette, a nicotine replacement product,” he said.

SGR Part Two:  Predictions and Realities.
By Michael J. McFadden


I wrote last week about the new Surgeon General's Report and the outright craziness that its presentation represented. At one point during the interviews about SGR2010, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin  seemed to become a bit defensive after declaring that passing by a smoker during a stroll was basically the same thing as smoking two packs a day for a lifetime.   Appearing a bit nervous she bravely defended her statements and Report, saying, "It's VERY scientific!"

The problem lies in the mixing up of science, idealism, activism, and politics.  The resulting brew would make Mickey run out of the room faster than a Dormouse could scream "Fantasia!" as it was being swallowed by the Cheshire Cat.  I won't try to claim that I've read the whole 700 pages or even a good bit of it, but I'm familiar enough with the science to know where some of the dirty laundry might be hidden and poked around in those corners to find things like the Otsuka study highlighted last week.

Is this misuse of science something that ONLY occurs with Antismokers though?  Maybe not.  Here are two articles dealing with our climate.  They're ten years apart.  One is dealing with the sort of fantasyland predictions we've seen with the WHO proclaiming 600,000 deaths a year due to "passive smoking" while the other has a base a bit more firmly rooted in reality.

In March of the year 2000, Dr. David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, said that within a few years winter snowfall will become "a very rare and exciting event"  because of a striking environmental change that meant snow is starting to disappear from our (i.e. Britain's) lives.  He concluded that "Children just aren't going to know what snow is."  You can read the whole piece at:
Read
 
That was "Prediction."  Now, ten years later, another news story bumps us into "Reality" as we see the headline in the British Telegraph,  "Snow Leads To 'Ultimate Pub Lock-In'."  According to the sad tale, "Two guests and five workers have been stuck at the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge, Kirkbymoorside, North Yorks, since the area's first snowfall on Nov 26.... With snow drifts outside the pub up to 16 feet deep, vehicles have also been buried, meaning escape has proved impossible from the 16th-century freehouse."
Read

True, the story makes a point about the pub's being the "fourth highest" in elevation in Britain, but at 1,300 feet it's still a bit below the TV antenna peaking the Empire State Building ... not exactly the Himalayas.  Science can be a wonderful thing, especially when it's truly "very scientific."  But when it gets all mixed up with firmly held activist beliefs and a willingness to cut corners and fib a little here and a little there for the greater good of humanity it stops being the shiny city of tomorrow and starts producing the waste products of yesterday's slums.

Forty-five years ago the 1964 Surgeon General's Report was far from perfect, but as far as it went it wasn't egregiously bad science.  Its conclusions have been questioned and attacked at times, but for the most part the claims that first-hand smoking causes, directly or indirectly, a certain amount of cancer and heart disease, have withstood the tests of time and attacks of critics and remained pretty firmly entrenched in the medical and scientific world.

SGR2010's hyped claims about "whiffs of smoke" seeking out and slaughtering innocents around the world are unlikely to be as well respected forty-five years from now.  Those who are lucky enough to still be around may well find themselves snowed in at a nicely smoke-friendly pub somewhere in Britain while telling jokes about funny Surgeon Generals and maladroit MPs in between quaffs of plain-packaged lager.
A Report of the Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease.


The Surgeon General’s report was announced on Thursday, December 9, 2010 at a media event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/tobaccosmoke/index.html
--------------------
The new Surgeon General’s Report, or at least the spin it’s being given in the press, can be summed up nicely in a single word: Nonsense.

Why?  Simple: The Report, despite its 700 pages of largely well-done science, takes that science and then distorts it to support two ulterior goals:

1)   Instilling an unreasonable fear of a practice that has become more popular in recent years than in past times, namely “social smoking” where people who do not normally smoke will join friends who have been exiled to smoking areas and light up with those friends to make them feel more comfortable. And,


2)   Basically fabricating a fear from the almost completely non-existent evidence that there could be any significant level of harm from occasional or mild exposures to the smoke of others.

To take the second point first, in any sort of rationally practical terms you are NOT putting anyone at "risk" of damage to their lungs or their heart if you light up a cigarette around them.  In terms of wild wacko fantasyland terms of course it can be a different story, but that's not how science and news reportage is supposed to work.


What the Surgeon General and her "evil minions" like Terry Pechacek have done is taken some basic scientific findings and twisted them out of all proportion to reality in order to further a political goal.  Are wisps of secondary smoke dangerous in terms of cancer?  Only in the sense that occasional beams of sunlight peeking through cracks in an awning or reflecting off a passing car are dangerous.  Are they dangerous to the heart? 

Only in the sense that heating a kettle of tea on a gas stove or eating a bowl of cornflakes is dangerous.

In an absolutist "crazy" sort of sense the slightest touch of sunlight or the ingestion of an even slightly sugary food like "healthy" cornflakes could be claimed to be "dangerous."  In any sane world of course such interpretations would be dismissed.  Normal exposures to the levels of secondary smoke that would commonly be found in decently ventilated bars, restaurants, or other such venues are not dangerous in terms of any rational view of life of a normal human being.  40 years ago most people realized this and laughed at the nuts who worried about such things.  But the last 40 years have seen an incredible amount of expenditure on studies, press releases, TV ads and such things all designed to play up the fear of wisps of smoke in pursuit of the strategy laid out at the 1975 World Conference on Smoking and Health chaired by Sir George Godber.  The consensus of that conference was that to achieve the public support needed to eventually eliminate smoking it would first be necessary "to foster an atmosphere where it was perceived that active smokers would injure those around them."

This latest Report from the Surgeon General simply continues and extends this argument by confusing the evidence of harms done from fairly low but regular smoking patterns involving one or two packets of cigarettes per week, and confusing them with the far lower levels of exposure experienced by nonsmokers experiencing either occasional or, in decently ventilated situations, regular exposures to low levels of secondary smoke.

To offer just one example from the Report, on page 370 of the “Coronary Blood Flow” section, after hundreds of words detailing the effects of first hand smoking on blood flow, the Surgeon General calls upon the 2001 study by Ryo Otsuka to justify extending the claims to secondary smoke exposure.  In the words of the Report itself, “exposure to secondhand smoke for 30 minutes abruptly reduces coronary blood flow velocity in nonsmokers, as assessed by echocardiography.”

Otsuka’s study used nonsmokers who religiously avoided smoke in their daily lives, forced them to sign papers acknowledging potentially dangerous conditions and then stuck them in a chamber filled with smoke levels literally 300% more dense than those measured in the middle of the smoking sections of pressurized aircraft back in the 1980s.  There was no control. Even a school science project would have had a sham model and “protocol signing” with subjects exposed to harmless but irritating odors and fog.  The control study results would probably have been identical.

This study seems to have been the best example the Surgeon General could come up to justify the claim that secondary smoke exposure affected blood flow.  Not very convincing, eh?

The overall Report references thousands of studies, some of them perhaps reasonably strong, a lot of them probably quite weak if my examinations of such things have been representative, some of them involving smoking conditions roughly equivalent to being locked in a sealed telephone booth with 100 chain-smoking midget clowns. It then pasted it all together while giving it a truly massive spin to make it seem like it applies to the normal everyday exposures commonly experienced by people.

Now, to look at the first point claimed: Can "one puff of smoke" kill you?  Perhaps... in the same sense that one cup of coffee or one chocolate bar or your kid jumping out from behind the couch and saying "Boo Daddy!" could kill you.  ( In terms of secondary smoke we could ask, “Can a single whiff of smoke kill you?  Perhaps... in the same sense that single sip of tea or Coca-Cola, the exhaust of one car passing by you on a quiet street, a single McWhopperie french fry, or the sight of an advertisement where someone is wearing a scary mask can kill you. )

Can that single puff of smoke kill you someday in the far future from cancer?  Only in the sense that a single stray beam of sunshine hitting your hand as you reach out to grab the morning paper might similarly kill you, or in the sense that briefly walking into a restaurant where people are imbibing glassfuls of the highly volatile Class A Carcinogen known as ethyl alcohol might kill you.  But without an external motivation no one in their right mind would mount such a arguments.

So am I saying the SG is not in her right mind?  Of course not.  What I *am* saying is that the SG and this Report are representing a VERY powerful external motivation: the desire to reduce or even eliminate tobacco smoking altogether because of evidence that regular smoking is bad for one's health is indeed quite strong.  Simply communicating that fact to people has NOT produced the elimination of smoking, so the antismoking lobby has consistently moved more and more into the KrazyLand claims about wisps of secondary smoke, the deadly threat of "third hand" smoke, and even the insanity of "fourth hand" smoke where you might die if you are simply approached by someone who had earlier been near a smoker (And no, I am not making any of that up... not even the last item.  See:
http://www.bottomlinesecrets.com/article.html?article_id=49824 )

The main difference between the current Report and previous Reports seems to lie in its willingness to confuse the modest risks of low levels of regular smoking with the fantasyland risks of an occasional cigarette or low levels of secondary smoke exposure.  The confusion seems to be deliberate and played up deliberately for the press as part of the general larger scheme to reduce and eliminate smoking through social engineering rather than through honest communication that could stand on its own.  Temperence movements, whether for smoking, drinking, or drugs, often find their demise through overstepping their bounds and losing the faith and support of the public as they expand their claims beyond what even the most gullible are willing to believe.

We may be about at that cusp in today's Great Antismoking Crusade.

 Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"
Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, Citizens Freedom Alliance

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bravo!! well done mike......

harley

peoplesrepubmadison said...

Michael J inspired me to write a followup http://peoplesrepubmadison.wordpress.com/2011/01/08/surgeon-general-blows-smoke-up-our/

Enjoy

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