Friday, January 28, 2005

The other side of secondhand smoke science

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:25 PM |  

In my previous post highlighting Day One of the House Health Policy and Finance Committee hearings on HF 405, the smoking ban bill, I noted that the only new information presented was scientific refutation of claims about the dangers of secondhand smoke presented by Edmund Contoski. Mr. Contoski is a retired environmental consultant. He was Director of Planning for an international environmental consulting firm doing business in more than forty countries.

In an excellent letter to Rep. Meslow, chief author of the smoking ban bill, Mr Contoski lays out scientific refutation of the major evidence used by smoking ban proponents to support the idea that secondhand some poses a significant danger. The full text of Mr. Contoski’s letter appears here.

Mr. Contosky disputes the claim that there is “mountains of evidence” that secondhad smoke is a dangerous carcinogen. He cites research by Littlewood & Fennel reported to the National Toxicology Program’s Board of Scientific Counselors on Carcinogens. Littlewood & Fennel reported that the overwhelming majority of secondhad smoke studies (over 75 percent) showed no association between secondhand smoke and lung cancer. They said the remaining studies (23%) showed “weak” statistical associations and included “substantial problems with bias, misrepresentation of relative risks and unacceptable epidemiological methodology.”

Mr. Contowski further notes that when the EPA declared secondhand smoke a carcinogen, it violated its own Risk Assessment Guidelines and a number of internationally recognized guidelines. The General Accounting Office also has been severely critical of the statistical manipulations that EPA engaged in to try to make ETS a carcinogen.

Mr. Contoski provides examples of EPA data manipulation and quotes U.S. District Judge William Osteen that “EPA cannot show a statistically significant association between ETS and lung cancer. In conducting the ETS Risk Assessment, EPA disregarded information and made findings on selective information, did not disseminate significant epidemiological information; deviated from its Risk Assessment Guidelines; [and] failed to disclose important findings and reasoning….”*

[*The U.S. Fifth District Court decision referred to in the letter was overturned on appeal. However, this action was purely a procedural matter that said nothing about the merits of the issues in the case. The appeals court ruled that EPA's decision about ETS being a carcinogen was not a reviewable action and therefore the Fifth District Court had no jurisdiction. That's all the court said; it declined to comment on the science or the merits of EPA's action.]

Throughout his letter to Rep. Meslow, Mr. Contoski makes references to recognized objective standards that secondhand smoke studies have consistently failed to meet. For example, the scientifically accepted standard for quantifying a health danger in epidemiological studies is risk ratio (RR), also known as relative risk. Secondhand smoke studies rarely mention risk ratios because the risk ratios for secondhand smoke are so low they do not qualify for serious consideration according to accepted standards.

Despite using its invalid statistical manipulations, EPA could come up with an RR of only 1.19 for ETS. That’s far below the standards of the National Cancer Institute or the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Dr. Eugenia Calle, director of analytic epidemiology for the American Cancer Society, says that RRs below 1.3 cannot even be reliably identified. When a study showed an RR of 1.5 between abortion and breast cancer, Dr. Calle was quick to state that a RR of 1.5 is too low to call abortion a risk factor for cancer.

Mr. Contoski also notes that smoking ban proponents talk a lot about the percentage increase in risk ratios without actually mentioning the risk ratio in question. For example, they may say that there is a 50% increase in the risk, without mentioning that this means a risk ratio of 1.5, which is still far below the level of meaningful risk, as Dr. Calle noted.

Smoking ban proponents talk about “hundreds” of studies—but they don’t reveal what the risk ratios are for those studies or that those numbers show the opposite of what they claim. The risk ratios for those “hundreds” of studies show the absence of danger from secondhand smoke, as does EPA’s risk ratio of 1.19 for secondhand smoke.

Mr. Contoski also debunks an anti smoking ad running in Twin Cities newspapers showing a bar waitress holding a tray and the message “69 carcinogens.” That may be true, but it is deliberately misleading with the intent to scare people. It is misleading because a single cup of coffee contains 100 carcinogens. And drinking three cups of coffee per week exposes you to greater danger of cancer than pack-a-day secondhand smoke for 40 years!

Mr. Contoski’s evidence is well stated and documented as was sent to the Committee in advance of the hearings. Other than Mr. Contoski’s abbreviated presentation, this information largely went unheard and unacknowledged by the Committee in its debate.

Full text is found here.