Passive smoking: Letting the guard down


From a cigarette advert: Tipalet

What does exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke do? Cause lung cancer. Do you know of any other correct answer? I certainly don’t.

Tipped off by Christopher Snowdon, I read this JCNI news item on an as-yet unpublished study of lung cancer and second-hand smoke exposure. Inside are shocking statements by physicians I never expected to see in a medical journal:

On the certainty of linking second-hand smoke to lung cancer:

“The findings support continued need for investment in smoking prevention and cessation, research on passive smoking, and understanding of lung cancer risk factors other than smoking.” (emphasis mine)


“Passive smoking has many downstream health effects … but only borderline increased risk of lung cancer,”

The real reason to avoid passive smoking:

“The strongest reason to avoid passive cigarette smoke is to change societal behavior: to not live in a society where smoking is a norm.

On the amount of risk of lung cancer from second-hand smoke:

“But you can say, with regard to passive smoke, it’s only the heaviest exposure that produces the risk. We kind of knew that before, but it’s a little stronger here.”


“We’ve gotten smoking out of bars and restaurants on the basis of the fact that you and I and other nonsmokers don’t want to die,” said [Gerard] Silvestri. “The reality is, we probably won’t.”

We probably won’t die from cancer due to exposure to second-hand smoke? The medical community and the general public already knew this?

There is a continued need to do research on passive smoking? Really? I thought the question of passive smoking and lung cancer was completely ‘settled’. Why waste time and money studying established facts?

We knew the risk of lung cancer and/or death from second hand smoke was low but we still got rid of it from bars and restaurants?

The startling admission in the midst of these questions is this: the reason to avoid second-hand cigarette smoke is not to protect oneself from the smoke, but to make it socially difficult for the smoker to smoke?

I had no idea.

It is illuminating to see how scientists casually and inadvertently admit to weakness in the secondhand tobacco smoke-lung cancer argument, once behind the comfortable safety of accomplished social objectives surrounding tobacco.



  1. plazaeme

    Very interesting, thank you.

    Somehow. I knew. But as you said, not exactly from them. Its simple: there are no poisons, there are dosis. Only in religion evil is independent from dosis – as in absolute evil.

  2. Stew Green

    AFAIK tobacco does not actually cause cancer it’s that it has an effect of somehow facilitating the bacteria & viruses which do cause lung cancer That is why their is a strong correlation between smoking & cancer, but why the odd 96 year old smoker never got cancer.
    – The passive angle was SOLD by the death of Roy Castle from cancer who never smoked but worked in smokey clubs

  3. Stew Green

    Shub it was a cancer research uk scientistvthat said that on the radio, but when I check theirvwebsite it clearly mention 70 carcinogens in tobacco can damage DNA then qualifies “But this doesn’t mean that all smokers will definitely get cancer or that all non-smokers won’t. It means that smoking greatly increases the risk of this disease. Smokers are, on average, much more likely to get cancer than non-smokers.”
    – their link to a UN report saying passive smoking causes 1/100 deaths is strangely now dead
    But they do have passive smoking notes here

  4. Mooloo

    The reason for avoiding second hand smoke is that it is foul. The same reason we don’t like — well I don’t like anyway — the smell of poo round me.

    the reason to avoid second-hand cigarette smoke is not to protect oneself from the smoke, but to make it socially difficult for the smoker to smoke?

    I had no idea.

    This was the stated aim of most anti-smoking groups in NZ. They made no bones about it at all. The supposed “risks” of passive smoking were never pushed, because only the worrywart types ever believed that anyway. (What sort of numpty worries about the risk of passive smoke while drinking alcohol?)

    The general public went along with banning smoking in public because, apart from being true that banning smoking in public reduces the death rate by reducing the smoking rate, they don’t like smokers around them.