Sunday, July 31, 2005

Secondhand Smoke and Heart Disease

July 31, 2005

An article on Fox News website on 7/30/05 claims the effects of secondhand tobacco smoke (ETS—environmental tobacco smoke) on the heart are “rapid and large.” It says ETS increases the risk of heart disease by about 30 percent. That may be true, but 30 percent of almost nothing is still almost nothing.

A 30 percent increase means a relative risk (also known as risk ratio, or RR) of 1.3. (On the risk scale, zero risk is set at 1.0, not 0.0.) Actually, the American Heart Association website lists the following RRs: 1.25 for cardiovascular heart disease, 1.18 for ischemic heart disease, and 1.13 for arrhythmic heart failure or coronary arrest mortality. The risk of getting cancer from drinking municipal tap water that tens of millions of Americans drink every day is 2.0 to 4.0. So why be concerned about a relative risk of 1.3 to the heart from ETS? It so happens that 1.3 is the exact RR for shortening your life by drinking three cups of coffee per WEEK. That will give you some perspective on the severity of the alleged heart “danger.”

Both the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society have clearly stated that RRs below 2.0 are too low to be relied upon. And a report by the independent health consulting firm Littlewood and Fennell characterized RRs less than 2.0 as “dancing on the tiny pinhead of statistical insignificance.” Compare this to the claim of “rapid and large” harmful effects from an RR of 1.3. A wealth of published literature dismisses relative risks less than 2.0 (100%) as being insignificant. And Dr. Eugenia Calle, Director of Analytic Epidemiology at the American Cancer Society, has stated the RRs below 1.3 are too low even to be realistically identified, much less be dangerous.

Why aren’t RRs less than 2.0 significant when they can represent impressive sounding percentage increases? The main reason is confounding variables. There are more than 20 of these that have been identified for ETS and heart disease, including: heredity, consumption of fat, consumption of fruits and vegetables, exercise and physical activity, type of employment, ethnic background, cholesterol, socio-economic class, etc. Any one of these could account for an impressive percentage increase in disease, yet no study of ETS has ever come close to controlling for even a large share of these variables. And there could be others that haven’t yet been identified.

It is no wonder, therefore, that Dr. Marcia Angell, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the world’s leading medical journals, says, “As a general rule, we are looking for a relative risk of 3.0 or more.” Dr. Robt. Temple, director of drug evaluation for the FDA, says, “My basic rule is if the relative risk isn’t at least 3 or 4, forget it.” And the EPA declined to regulate high-voltage power lines because it said the RRs seldom exceeded 3.0.

So how did we go from regarding RRs of 3.0 to 4.0 as the bare minimum for even potential concern to where anything 1.0 to 2.0—which was formerly regarded as insignificant—is now claimed to be a health risk? It goes back to EPA’s classification of ETS as a carcinogen. The agency publicly declared ETS a carcinogen before it even began any research. But its subsequent efforts failed to find evidence to back its position—despite fudging its analyses with statistical contortions that evoked condemnation from the Congressional Research Service, the General Accounting Office, an investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives, and America’s best known scientific journal, Science. Rather than admit it was wrong about ETS being a carcinogen and had wasted taxpayers money for two years trying to prove it, EPA simply “deviated from generally accepted scientific standards” and “deliberately abused and manipulated the scientific data,” as the U.S. Congressional Investigation put it. EPA now claimed that ETS had a RR of 1.19 and said that was health danger. How many cases of lung cancer do you think would be associated with this 19 percent risk increase among 100,000 nonsmokers exposed to ETS? The answer is 1.9 cases. Fewer than 2 cases in 100,000 people! That’s two-thousandths of one percent! You can scare a lot more people by shouting “the risk increases 19 percent!” than by saying this corresponds to an increase in the number of cancer cases of two-thousandths of one percent. But they mean the same thing. Now, do you think differences is heredity, diet, exercise, type of employment etc. could account for 1.9 cases of lung cancer among 100,000 people? You're darn right they could. They could account for a lot more than that.

Also, the standard for biological studies is a 95% Confidence Level, meaning the possibility that the outcome results from pure chance is no more than 5%. EPA could not achieve this with its RR of 1.19 for ETS. So it moved the goal posts, so to speak, to make it easier for ETS to “score” as a carcinogen. It doubled the possibility of a chance outcome to 10%. It had never done this before or since. (For more on EPA and secondhand smoke, see the posting of my testimony to Meeker County below.)

Other government agencies were quick to note the success of EPA’s scientific corruption and to imitate it. The Surgeon General’s reports, NIOSH and other government agencies reiterated EPA’s fraudulent figure of 3,000 deaths from lung cancer due to ETS and adopted the degraded statistical standards and corrupt practices that EPA used to produce it. Now the American Heart Association and other once highly respected medical organizations are doing the same thing. They have deviated from the generally accepted scientific standards to which they so long adhered.

Deaths estimated from adverse health conditions are derived from their risk ratios. If the risk ratios aren’t meaningful, calculations of the numbers of deaths are meaningless. A risk ratio tells you that there is a statistical association between a risk factor and a disease—and that’s all it tells you. It does NOT tell you there is a cause and effect relationship. The higher the risk ratio, the more likely it is that there is a causal relationship, but further research is needed to establish that. Suppose a study shows a statistical association between, say, lung cancer and people being lefthanded—which could happen. Does that mean being lefthanded causes lung cancer? Of course not. We would be jumping to conclusion if we said that. Similarly, we would be jumping to conclusion if we said that municipal water supplies or drinking coffee daily causes hundreds of thousands of deaths annually based on calculations from their risk ratios. But that is exactly what many “researchers” are doing regarding secondhand smoke and many diseases or health conditions. They have jumped to the conclusion that statistical associations—and very weak ones (even statistically insignificant ones)—are proof of cause and effect. That is irresponsible. But it is effective in scaring the public who has no understanding of how meaningless these numbers are, and it provides cover for the political advocate/activists.

“Results of chemical analysis, animal experiments, and human studies are…found not to support claims of an association between workers exposed to environmental tobacco smoke and occupational coronary heart disease.”—Toxicological Pathology, Vol 57, No. 3.

“According to the scientific method, the only justifiable conclusion is that available data continue to falsify the hypothesis that ETS is a CHD [coronary heart disease] factor.”—Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Coronary Heart Syndrome: Absence of an Association, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 21, 281-295

Friday, July 22, 2005

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts

July 22, 2005

Following Judge John Roberts nomination for the Supreme Court, Senator Charles Schumer of New York held a press conference. He said that Supreme Court nominees are different and deserve a higher level of scrutiny than other judicial appointments because they MAKE laws. Someone ought to tell the senator that making laws is a function of the legislative branch, not the judicial branch. A judge who is going to legislate from the bench is precisely the kind of person who shouldn't be there. And a senator who apparently is looking for a Supreme Court justice who will do that (for causes the senator favors, of course)--rather than adhere to the Constitution--isn't fit to be a senator. Senators are supposed to honor and defend the Consitution, not seek appointments who will undermine it to advance their own agendas.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Danger in Africa

July 20, 2005

Having just arrived in Johannesburg, President Clinton addressed a throng of young South Africans. He spoke of the great danger ahead. What was it? Was it the threat of AIDS, which is rampant throughout South Africa? Was it the threat of world terrorism? Was it the nation’s poverty and the need for young people to pursue education in order to escape poverty? None of these. He warned them about global warming! He said if trends continue, Africa would be under water because of the earth's ice melting.

When the global warming scare appeared in the 1980s, it was said if all the planet’s ice melted, ocean levels would rise 20 feet. But the world’s oceans have risen 350 feet in the last 18,000 years without any help from factories and automobiles burning fossil fuels and emitting carbon dioxide. The mean elevation of Africa is 1,900 feet, compared to 980 feet for Europe and 1,000 feet for Australia. So for Africa to be under water, Europe and Australia would have to be 900 feet under water.

Ocean levels have been rising ever since the end of the last Ice Age, about 12,000 years ago. For the last several centuries the rise has been 4 to 6 inches per century. And it would take a temperature rise of 55 degrees F. for a thousand years to melt the Antarctic ice cap.

Furthermore, the world’s largest ice masses, in Antarctica and Greenland, have been growing, not melting. The Greenland ice sheet has thickened by seven feet since it was first measured by laser altimetry from satellites in 1980.

For 95 percent of the past 100 million years the earth has been warmer than it is now. It was warmer 1,000, 3,000 and 6,000 years ago. We’re even below the average for the last 3,000 years.
So where is the “global warming”? It’s in the minds of the scaremongers and in invalid computer models that cannot be reconciled with actual temperature measurements, geologic records, and other physical evidence. For more on global warming, get my 3,000-word booklet on the subject from American Liberty Publishing.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Smoking Ban of Meeker County, Minnesota

On July 12th, Meeker County became the fifth county in Minnesota to enact a prohibition on smoking in bars and restaurants, effective October 1. It’s another example of individual rights being trampled by politicians and highly vocal do-gooders determined to dictate how everyone else should live. Their good intentions are deemed superior to facts, science, reality—and liberty. If it’s necessary to fudge the truth, fake the science, ignore reality and deny individual rights, so be it.

The nation’s first experience with "prohibition" was for alcoholic beverages. The government decided it had to protect people for their own good. Everyone knew that drinking alcohol could result in health problems. It was argued that any amount of alcohol was bad for you and should be prohibited. Medical science has since documented the role of alcohol in heart disease, stroke and several other diseases. But what wasn’t known during the Prohibition Era—but has since been proven by numerous research studies—is that small amounts of alcohol (1 or 2 drinks a day) are actually good for you. They help prevent the very same diseases for which larger amounts of alcohol are implicated.

Now, there is no question smoking can cause lung cancer—I have never been a smoker and don’t recommend it—but secondhand smoke is another matter. It is 100,000 times more dilute than the smoke from which it is derived. And, just as with alcohol, it has been shown that small amounts of this smoke are not only harmless but actually beneficial. They provide a protective effect against the same diseases for which smoking is implicated.

People are surprised to learn that the huge volume of research studies on secondhand smoke (environmental tobacco smoke—ETS) does not support claims that it is a health hazard. Just the opposite. The independent health research firm of Littlewood and Fennell surveyed all available studies and reported to the National Toxicology Program’s Board of Scientific Counselors on Carcinogens that the overwhelming majority (over 75 percent) of these studies showed no association between secondhand smoke and lung cancer and the remainder showed very weak associations and substantial problems with unacceptable methodology, misrepresentation of risk, and other problems. An international symposium on ETS at a Canadian University included 29 epidemiologists from all over the world and concluded that the “weak and inconsistent associations seen in the epidemiological studies of ETS [plus other doubtful factor] all indicate that these data do not support a judgment of a causal relationship between exposure to ETS and lung cancer.” Studies by the World Health Organization came to similar conclusions.

Interestingly, some of the studies vindicating ETS were done by organizations determined to prove it was a health hazard. When the results showed the opposite, the studies were hushed up. This was the case with at least three studies done by the American Cancer Society. Ditto a very important study by the prestigious Dr. Melvin W. First, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science and Engineering at Harvard University, which was sponsored by the Massachusetts Lung Association and it Affiliates. This was a particularly important study because it was done in 1975 when smoking was much more prevalent and there were no non-smoking sections in bars and restaurants. But when it was unable to show any danger from ETS, the Mass. Lung Association “put our report in a drawer” and shut up about it, wrote Prof. First in 2003.

During the Prohibition Era, nobody knew that small amounts of alcohol were harmless or even beneficial. The Meeker County Commissioners cannot have the same excuse regarding secondhand smoke, because my testimony at their public hearing alerted them to scientific information they chose to ignore. (See my complete testimony.) Their decision to enact a smoking ban is one of “willful ignorance”—a refusal to face facts. They hid behind a deliberately deceitful claim of protecting people from a nonexistent “health hazard” in order to trample human liberty and run other people’s lives. The issue of whether to allow smoking in bars and restaurants should be a simple matter of property rights: the individuals owning bars and restaurants should determine whether they wish to allow smoking or not on their property, and individuals should decide for themselves whether to eat or drink there. The government shouldn’t have gotten involved at all—except to defend those individual rights.

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