Court action over smoking report

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 27 July 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:185

The Tobacco Institute of Australia and two cigarette companies are taking the country's main health advisory body to court over its draft report on the effects of passive smoking.

The institute, Philip Morris, and Roth-mans allege that the National Health and Medical Research Council was in breach of its statutory duties by ignoring evidence that passive smoking was not harmful.

Mr Brendan Brady, the chief executive officer of the institute, said that the council's working party had failed to consider all the relevant material as its terms of reference and the law requires. “It is my view that in this report the council has selectively chosen certain studies to support a politically correct antismoking agenda,” he said. A spokesperson for the council confirmed that the legal action was going ahead but said that the report in question was still only at a draft stage.

The report, which was released last November for public comment, suggested restricting smoking in public places such as prisons and child care facilities.

At the time of the report's release the chairman of the working party, Professor Alistair Woodward, said there was persuasive evidence that passive smoking caused health problems, especially to children. “In our estimates of health risks, the working party has taken a great deal of care to include only that evidence which has been through a process of peer review in the scientific literature,” he said.

The Tobacco Institute claims, however, that the council did not consider all the relevant scientific studies, including some that said that the link between passive smoking and adverse health effects was weak and inconclusive. Mr Brady said that the institute had only begun legal action after the council refused repeated requests to redraft its report to take all the material into consideration. The legal action is not expected to reach court for some weeks and is seen as a delaying tactic by the tobacco lobby.—CHRISTOPHER ZINN, Australian correspondent, Guardian

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