Letters

The hot air on passive smoking

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.317.7154.348 (Published 01 August 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:348

Experts who evaluated studies seem not to have had relevant experience

  1. Benoit Nemery, Professor,
  2. Danielle Piette, Associate professor
  1. Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Department of Occupational Medicine and Division of Pneumology, Leuven, B-3000 Belgium
  2. Université Libre de Bruxelles, School of Public Health, Health Promotion and Education Unit, 1070-Brussels, Belgium
  3. Mawbey Brough Health Centre, London SW8 2UD
  4. British American Tobacco, Staines TW18 1DY

    EDITOR—Chapman's piece about a newspaper report on a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that allegedly showed that passive smoking does not cause cancer).1reminds us of a similar incident a few years ago. On 3 June 1996 Le Soir, the leading French language newspaper in Belgium, published an article carrying the following title: “Le tabagisme passif pas nocif” [passive smoking is not harmful]. This article was based on a report by Agence France Presse and indicated that six scientific experts from all over Europe had evaluated all available studies on passivesmoking and concluded that no significant risk of lung cancer was associated with it.

    Le Soir mentioned that the study had been sponsored by the tobacco industry and gave the names of the experts who “had accepted to perform the study on the condition that they could work without interference from the sponsors.” We were struck by the presence among these experts of one professor whom we knew relatively well—not, however, for his expertise in epidemiology or smoking issues—and conducted a Medline search to find out what these experts had published in the field of epidemiology or about the effects of smoking. This gave the results shown in the table when we used “lung,” “smoking,” or “tobacco,” as well as “epidemiol*” as (separate) search terms for the period between 1966 and 1996. 

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    Numbers of publications of members of an expert panel identified by …

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