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Emerging tobacco hazards in China: 2. Early mortality results from a prospective study

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.317.7170.1423 (Published 21 November 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1423

Rapid Response:

Thank you Carol AS Thompson!

Electronic letters submitted to the BMJ are usually read by at least
one member of the editorial team before they are posted on the web. This
is done for various reasons, the most important being the assurance of a
minimum standard. Even though space on the web is virtually unlimited, our
readers do not possess unlimited patience and so we try to publish
substantiated opinions which contribute significantly to the related
subject. Our readers may not realise that a letter published in the eBMJ
is also eligible to be published in the paper version of the BMJ.

Yesterday, when I was scanning the electronic letters submitted to
the eBMJ two letters (1,2) immediately captured my attention, both written
by the same person: Carol AS Thompson, a machine operator at Falmbeau
Micro Plastics Factory, and definitely a hater of anti-smokers. I suppose
she is also a heavy smoker, obviously afraid of a smoke free environment.
My first reaction was to delete them, as this opinion is not substantiated
(at least not in the way it is presented), and nor does it contribute to
the related subject in a meaningful way. So, why should it be on the web?
However, there are reasons to present letters like these at times: the BMJ
respects freedom of speech, as well as each person's right to make a fool
of himself / herself. This is my response as a member of the editorial
team.

Still I felt inclined to comment as a reader, as well. I do not want
to defend the scientific value of these two papers and an editorial
(3,4,5), which caused this eruption of emotions. There may be enough room
for criticism, but unfortunately Carol Thompson was not able to develop
her arguments. I also do not wish to criticise her poor language skills,
as mine are not brilliant either. Nor do I want to go into detail
concerning the pseudoscientific statements by Carol Thompson, that smoking
related diseases are "actually caused by viruses and bacteria". I do want
to address the tone of these letters briefly. Apart from the topic, they
read almost like Nazi propaganda: a combination of aggression,
intolerance, stupidity and fanatism. When reading these letters, I hardly
could avoid thinking of all the destruction and grief that was caused by
these obviously very human attributes. We don't have to go far back into
history, or far away (geographically) to see appalling examples of
fanatism and its sequels: unspeakable (often even unthinkable) things
happened before, they happen now, and, unfortunately, will happen again
and again; it is just a question of the scale. Are there any means to
prevent this, like population based interventions to increase tolerance
and open-mindedness? Maybe these letters of Carol Thompson serve as a good
aid to bear these aims in mind too.

Finally, two questions from a reader to Carol Thompson:

1) Why did you bother to write two almost identical letters? The
power of your arguments does not increase, nor do the arguments become
more reasonable when you add them up. Or was your intention to undermine
this hypocritical and deliberately fraudulent system by trying to waste
the readers time?

2) Did you ever consider that science is more than results presented
in a journal or a newspaper? Use your brain for more than just basal
functions. Try to think and reflect, it's fun!

Yours sincerely

Marcus Müllner, BMJ Editorial Registrar

Conflicts of interest: many. I work for the BMJ, I am a physician
(during my training in Internal Medicine in Austria I saw many people
suffering and dying from smoking related diseases), I am a smoker who
tries hard (and relatively successful) not to smoke because it really is
dangerous (for me and my environment).

References:

1) Carol AS Thompson. Throw Peto in a tar pit eBMJ, 13 Dec 1998
(www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/317/7170/1423#responses)

2) Carol AS Thompson. Anti-smokers lie about health risks of smoking,
eBMJ, 13 Dec 1998 (www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/317/7170/1399#EL2?)

3) Shi-Ru Niu, Gong-Huang Yang, Zheng-Ming Chen, Jun-Ling Wang, Gong-
Hao Wang, Xing-Zhou He, Helen Schoepff, Jillian Boreham, Hong-Chao Pan,
and Richard Peto. Emerging tobacco hazards in China: 2. Early mortality
results from a prospective Study. BMJ 1998; 317: 1423-1424

4) Shi-Ru Niu, Gong-Huang Yang, Zheng-Ming Chen, Jun-Ling Wang, Gong-
Hao Wang, Xing-Zhou He, Helen Schoepff, Jillian Boreham, Hong-Chao Pan,
and Richard Peto. Emerging tobacco hazards in China: 2. Early mortality
results from a prospective study. BMJ 1998 317: 1423-1424

5) Lopez AD. Counting the dead in China: Measuring tobacco's impact
in the developing world BMJ 1998;317:1399-1400

Competing interests: No competing interests

15 December 1998
Marcus Mullner
Editorial Registrar
BMJ