Letter to the Editor: Curious student questions authority

The recent message from President Shalala detailing both the university’s and the student’s efforts in becoming a smoke-free campus got me interested in doing some research. The line that inspired me the most was, “… we’ve confirmed that exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke negatively affects non-smokers as well.” This caught my interest because I didn’t remember any study that wasn’t discounted or that didn’t misrepresent its own data.

Of course, I have heard of studies that touted the dangers of SHS but most of these studies are heavily influenced by preconceived expectations and funding from anti-tobacco groups and individuals. I must admit I don’t follow the argument closely, so I wanted to see what was out there as far as information. What I found has less than confirmed the negative effects of SHS.

I found that the most common study used for anti-tobacco legislation is the EPA study of 1992-93. I also discovered that this study was found to be flawed on many different levels from its methodology to its representation of its findings. In fact, it announced the results before the study was complete and then had to omit 2/3 of the data and double its margin of error for the results to coincide with their earlier announcement! It was reviewed unfavorably by the Congressional Research Service for being flawed and vacated by U.S. Federal Judge William Osteen.

I also learned about studies from the World Health Organization.

One study was conducted from twelve centers in seven European countries over seven years – a very scientifically sound study.

It also showed that there was no statistically significant increase in risk to non-smokers and some cases could have a preventative effect. The WHO tried to bury this report but when pressed, they released it with a very misleading headline, “Passive Smoking Does Cause Cancer – Do Not Let Them Fool You.”

There are many more examples of questionable studies out there and more details that I haven’t the space to write about. I would like to ask President Shalala, however, to which study or studies she refers to in her message.