The World Health Organization in a spin.

In 1998 the World Health Organization (WHO) produced the Boffetta report which claimed a link between passive smoking and lung cancer. You may well have read my previous entries on how easy it is to debunk. Yesterday I came across their press release from 1998 and the most telling phrase in there is “However, due to small sample size, neither increased risk was statistically significant. “

Yes spin and misinformation.


The World Health Organization (WHO) has been publicly accused of suppressing information. Its opponents say that WHO has withheld from publication its own report that was aimed at but supposedly failed to scientifically prove that there is an association between passive smoking, or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), and a number of diseases, lung cancer in particular. Both statements are untrue.

The study in question is a case-control study on the effects of ETS on lung cancer risk in European populations, which has been carried out over the last seven years by 12 research centres in 7 European countries under the leadership of WHO’s cancer research branch — the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

The results of this study, which have been completely misrepresented in recent news reports, are very much in line with the results of similar studies both in Europe and elsewhere: passive smoking causes lung cancer in non-smokers.

The study found that there was an estimated 16% increased risk of lung cancer among non-smoking spouses of smokers. For workplace exposure the estimated increase in risk was 17%. However, due to small sample size, neither increased risk was statistically significant. Although, the study points towards a decreasing risk after cessation of exposure.

In February 1998, according to usual scientific practice, a paper reporting the main study results was sent to a reputable scientific journal for consideration and peer review. That is why the full report is not yet publicly available. Under the circumstances, however, the authors of the study have agreed to make an abstract of the report available to the media.

“It is extremely important to note that the results of this study are consistent with the results of major scientific reviews of this question published during 1997 by the government of Australia, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the State of California”, said Neil Collishaw, Acting Chief of WHO’s Tobacco or Health Unit in Geneva. “A major meta-analysis of passive smoking and lung cancer was also published in the British Medical Journal in 1997. From these and other previous reviews of the scientific evidence emerges a clear global scientific consensus — passive smoking does cause lung cancer and other diseases”, he concluded.

“IARC is proud of the careful scientific work done by the European scientific team responsible for this study”, commented Dr Paul Kleihues, the Agency’s director. “We are very concerned about the false and misleading statements recently published in the mass media. It is no coincidence that this misinformation originally appeared in the British press just before the No-Tobacco Day in the United Kingdom and the scheduled publication of the report of the British Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health”.

Further information on the health effects of passive smoking is available in WHO’s Advisory Kit for World No-Tobacco Day 1998 on the World Wide Web at, as well as from WHO’s Tobacco or Health Unit, Programme on Substance Abuse.

For further information, journalists can contact Igor Rozov, Health Communications and Public Relations WHO, Geneva. Telephone (41 22) 791 2532. Fax (41 22) 791 4858. E-mail or Dr Rodolfo Saracci, IARC, Lyon, France, e-mail

All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page

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18 Responses to The World Health Organization in a spin.

  1. Rollo Tommasi says:

    More Zombie Arguments from Dave! You say “You may well have read my previous entries on how easy [the Boffetta report] is to debunk.” I assume by that you mean in particular your article “More on the WHO/Boffetta paper, hat tip Klaus K”. In truth, you made a few claims, which were then totally debunked. The statement you quote in the press release is quite reasonable, at least to objective and professional scientists, even if not to committed pro-smokers.

    The “spin and misinformation” is all yours, Dave, not Boffetta’s!

    • Not 1 Death or Sickness Etiologically Assigned to Tobacco. By Dr. Simoncini, MD. All the diseases attributed to smoking are also present in non smokers. It means, in other words, that they are multifactorial, that is, the result of the interaction of tens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of factors, either known or suspected contributors – of which smoking can be one.

      • Rollo Tommasi says:

        Here comes Harley Rider, copying and pasting obscure references again….

        Research into links between passive smoking and lung cancer and heart disease has been tested for potential confounding factors. Adjusting for these makes precious little difference to overall risk ratios and they certanily do not explain why people exposed to SHS are at higher risk.

        So what’s your point?

  2. Junican says:

    What are you so terrified of, Mr Tommasi? Do you walk around the streets wearing a mask, just in case you catch a whiff of tobacco smoke? The Surgeon General of the USA thinks that you should. Where in these studies does it say that SHS is devastatingly awful? Where are the dead bodies? The reality is that there are none – none at all. SHS is simply too dilute to have any effect on healthy people. You might as well say that people are in danger of drowning if they step outside in the the rain.

    Oh……what a great idea! Why don’t the Medical Professions get ASH (their front) to commission surveys into drowning by rain? I am sure that a little bit of inventive effort could find a few people who have so drowned.

    What are you terrified of? The people who smoked the most and were most exposed to SHS in the past are living into their mid 80s. Where are the dead bodies? And don’t say that there were a few people who died from the effects of SHS. Such small numbers prove the opposite of what you say. Such small numbers (Oh my God! 6,000 people (probably really ancient) out of 500,000 (deaths per an)!) prove conclusively that SHS is harmless. Of course, your 6,000 people are just a statistical construct – they are not real people at all.

    Stop trying to impress us with your quibbles about the nuances of this and that. Take your mask off! You will come to no harm.

    • Rollo Tommasi says:

      Junican – I’m not afraid of anything. What are you so afraid of? Why do you react so defensively to my posts?

      More to the point, what is Dave so terrified about? If his claims were strong, he should be able to defend them easily. So why hasn’t he?

      What you absolutely prove is your callousness. 6,600 deaths each year in the UK alone represents “such small numbers”? Really – even though it is twice the number of deaths from road traffic accidents? Wow, you’ve really nailed your colours to the mast. And, in case you’re wondering, around 2,100 of these 6,600 are estimated to die before reaching 65 years of age – so they are not all “really ancient” as you so delicately phrase it.

      But if that’s how little you value the life of other people, that’s something you have to justify.

      • Yo Rollo,how about those names of the 6600 dead to shs/ets…………lmao!

        In fact your entire anti-smoking religion is comming under attack everywhere since the outdoor bans started……no safe level……no safe level of BS rollo and you been shoveling it for quite sometime!

        Smoke-Free Workplace Law is primarily intended to protect workers from health hazards resulting from exposure to secondhand smoke.

        Even exposures in the home couldnt stand up,the congressional research office concluded:
        •the statistical evidence does not appear to support a conclusion that there are substantial health effects of passive smoking;
        •it is possible that very few or even no deaths can be attributed to ETS;
        •if there are any lung cancer deaths from ETS exposure, they are likely to be concentrated among those subjected to the highest exposure levels… primarily among those nonsmokers subjected to significant spousal ETS.
        •Even when overall risk is considered, it is a very small risk and is not statistically significant at a conventional 95% level.
        According to the CRS, basing an assessment on only the most pessimistic study of those reviewed, exposure only to background ETS (as in workplaces and bars) creates a lifetime risk of about 7/100ths of a percent of dying from ETS related cancer.

        Additional studies also undercut key assumptions in the “estimates” of the 63,000 victim “death toll” espoused by anti-smoking forces. The WHO’s International Agency on Research on Cancer published a 1998 study that ran for 10 years, covering 7 different countries, concluding that there is no statistically significant risk for non-smokers who lived or worked with smokers.

        ROLLO you need to take a ROLL AIDS

  3. What are you so terrified of, Mr Tommasi? Do you walk around the streets wearing a mask, just in case you catch a whiff of tobacco smoke?

    Mr Tomassi’s PSYCHOSIS has been studied and found non-harmful and he can seek treatment!

    Toxicol Rev. 2003;22(4):235-46.

    Idiopathic environmental intolerance: Part 1: A causation analysis applying Bradford Hill’s criteria to the toxicogenic theory.

    Staudenmayer H, Binkley KE, Leznoff A, Phillips S.


    Behavioral Medicine, Multi-Disciplinary Toxicology, Treatment and Research Center, Denver, Colorado 80222, USA.


    Idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI) is a descriptor for a phenomenon that has many names including environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivity and chemical intolerance. Toxicogenic and psychogenic theories have been proposed to explain IEI. This paper presents a causality analysis of the toxicogenic theory using Bradford Hill’s nine criteria (strength, consistency, specificity, temporality, biological gradient, biological plausibility, coherence, experimental intervention and analogy) and an additional criteria (reversibility) and reviews critically the scientific literature on the topic. The results of this analysis indicate that the toxicogenic theory fails all of these criteria. There is no convincing evidence to support the fundamental postulate that IEI has a toxic aetiology; the hypothesised biological processes and mechanisms are implausible.

    • Rollo Tommasi says:

      And another irrelevant copy and paste from Harley Rider…..

      In case you hadn’t noticed, this debate is about passive smoking, not IEI!!

      • Frank J says:

        Think he’s talking about you, Mr/Mrs Tomassi. He’s relating to the make up of people so vehemently zealous, an important aspect of these issues.

        You see, you very often miss the simple and obvious points and end up by just carping. e.g. you quote 6,600 deaths/year. Only in your own mind is this a given and the fact that some may disagree with both the figure and stated ’cause’ is anathema to you. You seem unable to accept this concept. Equally, only in your own mind have you ‘debunked’ anything at all.

  4. Rose says:

    Well done Rollo!

    That effectively stopped any possibility of meaningful discussion.
    This whole comment thread is now infected with the Rollo virus, I wonder if anyone is working on a treatment for that.

    • Rollo Tommasi says:

      Strange that, for all these remarks about me, nobody is actually criticising my arguments and showing how I might be wrong…….

  5. Junican says:

    But you i>are terrified, Rollo. You must be to allow a 0.25% variation on risk within a confidence interval of minus 5% to trouble you. This must mean that you have something which is troubling you. Perhaps a psychiatrist would be in order – one of those who think that the older end of the population are drug-taking alcoholics and need to be tested and, presumably, demonised.

    Be that as it may (it is not important), you made the following statement:

    “”And, in case you’re wondering, around 2,100 of these 6,600 are estimated to die before reaching 65 years of age – so they are not all “really ancient” as you so delicately phrase it””

    ARE ESTIMATED?!!! Ah! So it is true that the 6600 figure is a statistical construct! That would explain why the only person who is said to have been proven to have died from SHS is Roy Castle. But it may not true that Roy (God bless him) died from SHS, may it? Why are the people who are using Roy Castle as a piece of propaganda refusing to release information of the type of LC Roy suffered from? Since Roy’s illness has been used again and again to propagandise SHS harm, then the fact of his illness is in the public domain. There is therefore no reasonable reason that the details of his illness should not also be in the public domain.

    Also, I did not say “ALL really ancient” as you quoted, I said “PROBABLY really ancient”. Perhaps you should read text more carefully, because, if that is the standard of your attention to what you read, everything else that you claim is called into question.

    For example, you say 6600 deaths resulting from SHS. In 2007, Patricia Hewitt said 3000. Also, Lansley said on TV 80,000 premature deaths from smoking. But the DoH (and I have the letter to hand) said 100,000 and the Brit Heart (or was it lung) foundation, in a video of YouTube, said 114000.

    What sort of comic turn is playing out here? I am sure that Roy Castle would find it hilarious, even on his death bed.

    So go to a psychiatrist Rollo. Not a quack – one of those I have outlined above.

  6. Rollo Tommasi says:

    Junican – Perhaps if you dislike my 6,700 figure (from Jamrozik’s 2005 BMJ article) so much, you might care to tell me how many deaths you consider are caused by passive smoking in the UK each year? Oh, and supporting evidence for your figure would be nice too.

    In the meantime, trying to describe that range of deaths as a “statistical construct” is callous if it is part of a pitiful attempt to pretend to yourself that passive smoking doesn’t kill in reality. That estimate of deaths is just as valid as other estimates obtained as a result of epidemiological evidence, such as lung cancer deaths from radon gas or vehicle emissions.

    Your antics continue. You misquote me in attempting to claim I misquoted you. Note how I did not include the word “all” in the quote “really ancient”.

    And, in a desperate attempt to keep a debate going, you return to your old chestnut about different quotes. I’ve already suggested to you that “If you see other figures, you also need to check what the figures relate to – e.g. which SHS-related diseases do they cover; from what kind of exposure; do they cover England only, E&W, GB or UK?” It’s a point you simply ignore. It seems Dave A is not the only person to resort to Zombie Arguments…….

  7. Junican says:

    I quote:

    “”And, in case you’re wondering, around 2,100 of these 6,600 are estimated to die before reaching 65 years of age – so they are not all “really ancient” as you so delicately phrase it.”” [My bold]

  8. Junican says:

    Rollo, are you drunk? You’ve just increased the figure of SHS deaths from 6600 to 6700.

    Maybe a witch doctor would be more suitable that a psychiatrist. How about Deborah dear?

  9. Rollo Tommasi says:

    So I take it you’re not going to tell me how many people you think are actually killed by SHS in the UK each year, let alone provide supporting evidence for your own estimate?

    Why am I not surprised……

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