More Australian dishonesty on second hand smoke, we can add Peter Lavac and Professor Matthew Peters to the Professor Simon Chapman hall of shame

This is a straight cut and paste from Chris Snowdon’s blog.

“Peter Lavac – the whole story

I recently mentioned the bizarre case of Peter Lavac, who blames two people who lived in a flat below him for 18 months for giving him lung cancer and now plans to sue. The whole affair is as fishy as a barrel of haddock, not least because Lavac is a well-known nonsmokers’ rights activist and the doctor who claims that his illness was probably caused by secondhand smoke “permeating” his apartment happens to be the chairman of ASH Australia.

My thanks to commenters on the previous post for pointing me to Lavac’s testimony to a parliamentary committee on tobacco policy which is dated 1st May 2006. Despite being a member of the Non-Smokers Movement of Australia, Lavac describes himself in this document as a “private citizen”. His testimony is filled with anti-smoking clichés and an obvious hatred of smokers.

We have laws to protect us from home invasion by thugs and criminals, yet inadequate laws to protect us from home invasion by toxic carcinogens transmitted by selfish ignorant idiots who do not give a dam [sic] about anyone else … From the moment these people start sucking on their cancer sticks there is no escape … Invisible smoking and non-smoking lines make about as much sense as having a non-urinating area in a swimming pool.

His testimony provides some crucial facts that did not appear in the recent news reports, which make a mockery of ASH’s claim that his lung cancer (from which he has now recovered) was caused by second, third or fourth-hand smoke. Bear in mind that this testimony was given two years before the cancer was detected, but while he was still living in the apartment.

Not long ago I was diagnosed with a very serious life-threatening illness. One of the first things I did was to purchase a small apartment right on the headland on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean to take advantage of the fresh clean air coming off the sea. This, I felt, would be conducive to my recovery and treatment, and give me the best possible chance of beating my illness. The location is idyllic, the view spectacular, the atmosphere tranquil, but, most important of all, the ocean air is pure and pristine.

He does not specify what this life-threatening illness was, but judging by the importance of “fresh clean air”, it is reasonable to assume it was some sort of respiratory disorder. Furthermore…

My current health problems are further aggravated and compensated by the fact that I am asthmatic, and have permanent scarring of my lungs from a bout of pneumonia several years ago.

It was at this cliff-side getaway that Lavac encountered two hated smokers who lived in a flat below. According to Lavac, “second-hand smoke constantly permeates my apartment” and according to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Professor Peters told Mr Lavac and his wife to reduce their exposure. After living in their flat for 18 months in 2005-06, they changed address.

And so, within months of giving his testimony to parliament, Lavac had moved house. He had only been there for a year and a half, and it was another 18 months before he fell ill again.

In March 2008, Mr Lavac was in a criminal trial in the Downing Centre, which happened to be filmed for an ABC documentary, On Trial.

“I got pretty sick but at the time I didn’t realise just how sick,” he said. “I had a bad flu that didn’t seem to go away. After the jury verdict I got an X-ray done. I thought I had pneumonia.”

A CAT scan detected a small dark shadow at the top of his right lung, and a biopsy confirmed it was cancer.

Here we have a guy with a history of pneumonia, respiratory illness and asthma. A man who had scarred lung tissue long before he moved to his mountain retreat and who had only moved there in the first place because he had a “very serious life-threatening illness”.

Both scarred lungs and pneumonia are risk factors for lung cancer:

Tuberculosis and pneumonia can leave scarring on the lungs. The scarring is a risk factor for lung cancer development, specifically adenocarcinoma.

Asthma is also an independent risk factor for lung cancer:

The combined results from five case-control studies–that presented data limited to individuals who had never smoked–showed a 1.8-fold increase in lung cancer risk among asthmatics (95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.3-2.3).

Attributing a case of lung cancer to any single cause is a fool’s game—which is why his case will fail if it ever gets to court—but Lavac had at least three identifiable risk factors for the disease which had nothing to do with tobacco. It is plainly nonsense for ASH’s chairman to claim that “on the balance of probabilities” Lavac’s lung cancer was caused by living for 18 months by the ocean near some people who smoked on the balcony below him. This would be a ludicrous thing to say at any time, but it it is still more absurd when the patient had at least three known risk factors.

You be the judge, because I seriously doubt that a real judge will ever be asked to decide. This is a publicity stunt to launch ASH’s campaign against smoking at home. Nothing more, nothing less.”

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