Dr. Richard Smith is the former editor of the British Medical Journal who had the courage to publish the Enstrom/Kabat paper on passive smoking, lung cancer and heart disease. It concluded: “The results do not support a causal relation between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality, although they do not rule out a small effect. The association between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease and lung cancer may be considerably weaker than generally believed.”
Richard I believe is Arthur Smith the comedian’s brother. Before that in 1987 he was asked to head up a committee to recommend weekly allowances for alcohol. In 2006 the Times asked him about the 21 units a week for men and 14 units for women and he said there was no scientific basis for it. I did a quick Google to get the quote and up came Richard Smith’s blog confirming the story.
“But what should be the advice on alcohol? It can’t be “don’t drink,” nor can it be “drink less.” Doctors and governments think that they need to give guidance to people on alcohol—and mostly they do that by suggesting “safe limits” based on units of alcohol. But is this advice scientifically sound and beneficial? These were the issues debated with considerable feeling at the recent Battle of Ideas meeting in London.
I was a member of the Royal College of Physician’s working party that in the early 80s proposed safe limits for the United Kingdom of 21 units a week for men and 14 for womenwith one unit being 8 grams of alcohol. We advised that a unit was half a pint of beer or a standard glass of wine. I achieved some notoriety about five years ago for telling a journalist that these limits were “plucked out of the air.” Now whenever there is a debate about the validity of the safe limits—as there often is—I’m rung by journalists for a quote. My clumsy statement has not made me popular with the Royal College of Physicians.”
An honest man looking for objectivity.