The Passive Smoking Scare: When Ruling Class Propaganda Masquerades as Science (2010), Sean Gabb

Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 200
26th November 2010

The Passive Smoking Scare:
When Ruling Class Propaganda Masquerades as Science

by Sean Gabb

One of the main news items for today is yet another report on passive smoking. This one was published by the World Health Organisation, and claims that, every year and all over the world, 603,000 non-smokers die from inhaling the tobacco smoke of others. A third of these, it adds, are children, and they are often exposed to smoke in their homes. These conclusions are based on looking at deaths during 2004 in 192 countries.

Science or Propaganda?

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As science, this Report is worthless. Common sense alone should tell us that. Its purpose, beyond any reasonable doubt, is not to describe the world, but to justify the power of those who rule the world. It is meant to justify taxes and other aggressions against the masses, and to justify the employment of an army of clients. Modern states have no precedent in the scale of what they can steal, and no single ideology is nowadays sufficient to legitimise what they do. But the anti-smoking movement is an important strand in the coalition of forces that comprise the managerial state. Together with political correctness, environmentalism, health and safety, and a general desire to regulate every aspect of our lives, the war against tobacco is an equivalent of the obsession with religious conformity or the passion for big military establishments that legitimised earlier ruling classes.

For evidence, look at this quotation from the BBC coverage of the Report:

“This helps us understand the real toll of tobacco,” said Armando Peruga, of the WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative, who led the study.

The name alone of this organisation tells us that the Report is propaganda. The Tobacco-Free Initiative was no more likely to find against passive smoking than the Roman Catholic Church is to find against the Divinity of Christ. Then there are the recommendations of the Report. These are

that the provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control should be enforced immediately to create complete smoke-free environments in all indoor workplaces, public places, and on public transport. [p7 of the Report]

It is accepted that a ban on smoking at home is for the moment unenforceable. But the Report continues:

[T]hese policies contribute decisively to denormalise smoking, and help with the approval and implementation of other policies that reduce tobacco demand, such as increased tobacco taxes and a comprehensive ban of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship. [ibid.]

It is all entirely predictable. The Report is one more work of anti-smoking propaganda. The final objective is a world where no one smokes. This is to be achieved one step at a time. If it cannot yet be banned in the home, smoking can be banned everywhere else. When I heard the wireless coverage this morning, I dismissed the Report out of hand. Now that I have read it, I am in no doubt of its nature.

However, since I have taken the trouble to read it, I might as well explain why the Report is worthless in its specific claims about the 603,000 deaths from passive smoking.

Proving the Danger of Active Smoking

I will begin by noting that around 60 million people are said to have died in 2004. Of this number, 603,000 is around one per cent. Most governments are incapable of collecting even the more obvious vital statistics. Probably most African governments have no idea how many people die of diseases like tuberculosis or malaria – and these are direct causes of death.  Probably, they have no real idea of how many people are born or die every year. Expecting there to be reliable statistics about passive smoking – which is only said to be a cause of other causes of death – from even a minority of the 192 countries surveyed requires heroic faith in the honesty and competence of people notorious for their incompetence and dishonesty. Indeed, the Report does not claim reliable statistics. It admits that

[f]or countries without survey data about second-hand smoke, exposure was modelled. [p.3 of the Report]

That is, the figures were guessed. Anyone who has followed the debate over “climate change” will know that facts derived from computer modelling are at best doubtful.

But, numbers aside, I really doubt if there is reason to suppose that passive smoking is a cause of other causes of death. Even for active smoking, the evidence of harm is rather weak. It seems reasonable to say that inhaling large amounts of vegetable smoke does the lungs no good. But it is very hard to say what long term harm it does. Once we look beyond the propagandistic claim that smoking is the biggest preventable cause of fatal illnesses, we see only a mass of conjectures. Because we have been able to observe their entire progress, we know the causes of tuberculosis and malaria. We have been able to gather data and make and test hypotheses. We are not in this position where heart disease and lung cancer are concerned. These appear to have long preparatory stages, during which no symptoms are shown. Tracing them back to any particular cause has not so far been possible.

After sixty years of research into the effect of active smoking, the best anyone has found are possible correlations. They are no more than possible correlations because they are based on three inherently weak methods of investigation.

First, there are cohort studies. Two groups of people are taken, the only significant difference between them being that one is comprised of smokers and the other is not. These groups are then followed through life, and periodically questioned, and their rates of cancer in old age are compared. This method is unreliable because people often lie about their behaviour, or are not able to keep accurate records of it. Unlike with tuberculosis and malaria, direct observation is replaced by questionnaire research. Also, it is possible for other important variables to be overlooked.

Second, there are case studies. Here, people who already have cancer are asked whether they smoked in the past, and how heavily. This method is still more unreliable. There are the same problems of evidence based on self-reporting, and there is the same possibility that other variables may be ignored. There is the further problem that not everyone asked will agree to answer questions about past lifestyle. The result is a biassed sample.

Third, there are ecologic studies. Here, exposure is estimated to a possible cause of illness, and then matched against incidence of the illness. When plainly stated, this method is obviously defective. No individuals are approached or tested. All that happens is that large statistics are brought together to see what emerges. Imagine this possible case:

In London three people per 100,000 die of lung diseases. In Teheran, 12 people per 100,000 die of lung diseases. In Iran, lead is allowed in petrol, but not in Britain. From this, we conclude that lead in petrol increases deaths from lung disease by up to 400 per cent.

Such a claim should never be made or accepted. It takes no account of any other differences between London and Teheran – the climate, the amount of industry in each city, the age and racial profile of each city, the standards of medical treatment, and so forth. The only advantage of ecologic studies is that, assuming the underlying statistics are themselves grounded in reality, they do reveal correlations.

But, whether strong or weak, correlation is not the same as cause. Correlations may inspire hypotheses about cause, but do not themselves establish cause. Saying, on the basis of any of the three methods, that smoking causes cancer is about as valid as claiming that, because most drivers who crash their cars have eaten bread that day, bread causes motor accidents.

The Danger of Passive Smoking

Now, I have so far discussed the possibility of a link between active smoking and heart disease or lung cancer. While they may not be reliable, it is possible to speak of correlations. Allowing for different rates of absorption, we do know what concentration of substances one cigarette puts into the lungs. We can also discover very roughly how many cigarettes some people smoke or did once smoke. But there is no standard measurement of how much secondary tobacco smoke non-smokers may inhale. There are too many obvious variations – size of room, ventilation, how many cigarettes smoked in the room, how long spent in the room, and so on and so on. As with active smoking, research depends on asking questions of people. A man may be able to say how many cigarettes he smoked each week in 1998. What can he say about the density of the cigarette smoke in the pub where he used to drink?

To be fair, the authors of the Report do quietly admit the worthlessness of their efforts:

There are uncertainties inherent in any assessment of this type. These limitations include uncertainties in: the underlying health data; the exposure data; the choice of study population (particularly the exclusion of potential effects in smokers); the effect sizes and their transferability to other populations and exposure conditions; the burden of active smoking (deduced from the total burden before estimation of the burden from second-hand smoke); and the susceptibility of ex-smokers. Estimation of exposure is one of the weaknesses of this approach because of the gaps in data for specific regions, the age-groups that had to be completed by modelling, and the variations in definitions of exposure across available studies. [p.7 of the Report]

But none of this seems to have found its way into any of the Tobacco-Free Initiative news releases or any of the news reports. The authors were given a brief. Except where children are concerned, claims about primary smoking have usually been flattened by arguments about free choice. It may be that smokers harm themselves, but that is their business. The whole passive smoking scare seems to have been manufactured as a way of showing that smokers harm others. This justifies oppression on the formally liberal grounds of protecting third parties from harm.The authors of this Report have argued their brief as best they could, regardless of their not knowing what is actually meant by passive smoking.

What is to be Done?

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Hostile reviews of anti-smoking propaganda often conclude by accusing the body in question of wasting the tax-payers’ money, and calling for reforms to its management. I think this shows a lack of understanding. So far as our various rulers are concerned, the Tobacco-Free Initiative has not been a waste of money. Nor are all the other research projects and campaigns of other bodies. It is a central purpose of these bodies to lie to us about the dangers of smoking. Those who work for them are selected for their ability to conduct biased research and to dress up the resulting propaganda as scientific fact.

There is no point in demanding changes to the present health establishment. Expecting these people to start telling the truth is as naïve as expecting an estate agency to start offering driving lessons.

The only way to stop this flood of propaganda and lifestyle regulation is to shut all the relevant bodies down – to kick everyone employed by them unpensioned into the street, and to burn all the records. It may be that the wholesale research cuts I have in mind would deprive us of some incidentally true and even useful knowledge. But living in a freer world, where truth was more respected, would doubtless compensate for the loss.

© 2010 – 2017, seangabb.

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Additional Related

11 thoughts on “The Passive Smoking Scare: When Ruling Class Propaganda Masquerades as Science (2010), Sean Gabb

  1. seangabb Post author

    I breezed through (didn't exhaustively read) your article on passive smoking on Lew I suggest the following. Statistics grew out of people's interest in probability, that began in the sixteen hundreds. In the 1920's, certain probability types invented mathematical equations that they claimed could predict the viability of data that was collected, and thus arose the "science" of statistics. But NO ONE, then and ever since, ever conducted a review to substantiate that statistical calculations accurately predicted what would occur given any particular set of data.

    I propose that an accurate review of predictions that arise from statistical calculations; looking at any one, or many, predictions that arose from statistical calculations, and reviewing  real life situations to find out it that is actually what happened; would reveal that EACH AND EVERY statistical calculation is a wrong conclusion. So start with the assessment that statistical calculations are impossible to predict truth, and insist until statistician prove their calculations are accurate predictions, nothing they say is valid, and you can save a lot of time and energy.

  2. seangabb Post author
    As an unwilling passive smoker, I can tell you from personal experience that you're incorrect.  There is a direct correlation between the amount of smoke I breathe, and how easy it is for me to take in oxygen.  When I'm around second hand smoke, I find myself gasping for air.  When I'm not, I can breathe relatively easier.  My non blood related step brothers have the same asthmatic symptoms.  Given that we're not genetically related, grew up around a lot of second hand smoke, live in different regions of the US, I'd say the one common factor of second hand smoke is likely the cause.  It also degrades my athletic ability.
    If one were to sit in an airtight room and release enough cyanide(or any of the other hundreds of deadly chemicals) in gaseous form, you would die.  Smoking undoubtedly has negative health consequences.
    If you want to argue that they're claiming smoking is bad for you therefore we need to tax you, then I'd agree with that.  However, smoking should be treated as a legal infraction the same way that pouring cyanide into the water supply would be.
    Thanks for your time.
    1. harleyrider1978

      Your PSYCHOSIS has been studied and found non-harmful and you 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.


      Your PSYCHOSIS has been studied and found non-harmful and you can seek treatment!

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

      ABSTRACT: 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. … the toxicogenic theory fails all of these criteria. There is no convincing evidence to support the fundamental postulate that IEI has a toxic aetiology
      Ref: Toxicol Rev. 2003;22(4):235-46

      So actual research shows your psychosis is “psychogenic” i.e. it’s all in your head!

  3. seangabb Post author

    Enjoyed your piece about second hand smoke on Lew Rockwell. I've been thinking a lot about the subject lately as it relates to my own mortality.

    3 of my 4 grandparents were smokers. Heavy smokers at that. Out of all of them, only one died from cancer and she was the only non-smoker and it wasn't a smoking-related cancer. I find some irony in that. I don't smoke but only because it is my choice not to smoke.

  4. seangabb Post author

    Very glad to see your article on  I thought you might find the following to be of interest.

    I have worked in the life insurance industry for more than 25 years, including several years as an agent.  Many years ago, I asked an underwriter about passive smoke, because a client had insisted that his positive nicotine test was due to being stuck in confined spaces with smokers.  The underwriter told me that if one was trapped in an elevator filled with chain smokers for hours, there would be no detectable nicotine in one’s system.  No one who was merely exposed to cigarette smoke could possibly be put in the same risk category as an actual smoker.

    I was impressed by this categorical denial because if anyone has an interest in determining the actual effects of second hand smoke, it is insurance companies, who are putting their money on the line against their estimate of their insured’s health risks.  Nothing has changed in the succeeding 20+ years; insurance companies still make no effort to detect evidence of passive smoke, because it just doesn’t matter.   Meanwhile, the industry has made great efforts to use a wide range of blood chemistry data to create numerous pricing categories—and all this testing costs a lot of money, yet it appears to be profitable to do it.

    The life insurance industry was charging extra for high blood pressure even before “medical science” had decided that it was a risk factor for heart disease.  The insurance industry saw a correlation, which is all they need to justify an additional charge.  That is to say, they don’t need to determine causation, and in the case of passive smoke, they haven’t found even a correlation significant enough to be worth their trouble.  

    Thanks again for the article. 

  5. Anonymous

    I skimmed this but I had exactly the same thoughts, did you point out it was mostly based on results obtained by questionnaires sent to schools and the remainder was found on “selected” real studies found on Google?

  6. seangabb Post author

    "Have you noticed how TB seems to be rising in perfect synchronisation with restrictions on public smoking?

    TB, after being wiped out by antibiotics, started showing up again in the 80s when people were first discouraged from smoking. It rose all through the 90s, especially in London once smoking was banned on the tube. Now apparently there have been outbreaks linked to the germs spreading in nightclubs – which until very recently were think with tobacco smoke and now aren't.

    When you think about it, the tobacco plant grows all those things in its leaves to kill pests – not just caterpillars but also germs. Tobacco smoke is a natural pesticide. It is also interesting that no one even considered tobacco have ill-side effects until after the introduction of penicillin. Seeing as antibiotics are working less and less well, maybe it would be a good thing if continuous natural pesticides were fumigated in public spaces again.

    TB is a horrible way to die, and 50% of patients do.

    1. Anonymous

      Surely the rise of TB (along with HIV) is more to do with the increasing 3rd world demographic component in London, rather than the illiberal suppression of smoking?. Are not the majority of cases found amongst economic refugees?.

      The worst, most corrosive, social effect of authority stamping on smokers smoking is surely the death of our pubs, though again the threat of being mugged (‘taxed’) on the way home must also put many off.

    2. KP

      The rise of lung cancer that gets blamed on smoking also started after the Govts started atomic tests. There must be thousands of tons of microscopic dust that is highly radioactive still floating in the atmosphere, and one particle stuck in your lungs or in your skin could cause cancer. These factors I have never seen talked about.

      Then you also have the rise in the use of asbestos through the 20th century, and a man who ran an asbestos mine in Swaziland told me the Swazi workers never got lung cancer like the British, even though they had asbestos shadows in their lungs.

      So much is unknown, except to those who are screaming at us about global warming of course… They are experts in prediction and modelling!

      1. seangabb Post author

        All else aside, the cancer establishment has had lavish funding for sisty years, and has found out less that men like Pasteur did with a budget of 2s.6d. That alone makes you wonder what is going on.