Smoking & Science

Recent results of medical research into the effects of passive smoking have recently been reported in the press; they apparently indicate that passive smoking isn't a cause of lung-cancer. The news has been greeted with enormous (not to say enormously smug) glee by many inveterate smokers. Photocopies of articles have been left in prominent places and pinned on notice-boards, sometimes with carefully chosen sentences highlighted. `There,' the smokers appear to be saying, `it's OK for me to smoke after all; I'm not hurting anyone but myself, and here's the science to prove it.'

Now we could simply accept this. We could admit that smoking isn't dangerous, only dirty and anti-social. We could admit that smokers aren't claiming the right to kill us, only the right to nauseate us, to make our clothes and hair smell, to make our eyes sting and our throats and chests tight. Yes, we could say, smoking in public is only a little worse than letting off stink bombs - and that's perfectly socially acceptable, isn't it? But take that line and we'd surely be missing a more telling point.

If smokers think that this recent research is significant, what was their attitude to previous research that indicated the dangers of passive smoking? Did the smoker, who insists that I should now accept that her habit is harmless to me, give up that habit when the evidence pointed in the opposite direction? Did she stop smoking when science said she would be harming those around her? If not, then she's effectively saying that science should be taken seriously when it supports her, sneered at or ignored when it doesn't. Or, perhaps, that she has the right to give us cancer, but fortunately for us she turns out not to have been doing so.

Let the smoker admit her addiction, let her seek help in overcoming it; she'll deserve our sympathy and tolerance. But let us be spared this self-serving selective use of science by those who were prepared to harm us when the theories went against them.

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