Although completely ignored by the English-speaking media, recent comments by Professor Philippe Even have been widely reported and discussed in his native France. Until recently, Philippe Even was professor emeritus at University of Paris Descartes and the president of the Research Institute Necker.
As a highly distinguished pulmonologist, he knows a thing or two about respiratory and lung diseases, which is why his comments to Le Parisien have attracted so much attention. This translation comes courtesy of the thoroughly bilingual CAGE Canada:
What do the studies on passive smoking tell us?
PHILIPPE EVEN. There are about a hundred studies on the issue. First surprise: 40% of them claim a total absence of harmful effects of passive smoking on health. The remaining 60% estimate that the cancer risk is multiplied by 0.02 for the most optimistic and by 0.15 for the more pessimistic … compared to a risk multiplied by 10 or 20 for active smoking! It is therefore negligible. Clearly, the harm is either nonexistent, or it is extremely low.
It is an indisputable scientific fact. Anti-tobacco associations report 3,000-6,000 deaths per year in France...
I am curious to know their sources. No study has ever produced such a result.
Many experts argue that passive smoking is also responsible for cardiovascular disease and other asthma attacks. Not you?
They don’t base it on any solid scientific evidence. Take the case of cardiovascular diseases: the four main causes are obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. To determine whether passive smoking is an aggravating factor, there should be a study on people who have none of these four symptoms. But this was never done. Regarding chronic bronchitis, although the role of active smoking is undeniable, that of passive smoking is yet to be proven. For asthma, it is indeed a contributing factor ... but not greater than pollen!
The purpose of the ban on smoking in public places, however, was to protect non-smokers. It was thus based on nothing?
Absolutely nothing! The psychosis began with the publication of a report by the IARC, International Agency for Research on Cancer, which depends on the World Health Organization. The report released in 2002 says it is now proven that passive smoking carries serious health risks, but without showing the evidence. Where are the data? What was the methodology? It's everything but a scientific approach. It was creating fear that is not based on anything.
Why would anti-tobacco organizations wave a threat that does not exist?
The anti-smoking campaigns and higher cigarette prices having failed, they had to find a new way to lower the number of smokers. By waving the threat of passive smoking, they found a tool that really works: social pressure. In good faith, non-smokers felt in danger and started to stand up against smokers. As a result, passive smoking has become a public health problem, paving the way for the Evin Law and the decree banning smoking in public places. The cause may be good, but I do not think it is good to legislate on a lie. And the worst part is that it does not work: since the entry into force of the decree, cigarette sales are rising again.
A maverick? A contrarian? Perhaps, but cui bono? The anti-smoking movement's motive for exaggerating the passive smoking threat is clear enough, but what could a retired pulmonologist have to gain from expressing his scepticism? For me, the most revealing part of the interview was his explanation for why he has waited until retiring before speaking out.
Why not speak up earlier?
As a civil servant, dean of the largest medical faculty in France, I was held to confidentiality. If I had deviated from official positions, I would have had to pay the consequences. Today, I am a free man.