THE HEALTH POLICE ARE BLOWING SMOKE Bolstered by bad science, the war on passive smoking is a trial run for a larger program of social manipulation.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – The war against smoking is turning into a jihad against people who smoke. Smokers are being exiled from public and private places and are facing discrimination in employment. The reason, we are told, is that tobacco is deadly not only to users but also to innocents exposed to its noxious fumes. The truth is that America is suffering an epidemic of politically motivated hypochondria. Not only the liberty of smokers is threatened. Three decades ago the U.S. Public Health Service had apparently defeated its statutory enemy, communicable diseases, and decided to preserve itself by policing our private health. Smoking was the first target -- a trial run in social manipulation. Sniffing victory in this skirmish, the feds are now turning their weapons on drinking, eating, and sex. But, you sputter, isn't the evidence conclusive that my smoke affects your health? Let me introduce you to the basics of scam science as generated for the feds. Smoking will be the example because it is the test case, but much of this mode of argumentation will be familiar to victims of the pollution, radiation, and toxic scams. All have their roots in the ambitions of the Public Health Service. Note first the duplicitous use of words: Toxic means poisonous, but does not specify at what dose. Everything is toxic if ingested in sufficient quantity. This magazine is toxic -- eat enough copies and you will get sick. Anyone who describes a substance as toxic without stating the dose level is engaging in flimflam; e.g., the Surgeon General informing us that cigarette smoke is ''toxic.'' Carcinogenic usually means that a group of rodents exposed to megadoses of a % substance will have slightly higher cancer rates than a control group. Or it may mean merely that the unfortunate rodents had a few more tumors, or that slight genetic differences appeared in later generations. Too much oxygen, one scientist has determined, is carcinogenic. Anyone who says that something is carcinogenic without specifying the circumstances is a faker. And beware such labels as ''linked,'' ''associated with,'' ''suspected,'' and ''related'' -- these are pseudoscientific McCarthyscam. Then there is the ''no-threshold'' scam: If megadoses kill rats, any dose, however tiny, must be assumed lethal to people, absent evidence to the contrary. A more elaborate version is the ''linear no-threshold extrapolation.'' Take data purported to show adverse health at high dosages and draw a straight line to zero to invent ill effects of infinitesimal exposures. This perversion of toxicology has a cozy symbiosis with ''epidemiology.'' The curiously mislabeled study of health statistics, epidemiology was a benign academic backwater, infested by harmless drudges, until federal funding made it malignant. Most of the work is crude input-output analysis masquerading as precise statistical correlations, using data that are often appallingly inaccurate. The input is typically behavioral or environmental activity -- smoking, for instance -- established by survey questionnaires, which are notoriously unreliable. Output usually takes the form of death rates, as established by death certificates -- documents quite unsuited for statistical research, since physicians often diagnose causes of death only roughly. When no data exist, the health statisticians generate their own. A favored device is the ''case control'' method of comparing an affected group with a control group. The drawback here is that researchers have enormous latitude in picking control groups. Even studies using apparently similar groups can yield incredibly varied conclusions that cannot be replicated. For example, in studies cited by the Surgeon General using nonsmokers as control groups, putative lung cancer rates for smokers range from 20% to 3,500% higher. Here's how the drill works: A toxie gets a government grant to terminate rats by all but drowning them in a suspect compound. He reports that whatzatapyrene is ''carcinogenic.'' Because of the no-threshold principle, the feds can tell the public that ''no safe dose level has been established.'' Next an epie gets a bigger grant to conduct a body count. He discovers that of 87,000 whatzat workers over 30 years, 46 succumbed to cancer. But the epie has calculated 22.7 ''expected'' deaths from the cancer in a comparable normal group, so the relative risk of whatzatapyrene exposure is 2.03. The feds tell the press that whatzateers are ''twice as likely to get cancer.'' EPIDEMIOLOGICAL RESULTS are conventionally reported as ''risk ratios.'' For example, contract researchers for the FAA might calculate that people who live near airports have a risk ratio of death from falling aircraft engines of 7.5 to 1 compared with the normal population, meaning their risk is 7 1/2 times higher, to hide the vital fact that falling engine fatalities are rather infrequent. Today all seriously untoward health events are rare. That's surely why the feds and their vendors are loath to inform us of the relevant risk data, which are the actual rates at which people suffer falling-engine trauma or contract lung cancer. Although the Public Health Service has been reticent about publicizing the fact, every study cited in support of the statement that ''cigarette smoking causes cancer'' reveals that a smoker is thoroughly unlikely to get cancer -- only that he is statistically more likely to get it than a nonsmoker. No one can say precisely how much more likely. This is true of all supposed ''carcinogens.'' Perhaps this is why people continue to smoke despite the increasingly shrill scoldings they are subject to. So lately the feds have escalated the war. Their most ingenious weapon for converting private health into public health is the ''determination'' that secondhand smoke -- or passive smoking, or in fed parlance, environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) -- harms the public at large. In late 1986 two general surveys of the state of knowledge on ETS were published by the PHS and its contractors. Now follow closely and track scam science in action. The heart of the health service report is a series of epidemiological studies comparing the lung cancer deaths of the spouses (mostly wives) of smokers with the spouses of nonsmokers, expressed as ratios, not rates. None of the studies took into account effects of common heredity, environment, and infection. Of the 13 studies, three showed that the smokers' wives had comparable or slightly better health -- but these studies are worthless because they fail to meet conventional statistical standards. Eight more studies show that the smokers' wives are 3% to 103% more likely to get lung * cancer -- but these studies are also statistically suspect. That leaves a Greek case-control study and a Japanese study, both of which seem to show that having a smoking husband can be more dangerous than smoking. Both have been attacked in the medical press.

Yet the Surgeon General has announced that these 13 studies prove the evils of passive smoking. The other survey of environmental tobacco smoke was conducted by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. The NRC used to be the premier source for fairly accurate and disinterested evaluations of current science, but lately has become a prestige vendor of sci-prop. An NRC panel, engaged by the PHS and the Environmental Protection Agency, averaged a group of studies that included most of the ones cited above and came up with a risk ratio for spouses of smokers of 1.34 to 1 (1.32 to 1 for women). They then concluded that the probable risk was about 1.25 to 1, though in the executive summary the risk was boosted to 1.3 to 1. It is worth noting that the largest study of smoking conducted to date, by the American Cancer Society in the 1960s, found that women who smoked one to nine cigarettes a day had a lung cancer risk ratio of 1.3 to 1 compared with nonsmokers. Passive smoking is not only bad for women, it seems; it is just as bad as active smoking. Alcohol is next on the feds' hit list. A study has already ''determined'' that alcohol ''causes'' cancer, and learned scientists have taken the next step. In a catalogue of cancer risks posed by various substances, British researchers Richard Doll and Richard Peto estimate that alcohol is responsible for 3% of American cancer deaths. Wine has been discovered to contain carcinogens. The Public Health Service, among other groups, is urging warning labels for alcoholic beverages. Can we doubt that ingenious researchers will ultimately calculate the toxic effects of passive drinking -- errant molecules of alcohol from highballs in the box seats statistically killing innocents in the bleachers? The authorities also complain that we eat too much, and that we don't eat what they think we should. Our heart attacks are a public health problem. Doll and Peto suspect that 35% of cancer deaths are caused by diet, even more than by smoking. Other epidemiologists are calculating how much cancer is caused by burning food. Watch out, restaurant operators and bachelor cooks. The new guardians of the public virtue have even begun collecting information on sexual conduct -- when women lose their virginity, the proportion who marry when pregnant -- under the rubric of health data. One researcher avers that sperm may be carcinogenic. WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS for business? The entrepreneurial reader may already be slobbering to get his snout into the pork barrel. The federal government, after all, funds about 85% of basic health research. Alas, the business is a classic cartel, administered by a narrow trust, with strictly controlled entry. The big winners include the disease lobbies and such institutions as the Harvard School of Public Health. More to the point, no industry is immune to the ravages of scam science. The feds are now trying to ban tobacco advertising in its surviving forms. As the Surgeon General has said, ''There is no safe cigarette.'' And no such thing as a safe automobile, or a safe food, or a safe airline flight, or a safe ski, or a safe cosmetic, or a safe condom. Nothing is safe as long as the authorities define private health as public health.