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Sparks fly over smoking theory

London, May 16 (Reuters): Researchers reporting in a British medical journal said today that passive smoking may not be as harmful as previously thought, leading critics to question the study’s method and ties to the tobacco industry.

Inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease, but scientists in New York and California said in a report in the British Medical Journal that the effects may have been overstated. They based their conclusion on analysing data from a study funded by the tobacco industry.

“The association between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease and lung cancer may be considerably weaker than generally believed,” said James Enstrom, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the study’s lead author.

He called the backlash against the findings “discouraging.”

Some other scientists and organisations disputed the findings. “There is overwhelming evidence, built up over decades, that passive smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease, as well as triggering asthma attacks,” the British Medical Association said. “In children, passive smoking increases the risk of pneumonia, bronchitis, and reduces lung growth, as well as both causing and worsening asthma.

The American Cancer Society’s rebuttal was even stronger. “We are appalled that the tobacco industry has succeeded in giving visibility to a study with so many problems it literally failed to get a government grant.”

Enstrom said tobacco industry funding was used towards the end of the study.“ The industry has a bad reputation. That doesn’t mean they can influence anyone,” he said.

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