House of Lords says scientific evidence does not support public smoking ban

MPs voted in February by a huge margin to ban smoking from all pubs and private members' clubs in England.

The proposed ban is based on the premise that environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) or so-called 'passive smoking' is a risk to health.

In an interesting turn of events the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has just published a report on the Government's Policy on the Management of Risk.

The report has reached the conclusion that environmental tobacco smoke is not the risk it is purported to be and does not justify such a ban.

The report says that greater attention should have been given to scientific evidence, which it says suggests that passive smoking in public places is a relatively minor problem compared with passive smoking in the home.

The report calls on ministers to pay more attention to the risks to personal liberty posed by new legislation.

Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, said the government had failed properly to apply guidelines on risk assessment.

This is of course great news for the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association (TMA) which has always taken the view that the scientific evidence, taken as a whole, does not demonstrate conclusively that ETS presents a serious risk to health.

The chief executive of the TMA, Tim Lord says the findings of individual studies of the health effects of ETS are inconsistent and inconclusive.

He cites the five largest studies on the statistical association between ETS and lung cancer, where one reported a small increase in risk, three reported no statistically significant increase in risk, and one reported a statistically significant decrease in risk.

Tim Lord says if there are concerns about ETS, the TMA is prepared to acknowledge them and address them.

The TMA favours the provision of designated smoking rooms or areas for the specific use of smokers rather than a blanket smoking ban.

Deborah Arnott, of the anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said the scientific evidence on the harmful nature of secondhand smoke was "overwhelming" and breathing other people's smoke in the workplace was estimated to cause around 600 premature deaths a year.

Simon Clark, of the smoker's lobby group Forest, said MPs had been hoodwinked by exaggerated claims about the effects of passive smoking.

In a major study published in the British Medical Journal in May 2003 conducted by Enstrom and Kabat on over 100,000 adults in California between 1960 and 1998, no causal relationship was found between ETS and tobacco related mortality.

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