Tuesday, October 12, 2004

A passive debate

First there was the proposal to ban smoking in public. Now some people seem to want a ban on talking about smoking in public, too.

The Royal Institution (RI) in London, a famous centre for scientific research and debate, is coming under fire for allowing the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association to hire its rooms for a day. The event is entitled 'The Science of Environmental Tobacco Smoke', but the idea that there could be a debate about the subject is anathema to some. Ian Willmore from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) told the Times (London), 'The RI normally does a great job promoting the public acceptance and understanding of science, and it shouldn't be collaborating with a group like this.'

His view was shared by Professor John Britton, chair of the Royal College of Physicians’ tobacco advisory group, who said he was 'surprised and disappointed' that the RI had accepted the booking. 'They want to create the impression that Britain’s top scientists are debating these issues, and there is no such debate,' he said.

Well, if there isn't such a debate, there ought to be, because the science on passive smoking is not at all clear cut. The event organisers, desperate to be seen to be balanced, have even invited ASH to speak at the event - but even questioning the assertion that passive smoking is harmful is now beyond the pale.

The head of the RI, Susan Greenfield, sensibly pointed out that it was a private booking and it wasn't her place to interfere with the discussion. 'If we blocked this in a politically correct way, where would we be with the drinks industry or food companies? We would have Alcoholics Anonymous and the anti-obesity lobby objecting too,' she said. Just wait till someone decides to organise an event called 'Eating and Drinking are Good For You'...

Scientists clash over tobacco talks, The Times (London), 11 October 2004

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