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Unpublished WHO passive smoking study starts row

Leading anti-smoking cancer experts yesterday criticised the tobacco industry for claims that a new study proves that passive smoking does not cause cancer.

A tobacco group, BAT Industries, highlighted a confidential report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which studied cancer cases in seven countries. Dr Chris Proctor, head of science for BAT Industries, claimed that the study had failed to establish a meaningful increase in lung cancer risk to non-smokers exposed to environmental tobacco smoke.

Prof Gordon McVie, one of Britain's leading cancer experts and the director general of the Cancer Research Campaign, said that BAT Industries' interpretation of the WHO's biennial report was "highly misleading" and was probably timed to act as a counter-offensive to Wednesday's National No Smoking Day in Britain.

The study was one of the largest of its kind ever performed in Europe and compared 650 lung cancer patients with 1,542 healthy people. It looked at people who were married to smokers, worked with smokers, both worked and were married to smokers, and those who grew up with smokers.

Prof McVie said: "The tobacco industry is suggesting that the findings show that there is no risk of contracting lung cancer from passive smoking but I have seen the report and the figures of relative risk given are bang in line with the last 10 passive smoking studies.

"The weight of the statistics show that there is more likely to be an effect than not to be an effect, the risk is a small one but the evidence certainly does not prove that no risk is present."

Dr Proctor said that the overall relative risk for exposure fell within a range which made it "non significant" but Professor McVie argued that the range still proved the existence of a related risk. He also claimed the study was weakened by the different methods used in various countries to collect the results. Dr Proctor said: "The study failed to find a statistically valid link."

The International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, which co-ordinated the study, is understood to have submitted it to a science journal.


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