Did you know that most smokers will never contract lung cancer?

Experts and media economical with the truth

Studies on the subject are, not surprisingly, hard to find, but every now and then, a small item appears in a news article, such as this one in Time magazine, dated April 2, 2008 (emphases mine):

… what about the 80% of smokers who don’t develop lung cancer? Are they just the lucky ones?

The article goes on to say that lung cancer and smoking depends on a genetic variant which researchers in Europe and the United States studied:

While the variants were associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers, that genetic predisposition is not destiny.

However, this is not new. A 1985 article from the Los Angeles Times, ‘Researcher Admits that 80% of Smokers Don’t Get Cancer’ begins as follows:

A researcher who testified in a $1-million wrongful death suit that smoking causes lung cancer later admitted “perhaps 80%” of smokers do not contract the disease.

Dr. Michael B. Shimkin acknowledged under cross-examination Wednesday that “most people who do smoke–even heavy smokers–do not get lung cancer.”

Shimkin refused when pressed by R. J. Reynolds Co. attorneys to set the number at 90%, but said it is “a heavy number, perhaps 80%. . . . This is one of the many questions in medicine, why some of us have resistance to this and others do not.”

Another doctor, James P Shiepman, MD, did his own private research on many of the anti-tobacco studies available on the Internet. His short but informative essay, based on 50 hours of research, is entitled ‘Smoking Does Not Cause Lung Cancer’. I recommend it to everyone.

Those seeking actual tables from the WHO and Center for Disease Control can examine his table of risks per demographic at the bottom of the page.

Excerpts from his essay follow (emphasis his in the third paragraph):

… the risk of a smoker getting lung cancer is much less than anyone would suspect.  Based upon what the media and anti-tobacco organizations say, one would think that if you smoke, you get lung cancer (a 100% correlation) or at least expect a 50+% occurrence before someone uses the word “cause.” 

Would you believe that the real number is < 10% (see Appendix A)? Yes, a US white male (USWM) cigarette smoker has an 8% lifetime chance of dying from lung cancer but the USWM nonsmoker also has a 1% chance of dying from lung cancer (see Appendix A).  In fact, the data used is biased in the way that it was collected and the actual risk for a smoker is probably less.  I personally would not smoke cigarettes and take that risk, nor recommend cigarette smoking to others, but the numbers were less than I had been led to believe.  I only did the data on white males because they account for the largest number of lung cancers in the US, but a similar analysis can be done for other groups using the CDC data.

You don’t see this type of information being reported, and we hear things like, “if you smoke you will die”, but when we actually look at the data, lung cancer accounts for only 2% of the annual deaths worldwide and only 3% in the US.**

He takes the media to task for misusing words, particularly ’cause’ (emphases his in the second paragraph):

Look in any dictionary and you will find something like, “anything producing an effect or result.”18 At what level of occurrence would you feel comfortable saying that X “causes” Y?  For myself and most scientists, we would require Y to occur at least 50% of the time. Yet the media would have you believe that X causes Y when it actually occurs less than 10% of the time ...

If they would say that smoking increases the incidence of lung cancer or that smoking is a risk factor in the development of lung cancer, then I would agree. The purpose of this article is to emphasize the need to use language appropriately in both the medical and scientific literature (the media, as a whole, may be a lost cause).

Yet, his own scientific world does not dispute the media’s message; they say the same thing. The aforementioned articles from Time and the Los Angeles Times focus more on the anti-smoking aspect than the fact that only a small percentage of smokers will ever get lung cancer.

Shiepman follows his essay with a section called ‘The Untold Facts of Smoking (Yes, there is bias in science’. Among the facts are these:

4. All cancers combined account for only 13% of all annual deaths and lung cancer only 2%.**

7. Second hand smoke has never been shown to be a causative factor in lung cancer.

9. No study has shown that second hand smoke exposure during childhood increases their risk of getting lung cancer.

11. If everyone in the world stopped smoking 50 years ago, the premature death rate would still be well over 80% of what it is today.1 (But I thought that smoking was the major cause of preventable death…hmmm.)

He concludes:

Yes, smoking is bad for you, but so is fast-food hamburgers, driving, and so on. We must weigh the risk and benefits of the behavior both as a society and as an individual based on unbiased information. Be warned though, that a society that attempts to remove all risk terminates individual liberty and will ultimately perish. Let us be logical in our endeavors and true in our pursuit of knowledge. Instead of fearful waiting for lung cancer to get me (because the media and much of the medical literature has falsely told me that smoking causes lung cancer), I can enjoy my occasional cigar even more now…now that I know the whole story.

At the bottom of the page is this (italics his):

For those of you who actually read the whole article…

As long as I’m being controversial by presenting both sides of the story, do I dare tell you that a woman is three times more likely to die from an abortion than from delivering a baby (WHO data).

Why lung cancer rates are increasing — despite smoking bans

A British health site, Second Opinions, has an in-depth article on the puzzling rates of lung cancer from the 20th century to the present. Many people wonder about the strange rise of the disease among non- and never-smokers in an era where smoking is banned nearly everywhere in the West.  ‘Does Smoking Really Cause Lung Cancer?’ which appeared at the Millennium is required reading.

The article looks at the research done by the late Dr Kitty Little who worked for 50 years as a research scientist both in Oxford and in Washington, DC. She spent the first decade of her career studying the effects of radiation on the body for the Atomic Energy Research Establishment. She went on to Oxford Medical School practising orthopaedics. She then spent time in the United States working with their armed forces as a pathologist. When she returned to England, she worked at the MRC (Medical Research Council) on DNA and the causes of dental caries. She also wrote a textbook at Oxford about bone pathology and bone cancer. Dr Little died in 1999.

In 1998, Little wrote an article called ‘Diesel Smoke and Lung Cancer’ (see aforementioned Second Opinions link). In short, she concluded (emphases mine, unless otherwise indicated):

  • tobacco smoke contains no carcinogens, while diesel fumes contain four known carcinogens;
  • that lung cancer is rare in rural areas, but common in towns;
  • that cancers are more prevalent along the routes of motorways;
  • that the incidence of lung cancer has doubled in non-smokers over past decades;
  • and that there was less lung cancer when we, as a nation, smoked more.

A summary, accompanied by excerpts, of her research into the 20th century history of lung cancer follows.

It should be noted that the effect of smoke in the lungs was first debated in 1306 by the English Parliament when coal began to be used as fuel. Tobacco had not yet reached Europe.

Lung cancer rates started to rise in the 1930s, inexplicably eclipsing the incidence of other cancers. The pattern of lung cancer cases was equally unusual. In South Africa, cities with frequent breezes (e.g. Port Elizabeth, Cape Town) had lower rates than urban areas with little to no wind (e.g. Durban, Johannesburg).

Another factor was that most cities had already experienced decades of urban smoke. Why the sudden explosion of lung cancer in the 1930s?

In rural South Africa, lung cancer rates were lower, even where much of the population — both men and women — smoked. Rhodesia, which had a high percentage of smokers, had very little lung cancer.

The culprit appears to have been the introduction of diesel-fuelled vehicles which appeared at the beginning of the 1930s, first in the UK, then South Africa and New Zealand a few years later. British immigrants to other parts of the Commonwealth began contracting lung cancer before the populations of their host countries did. This included non- or never-smokers.

Little concluded:

Statistics such as these that have been quoted provide almost complete proof that diesel smoke has been the cause of the rise in incidence of lung cancer, but statistics on their own can never provide complete proof. One also needs confirmation from an investigation into the biological mechanisms involved. This includes seeking to identify the carcinogenic agent or agents responsible.

Urban smoke and cigarette and tobacco smoke contain a chemical, 3:4 benzpyrine, that is weakly carcinogenic. However, it oxidises very easily, and has never been shown to cause lung cancer – conditions in the lungs would favour rapid oxidation to harmless compounds. There is, however, evidence that diesel smoke contains at least four strongly carcinogenic compounds. (4) It has also been shown, from field observations, that local concentrations in some traffic conditions can be very high. (5)

In 1950s Britain:

it was quite clear that the increase in lung cancer had been due to diesel smoke, and that cigarette and tobacco smoke had nothing to do with it. Yet on 27th June 1957 the anti-smoking campaign was launched, (6) with the Health Education Council being formed to help push its propaganda. (The Health Education Council, and its successor the Health Education Authority, have been primarily concerned with promoting bogus medical propaganda).

By the early 1960s, this anti-tobacco campaign resulted in fewer Britons smoking. Nonetheless, lung cancer rates continued to rise, particularly among men who worked amidst diesel emissions — notably garage attendants and lorry drivers. The solution for the former was to introduce self-service filling stations.

By 1970, lung cancer rates continued to rise as road traffic increased along with the amount of diesel emissions. Towns near motorways and cities with heavy traffic had a higher incidence than those communities in a cleaner environment:

Thus, in the Abingdon and Faringdon district lung cancer deaths rose by 65% in 1970 as compared with previous years. (7)

Regardless, the British medical establishment continued to press on with the message that smoking tobacco was deadly:

There was no attempt made to check if any doctor with an early lung cancer had some other condition recorded as a cause of death. One such case would have been sufficient to invalidate the conclusion.

Little’s research points out that researchers and physicians have completely ignored the effect of diesel smoke — now increased over the past 15 years with family vehicles running on the fuel:

This invalidates all their results, since statistics always seem to give an answer, but it is only the correct answer when all the relevant variables are taken into account – and the effect of diesel smoke is undoubtedly relevant. It is interesting that lawyers issued instruction on how to confuse a court should an action for damages resulting from diesel smoke be initiated. (9)

The fact that many of the cases of lung cancer involve non-smokers became something that could no longer be ignored. Therefore, as diesel family cars came onto the roads, an attempt has been made to implicate “passive smoking”. Evidence already quoted shows that this suggestion must be false. Not only does tobacco smoke not contain a carcinogenic agent that could cause lung cancer, but the high levels of smoking, in this country before diesel was introduced, and in South Africa and elsewhere in places where diesel had not been introduced, never resulted in lung cancer from “passive smoking”. If the suggestion was valid they would have done.

Little concluded her article by condemning the Tobacco Control industry:

Since the effect of the anti-smoking campaign has been to prevent the genuine cause from being publicly acknowledged, there is a very real sense in which we could say that the main reason for those 30,000 deaths a year from lung cancer is the anti-smoking campaign itself.

Second Opinions also examined American research on the rise of lung cancer. Dr David Abbey studied 6338 non-smoking men, aged 27-95, who lived in California between 1967 and 1992. In 1999, he published his results which centred on vehicle emissions and lung cancer in non- and never-smokers (emphasis in the original):

PM10 exposure was strongly associated with lung cancer, raising the risk by 2.38 times. PM10 exposure was also associated with all natural causes of death in men and with an increased mortality from non-malignant respiratory disease in men and women. PM10s are particles of less than 10 µm in diameter exhausted from Diesel engines. David Abbey, leading author of the study noted that men who spent longer outside were at greater risk than men who spent most of their time indoors.

In addition, ozone exposure was implicated in increased risk of lung-cancer mortality in men, and sulphur dioxide (SO 2 ) exposure was independently associated with increased risk of lung-cancer mortality in both men and women. These too are found in vehicle exhaust emissions.

Today’s ‘cleaner’ diesel is still problematic with regard to lung cancer. Abbey discovered:

these may be even more harmful … “recent studies on the short-term effects of atmospheric particles on respiratory and cardiovascular diseases have shown that PM2.5s and even smaller particles are more important than PM10s.”

It is to be hoped that the lies about tobacco which have been foisted on the world over the past 60 years — from Sir Richard Doll’s 1954 study onward — will soon be exposed.

The real cause of our lung cancer rates is likely to be vehicle emissions. More experts need the bottle to break out of the conventional mould and research this, particularly with the continuous decrease in the number of smokers and venues where smoking is allowed.