January 7, 2018 marked the 25 year anniversary of the landmark 1993 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report, Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders, classified secondhand smoke (formerly referred to as Environmental Tobacco Smoke or ETS) as a Group A carcinogen, known to cause cancer in humans (See EPA press release). This Risk Assessment was one of the first scientific reports from a federal agency linking secondhand smoke to cancer in humans. The findings set off a wave of local and state clean indoor air laws. It also set off a frenzy of tobacco industry efforts, via its lawyers, public relations firms, and front groups, to de-legitimize the EPA and to raise doubt about the health hazards of secondhand cigarette smoke.
In January 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report titled Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders, which examined the respiratory effects of secondhand smoke exposure. The report concluded that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and respiratory illnesses, including asthma, in children. The report estimated that secondhand smoke exposure causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths in nonsmoking adults every year in the United States. The report also classified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer in humans, and there is no safe level of exposure.
Tobacco Industry Interference
The tobacco industry planned an attack to discredit the EPA report and its findings while the EPA was still conducting its research. Their "overriding objective [was] to discredit the EPA report " The industry successfully placed their researchers on the EPA's Scientific Advisory Board and paid scientists to write letters to newspapers and medical journals opposing the report's findings. Upon the report's release, the industry conducted a vast campaign to misinform the public about the risks of secondhand smoke.
In June 1994, the EPA wrote a detailed response to defend its report, addressing each of the tobacco industry's criticisms and validating the scientific basis of their findings. The tobacco industry continued with its assault and several tobacco companies sued the EPA.
On Friday, July 17, 1998, US District Judge William L. Osteen (North Carolina)
issued a ruling to overturn the 1993 Environmental
Protection Agencys report on environmental tobacco smoke. Tobacco
industry public relations experts spun this news as a major blow not only to
the science on secondhand smoke, but also to the hundreds of ordinances passed
nationwide which eliminate secondhand smoke exposure in workplaces and other
public places. The EPA filed an appeal in September 1998 and stood by its conclusions
on the health effects of secondhand smoke, which have been validated by many
more recent and more comprehensive studies. In December 2002, a three-judge
panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw
out the lawsuit against the EPA. The judges ruled that tobacco companies
cannot sue the EPA over its secondhand smoke report, because the report was
not a final agency action and hence not subject to court review. The Court
of Appeals ruling vindicated the EPA report and the report remains in full standing.
Tobacco industry front groups still promote the original judge's ruling to muddy
the waters, but the truth is crystal clear. The entire international scientific
and health community have overwhelmingly concluded that secondhand smoke causes
death and disease in otherwise healthy nonsmokers. Period.