A joint statement from the Cancer Council Australia, Heart Foundation and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in response to the Enstrom/Kabat passive smoking study published on Friday in the British Medical Journal.
A number of Australia's leading health groups have warned that the results of a new study regarding the link between passive smoking, heart disease and lung cancer should be received cautiously.
Professor Alan Coates, CEO of The Cancer Council Australia, said today the health risks of passive smoking had been well-established by a significant body of medical evidence.
'There is a vast body of medical evidence that has found that passive smoking is, without doubt, harmful to health,' Professor Coates said.
'The only debate on this issue is the extent to which passive smoking is harmful.
'This study may cause some people to doubt the relationship between passive smoking and lung cancer and heart disease.'
This study was published in the British Medical Journal with a footnote disclosing that it was funded by the Centre for Indoor Air Research, an organisation that received funding primarily from US tobacco companies.
The journal also carries an editorial that identifies a number of problems in the study design, and highlights tobacco-specific carcinogens that are readily identified in the urine sample of non-smokers married to smokers.
'We need to view the findings of this study with some scepticism, given that it was refused funding through the normal peer review process and subsequently funded by tobacco interests,' Professor Coates said.
Concerns about the study have also been raised by a number of highly regarded experts in the US, where the study was conducted - they include Julius Richmond, a former US Surgeon General.
The American Cancer Society has criticised the study, saying it suffers from 'flawed methodology' and is 'neither reliable nor independent'. Although the study was based on data originally collated by the American Cancer Society, the Society repeatedly warned the researchers of problems with their research methods.
'We note the American Cancer Society's statement detailing correspondence between the study authors and a tobacco company,' Professor Coates said.
'It's important to note that a recent review by the prestigious International Agency for Research on Cancer looked at more than 50 studies on passive smoking and lung cancer and concluded that the evidence was sufficient that passive smoking is a cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. This is the most reliable and unbiased evidence available.'
Tobacco spokesperson for the National Heart Foundation of Australia, Maurice Swanson, said research has concluded that there are a large number of diseases in non-smokers that are related to passive smoking, including heart disease, lung cancer, nasal sinus cancer and respiratory illness in adults.
In children, passive smoking has been found to be a cause of SIDS, lower birthweight babies, bronchitis, pneumonia and other infections of the lung and airways, asthma, and middle ear disease ('glue ear').
'There can be no doubt that passive smoking is a serious public health issue, and measures by governments to create smoke-free environments in public places are vitally important in protecting non-smokers from the health effects of passive smoking,' Mr Swanson said.
To view the American Cancer Society's response to the study, go to http://www.cancer.org/docroot/MED/med_0.asp