World Health Organization controversy

A 1998 report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) found "weak evidence of a dose-response relationship between risk of lung cancer and exposure to spousal and workplace ETS."[77] In March 1998, before the study was published, reports appeared in the media alleging that the IARC and the World Health Organization (WHO) were suppressing information. The reports, appearing in the British Sunday Telegraph[134] and The Economist,[135] among other sources,[136][137][138] alleged that the WHO withheld from publication of its own report that supposedly failed to prove an association between passive smoking and a number of other diseases (lung cancer in particular). In response, the WHO issued a press release stating that the results of the study had been "completely misrepresented" in the popular press and were in fact very much in line with similar studies demonstrating the harms of passive smoking.[139] The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in October of the same year, and concluded the authors found "no association between childhood exposure to ETS and lung cancer risk" but "did find weak evidence of a dose–response relationship between risk of lung cancer and exposure to spousal and workplace ETS."[77] An accompanying editorial summarized: When all the evidence, including the important new data reported in this issue of the Journal, is assessed, the inescapable scientific conclusion is that ETS is a low-level lung carcinogen.[140] With the release of formerly classified tobacco industry documents through the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, it was found that the controversy over the WHO's alleged suppression of data had been engineered by Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, and other tobacco companies in an effort to discredit scientific findings which would harm their business interests.[121] A WHO inquiry, conducted after the release of the tobacco-industry documents, found that this controversy was generated by the tobacco industry as part of its larger campaign to cut the WHO's budget, distort the results of scientific studies on passive smoking, and discredit the WHO as an institution. This campaign was carried out using a network of ostensibly independent front organizations and international and scientific experts with hidden financial ties to the industry. Critics of the IARC hav stated that it has become susceptible to industry influence and suffers from a lack of transparency. Lorenzo Tomatis, its director from 1982 to 1993, was "barred from entering the building" in 2003 after "accusing the IARC of softpedaling the risks of industrial chemicals" in a 2002 article. In 2003 thirty public-health scientists signed a letter targeting conflicts of interest and the lack of transparency. The IARC rejected these criticisms, and there was hope that the controversy would "die down" after Paul Kleihues (Director from 1994) retired in 2004 and Peter Boyle became the new director. Tomatis focused on the IARC monographs which rate chemicals carcinogenicity, and cited several cases in his 2002 critique. In 1998 a panel voted 17-13 to rate 1,3-butadiene a carcinogen. A second vote which Tomatis called "highly irregular" occurred after "industry observers schmoozed with the panelists and one panelist left the meeting", and a 15-14 vote downgraded the chemical to a "possible carcinogen". Joan Denton, director of California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, made accusations in relation to styrene in 2002, and Michael Jacobsen of the Center for Science in the Public Interest criticized the inclusion of industry observers in a saccharin panel, who were allowed to vote. Tomatis has also highlighted DEHP. In defense of the IARC, Kleihues noted that only 17 of 410 of the working-group participants were consultants to industry and these people never served as chairs. He said people that "people who receive funds from affected agencies do not vote", and further noted that industry-funded scientists are important because industry often funds studies. IARC's secrecy led a Lancet Oncology editorial to warn of the agency's eroding reputation. As of 2003 the IARC did not release details of disputed votes, did not release the financial disclosure forms required of panelists, or the names of the panelists until the panel is complete. Individuals being considered for the new director are released only to representatives from the 16 member countries. Kleihues and other agency officials defend the IARC, with Kleihues noting that procedures and names are listed on the finished monographs, and said names are not released to avoid political pressures. The IARC was considering new transparency disclosures such as a "narrative" explaining disputed votes.