Have the tobacco police gone too far?
By David Robson Editorial: The dangers of inhaling dubious facts I’VE been called a traitor,” says Michael Siegel, a public-health doctor at Boston University in Massachusetts. “It’s been a character assassination.” This treatment seems surprising as, reading Siegel’s CV, you’d think he was a poster boy for the anti-smoking movement. He regularly publishes research on the harmful effects of passive smoking and has testified in support of indoor smoking bans in more than 50 US cities. Despite these credentials, Siegel has come under fire from colleagues in the field of smoking research. His offence was to post messages on the widely read mailing list Tobacco Policy Talk, in which he questioned one of the medical claims about passive smoking, as well as the wisdom of extreme measures such as outdoor smoking bans. In front of his peers, funders and potential future employers, other contributors posted messages accusing Siegel of taking money from the tobacco industry. When Siegel stood his ground, the administrators kicked him off the list, cutting off a key source of news in his field. “It felt like I was excommunicated, says Siegel. “I was shocked: I’ve been a leader in the movement for 21 years.” Siegel’s case is perhaps the most clear-cut example of a disturbing trend in the anti-smoking movement. There are genuine scientific questions over some of the more extreme claims made about the dangers of passive smoking and the best strategies to reduce smoking rates, but a few researchers who have voiced them have seen their reputations smeared and the debate stifled. Putting aside the question of whether such tactics are ethical,