Sunday November 21, 1999
It’s the message that legions of guilty smokers are desperate to hear, but few doctors would dare to air in public: smoking isn’t so bad for you – if you tuck into a salad first.
Only one month after the world’s biggest tobacco company, Philip Morris, admitted for the first time that smoking can kill you, one of Britain’s top experts on the effects of the habit has provoked outrage in the anti-cancer establishment by insisting it’s fine to smoke 10 cigarettes a day, passive smoking is no problem, and the Government is wasting money telling people to quit.
Dr Ken Denson, of the Thame Thrombosis and Haemostosis Research Foundation in Oxford, has spent the last decade studying smoking-related illnesses and concluded that the real problem isn’t the cigarettes, but the poor diet of smokers.
‘The risks attributed to the act of smoking, and especially passive smoking, have been greatly exaggerated,’ said Denson. ‘Nobody wants to rock the boat on smoking, but this has been swept under the carpet for too long.’
The heretical claims were immediately condemned as ‘dangerous’ by mainstream cancer experts. ‘To say smok ing under 10 a day is not dangerous is patently ridiculous,’ said Professor Richard Peto of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. ‘Any competent scientist is aware of the evidence that there is proof beyond reasonable doubt that smoking causes lung cancer.
‘The overall pressure on scientists is to exaggerate the importance of their work, but you must realise that while this generates headlines it is a dangerous game.’
Amanda Sandford of the pressure group Action on Smoking and Health agreed: ‘The evidence is absolutely overwhelming, there have been millions of studies showing how dangerous smoking is. It is dangerous to play down those effects.’
However, Denson claims most of these studies are flawed because they haven’t taken diet into account. Smokers have been shown to eat less fruit and vegetables and more saturated fats than non-smokers, a combination linked to cancer and heart disease. They tend to come from lower social classes already prone to bad diet.
‘Smokers should be told to improve their diet to protect themselves but the medical establishment has a mental block about smoking,’ said Denson. ‘Smokers with the right diet can have an 80 per cent lower risk of cancer than the smoker on a bad diet.’
He points to the fact that smokers and moderate wine drinkers have a 50 per cent lower risk of suffering Parkinson’s Disease, which affects 200,000 people in Britain.
Denson also claims a ‘nanny state’ is so over-cautious on health issues that both smokers and drinkers are being deliberately misled on their habits’ risk levels.
David Hinchliffe, chairman of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, which is currently looking at smoking, gave the most cautious of welcomes to the findings. ‘I can accept that there very well might be dietary evidence,’ he said, ‘although I don’t doubt for a minute that smoking has a very clear link to premature death.’