Nick Minchin was a sceptic on tobacco

THERE must be something in the acronym ETS that makes leading climate change sceptic Nick Minchin see red.

In the mid 1990s, the letters ETS stood for environmental tobacco smoke or passive smoking, as evidence around the world increasingly linked side-stream smoke to lung cancers in non-smokers and respiratory illnesses in children. Medical scientists and health professionals lobbied for tougher anti-smoking laws.

They came to Canberra armed with research that rang alarm bells for the majority of the 1995 Senate committee investigating the cost of tobacco-related illnesses. The majority report favoured a raft of regulatory measures to reduce smoking in the community.

Two Liberal dissenters, Senator Minchin and the former West Australian senator Sue Knowles, opposed many of the recommendations, claiming the tobacco industry was over-regulated.

But Senator Minchin went further, distancing himself from scientific facts that are now accepted as medical orthodoxy.

“Senator Minchin wishes to record his dissent from the committee’s statements that it believes cigarettes are addictive and that passive smoking causes a number of adverse health effects for non-smokers,” the committee’s minority report says. “Senator Minchin believes these claims (the harmful effects of passive smoking) are not yet conclusively proved. . . there is insufficient evidence to link passive smoking with a range of adverse health effects.”

To support his claims, Senator Minchin drew on a study commissioned by the Tobacco Institute of Australia that “concluded the data did not support a causal relationship between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and lung cancer or heart disease in adults”.

Senator Minchin’s stance flew in the face of voluminous reports by the US Surgeon-General, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, documenting nicotine’s addictive hook and the serious health risks for people exposed to secondary cigarette smoke. Even the US and British tobacco companies acknowledged the health hazards from passive smoking in internal corporate research documents from the 1970s, obtained by the US congress and placed on the public record in 1995.

Simon Chapman, professor of public health at Sydney University, who appeared before the Senate committee, yesterday recalled other witnesses reeling with disbelief at Senator Minchin’s “troglodyte” views.

“It was like going into a timewarp, because the case against the tobacco industry was so well-established by then,” Professor Chapman said. “Minchin represented the far end of antipathy towards any intervention in the tobacco industry.”


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