ASH takes Sunday Telegraph to PCC over ‘false & misleading’ reporting of passive smoking

Friday 27 March 1998

Press releaseEmbargo: 00.01 27 March 1998 ASH
Action on Smoking
and Health

ASH has complained to the Press Complaints Commission about a series of articles in the Sunday Telegraph about passive smoking. The newspaper stated on 8 March that a study by an agency of the World Health Organization showed that “passive smoking does not cause cancer” and claimed that, because of its embarrassment, the WHO had deliberately withheld the study from publication. The Sunday Telegraph’s report was inaccurate and denounced as ‘false and misleading’ by the WHO and many experts. Despite a substantial response from ASH, the authors of the study and the WHO, the Sunday Telegraph tried to stand by its story the following week rather than withdraw and apologise. In doing so, it made further unfounded accusations and inaccuracies.

The Sunday Telegraph story was quickly picked up world-wide and has been extensively used to create confusion and doubt about passive smoking – though there is in fact a clear consensus that passive smoking is a cause of lung cancer, heart disease and numerous other illnesses, especially in children. UK newspapers squashed the Sunday Telegraph’s story within 24 hours, and ASH’s main purpose in making this complaint is to help those working outside the UK, particularly in developing countries, to respond to what has become a major tobacco industry PR offensive.

Clive Bates, Director of ASH, said: “We expect the reporting of the smoking issue to be robust and opinionated, but this is very different. The Sunday Telegraph gave enormous front-page coverage to inaccurate and misleading statements about passive smoking and made false accusations of improper behaviour by the WHO. It still will not accept it was wrong, nor will it apologise, so the PCC is the only option.”

“British national newspapers are still regarded as authoritative sources around the world, but the Sunday Telegraph reported tobacco industry black propaganda as if it was fact and this created a global outbreak of manufactured controversy. To turn back the tide of disinformation, ASH wants to have the truth about this story on the record.”said Bates, “when the tobacco industry pushes stories about smoking and health, alarm bells should ring in every newspaper office.”

Notes: Copies of the complaint (4 page pdf) are available from ASH.

Contact Clive Bates, Director (020) 7739 5902
Amanda Sandford, Communications Director (020) 7739 5902

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