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#464 - Cigarette Science at Johns Hopkins, 18-Oct-1995

As the scientific evidence piles up, linking chemical exposures to
serious human diseases, many chemical-dependent industries, such as
pesticide purveyors, are searching for a strategy to buy themselves
some time, to put off the inevitable. They needn't look far. The
tobacco industry has demonstrated that 40 years of scientific bad news
can be deflected and neutralized with relative ease. Roughly half-a-
million Americans die each year from tobacco-related illnesses, and
this assessment is not disputed by the federal government, or by
thousands of scientific researchers and physicians, or by the nation's
mainstream medical and health organizations. Yet the tobacco
corporations have successfully maintained their privilege of selling a
product that kills 10% of everyone who uses it as directed. What is the
secret of such success?

A key component of the tobacco strategy is scientific research, funded
by the Tobacco Industry Research Committee, which was formed in 1954
and later was renamed the Council for Tobacco Research.[1] Scientific
research sponsored by the Council has served to create and maintain a
"scientific controversy" surrounding questions of tobacco and health.
The Council has funded studies of questions such as, Do some people
have a genetic predisposition to cancer? Scientific controversy about
tobacco-and-health gives the tobacco industry "plausible
deniability" (a phrase made famous by Richard Nixon in another
context). Scientific controversy allows the tobacco industry to insist
that the case against their product in not conclusive. And it gives
tobacco corporation executives the wiggle room they need--to deny that
they are cut from the same cloth as drug dealers and murderers. For
example, an official of the Tobacco Institute (an industry trade
organization) said in 1987 --33 years after the American College of
Surgeons identified smoking as a major cause of lung cancer --"Smoking
may cause illness; it may not. We don't know and we don't think anybody
knows."[2]

We call this phenomenon "cigarette science." Cigarette science is
scientific study that serves the needs of a particular industry that
finds itself beset by scientific bad news. One such industry is the
pesticide trade.

The pesticide corporations have formed their own cigarette-science
group called RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment). RISE
is made up of executives from companies like Monsanto, Sandoz Agro,
DowElanco, Dupont Agricultural Products, The Scotts Company, and other
pesticide manufacturers, formulators, and distributors.

The issue that has RISE's members worried is multiple chemical
sensitivity, or MCS. MCS is an adverse reaction to low levels of many
different chemicals with symptoms that range from sniffles to coma.
Typical symptoms include irritability, insomnia, difficulty
concentrating, memory trouble, daytime grogginess, chronic fatigue,
headache, joint pain, muscle pain, abdominal pain, constipation, and
ringing in the ears. In sum, for an MCS patient, life is hell. MCS
afflicts 10% to 15% of the American public, and appears to be
increasing, according to a publication of the American Chemical
Society.[3] Pesticides and solvents are the chemicals mentioned most
often as causes of MCS. For example, a recent article in ENVIRONMENTAL
HEALTH PERSPECTIVES (a scientific journal published by the National
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a federal agency) says MCS
is a "syndrome with onset related to an environmental exposure, MOST
COMMONLY A SOLVENT OR PESTICIDE. [Emphasis added.] After the initial
exposure, individuals become sensitive to low-level chemical exposures
with symptoms involving more than one organ system. Though this
syndrome was described four decades ago, it remains highly
controversial."[4] Keeping MCS controversial is a key task of the
cigarette-science activities of RISE. So long as MCS is surrounded by
scientific controversy, the pesticide industry has wiggle room to make
statements such as this recent one by RISE regarding MCS: "There is no
scientific or documented evidence that pesticide application when used
in accordance with label instruction has caused harm to human
health."[5]

RISE's 1995-96 STRATEGIC PLAN (provided to us by the MCS advocacy
group, MCS Referral & Resources [phone: (410) 448-3319]) describes 4
main objectives. Objective #3 is "To promote the use of industry
products as valuable pest management tools to enhance the quality of
life and the environment." For achieving Objective #3, the RISE
STRATEGIC PLAN identifies two "tactics" to be used by its
"Communications Committee:" First, "Host forum for industry user groups
that are taking positive pesticide messages to schools." And, second,
"Conduct two 'MCS' phenomena seminars."

On September 9, 1995, RISE sponsored a seminar on MCS. One of the
speakers was Suellen W. Pirages, managing director of a brand new
organization, the Environmental Sensitivities Research Institute
(ESRI). ESRI is a new cigarette-science institute funded by chemical-
dependent corporations "to 'proactively' respond to the rising number
of" MCS cases.[6] Notice how the name of the institute shifts the
problem from one of 'multiple CHEMICAL sensitivities' to one of
'ENVIRONMENTAL sensitivities.' The problem isn't chemicals, it's the
environment. Executive director and founder of ESRI is Ronald R. Gots,
who openly scoffs at MCS patients and the physicians who treat them.
For example, Dr. Gots has said MCS is "a peculiar manifestation of our
technophobic and chemophobic society."[7] In other words, MCS patients
aren't really sick --they're just irrationally frightened by technology
and chemicals.

Dr. Gots wears another hat, as director of the National Medical
Advisory Service (NMAS), which provides expert witnesses to attorneys
defending corporations in product liability lawsuits. ESRI and NMAS are
essentially indistinguishable; they share the same offices and have the
same fax number; Dr. Gots heads them both. ESRI and NMAS promote the
same viewpoint toward MCS: it is an imaginary or psychological
phenomenon, not an illness, so it couldn't be caused by chemicals. For
example, on September 15, 1995, Dr. Gots testified on behalf of a
corporate defendant in a lawsuit, saying under oath, "The MCS theory
has been subjected to peer review evaluation and it has generally been
rejected as 'junk science.'"[8]

Dr. Gots himself has had some recent work subjected to review by one of
his peers, and it was found wanting. His recent book, TOXIC RISKS:
SCIENCE, REGULATION AND PERCEPTION was thoroughly trashed by a reviewer
in the JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL MEDICINE--an industry-dominated journal.
Dr. Gots's book was described as "of little value to public health
professionals and scientists" and "replete with sweeping
generalizations, overstatements, and exaggerations."[9]

Despite the obvious anti-MCS bias of Dr. Gots and his anti-MCS
organizations, a respected university and the federal government are
now allowing themselves to become a vehicle for Dr. Gots's political
agenda. October 30 through Nov. 1, Johns Hopkins University in
Baltimore --one of the nation's top research institutions, particularly
in public health --in conjunction with NIOSH [National Institute of
Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency] --is co-sponsoring a
symposium with Dr. Gots's National Medical Advisory Service, assisted
by the staff of the Environmental Sensitivities Research Institute. The
symposium is called "Multiple Chemical Sensitivities: State-of-the-
Science Symposium." As you might expect from a group that doesn't
believe there is any valid science supporting diagnoses of MCS, the
symposium is heavily weighted in favor of pro-industry, anti-consumer,
anti-MCS-patient viewpoints. No attempt is being made by conference
organizers to include or accommodate MCS patients.

A ticket to the conference costs $625, and no scholarships are being
offered to MCS patients, so their viewpoints on their illness will be
missing from the conference. The viewpoint of the pesticide, carpet,
perfume, and chemical industries --as represented by Dr. Gots and his
colleagues --will receive a stamp of approval from NIOSH and from one
of the nation's most prestigious universities. Thus does a major
university slide into a role as provider of a public relations
platform, and cover, for cigarette scientists promoting the anti-
scientific agenda of the pesticide and petrochemical industries.

In the Baltimore area, MCS sufferers and people concerned about the
integrity of science are outraged by Johns Hopkins University's
capitulation to chemical-dependent industries, and they are planning a
protest outside the OMNI-Inner Harbor Hotel in Baltimore at 8:30 a.m.
October 30th. In honor of Halloween, organizers of the protest are
urging MCS patients to come dressed as "An MCS Patient's Worst
Nightmare --an anti-MCS witness in a white lab coat masquerading as an
unbiased MCS researcher."

In contrast to the anti-MCS bias dominating the conference sponsored by
Johns Hopkins and its friends in the pesticide industry, some excellent
scientific work is underway to find the causes of MCS. Recent work
published in mainstream scientific journals indicates that MCS is a
disease related to the olfactory (sense of smell) nerves in the nose.
This nerve system provides a pathway for chemicals to pass directly
into the brain. Chemicals traversing this path may affect the limbic
system in the brain, which in turn influences both the endocrine and
immune systems and also influences a person's moods.[10] Other recent
scientific work implicates another mechanism in causing MCS --
inflammation of body tissues caused not by the immune system (which
often causes inflammation to fight disease), but by a mechanism called
"neurogenic inflammation."[4] A great deal of controlled scientific
experimentation is going on now to test these hypotheses.

In the end, good science will prevail. But in the meantime, millions of
peoples' lives have been ruined by MCS. Worse, the Johns Hopkins/NIOSH
conference has been designed by cigarette scientists to prolong the
misery.

--Peter Montague

=====

[1] Larry C. White, MERCHANTS OF DEATH; THE AMERICAN TOBACCO INDUSTRY
(New York: William Morrow, 1988), pg. 32-34.

[2] Larry C. White, cited above in note 1, pg. 18, reporting an
interview with William Kloepfer, vice president of the Tobacco
Institute.

[3] Bette Hileman, "Multiple Chemical Sensitivity," C&EN [Chemical &
Engineering News] Vol. 69 No. 29 (July 22, 1991), pg. 34. Hileman says,
"The lack of a clear definition or diagnostic test for MCS [multiple
chemical sensitivity] makes it very difficult to estimate its
prevalence. However there is much indirect evidence that the number of
people diagnosed with MCS is increasing."

[4] William J. Meggs, "Neurogenic Inflammation and Sensitivity to
Environmental Chemicals," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES Vol. 101,
Number 3 (August, 1993), pgs. 234-238.

[5] Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment [RISE], "Position
Statement, Registries and 'Multiple Chemical
Sensitivity' ('MCS')." (Washington, D.C.: RISE [1156 15th St., N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20005; phone: (202) 872-3860], Dec. 14, 1994), pg. 1.

[6] "New Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Research Group Formed," RISK
POLICY REPORT June 16, 1995, pg. 18.

[7] Dr. Gots quoted in "New Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Research
Group Formed," RISK POLICY REPORT June 16, 1995, pg. 18.

[8] Affidavit of Ronald E. Gots in MARY JANE NETHERY V. THE
SERVICEMASTER COMPANY ET AL, Circuit Court of Lee County, Mississippi,
Cause #92-167(G)(L), Exhibit G, pg. 6, dated September 15, 1996.

[9] John E. Vena, "Book Reviews," JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL MEDICINE Vol.
36 (July, 1994), pg. 678.

[10] Iris R. Bell, "An Olfactory-Limbic Model of Multiple Chemical
Sensitivity Syndrome: Possible Relationships to Kindling and Affective
Spectrum Disorders," BIOLOGICAL PSYCHIATRY Vol. 32 (1992), pgs. 218-
242. And see: Iris R. Bell and others, "Self-Reported Illness from
Chemical Odors in Young Adults without Clinical Syndromes or
Occupational Exposures," ARCHIVES OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH Vol. 48
(January/February, 1993), pgs. 6-13.

Descriptor terms: science; bias; tobacco industry; pesticides;
solvents; mcs; tobacco industry research committee; council for tobacco
research; tobacco institute; smoking; cigarettes; responsible industry
for a sound environment; mcs referral & resources; environmental
sensitivities research institute; ronald gots; national medical
advisory service; niosh; carpets; perfumes; chemical industry;
propaganda; baltimore, md; johns hopkins university;