Now Fox News Is Defending Tobacco-Cancer Denial

Fox News Responds To Media Matters: Tobacco Isn't That Bad

Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

Philip Morris ad

In response to Media Matters' documentation that a group pushing climate change denial has also rejected the known health impacts of tobacco and secondhand smoke, Fox News is suggesting that secondhand smoke is not dangerous.

On the April 9 edition of Special Report, Fox News correspondent Doug McKelway pointed to a report by the "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC), which was written in an attempt to debunk the United Nations' recent consensus report, to claim that "a torrent of new data is poking very large holes" in climate science. In an accompanying article at, McKelway responded to a Media Matters blog post documenting that the group behind the report, the Heartland Institute, has previously denied the health impacts of tobacco, by claiming that the "Heartland's denial of the dangers of second hand smoke was re-affirmed by a large scale 2013 study":

The NIPCC ["Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change"] report was immediately assailed by administration supporters. The website Media Matters reported that the NIPCC study was published by the conservative Heartland Institute, which previously denied the science demonstrating the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke. (In fact, Heartland's denial  of the  dangers of second hand smoke was re-affirmed by a large scale 2013 study  in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute which found "no statistically significant relationship between lung cancer and exposure to passive smoke.")

Media Matters had actually pointed out that the Heartland Institute once claimed that smoking "fewer than seven cigarettes a day" -- not just secondhand smoke -- was not bad for you, while simultaneously being funded by the tobacco giant Philip Morris. Regardless, secondhand smoke is unequivocally dangerous and causally linked to cancers including lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute, the American Lung Association, and the Centers for Disease Control. McKelway cherry-picked one study that found no statistically significant link between secondhand smoke and cancer but did find a trend of "borderline statistical significance" among women who had lived with a smoker for 30 years or more. Meta-analyses have previously found that the "abundance of evidence ... overwhelmingly support the existence of a causal relationship between passive smoking and lung cancer." The Environmental Protection Agency states that it does not claim that "minimal exposure to secondhand smoke poses a huge individual cancer risk," but that nonetheless secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year in U.S. nonsmokers:

The evidence is clear and consistent: secondhand smoke is a cause of lung cancer in adults who don't smoke. EPA has never claimed that minimal exposure to secondhand smoke poses a huge individual cancer risk. Even though the lung cancer risk from secondhand smoke is relatively small compared to the risk from direct smoking, unlike a smoker who chooses to smoke, the nonsmoker's risk is often involuntary. In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke varies tremendously among exposed individuals. For those who must live or work in close proximity to one or more smokers, the risk would certainly be greater than for those less exposed.

EPA estimates that secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year among nonsmokers in the U.S.; of these, the estimate is 800 from exposure to secondhand smoke at home and 2,200 from exposure in work or social situations.

National Cancer Institute

Like the Heartland Institute, Fox News also had ties to the tobacco industry and its attempt to avoid regulation in the wake of documented health impacts from its products. Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox, was previously on the board of tobacco company Philip Morris, and invited Philip Morris executives on to News Corp.'s board. Philip Morris envisioned Murdoch as an "ally" the company could "exploit." Furthermore, Fox News President Roger Ailes was paid by Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds, another titan of the tobacco industry, to develop a communications strategy to stop health care reform plans being pushed by the Clinton administration in the 1990s. Ailes, then executive producer of Rush Limbaugh's late-night TV show, used his influence to get Limbaugh on-board with the industry's political campaigns. The Fox Effect by Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt noted that when Ailes joined CNBC "as head of a financial news network that was covering the issue of health care reform and its impact on business and the stock market," he continued to receive $15,000 per month in consulting fees from the tobacco industry.

This is not the first time that Fox News has defended the tobacco industry. In the 2000s, Steve Milloy wrote columns for downplaying the health impacts of tobacco and secondhand smoke, while being paid by Philip Morris. Milloy is now employed by a coal company to push misinformation on climate change. More recently, Fox News criticized CVS for ending its sales of tobacco, even suggesting that it may not be legal for the private business to make the move.

Image at top was published in 1946 in Redbook magazine, and was obtained via Flickr user classic_film with a Creative Commons license.

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