As well as mobilizing doubt in order to create confusion about the link between smoking and lung cancer, the tobacco industry has a long history of obfuscating the science showing how tobacco harms, often using unethical animal testing.
The link between smoking and lung cancer has become increasingly accepted since the 1960s, but the tobacco industry fought to reduce public understanding of the risks every step of the way. The bad science of the tobacco industry supported their outright denial of the risks, and in many cases led to animals suffering for no real gain in knowledge. In addition to this, the fiasco of “low tar” or “light” cigarettes again shows that when it comes to creating a perception that cigarettes are safer than they really are, the tobacco industry doesn’t care who gets hurt.
Tobacco Industry Bad Science: Animal Testing and Lung Cancer
One of the main strategies the tobacco industry used to cast doubt on the link between smoking and lung cancer was the use of animal testing. You might be surprised to hear that animal testing – which is used in many areas of science – was part of the bad science of the tobacco industry, but there are serious limitations to the usefulness of animal testing.
The best demonstration of this is the tobacco industry’s bad science on smoking and lung cancer. In these studies, rats and mice were made to inhale large amounts of tobacco smoke for long periods of time, but the studies consistently failed to show any link between smoking and lung cancer. Of course, we all know that smoking causes lung cancer, so something is clearly going wrong.
The explanation is really simple: animals and humans are so different that you can’t just extrapolate findings from one to the other. Animals’ bodies can provide a good “model” (i.e. a useful approximation) of the effects something may have on humans, but sometimes the models aren’t that close a match. The lack of lung cancer in mice and rat experiments on smoking convincingly show that rodent lungs aren’t a good model for human lungs when it comes to smoking.
Unethical Testing of Tobacco on Animals
The lack of useful information gleaned from the tobacco industry’s bad science on smoking and lung cancer shows that not all animal testing can be ethically justified. If the studies don’t provide any useful information for humans, any benefits of the research disappear, but the mice, rats and other studied animals still suffer.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) take issue with animal testing of tobacco for this reason. The earlier tests were unethical, but now we’re well-aware of the risks of smoking, you may expect such testing to have stopped. But this isn’t the case.
PETA draws attention to a few examples of the sort of tests still being conducted on animals by the tobacco industry. One example involved coating the skin of over 1,000 rats and mice with cigarette tar and forcing them to inhale smoke. As you may expect, this led to very serious consequences, including skin cancer, but also more horrifying results like the animals’ skin peeling off.
Other rats had to inhale smoke from cigarettes made with different mixtures of flavorings added, before being killed and dissected to determine the degree of the damage. Of course, we know smoking has devastating effects on the internal organs, but we also know that studying rats isn’t the best way to learn about them.
More Tobacco Industry Bad Science: “Light” and “Low Tar” Cigarettes
The tobacco industry’s bad science wasn’t confined to the issue of smoking and lung cancer. One of the most famous other examples were the claims that “light” or “low tar” cigarettes were safer than ordinary cigarettes. The tobacco industry showed this using “smoking machine” studies, where cigarettes were smoked by an automated machine before the smoke was analyzed.
The problem is that a smoking machine inhales a consistent amount of smoke with each puff, but real smokers don’t. In fact, the methods used to create a “light” cigarette – for example, putting ventilation holes in the filter to dilute the smoke with air – produced favorable effects when the smoke was analyzed by the machine but didn’t translate to real smokers. Because these approaches produced less nicotine as well as less tar, smokers in the real world inhaled more deeply to get the same nicotine dose, which meant they got the same amount of tar as before.
Bad Science from the Tobacco Industry Harms Animals and Consumers
The end result of tobacco industry bad science is confusion about the risks of cigarettes and harm to both the animals involved in testing and consumers. How many mice and rats died for no reason in uninformative tests? How many smokers switched to light and low-tar cigarettes in the mistaken belief that they’d experience health benefits? These questions aren’t easy to answer, but it’s abundantly clear that the bad science of the tobacco industry has caused a lot of harm.