A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

Hans Selye: Smoking Has Its Benefits!

February 17, 2011

Hans Selye (1907-1982) is widely credited as the first to study the biological and health effects of stress. It turns out that Selye, like so many others, was not adverse to downplaying the risks of smoking in exchange for some research money. In "The 'Father of Stress' Meets 'Big Tobacco': Hans Selye and the Tobacco Industry" —a paper published in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health— Mark Petticrew and Kelley Lee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine describe how Selye's research was used to "argue against a causal role for smoking in coronary heart disease and cancer." They cite a 1966 memo from William Shinn, an attorney with the law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon, in which Shinn argues that Selye could be useful to the industry in a number of ways —for instance he could "emphasize the 'stressful' effect" of anti-smoking messages. Fast forward 45 years: as the cell phone controversy took off, a convenient school of thinking emerged, led by Peter Wiedemann, a German researcher with ties to the mobile phone industry. It argues that warnings about RF health risks do more harm than good because people can get scared. All the while, Shook, Hardy continues to represent the tobacco industry and has added a number of cell phone companies to its client list, including Motorola and Sprint (see MWN, S/O02, p.9). Plus ça change…