Cannabis, lung cancer, and the wild misleading claims of the British Lung Foundation: An Open Letter To Kaye Adams



Dear Kaye Adams

Thanks for inviting me onto your BBC Scotland radio show this morning to discuss the alleged health risks associated with cannabis use.    I’ll be straight up with you here.  I usually ignore requests to appear on your show because the format isn’t conducive to informed debate.  Discussion on complex subjects often degenerates into smug soundbites and daft opinionated rants.  More often than not listeners lugs are treated to a bona fide idiot fest.  All very entertaining no doubt but hardly serious journalism.

Today was worse than usual.  You trailered your show with the catchy soundbite that smoking a single cannabis joint was as dangerous as smoking twenty cigarettes.   Dame Helena Shovelton, the Chief Executive of British Lung Foundation, prepared the ground for this media feeding frenzy when she issued a statement today which claimed:

“Young people in particular are smoking cannabis unaware that, for instance, each cannabis cigarette they smoke increases their chances of developing lung cancer by as much as an entire packet of 20 tobacco cigarettes.”

Your programme took this at face value and gave an inordinate amount of air space to a spokesperson for the BLF who repeatedly reiterated this claim without citing a single source to back it up.  If I hadn’t participated in the programme his claims would have gone unchallenged.  Yet your good self, as presenter, allowed him to repeatedly assert this wild allegation seemingly oblivious to the possibility that this viewpoint is morally repugnant and scientifically disputed.   Left unchallenged such havering could cause widespread harm to genuine tobacco and drugs education.


On your show I referred to an American report into the relationship between cannabis use and lung cancer .  My source was a study  conducted by the University of California and commissioned and funded by the National Institution of Health which is part of the US government’s Department of Health.  It hardly needs stated that the US government are unlikely to be a source of pro-cannabis propaganda.

This NIH report was of international importance because it was the largest ever control study conducted anywhere into the links between cannabis use and lung cancer.  The control group included 1200 people who had contacted lung, head and neck cancers plus another 1040 people who had no record of any cancer but were matched by age, sex and neighbourhood.

The questions asked of participants were extensive and personal.  Researchers determined whether cannabis users were occasional, moderate or heavy users; and participants were pressed to reveal their life history of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis consumption.

The Washington Post flagged up the report’s conclusions in an article headlined “STUDY FINDS NO CANCER-MARIJUANA CONNECTION” (26 5 2006).  Donald Tashkin, author of the report, and a respected pulmonologist of thirty years standing, admitted surprise:

“We hypothesised that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and the association would be more positive with heavier use.  What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.”

Not only did the report conclude that heavy cannabis users – people who had smoked over 22,000 joints in a lifetime – had no higher incidence of these cancers than the corresponding control group, it even suggested that THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, far from causing lung cancer was actually doing the opposite by killing aged cells stopping them from becoming cancerous.

It should be stressed that Donald Tashkin’s previous research work had been used extensively by both federal health agencies and drug enforcement agencies.  Nor does Tashkin believe that cannabis is harmless.  However he stated at the time of the report that its cancer-inducing properties appeared to be of much less concern than was previously thought.


Yet here we are, just six years later, with the British Lung Foundation claiming the very opposite of the NIH report’s findings.  Depressingly almost every national newspaper and media organisation parrots this uncritically. The article above from today’s Metro is typical of the way a lie can get half way round the world before the truth gets it shoes on.  Even the supposedly liberal press – such as today’s Independent as well as your own BBC News website – simply mirrored these sentiments.

This lackadaisical attitude to news gathering poses serious questions of the standard of journalism in the UK.  Have the British media become so lazy that they just rehash press releases and pass them off as news stories?  Call Kaye suggests this is indeed the case.  This gung-ho approach to journalism was exacerbated by you inviting a BLF spokesperson to make wildly inaccurately claims on live radio without bothering to crosscheck whether their information was factual or accurate.

It should also be noted that the BLF website makes a completely contradictory statement regarding cannabis use and lung cancer.  I read this out on the programme but you completely ignored it and haughtily dismissed my contribution as merely “trading claims” with John Cant from the BLF.   For the record here’s what the BLF website says:  

“It is difficult to ascertain whether or not the inhalation of cannabis causes damage to the lungs and airways independently of the tobacco smoke or not.”  This is a far cry from ” a joint a day is as bad as 20 cigarettes”.

Far be it from me to suggest there is a hidden agenda going on here but your programme should have stated at the top of the show that the BBC is listed on the BLF website as one of their corporate sponsors.

I hope, Kaye, you are starting to realise the damage that lazy journalists like yourself have done by parroting a press release without critically examining its contents.  It wouldn’t be a bad thing if you made an on air public apology to all those health professionals who are doing difficult work trying to tackle the REAL dangers of tobacco smoking.  They must be livid at this report and they way it trivialises the health risks posed by tobacco.

Yours sincerely

Kevin Williamson

CALL KAYE, 6 June 2012

Can be listened to ….  here ….. for the next seven days.


“Cannabis Smoking Not Linked To Lung Cancer Case-Control Study says”

Comments (31)

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  1. david says:

    Breathtaking (sic) irresponsibility lying to children again about cannabis.

    In America cannabis is almost never smoked with tobacco – so the American research shows cannabis as not very dangerous – in the UK it is almost always smoked with tobacco. No wonder dope smokers here get ill.

  2. bellacaledonia says:

    Spot on David. There’s no getting away from the risk associated with joints mixed with tobacco. But this report is saying something altogether different.


  3. Churnalism once more from the British media. TBH this should really be addressed to the producer of the programme who would have done the briefing notes and would have actually done the research. It happens all to often that any report coming from a charity or NGO is not properly fact checked and secondary sources sought.

  4. Rendrag says:

    From their website:

    “The British Lung Foundation maintains cooperative relationships with a wide range of companies that manufacture and market drugs and other treatments..”

    That may explain why they publish lies.

  5. Soixante-neuf says:

    I treasure the memory of the day Kaye held a phone-in about “organic” produce. She came at it with an air-head approach that organic was good and cuddly and healthy and nobody was going to dispute that seriously. Her “expert” in the studio was the organic rose-growing expert from Gardener’s World magazine.

    She got hit between the eyes by a couple of farmers’ wives who laid into her facile and erroneous assumption that organic production was good for animal welfare. These women were sick and tired of the lies being told about their conventional produce by the organic farmers, and had a real go. They pointed to their high-quality single-suckled “free-range” beef herds, which were managed in the same way as the “organic” ones except that the conventional animals were permitted to benefits of properly licensed medicines for prevention of disease, or treatment should they fall ill. Which was rather better for animal welfare than not treating them because of an irrational aversion to medicine.

    Kaye was completely taken aback, and muttered something about that being a new point of view and maybe she should look into it. Then she asked the resident expert for her opinion, and the expert started talking about organic rose growing.

    She didn’t have a clue. She was flying entirely by the seat of her pants, without having bothered to do the slightest bit of background research about the nature of the controversy she was about to wade into. It was a shockingly bad piece of journalism, but on radio there isn’t even anything left to wrap the chips in, and she simply sails on.

    1. William says:

      Not a good sign of balanced journalism, but the farmers wife rants about medicine proves they don’t know any more than Kaye when it comes to the details.

      There’s a very good reason Kaye hadn’t heard of the view that organic herds don’t have the benefit of medicine – it is entirely false.

      Soil Association organic standards don’t only allow sick animals in an organic herd to be treated with medicine – they REQUIRE it.

      If an organic farmer fails to treat sick animals appropriately they face losing their certification.

      The only difference is that organic farmers don’t employ prophylactic use of antibiotics and the likes to prevent disease – a problematic use of antibiotics which is entirely unnecessary with a properly managed herd.

      As for the cannabis debate – I didn’t hear the show and I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve stopped listening to them as the nonsense that gets aired drives me mad. I’m sick of presenters allowing two-bit charities and anecdotal “my son wrecked his life by abusing cannabis to such an extent that were it alcohol we’d have been dragging him to Alcoholics Anonymous but it’s easier to blame the herb than him” sob stories while completely dismissing the far more informed reform argument.

      Sounds like Kevin did the best possible job under the circumstances though, and I entirely support this open letter.

      1. Soixante-neuf says:

        Yes, and according to the Soil Association, homoeopathy is medicine and to be preferred to stuff that actually works. For goodness sake, if you’re going to deny an animal treatment in the name of an anti-science ideology, face up to what you’re doing and don’t hide behind the fairly-story that sugar pills are medicine.

        If an organic farmer (what a ridiculous torture of the English language) treats an animal as it should be treated, he loses the organic premium for that animal – it’s no longer “organic”, maybe it has suddenly become inorganic. So maybe you can work out what actually happens, behind the comforting façade of the web page.

        And no, the “only” difference is not that organic farmers don’t employ preventative medicine, in itself a far bigger problem than you realise. And maybe you could tell be where you went to vet college or even agricultural college and we can have a conversation about a well-managed herd.

        But actually, that wasn’t what the farmers’ wives were complaining about. It was the vicious lies being told by the organic lobby about conventional farming practices. About animals not being free to roam and being pumped full of hormones, just for a start. The picture they try to paint of conventional farming as an animal hell-hole and conventional food as full of chemicals.

        This is absolute rubbish. A single-suckled beef herd (normal practice in Scotland) has as much freedom as anything, and what does it matter to you that the lamb you had for dinner had a worming drench when it was a nipper, six months and more ago? Or that it’s mother had a worming drench, come to that?

        These fruitcakes are only just beginning to re-examine their hard-line opposition to vaccines, for goodness sake. Please stop falling for the propaganda that’s entirely geared at persuading you to pay twice the price for indifferent produce.

  6. Seamus Ramsay says:

    Time for another Caramel Wafer or 3.

  7. james says:

    Remember my brother coming to see me many years ago here in N.Z.He asked if i could get his some blow,heh! this is Aotearoa.So he skins this number, starts tay put some tobacco way it.My Maori cuzzies looked in horror and said, what are you on.Any way if you don!t like the down side to inhaling the reef,you can always bong it.

  8. john flanagan says:

    Well done Kevin about time somebody stood up to these liars I didn’t here dame Helena telling people that hemp oil can actually be used to cure cancer if only people could do more research themselves and find out the truth . and are looking for volunteers to get the word out there. As Rick Simpson says what would happen to the big companies profits if everybody used hemp oil to cure there cancer.

    1. John flanagan says:

      Nobody is saying smoking cannabis won’t give you cancer anything with chemicals in it that is smoked can cause cancer the point is the blf are trying to say that one joint a day is the same as smoking 20 fags . The same blf that are happy to pump people full of chemicals and radiation and call it treatment. The same blf that won’t even look into the research and proof that hemp oil can be used by not only eating hemp oil but by vaporizing it so you are fighting the cancer from inside and outside the lungs.lung cancer has a very low survival rate just like pancreatic cancer which also can be cured with hemp oil but everybody who is in support of hemp oil is dope head you catch a grip . Leukemia research have been given 20 million so they can do more research on it sir Ian Botham has raised over 13 million yet all it would take is two cannabis seeds no difference . How many more children are going to die from leukemia not from the cancer but from the chemo they are given .So try and do some research yourself before you start calling people dope heads.

  9. So cigarette smoke causes cancer, wood smoke causes cancer, but cannabis smoke somehow doesn’t cause cancer. Presumably because tobacco and wood are made by The Man. Pull the other one, dopeheads 😉

  10. Peter Reynolds says:

    Excellent, excellent work. You are a true warrior.

  11. nick says:

    Maybe the BLF should consult Harvard MD Professor Doctor Lester Grinspoon and ask him for his insight into Marijuana,for he is a man with a huge weight of knowledge regarding the health impact’s or Benefit’s of weed.

  12. focusonpeace says:

    Science kills Propaganda, sending signals to the lies telling them to destroy themselves.

  13. uncleharris says:

    Maybe the BLF should consult Harvard MD Professor Doctor Lester Grinspoon and ask him for his insight into Marijuana,for he is a man with a huge weight of knowledge regarding the health impact’s or Benefit’s of Marijuana.'s off to you kevin for a solid honest reply which more than can be said about the BLF&BBC.

  14. uncleharris says:

    And Deputy Director of the Santa Barbara Regional Health Authority DR David Bearman http :// Who again knows what he’s talking about.

  15. This is so awesome! I was going to write about this (I read the offending article on the BBC site originally, then the wave of others that regurgitated the posting) but you have done an absolutely amazing job. *SHARED!*

  16. Ådne says:

    I remember being warned about this many years ago,exactly the same lie.

  17. Jack Herer says:

    Great work there Kevin. It’s sounds like you were as livid as me when you saw this latest BLF rehash of already disputed science. So very impressive work all round with the back lash (it’s an especially well written letter that. Kudos and keep it up!

  18. ameribrit says:

    Wow, what a great and succinct commentary! Please let us know If you get any response. More people should know about this.

  19. Em Jay says:

    Other BLF corporate partners include Astrazeneca, Glaxosmithkline, Pfizer…. Something stinks in the way this article was produced & pumped out to the media. Hidden agenda? Not that well hidden.

  20. bellacaledonia says:

    Had some gremlins with the Comments but that’s them back on now. And thanks for all the responses and feedback. Appreciated. Not had any reply from Beeb yet although sent a copy of article to the programme.


  21. leavergirl says:

    Seems to me that being polite and refuting the liars with science should be replaced by slamming their sick moral selves that have been lying about drugs for a hundred years now. They are the ones who are killing people with their terrible policies.

  22. tom says:

    (My source was a study conducted by the University of California and commissioned and funded by the National Institution of Health which is part of the US government’s Department of Health.)

    Are you that ignorant and stupid!!!??? Of course studies which have federal involvement are going to tell you weed is not that bad for you!!! They are about controlling the masses and dumbing down America! They are hypocrites! Just look back on history how they actually had people believeing that smoking tabaco products were actually good for them to the point that so called doctors and experts in the 50s encouraged them. Ironic now how they have government warnings on those things alcohol and ciggarettes

    1. John flanagan says:

      Brilliant news Cheech out of cheech and chong is 99% cancer free after fighting the disease with hemp oil.

  23. German says:

    I would say their source was… this:

    “A major differential risk between cannabis and cigarette smoking was observed, with 1 joint of cannabis similar to about 20 cigarettes for risk of lung cancer. This is consistent with the observation that smoking ‘a few’ cannabis joints a day causes similar histological changes in the tracheobronchial epithelium as smoking 20-30 tobacco cigarettes a day.”

  24. Cannabis use is inversely associated with incidences of bladder cancer in males, according to epidemiological findings published in the February issue of the journal Urology.

  25. harvart says:

    My Husband that was highly infected with colon cancer with meets to other parts of the body, he was even given 6 months to live. God, life for the family was a living hell with sorrow in the heart, but today i shouting out to the world that the cannabis oil have save my husband from dying. he is still alive and we are in the 10 months. God is so great to the Faithful.

    Thanks to Rick that sold the Hemp oil for us that we used in curing my Husband.Once again I want to thank Mr. Rick for his wonderful Hemp Oil we are now happy family with my Husband back alive, strong and healthy. You can contact Dr. Rick on every medical issue on his email:[email protected] for more help.

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