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Review |

Why Review Articles on the Health Effects of Passive Smoking Reach Different Conclusions

Deborah E. Barnes, MPH; Lisa A. Bero, PhD
JAMA. 1998;279(19):1566-1570. doi:10.1001/jama.279.19.1566.
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Objective.— To determine whether the conclusions of review articles on the health effects of passive smoking are associated with article quality, the affiliations of their authors, or other article characteristics.

Data Sources.— Review articles published from 1980 to 1995 were identified through electronic searches of MEDLINE and EMBASE and from a database of symposium proceedings on passive smoking.

Article Selection.— An article was included if its stated or implied purpose was to review the scientific evidence that passive smoking is associated with 1 or more health outcomes. Articles were excluded if they did not focus specifically on the health effects of passive smoking or if they were not written in English.

Data Extraction.— Review article quality was evaluated by 2 independent assessors who were trained, followed a written protocol, had no disclosed conflicts of interest, and were blinded to all study hypotheses and identifying characteristics of articles. Article conclusions were categorized by the 2 assessors and by one of the authors. Author affiliation was classified as either tobacco industry affiliated or not, based on whether the authors were known to have received funding from or participated in activities sponsored by the tobacco industry. Other article characteristics were classified by one of the authors using predefined criteria.

Data Synthesis.— A total of 106 reviews were identified. Overall, 37% (39/106) of reviews concluded that passive smoking is not harmful to health; 74% (29/39) of these were written by authors with tobacco industry affiliations. In multiple logistic regression analyses controlling for article quality, peer review status, article topic, and year of publication, the only factor associated with concluding that passive smoking is not harmful was whether an author was affiliated with the tobacco industry (odds ratio, 88.4; 95% confidence interval, 16.4-476.5; P<.001).

Conclusions.— The conclusions of review articles are strongly associated with the affiliations of their authors. Authors of review articles should disclose potential financial conflicts of interest, and readers of review articles should consider authors' affiliations when deciding how to judge an article's conclusions.

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