by Carl V Phillips
The good news: endorsement of this blog’s preferred word choice. Pretty much everyone who reported the recent court order that the major US tobacco companies to publicly confess and “correct” past claims chose to use the word lies.
The neutral news: forced ad buys. The main practical effect of the order is a huge transfer of wealth from the tobacco companies to Disney, Comcast, Google, etc. when the former has to by advertising to air its confession. It is hard to get very excited about wealth transfers among giant rapacious corporations. (And, no, I am not channeling Naomi Klein — I am quite happy that these greedy amoral corporations provide goods and services that I enjoy. But who cares which of their rich stockholders are making a little bit more money?) The usual ANTZ suspects are praising that aspect, but I suspect they are actually privately fuming that there was no order to further fill their coffers.
The scary news: forced confessions. While corporations are clearly much different from people, there is something very troubling about a judge ordering any entity to make a public confession, whatever the substance of it might be. Individual actors can decide to offer a confession as part of a bargain about punishment or to try to improve their image, or even out of genuine remorse (though only actual people feel remorse, of course). But an actual ordered recanting of past claims evokes images of the Inquisition, or Stalinist/McCarthyist/etc. show trials. Think Galileo, Socrates, Jesus….
Of course, the usual suspects will say that this particular case is entirely different, and that in this case the forced confession is clearly the right thing to demand, and is nothing at all like those examples. Those usual suspects are probably genuinely too clueless to realize that this is exactly what inquisitors always say. Only those clowns would be so out of touch as to believe that their pet peeve is somehow a more compelling reason for engaging in scary oppressive behavior than existential threats to society from communism (or to communism) or to the True God(s).
The Lies news: As with those other examples of forced recanting, the defendants are being forced to lie and to recant positions that are inconvenient for those in power, but are/were not actually wrong. I could write all day about the absurd mandates in the court ruling, but will limit myself to highlighting a few.
Consider the requirement to “confess” that cigarettes cause various health risks. Most of that is kind of silly, given that everyone knows that and that the companies have already admitted it. But there is the specific requirement that the companies attest that cigarettes kill more than 1200 Americans per day. This is based on the official government statistic, but that statistic is rather dubious. Honest scientific analysts could — and do — take issue with it. (Consider just the fact that the number has continued to creep up even as the smoking rate has dropped and treatments for many of the diseases have improved.) The government is demanding that private actors explicitly endorse their dubious specific claim.
Worst still are the claims about “addictiveness”, which specifically attack nicotine and not just smoking. There is no legal or government definition for addiction, let alone measures of degrees of it, and yet the companies have been condemned for voicing doubts on this topic, and are being ordered to make statements about addictiveness and “more addictive”. Reasonable people can interpret that word as requiring a level of intensity and short-term self-destruction that is seldom present with cigarette/tobacco/nicotine use. But it would not be a violation of any legal or medical definition to call it an affinity for the color blue, so punishing the companies for denying the common assertion is impossible to justify.
A more practical threat is the forced confession about designing cigarettes to be “more addictive”. This seems like a clear setup to condemn low-risk nicotine products. The judge who issued the ruling was perhaps just a naive dupe on this point, but the ANTZ who undoubtedly ghost-wrote the details knew that they were sneaking in an attack on non-pharma smokefree alternatives. This is combined with statements about nicotine, including how it “actually changes the brain”. The latter is a combination of an obvious vacuous statement that is designed to sound scary (every time you remember something, it “actually changes the brain”) and an simplistic conclusion from the “brain porn” neuro imaging that is being widely condemned as junk science. So the companies are being ordered to declare as fact claims that are undefined and that are arguably utter junk.
Much attention is devoted to the claims that “light” cigarettes are substantially lower risk, claims that the ANTZ are desperate to attack the companies for in order to distract from the fact that they (the contemporary “public health” people) supported the same claims. But again, this is a “confession” of information that is already widely disseminated and accepted by the companies, and again, the unequivocal mandated claims are dubious in a few places. It would be much more appropriate if the US government ordered the companies to recant the obviously false claims, clearly designed to keep people smoking, that THR alternatives are as harmful as cigarettes. Oh, wait, the companies have never made those claims — it is the US government that repeatedly states such lies.
Finally, there is some amusing irony in the required confessions about ETS. Once again, the companies are being asked to confess to specific claims that honest scientists can — and do — doubt. ETS is clearly not healthy, but whether it creates a measurable body count, particularly now that exposure has basically been limited to the home, is debatable. But the companies are being forced to endorse the claim that it kills 3000 Americans per year. The funny thing is that this is less than 1/10th the official government and other ANTZ claims. Indeed, if this number is right, then that 1200 figure above is wrong because about 10% of that figure is based on the usual inflated claim of ETS deaths. I will (mostly) leave the fights about ETS claims to others, but it will be interesting to see how they use this new official >90% reduction in what the US government is claiming.
The companies that are the target of this ruling are still deciding whether they will appeal. Let’s hope that they do. Because in this bizarre “public health”-ified world we live in, we depend on cigarette companies to be the defenders of honest science and to fight against batshit-crazy public policy.