by Carl V Phillips
I have lost count of how many posts, tweets, and even personal requests to comment I have seen about this Chicago Tribune blog post by the Mayo Clinic. That is not a recommended click — it just sows the usual disinformation about e-cigarettes. Lots of people posted replies, and there is nothing new to anyone who reads this blog, so I am not going to bother with the content. The reason I mention this boring and typical collection of anti-THR lies is the fact that so many people seemed amazed that it appeared. I will expand on the comment I posted (per personal request).
(UPDATE: I had written before that the comments seemed to be gone. They are either back or I was doing something wrong before.)
My comment responded to the amazement expressed in the comments (and now in some other forums) that Mayo would say such a thing. You are amazed? The Mayo Clinic is one of the historically worst and most consistent anti-THR liars out there.
When I first started doing research on anti-THR lies, over ten years ago, we found that the Mayo Clinic was solidly in contention for second place among anti-THR liars (a very distant second to the first-place U.S. government). They were certainly well ahead of other general-health corporations in terms of the volume and visibility of lies, and probably ahead of any anti-tobacco special interest group. (I just noticed that for some reason, and to my surprise, that Mayo is not specifically mentioned in my first paper on the topic, but they were definitely prominent in the data and I noted them in various other presentations of that and subsequent research.)
Since then, ACS and ALA have eclipsed them as the leading anti-THR liars among multi-topic health corporations (though ACS was definitely a player from the start) and the anti-tobacco special interest groups, along with WHO and other governmental actors have really ramped up their anti-THR lying. Thus, Mayo is no longer a major player in the anti-THR lies game. But they never stopped or even really slowed down. (If I were really cynical I would suggest, as an exercise, to think about the business models of ACS, ALA, and Mayo, and what they have in common regarding people continuing to smoke rather than switching to low-risk alternatives.)
There are a lot of people involved in pro-ecig activism, or at least in pro-ecig chatting, who do not realize that the history of THR and anti-THR did not start when they first picked up an e-cigarette. It did not start in 2009, the crux year for e-cigarettes in the USA, or in 2006 when the devices hit the market. “Condemned to repeat it” is a bit oversimplified. A lot changes, so that nothing really seems like a repeat. But failing to remember the past is definitely weak tactics.
Is there anything fundamentally new about anti-THR activism in 2013 compared to 2009 or 2006 or 2001? Not that I can see. The vocabulary changes, but the tactics are so similar that sometimes I just get bored. There is a lot to be learned from the history. And a lot that could be mined from those vocabulary changes: It can be a powerful argument to point out (with specifics and evidence) that a particular actor keeps changing their specific arguments and ‘evidence’, after something changes or enough counter-evidence accumulates, but the conclusions never change.
Some of the prominent supporters of e-cigarettes have been hard-working advocates of THR since before e-cigarettes existed (Brad Rodu, Clive Bates, Bill Godshall, Dave Sweanor, Gil Ross, and yours truly come to mind — please note in the comments if I slighted someone else), as were a some others whose names you have probably never even heard (mostly because they work for tobacco companies). On the other hand, some of the celebrated supporters of e-cigarettes tended toward anti-THR for a very long time, or offered only the most tepid support for it. Have they had a complete Road to Damascus moment, or might they turn again if something happens — say after major tobacco companies become the leading sellers of e-cigarettes, or when enough people who are not ex-smokers start using them? I am not saying I know the answer, and I definitely do not mean to imply I am pessimistic about it, but it is worth asking. It is hard to even ask if you do not know the history.
I will stop there, but I hope you get the point. History is often taught as simplistic stories of revolutions that succeed because everything was just so different all of a sudden. It turns out that, contrary to what you probably have learned in school, some things that mattered happened in 1773. There are a few success stories where people just launched a revolution from blank slate because everything was so different, but for every one there are 99 (or maybe 9999) cases where the revolutionaries were sure that everything was so different that recent history did not matter, and discovered that was not true.