by Carl V Phillips
Vapers are delightedly tweeting this bit of satire from The Daily Mash, entitled,”Put cancer in e-cigarettes, say non-smokers.” The conceit is that THR causes non-smokers to lose their feeling of superiority, forcing them to frequent crack houses to recapture that old feeling (a gateway theory?). I saw it tweeted as “anti-smokers” rather than “non-smokers”, but this actually missed the point: The characters in the story are not anti-smoking; they like smoking and its ill-effects due to the schadenfreude.
This contrasts with professional anti-smokers — or more accurately, the tobacco control industry, anti-tobacco extremists, or ANTZ — who also favor keeping tobacco use harmful, but for somewhat different reasons. As noted from the start in this blog, anti-THR has several motives, all of them perverse, and none of them having to do with health even though the anti-THR liars cloak themselves with the title “public health”.
The anti-THR activists consider tobacco use to be some kind of moral failing or otherwise just want to eliminate it, and thus prefer to keep it as harmful as possible. For the less-bright majority of that crowd, this is for motives as base as those in the Daily Mash story: They are annoyed that tobacco users will not obey, and want them to suffer for their temerity. But the smarter tobacco controllers, those who talk about “endgame” or “tobacco-free by 2030″, know that low-risk alternatives guarantee that they will fail: So long as tobacco use is highly harmful (i.e., smoking), everyone has a good reason to quit. While it is unlikely they will all do so, there is a chance. But low-risk tobacco products have benefits that greatly exceed their costs, and so people do not have an incentive to quit, and sensible politicians have no reason to support measures to discourage use. Moreover, the realization that tobacco use is becoming low-risk will inevitably cause a backlash against the entire anti-tobacco industry and their lavish use of our tax money.
But unlike the characters in the Daily Mash story, the tobacco control industry cannot ever admit their motives. Even if they preferred telling the truth over lying (though there is no evidence that suggests this is the case), they would have to lie about this one. The mere admission of their real motives would derail the entire enterprise. Of course, the cannot make e-cigarettes more hazardous than they are, like the characters in the story wish, but they can try to trick people into believing that e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are high-risk, and thus encourage them to smoke instead. As long as most tobacco users are smoking, the tobacco control industry can continue to profit and dream.
In a less puffy piece that also pursued the theme of people feeling superior to smokers, the New Republic called for an end to campaigns to stigmatize smokers. It likened the stigmatization of smokers to the stigmatization of people with HIV/AIDS. This is a valid moral equivalence. In both cases, it is about a behavior that someone is choosing to engage in, which happens to be something that a tiny minority violently objects to as immoral. In both cases, that tiny minority uses the health risk (and the grossly exaggerated tiny spillover risk to others) as a convenient tool for making it appear that their motives are something other than hatred. This allows them to enlist the support of others who vaguely disapprove of the behavior, but not so much that they would deny others their free choice based on that disapproval, let alone would intentionally inflict punishment on the “sinners”. The article seals the comparison by looking at the stigmatization of lung cancer victims.
The article fails to note that the portion of lung cancer is caused by smoking is smaller than the portion of HIV infection that is caused by various demonized behaviors. Nor does it point out that anti-smokers are exactly the same violent and hate-fueled people as gay bashers — which of those two a particular person turned out to be is just an accident of what subculture he grew up in.
Unfortunately, some of the analysis is the article is not so good. It suggests that tobacco control efforts have played a large role in reducing smoking, when actually almost all the credit goes to simple knowledge and rational consumer choice. It also conflates genuine effects of smoker demonization with statistics like “Most non-smokers would be reluctant to date someone who smokes (72%).” There are perfectly legitimate reasons for making that personal choice that do not imply a dislike of smokers, let alone a desire to inflict psychological violence on them or schadenfreude.
The hook for the New Republic story, and a companion piece, was the CVS move to stop selling cigarettes. The quotes about that in the articles, and to a lesser extent the articles themselves, show more of the naivety about it explored in my previous post. It is amusing that those praising the move simultaneously describe it as “courageous” and “principled” and also claim it will be good for business (or naively believed that because CVS stock price upticked, it proves it was good for business). I suppose it is not too shocking that those innumerate people cannot figure out the laughable contradiction there.
Of course, that does not explain why removing a product from the shelves — with a predicted substantial loss in revenue — is good for business. As I noted before, it appears that the answer is that it gets them more corporate customers for their much-higher-margin medical service businesses. But why? Basically because the business leaders have been strong-armed by the tobacco control industry (particularly including its units in government) into pushing their medical service suppliers to not sell cigarettes.
This creates an amusing contradiction for the doctrinaire free-marketeers, some of whom praised the CVS decision as a free choice of a business in the market. When market decisions are caused by tax-fueled campaigns to force companies to change their behavior, what exactly does “free market” mean? Also, how perfect is the market if the CVS customers who are companies make decisions based on non-market influences that would not affect individuals (there cannot be 1000 people in the country who avoid buying from CVS when they offered the best value, just because they sell cigarettes)?
But while the free-market extremists get a lot of things wrong, the core points about markets are right. In particular, the more merchants stop selling cigarettes, the greater the profits for those who still do (volume will clearly increase, and per-unit profit will also inch up due to the reduced competition). Thus, however much political pressure there is to make the “free” decision to stop selling cigarettes, there will be an equilibrium when that is not enough to offset the available profits and cause more merchants to exit the market. My suspicion is that the “endgame” types have no idea that this is the case.
Finally, for those who have been missing my writing about THR for the last week and a half, it is because you are not reading EP-ology, where I posted two pieces on the topic (as well as other interesting stuff).