Welcome to the “anti-THR lie of the day” blog from TobaccoHarmReduction.org, a unit of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (casaa.org). For those who may not know, THR refers to tobacco harm reduction, the strategy/ethical philosophy/political movement for dealing with the harms from cigarette smoking by encouraging the substitution of low-risk alternatives. For more details, please visit casaa.org.
As THR has evolved from relative obscurity in the early 2000s, when only a few of us were seriously working on it, to being the defining dynamic of tobacco consumption in the U.S. and other populations, the opposition to it has become increasing aggressive and unethical. Who might object to such a thing, you might reasonably ask? It is a long story, but the opponents consist of most of the tobacco control industry, including:
- anti-tobacco extremists (those who take the most extreme possible position toward tobacco and nicotine use, considering it to all be so bad that specific characteristics — such as reducing the health effects to an undetectably low level — make no difference to them)
- prohibitionists (who know that once low-risk tobacco and nicotine products dominate the market, there will be little incentive for users to quit and little popular support for prohibitionism; thus they need to make sure that people keep smoking)
- those who hate industry more than they care about health (similar practical goals as the prohibitionists: if THR succeeds, there will be companies that profit from selling the products indefinitely, and some of these will be the companies that dominated cigarette sales; thus their only hope of destroying the companies is to make sure they stay only in the cigarette business)
- those who fear losing their government and pharmaceutical funding (while the tobacco industry could survive the replacement of cigarettes, the tobacco control industry depends on the continuing popularity of smoking, and most of its jobs will disappear after THR becomes the norm)
- long-time activists who are so invested in their personal history and ego that they resist the possibility that the health effects from smoking will be reduced in spite of them, rather than because of them; they are so embarrassed by their glaring errors — errors that have killed a lot of people because they had such a huge influence on real policy — that they succumb to the classic urge to double down on the errors to try to save face, rather than admitting they erred in order to try to save lives.
That opposition forms a cast of characters who are not particularly worried about health ethics (like informed autonomy), scientific reasoning, or basic honesty. If someone were to acknowledge the truth about THR and then try to argue in opposition to it, that would be legitimate discourse. But this never happens. There are basically no honest arguments against THR that would appeal to most people, those who oppose it have resorted to a collection of lies. These lies are designed to encourage smokers to keep smoking (i.e., discourage them from switching to low-risk alternatives) and to also encourage policies that push smokers to keep smoking. Some are parts of consistent and concerted campaigns, while others are one-off oddities.
This main content of this blog is to take a specific lie about THR in each post, and provide a debunking of it. It addition to providing timely responses to specific claims, we hope it will eventually build into a useful catalog of corrections for the whole body of lies. The original title of the blog included the phrase “lie of the day”, but as planned after the first 100 posts, that has been removed as the timing has slowed (there are only so many times one can write about the exact same lies) and the content has gotten a bit broader.
While this is mostly “Carl’s blog”, there have been contributions by other authors and anyone reading this who has appropriate expertise in this area is invited to submit single entries or even propose yourself as a regular contributor (just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or me personally at cphillips at the same domain). All posts represent the work and opinion of their individual author, and all intellectual property rights (beyond granting the right for us to keep the material in this blog or its successors) will be retained by the author.
One critical clarification about this blog is the definition of “lie”. For purposes of this blog (and, I would argue, in general), a lie is any claim that is crafted in a way that causes people to believe something that the author/speaker knows is not true. Such statements are often by design, and the author knows the message that is being communicated is not true, though in some cases the author is simply not expert to know the accuracy of their claims, but is claiming such expertise. Lies includes statements that the evidence suggests is false, as well as declaring speculative claims to be true. While the literal truth or falsehood of sentences is often tied to whether or not they are lies, there is not a perfect correlation; a true factual statement that is presented in a way that is intended to cause someone to believe a falsehood is a lie.
Some of the identified lies might be unintentional, based on ignorance or some unstated subtle intention other than to mislead. Neither of these lets the author off the hook, however. If there is some subtle intention behind a false/misleading claim, the author is obliged to make that clear rather than just letting the flat misleading claims stand. In cases where the cited authors actually believe the false information they are communicating, usually because they are blindly repeating someone else’s lies, they are still being false/misleading and are also committing a different lie: They are claiming to be sufficiently expert to correctly identify the truth and make claims to readers on the topic, but should know that this is not true. Similarly, citing a source for a lie does not make it any less a lie, unless there is a clear indication that the author is not endorsing the claim of the previous author; either the later author knows that the claim is false or is not sufficiently expert to have any business repeating it as fact. Of course, it would be a bit unfair to condemn authors for misplaced trust when they are assembling unimportant background information or asides, but when the claim is presented as a key point or active headlined, then the author is obliged to know enough to know who to trust.
Finally, we would like to emphasize that disagreement and responses are welcome: Every post will be open to comments, and we welcome and will respond to debate. This can include, in particular, arguments as to why the lie of the day is not actually a lie. In addition, we extend an open invitation to the original authors of the lies we are responding to (or anyone else who had published the same claim or a functional equivalent) to offer their rebuttal, response, or other comments; if it is too long to fit in the comments, we will publish it as a free-standing post (unedited, with appropriate flagging and identifiers about the authorship). We believe that our positions will stand up to scrutiny and debate, but we welcome corrections of any errors and will provide a forum for opposing views.
In response to queries about this policy:
Why so emphatic about calling people liars? Isn’t it better (nicer, more politic) to be more polite? To just present the truth as a counter to the lies?
Some people think so. Some of us used to think so. But with each new year, anti-THR activists become more brazen in their active disregard of the evidence and more entrenched in their little echo chamber in which lying to the public is considered acceptable. Failing to aggressively challenge this antisocial behavior merely enables it. It is time to take a different approach.
As for whether it seems too harsh or impolite or such, remember: Every day, hundreds of smokers who would have switched to low risk alternatives — if anti-THR activists had not slowed the adoption and innovation of such products and tricked people into smoking instead — smoke the cigarette that dooms them to die from smoking. Disingenuous politeness lets them die.