Sunday Science Lesson: Identifying bullshit is usually easy (it just seldom happens in tobacco-land)

by Carl V Phillips

In the previous post, I quoted from Jon Stewart’s farewell monologue in which he alluded to how it is usually relatively easy to identify utterly bullshit claims and call them out. This includes utterly junk science. There are stories of master fraudsters in science, who carefully cook data and convince the world for years they have made game-changing discoveries, only getting caught after too much contrary evidence piles up. For some immediately detectable cases of junk science, it requires a bit of clever expert analysis to detect it. But these cases should not distract from the fact that most junk science is junk on its face. Continue reading

The #JonVoyage take on tobacco control bullshit

by Carl V Phillips

I am interrupting my ongoing serious about Why is there anti-THR? because there are a few other topics I want to cover sooner rather than later. Don’t worry, I will come back to that one (the next post is worked out, but I am not satisfied with everything).

I just had to offer a tribute in honor of Jon Stewart’s last The Daily Show, last night. He finished his 16 year run in that role with cameos by dozens of his collaborators from over the years and a finale of Bruce Springsteen performing Born To Run. I felt like my whole life was flashing before my eyes.

For those who may not know, for many of those 16 years, Stewart was perhaps the most important U.S. political commentator, even though he played it as mere comedy. In his final “meet me at camera three” monologue (fans will understand), entitled “Three Different Kinds of Bulls**t”, he offers some cogent observations that relate the evils of anti-THR and tobacco control more generally. I am guessing this was not consciously one of his targets, but you never know — it is possible that one of his writers is a politicized enthusiast of vaping or other tobacco products. Continue reading

Why is there anti-THR? (4) Money, money, money

by Carl V Phillips

Continuing this series. Sorry about the cheesy title. But it never hurts to have a reminder that Sweden is the most important population in the annals of tobacco harm reduction. (Click here to get ABBA-rolled.)

The sale of cigarettes generates an enormous amount of net revenue. Truly enormous. A pack of cigarettes costs tens of cents to produce and sells for 5, 10, or even 20 dollars in places where most readers of this blog live. Manufacturers and merchants keep some of that. But the vast majority of those purchase prices are taxes. In the order of 90% of the net revenue accrues to governments. Few consumers realize this, perhaps because unlike most other sales, excise, and value-added taxes, these taxes are intentionally never broken out. Look at a the receipt from purchasing cigarettes, and it does not tell you that most of what you just paid was tax. Continue reading

Why is there anti-THR? (3) Anti-tobacco extremism

by Carl V Phillips

Continuing this series. In the previous post I made several references to the importance of anti-tobacco extremism among the anti-THR opinion leaders. It was impossible to avoid jumping ahead like that because extremism is the leading cause of anti-THR activism and lies, but I felt starting with it would distract from the origin story.

I coined “anti-tobacco extremist” as a technical term. Non-thinkers sometimes interpret it as name-calling, perhaps due to the degradation of the legitimate and descriptive word “extremist” (it  is most often used — inaccurately — as a derogatory description of holy warriors). But it means what it says: those whose position is the most extreme one can take on an issue (or in the neighborhood of that). The thought experiment I devised for defining it was the answer to the question: “If you could magically change the world such that either (a) people could continue to enjoy the benefits of tobacco product use with absolutely no health risks or (b) all tobacco product use was eliminated, which would you choose?” Anyone who actually cared about humanity would obviously choose (a) — after all, what kind of person would pass up the chance to offer benefits without costs? As it turns out, a large portion of tobacco control opinion leaders would choose (b), making them anti-tobacco extremists. They do not want people to stop using tobacco products because they are concerned about the people; they want them to stop because they consider tobacco itself to be evil and any use to be a sin. Continue reading

Why is there anti-THR? (2) “Not Invented Here” syndrome

by Carl V Phillips

Continuing this series from the previous post, I want to start with an explanation for why the opinion leaders genuinely oppose THR that may not make for good inflammatory rhetoric, but is a critical part of the narrative. Though it is not a dominant force anymore, I believe it represents the origin story for why anti-THR became established in the first place.

The one-sentence version that I often offer is: Those who spent their careers trying to get people to stop smoking, but accomplished almost nothing[*], resent the possibility of smoking being substantially reduced in spite of their efforts rather than because of them. Continue reading

Why is there anti-THR? (1) The importance of narrative and Opinion Leaders vs. Useful Idiots

by Carl V Phillips

[This series continues with:
(2) “Not Invented Here” syndrome
(3) Anti-tobacco extremism
(4) Money, money, money
…more to come…]

The average person, upon learning that there is violent opposition to tobacco harm reduction (THR), is quite reasonably baffled. It is difficult for them to fathom that an entire (taxpayer-funded) industry could be devoted discouraging smokers from switching to low-risk alternatives, or even to discouraging people from making the free choice to use a low-risk product rather than being abstinent. It is more difficult still to believe that their leading tactic is promulgating blatant and easily-refuted lies. To any caring and honest person — no, make that any caring or honest person — this seems to be either insanity or pure evil. Indeed, it seems so crazy, that most people just assume the blatant lies must be plausible claims. After all, if they were not, why would anyone oppose THR? Continue reading

The toxic combination of medical ignorance, arrogance, and police powers

by Carl V Phillips

After decades of working in this area, it takes a lot to cause me to say “they must be kidding.” A post in the NYT yesterday did it. It was about parents who exercise some judgment about treatment of rare or elusive diseases in their kids, specifically when they refuse a non-diagnosis and advice to not pursue further tests and treatment. Apparently there is a trend toward medics deciding to call this child abuse and the government sometimes agreeing to the point of taking children away from their parents as if they were actually abusing them. Obviously this is tangential to the topic of this blog, but it struck me as a remarkable example of some of what we are dealing with. (I will note that I generally have little patience for the barrage of tangential posts on message boards on the theme of “here is another example of those people doing the exact same thing!” Usually they are, um, not exactly enlightening. So please go ahead and stop reading now if you are getting that vibe now.) Continue reading

Public health (heart) lung cancer

by Carl V Phillips

Tobacco control and “public health” have the same attitude toward lung cancer as homophobes do toward AIDS. In both cases, they are motivated by “moral” objections to particular behaviors and are desperately frustrated that people fail to just stop doing what they personally consider sinful/disgusting/unappealing (those are fairly interchangeable concepts for this sort of person). Thus many of them are happy that there is a disease that disproportionately punishes the sinners. Of course gay bashers (as well as also those who object to all sexual promiscuity and the relatively smaller group who hate injection drug users) do not pretend to care about the physical health of the targets of their opprobrium, so they are merely vile; “public health” people are also hypocrites.

About ten years ago, I coined the term “anti-tobacco extremists” to refer to those who take the most extreme view of tobacco use. This was an attempt to push back against anti-THR activists being inaccurately referred to as public health, given that they actively seek to harm the public’s health. I have since given up on that, and recognize that “public health” is an unsalvageable rubric, which should just be relegated to being a pejorative. But the extremist concept remains useful. The test for anti-tobacco extremism is the answer to the following question: If you could magically change the world so that either (a) there was no use of tobacco products or (b) people could continue to enjoy using tobacco but there was a cheap magic pill that they could take to eliminate any excess disease risk it caused, which would you choose? Anyone who would choose (a) over (b) takes anti-tobacco to its logical extreme, making clear that they object to the behavior, not its effects. Continue reading