The year tobacco control officially came to own e-cigarettes

by Carl V Phillips

I have seen several year-end posts about the state of e-cigarettes, most from cheerleaders who naturally made optimistic predictions. Overly optimistic, I would say. Continue reading

Tobacco control turn their long knives on heat-not-burn cigarettes

by Carl V Phillips

I intend to write a proper post or two on PMI’s iQos and heat-not-burn (HnB) cigarettes more generally, but haven’t had much chance to blog lately. Those products have very serious potential to be the most important thing that ever happened in THR (and, yes, I know what I said there). For now, I can just do a quick one on the back of a recent post by Dick Puddlecote, and recommend reading it.

DP recounts how ASH (UK), true to form, are marketing their doubt and general anti attitude, trying to block the huge benefits that these products could bring. He invokes my concept of anti-tobacco extremism, and links to one of my posts that invokes the concept. Here is another one, about how anti-tobacco extremism naturally results in stronger opposition to low-risk products than to cigarettes, just as we have seen. Continue reading

What conflict of interest accusations really mean (with a tie to The Times’s attack on GTNF participants)

by Carl V Phillips

Public health activists are extremely fond of using ad hominem attacks to avoid admitting they have no substantive defense against their critics. They are not alone, of course, with many supporters of other indefensible causes doing the same — e.g., anti-agritech activists, “alternative” energy advocates, alt-right adolescents on Twitter, etc. These attacks most often take the form of claiming “conflict of interest”. Endless ink has been spilled on the fact that resorting to an ad hominem attack is practically an admission that one’s opponent is right. But there is far too little discussion about the actual substantive content of the COI. Basically, what is dressed up as genteel productive discussion is actually a bald accusation that someone is lying, and moreover usually that they are only choosing to lie because of some (often trivial) transfer of funds. Continue reading

Anti-muslim fanatic and tobacco control fanatic, a dialogue

by Carl V Phillips

Somewhere in an imaginable land, a dialogue.

ANTI-MUSLIM FANATIC: Hey, I wanted to thank you. We have adopted your blueprint.

TOBACCO CONTROL FANATIC: You’re welcome. … Wait, what?

AMF: Yeah, we now have a plan for the endgame for driving Muslims from this country.

TCF: That is terrible. What does it have to do with us?

AMF: I told you, we are following your blueprint: Punitive taxes. Limiting where people can practice Islam. Vilification campaigns. All your favorites.

No more immigrants. That last one is a bit different, but we adapted your plan to forbid the development of new products.

Also, a ban on little rugs.

TCF: But that is a gross violation of people’s rights and the norms of our society. Religion is an intimate private decision. Even if you think your goal is a good idea, are you saying you want to trample on people’s happiness and the fundamental glue that holds our society together in pursuit of some personal pique?!

AMF: Are you sure you want to go down that path?

TCF: Um, fair enough. But how are you ever going to get support for that? We always had a plan to expand beyond those with the burning pique to enlist a lot of useful idiots.

AMF: It’s all in your blueprint. We can do it. Get this: “Think someone being Muslim does not hurt you? Well 9-11 cost America over $5 trillion. That’s $17,000 from every man, woman, and child.”

TCF: But that’s absurd. Most of that cost was the result of people like you making the country lash out in the wrong directions, impose security theater, and such. The attack itself caused only a small fraction of that loss.

AMF: Um, “quit smoking because it is expensive, makes you leave your friends in the pub while you go outside, and could cost you your insurance or your job.” Again, are you sure you want to go down this path?

TCF: ….

AMF: ….

TCF: Ok, props for that.

But that attack was a few foreign militants and their international support network. It had nothing to do with the practice of Islam among people living here. If you are worried about terrorism, wouldn’t it be more effective to withdraw our active support for Wahhabism, to whom much of it traces; not arm “moderate” warlords, because there is no such thing as a moderate warlord; back off on policies that inspire such attacks; and avoid destroying the social structures in the mideast that provide a bulwark against the rise of such factions?

AMF: Um, look, I realize that the necessary conceit of this dialogue is that both of us are far more thoughtful, honest, self-aware, articulate, and willing to engage in open dialogue than anyone who actually espouses either of these positions. Still, that statement seems to strain the conceit beyond any semblance of reasonableness. And I don’t just mean that “to whom much of it traces” grammar.

TCF: Yeah, fair enough. Ok, try this: If your goal is to prevent terrorist attacks, a goal very few people would question, why not focus on policies that are targeted at discouraging militants rather than discouraging the practice of Islam more generally? Doesn’t attacking law-abiding members of society actually hurt the goal?

AMF: Oh, I didn’t say that the goal was stopping attacks. In fact, a few more attacks would really do us a lot of good. Playing on fear and costs is just how we build support for the campaign. We hate it that anyone around us practices Islam and want to put a stop to it. We don’t care if their personal faith is perfectly peaceful and harmonious. We don’t care how much it might mean to them. It is still Islam, and it has to go.

TCF: With all due respect, you are monsters.

AMF: Um, actually we got all that from you too.

TCF: From us?! How…? Oh, I see.

AMF: Thanks again, by the way.

TCF: You are still monsters. We are fighting against a scourge that people get habituated to it at an early age, before they are capable of understanding the ramifications of their choice. They are innocent victims of what they see around them being considered normal, and of the machinations of huge corporations who can only keep going by recruiting at an early age.

AMF: [raises one eyebrow]

TCF: Yeah, ok. But the same is true for being a Christian or any other religion. What right do you have to decide the indoctrination of being brought up in one religion needs to be stamped out but another is fine?

AMF: We both know the youthful brainwashing claim is meaningless for either one of us. It describes countless behaviors and beliefs, like patriotism, studying hard, playing sports, eating meat, reading fiction, masturbation, cooking with curry, drinking soda, respecting one’s elders…

[seven pages of transcript omitted]

Anyway, to answer your question, we decide. We can decide because we are ascending in influence here. Might is right.

We got that one from you too.

TCF: Yes, I suppose you did. But it is still different. Tobacco is addictive.

AMF: “Addictive” refers to compulsive drug use that seriously impairs someone’s functioning. Tobacco use does not do that.

TCF: We just mean that using it makes you more inclined to use it. You get cravings to do more of it.

AMF: That describes about half the things on the list I just recited.

TCF: Well addictive also means it makes you very unhappy to give it up once you start. And people who choose to quit are really glad they did.

AMF: You might be over-generalizing a bit there. But anyway, that still probably describes about quarter of the things on my list. Notably including being a Muslim.

TCF: Hmm. So you are going to portray the people you are abusing as dupes who thus are really being made better off by the abuse. And do that after you anchor everyone’s thinking on the worst-case product …er, people… to condemn the entire practice. I guess we really are on the same page. Your ideas are starting to grow on me.

But, wait! No! No no no! You are trying to trick me. The difference is that your goal is just the zealous preference of a group of fanatics who have no right to judge how others choose to live their lives, while our goal is….

AMF: [other eyebrow]

TCF: Our goal is good! It just is. We know we are right. And we know that is right because we know we are right. Turtles all the way down. We will have to agree to disagree.

AMF: Why is there any need for agreement in order to disagree? I’ve never understood that.

TCF: Moving on, I think you have a serious implementation problem. I really don’t see how our blueprint will let you pull off an endgame.

AMF: One might say you also have a serious…. Nah, I’ll go a different direction here: There are a lot fewer Muslims in our country than there are tobacco users. And more people who hate them and want them to go away. So I would say we are better positioned than you.

TCF: But the tactics won’t translate. I see how immigration controls can work. But how are you going to tax people for being Muslim?

AMF: First you strip the tax-exempt status from mosques and Islamic organizations. Someone will have to pay that, and it can only be the individual Muslims because all taxes are ultimately paid by consumers.

Ha! you probably assumed that because I am espousing alt-right ideas that I don’t understand basic economics.

TCF: Well, yeah, that seemed like a good bet. But I do remember the conceit of this conversation, so ok. I’ll have to take your word for it, though, because the conceit cannot possibly go as far as to give me credit for understanding economics. Anyway, go on.

AMF: We also impose a head tax on them. We will make it low to start with so people just get used to paying it. Then we will crank it up until it impoverishes them. The first bit has a long history. The second bit we got from you.

TCF: Ah, so then they eventually succumb and abandon their faith. Yup, that should work. But, wait, can’t they just declare they renounce Islam it without really doing so? It is not like they have to buy anything, or that you have a test for it like we do.

AMF: Actually, we don’t expect many of them to either give it up or pretend to. We just like the idea of impoverishing them. We got that from you too. People don’t just give up true belief. The cost of pretending can also be rather steep, especially if you still want to do a Hajj. It is not a cheap and simple evasion like buying black-market cigarettes to avoid the tax.

TCF: But then what is the point of doing it?

AMF: Same reason you do it: To give governments a financial stake in the War on Muslims. If they want the money, then they have to support our policies. That’s when we get them to unleash the rest of your tactics:

We start ridiculing Muslims, using their own tax payments to broadcast the message that they are vile. God, I love that part!

We teach every child in school that any practice of Islam is vile. Kids are great, aren’t they? You can claim everything is being done to protect the little naive innocents, and then sell them simplistic generalizations because they are so naive and innocent.

Also, we are going to ban proselytizing immediately and then expand than to ban anyone associated with Islam from making any positive statements about Islam, whether true or not. And if anyone else says anything, we will accuse them of being secretly in the pay of Big Muhammad and try to get them sent to Gitmo.

TCF: But that tramples over so many of the fundamental freedoms that our society cherishes. It is a slippery slope to all kinds of other actions. It is difficult to imagine where that could end.

AMF: Yes. So?

TCF: Nothing. Just making sure we were still on the same page.

AMF: At some point, we will make it illegal to bow toward Mecca except in designated areas. We got that from you, but it turns out ghettoizing works for religions too.

TCF: Um, actually we may not deserve credit for originating that idea.

AMF: Oh, and then we will slowly move those designated areas to even more remote locations. Also we will embed broken glass in the pavement.

TCF: I think maybe we could learn something from you. We will have to stay in touch. Secretly, of course — you are still a monster.

AMF: Back atcha.

TCF: So what else of ours have you figured out how to use?

AMF: Here is one I have been working on: “Treating law-abiding and peaceful Muslims differently from terrorists is like getting hit by a jetliner in a 7 story building rather than a 110 story building.”

TCF: That’s…. horrific.

AMF: So you don’t like it?

TCF: No, I love it! You really have studied the script.

AMF: How about these: “I get it dude [sneer], yours is a noble and peace-loving faith.” …and… “Allowing muslims to integrate into our pluralistic society will give you oral cancer.”

TCF: Um, what?

AMF: Yeah, that last one needs a little work. Still, it is no further from the truth than how you use it. Oh, and we have a great one about “third-hand salat”, but I am keeping that under wraps until we need a media boost.

TCF: Clever. So what is your timeline for endgaming the Muslims? We always attach a year to our slogans, like “a tobacco-free world by 2020”.

AMF: We are not setting a deadline. We only wanted to borrow your tactics. We did not see any reason to borrow your hubris and embarrassing legacy of failed promises.

CTFK threatens researchers, but you should not really care

by Carl V Phillips

My tobacco control amusement for the week (other than my nomination to TPSAC) comes from a letter sent from the notorious Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) and the obscure ENSP (which is apparently not actually a phishing site for people mistyping their sports news search, but rather a pliable recruit that gave CTFK an excuse to hassle Europeans too), to Christopher Russel and an unknown number of others. Christopher posted it here. The letter seeks to intimidate the recipients from attending the GTNF conference this month. Continue reading

Extraordinary claims

by Carl V Phillips

Fairly often (e.g., in the previous post) I make reference to the concept that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That is, if something seems extremely unlikely based on a great deal of accumulated knowledge or an understanding about how the world works, and you wish to claim it is true, you really need to have done some tight work. It is a good principle in science. Research does not produce scientific knowledge without adherence to principles like this (note that there are no “rules” in science, so we have to make do with evolved principles).

Today I am thinking of that in terms of a new study that was reported in this BBC story, “E-cigarettes ‘help more smokers quit'” (quotes from there). Continue reading

Sunday Science Lesson: Misconceptions about the gateway effect

by Carl V Phillips

Disturbingly close to 100% of writings about whether there is a gateway effect among tobacco products, particularly about e-cigarettes being a gateway to smoking, are nonsense. That includes most metas on the topic, where someone tries to explain what mistakes others are making. Perhaps addressing a few simple misconceptions can clear some of this up (and it is a favor to a few of my tweeps — I hope I have addressed all the points our conversation left hanging). I have written about all of this much more extensively and comprehensively (see this in particular), but not in soundbite form. Continue reading

Weaponized Kafkaism

by Carl V Phillips

I think I have come up with a good description of the functioning of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products: Weaponized Kafkaism. The term is fairly self-explanatory, but to unpack it: Kafkaesque is, of course, refers to a system that brings to mind the situations faced by Franz Kafka’s characters, particularly including being trapped by a baffling and inscrutable system (particularly a government bureaucracy), where one is punished for doing something wrong as a result of having no idea what would satisfy the authorities, and as the rules begin to become apparent they are revealed to include self-contradictions, making it literally impossible to comply. (I converted the word to its seldom-used noun form.) Weaponization refers to taking something that in its “natural” state is harmful or potentially harmful, and then intentionally deploying it in order to do harm.  Continue reading