[UPDATE: An updated version of this post, with small amounts of new content and any changes to the plans for the blog, can be found at the “About” tab.]
posted by Carl V Phillips
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.
That opposition forms a cast of characters who are not particularly worried about health ethics (like informed autonomy), scientific reasoning, or basic honesty. Since 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 blog is intended to take a single 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. There will be multiple 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.
For clarification, a few definitions:
“of the day”: A rough guideline. We will shoot to have approximately one post per day. We might miss a few days. And if there is a big backlog of topics someone wants to cover, we might have more than one in a day. We expect (or at least hope) that after a hundred or two entries we will no longer have a new lie per day to cover, at which time we will slow down the pace and take “of the day” out of the name.
“anti-THR”: The central topic is lies that are designed to discourage the adoption of THR. However, the topics might occasionally drift into lies about closely related topics, such as THR advocacy, THR products, harm reduction in general, and tobacco use in general.
“lie”: A lie is anything that is designed to cause people to believe something that the author/speaker knows is not true. This includes stating something that the evidence suggests is false, as well as declaring speculative claims to be true. Since lying depends on knowing the mindset of the original authors, which they seldom confirm (though there are some exceptions), it should be recognized that, as is almost always the case when the term is used, the “lies” are more technically “apparent lies”. As you will see from the examples, it is usually so clearly apparent that the distinction is merely technical. Note that 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.
In some cases, the cited original authors might actually believe the false information they are communicating, perhaps because they are blindly repeating someone else’s lies. But since this is simply committing a different lie – claiming to be sufficiently expert to correctly identify the truth and make claims to readers – no apology is warranted when that is the case. 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). 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.