posted by Carl V Phillips
Since I am still trying to recover from my travels, though have about ten more complicated posts I want to write, I will temporize again — this time outsourcing the lie of the day to Dick Puddlecote.
He points out how several anti-smoking liars tried to mislead the public by reporting statistics from the wrong years. In particular, in response to the many recent claims that rising taxes are driving more smokers to the black market and this will continue to increase, they compared two past years instead of the current data. They cleverly (obviously intentionally) ignored the facts that (a) most of the taxes that inspired the flurry of concern took effect since the period they report and (b) there are newer statistics available — and indeed even reported in the newspaper. It will come as no surprise that the ANTZ concluded that their taxes do not drive people to the black market, but the new statistics support the opposite conclusions.
It is even a bit worse than that, so I recommend you read the whole thing.
Though this is about cigarettes, it is very much an anti-THR lie. It touches on both of the fundamental lies of anti-THR. It implies that tobacco/nicotine use is somehow so unlike every other consumption choice that consumers will not behave rationally. That is, unlike what economics tells us about …well, about every choice people make, for some mysterious reason, tobacco consumers will not gravitate toward low-cost competitors when someone increases prices. If you can be tricked into believing that, then you can be tricked into other departures from the obvious simple economics, like believing that people who choose to consume nicotine/tobacco do not really get any benefit from that choice. Thus, the lie goes, there is no value in THR because no one really wants to be consuming these products rather than being abstinent.
In addition, the absurd claim that consumers will not shift toward the black market means that taxes can be raised, without bound, and smokers will respond only by quitting. (Note that a ban is basically an attempt to raise the tax to infinity, though incomplete enforcement means that it is always actually finite. Thus, punitive taxes are effectively partial bans.) For any other good, a ban or price increase will cause substitute markets — in particular, black market supply chains — to gain market share. But if smokers are the exception to that, and will just obey like they are supposed to, then universal cessation is just a few tax increases away. And so, their lie goes, there is no reason to pursue THR.
I am adding the new tag to this blog, statistiLie, to try to identify lies that are based on intentionally using the wrong statistics. (As always, keeping in mind that when an author knows so little that he does not know a claim is wrong, it does not change the existence of the lie, but merely its nature. An author who unintentionally uses clearly wrong statistics is lying about his knowledge.) A large portion of all anti-THR lies involve statistics, of course. I will try to reserve this for the particular case when it is clear that there are statistics that are useful for addressing a particular point, but other numbers are chosen instead, and moreover that the author hides the existence of the more useful numbers.
I did not want to merely use the tag “statistics” because too many people observe that statistics are used to lie and jump to the conclusion that those quoting statistics should not be trusted. But statistics are the only way we move toward the truth in these matters, and I want to push back against this sullying of the word. It is interesting to note that in this case that the ANTZ were claiming that the various commentators who based their conclusions on the right statistics were lying. There is a danger that the real liars will accuse someone else of lying with statistics; indeed, it is a typical ploy by the liars.
Finally, it is useful to note that some anti-smoking lies are pro-THR (e.g., exaggerations of the risk from ETS) — still lies with everything that implies, but they do tend to encourage THR rather than discouraging. But the statistiLies about the economics (black markets, plain packaging, advertising, bans, etc.) very often try to support the core anti-THR assumptions. Thus, those lies about smoking turn out to be an anti-THR issue.