by Carl V Phillips
Sorry for the blog absence. I was spending that same niche of time and energy in a mass email conversation that consisted mainly of some of the “establishment” researchers and political operatives. But most of them do not much care for we populists who try to represent the actual stakeholders, to say nothing of their feelings about the criticism and scrutiny that are considered necessary parts of science by those of us who come from real sciences, but are avoided in the cozy uncritical confines of “public health”. So I was basically told to shut up.
That clear message of “we have the insider influence and your inconvenient observations are not welcome in our cozy little club” was a reminder that we (as in We The People) need to lead the fight for THR. Even our closest allies among those in institutionalized tobacco policy are not really very close allies. So I return to the series I started on how best to communicate our arguments to the vast majority of people (and, thus, lawmakers) who would be pro-THR if they heard and understood the truth. (Click on the category “truths” in the sidebar to see the previous ones.)
Many anti-THR arguments are voiced exclusively by people with hidden agendas and who are just saying anything that comes to mind to try to muddy the waters. But it is my impression that a lot of people who say “but this is just another addiction”, or something similar, are honestly concerned and thus can be honestly persuaded that they are drawing the wrong conclusions.
So how to respond?
This is an interesting one, because it is one of the few cases where I think the simplest response (that we need to use when the target audience is either not able to understand anything complicated, or when we only have a few seconds to make the point) is not a dumbed-down version of the complete and more precise response. So, for example, the one-sentence answer to “how hazardous are e-cigarettes?” is a highly simplified version of the more complete and scientifically correct version of the answer. But on the topic of “addiction”, the simple response is quite different from the more complete and correct discussion that I will come back to.
I will start with the simple response, because that is what most of us need to use most of the time. If someone argues that THR should not be endorsed because it is just replacing one addiction with another, the one-sentences response should usually be:
If some people are addicted, then isn’t it better than they use a product with very low risk instead of smoking?
Boom! This response, all by itself, is remarkably effective at winning over many people who have been tricked by anti-THR lies and have not really given the topic any serious thought. Should this response steer the conversation in the direction of, “but it is better if they just quit entirely”, as it often does, then the next response is equally easy (though it does require a bit of scientific knowledge, which I presented in a previous post):
Smoking for just a couple of more months creates more health risk, on average, than a lifetime of using a smoke-free alternative. Do you really think that everyone who would switch is going to quit entirely within two or three months?
This can also be supplemented with:
Once someone has switched, if you still think it is best for them to quit entirely, then you can try to get them to that point. But shouldn’t we go ahead and almost eliminate the health risk in the meantime?
Admittedly, this is potentially slightly disingenuous depending on your beliefs, because it takes advantage of the other side’s rhetoric (making it fair and downright enjoyable, but also a bit cynical). Many of us believe that if someone is using a low-risk product that makes their lives happier, then the powers that be have no business trying to push them to stop, but we can still quite legitimately say “go ahead and give abstinence promotion your best shot, but do so after the risk has been removed.” However, we also know that — contrary to ANTZ rhetoric — most support for abstinence campaigns will probably collapse once most people are using low-risk products.
But, as I said, this is the simplified version. Also that slight bit of disingenuity is a great legitimate way to corner the ANTZ and the lie-based disingenuous motive many of them have. They pretend to care about health while actually trying to keep the risk high to support their abstinence-only approach. Thus, their honest response to the previous argument is, “but most people are not going to want to quit once they have found they like a smoke-free alternative and they understand how low the risks are.” But let us just see what happens when they offer that response. We have a tough fight, so we deserve the joy that comes from seeing the anti-THR liars trapped by their own hidden motives.
There are some more complicated directions that this conversation can be taken, if it continues. We can point out that the evidence shows that many smokers who never managed to just quit entirely seem to have an easier time quitting entirely once they have switched to an alternative product. There is also the observation that long-term smoke-free use of tobacco/nicotine is so similar to long-term use of coffee that it is difficult to see much of a difference. However, be aware that while the coffee argument seems to be persuasive to some people who are already sympathetic, but it does not seem to have much traction for changing people’s minds.
The last observation does bring up a question that leads us into the rather different response to this issue that can be pursued when we are not limited to soundbites:
What do you mean by “addiction”?
That is not a path to go down unless you have a bit of time and a receptive listener rather than a mob scene. (It is way too easy for dishonest opponents to ridicule this very legitimate question.) In the next post (and two after it), I will suggest some thoughts of how to travel that more complicated path if you so choose.