by Carl V Phillips
For the 100th post on this blog (!) I thought I would tie together the two major areas CASAA works in. We are engaged in scientific research and education, including pushing back against anti-THR lies. But of course, CASAA had its origins in, and still devotes the majority of its efforts to, political action to protect the right of consumers to pursue and benefit from THR, fighting against laws and regulations that encourage people to just keep smoking rather than switching.
The popular — indeed, almost mandatory — cynicism is to claim that never the twain shall meet. That is, that political decisions are not informed by science, and that the political process neither educates nor advances science. That is obviously true to some extent; the science (the truth) never determines policies for any politicized issue. When you hear someone saying they want “science based policy”, hold on to your wallet. On the other hand, science-based popular education can have an enormous impact on politics. The reason that CASAA wins almost every battle against anti-THR that we take on (and we take on pretty nearly every anti-THR government action that come up in the USA) is because there are so many CASAA members and other citizens who support THR who step up and fight the fight at the grassroots level.
We have also noticed a trend via which the politics can inform the knowledge of the science, if you look at it right. The anti-THR liars have increasingly resorted to trying to sneak anti-THR measures through in ways that prevent public debate. They try to get anti-THR measures enacted by hiding them in complicated legalistic language that makes it difficult to even see what they are doing, they whisper to unelected boards who can implement their measures without public debate, and at least once they have managed to use a ballot initiative to enact hidden anti-THR measures that the voters would have no possible way of understanding.
In other words, they are behaving just like any other profit-driven industry that knows it is not acting in the public interest, and so needs to exercise its special-interest power behind the scenes, out of the view of the public. In so doing, they are providing us with evidence (which is to say, scientific evidence) that they recognize they are not on the side of the public.
But this also tells us a lot about what they think about the quality of their arguments or, to put it more pointedly, the fact that they recognize that they are lying so blatantly about the science that their lies cannot stand up to even a little sunlight. I think this is a pretty remarkable testament to how powerful science, when combined with successful popular education, is in the political process.
The ANTZ have managed for years to make policies based on ridiculous claims about the harms from environmental tobacco smoke. There is ample science that shows their claims are exaggerated, often by orders of magnitude, but the good science came after the inaccurate conventional wisdom was locked in, and there has been limited public awareness of it. Thus, the ANTZ are still able to win political fights based on that claim.
But when they actually try to make unsupportable claims about e-cigarettes in the political arena and there is any chance for public involvement, the lawmakers hear the truth. And hear it, and hear it, and hear it (sometimes during a political process, we get a note from one of them indicated that he has been won over, so would we please ask our members to stop deluging him with more truth). Attacks on smokeless tobacco fall somewhere in between — the anti-THR propaganda still tricks a lot of people (including many e-cigarettes supporters, sadly), but there is a lot of push-back.
Just since last year, we have witnessed a substantial reduction in lies-based anti-THR activism. Several of the anti-harm-reduction activists who CASAA has publicly called-out (on this blog and elsewhere) have largely gone silent. Undoubtedly this is more a shift in tactics than anything else, since their motives were never really based on their scientific claims. But trying to keep anti-THR regulations hidden from the public is a pretty clear concession that they do not have a valid case and that, this time, they cannot fool everyone. They are effectively admitting that their claims are lies and they cannot win an open fight.
Unfortunately, that does not mean they cannot win. Those who are playing power politics with THR behind the scenes (and unfortunately it is not just the ANTZ) have a lot of power and politics to play with. And, unfortunately, when we look at the political battles, this means we face more, not fewer, challenges. But when we put on our science and education hats we can take it as a great victory. The anti-THR activists have a lot of arrows in their quivers, but at least in the context of US politics, we are making serious progress in taking one — public lying — away from them.