The countdown continues with:
- Anti-THR liar #6: Minnesota: politicians, the University of Minnesota, and Kelvin Choi
- Anti-THR liar #5: New York City politicians and activists
- Anti-THR liar #4: European Union politicians and civil
No, we are not calling particular land areas liars. Instead, today’s “winners” in the liar derby represent the rhetoric surrounding these places’ THR policies. These three cases share the characteristic that the lying has been more the outgrowth of a particular policy goal than the cause of it. That is, the anti-THR policies were not motivated by factual claims, whether true or false. The lying followed the policy process rather than leading it, and served merely to try to win over a few more votes and rationalize the policy to the masses. Unfortunately, it also spills over into influencing policy decisions in other jurisdictions where the facts (and thus the lies) are considered by the decision-makers.
As with most entries in this list, they are standing in for other similar examples (or at least Minnesota and New York are — there is nothing in the world quite like the EU). So if you think Oklahoma should be there along with Minnesota, or any number of cities alongside New York, please consider them included by reference. And for the majority of humanity that does not share CASAA’s geographic focus, I invite you to expand that to other places in the world (though we do mention both Europe and Canada today — and the rest of the world is represented tomorrow — because our analysis is not so USA-centric as our political activity necessarily is).
But though there are other candidate examples, there is something quite interesting about these that make for an interesting tale of three place. The lies coming out of these places run the usual full spectrum of what is covered in this blog, and each represents a classic case of throwing every possible claim against the wall to see what sticks. When the lying is an ex post rationalization rather than actual reasoning, those uttering the lies tend to be quite promiscuous. Thus, today’s entry does not delve into the specific lies, but on the stories of how they happened. The tales start out quite differently.
Minnesota is a small state that in many ways is pro-freedom. But it is also the most Canadian part of America, meaning that it shares Canada’s unfortunate problem of having a relatively efficient bureaucracy and a communitarian-tending population that puts up with that. It is also insular in a million little ways, thus not liking things that “ain’t from ’round here”. When most people think of aggressive “public health” measures by US states, they tend to think of Massachusetts and California, but this stereotype overlooks the fact that Minnesota is similar in attitude, but often is much “better” at implementation. So, like Canada, Minnesota moved to hurt the market for e-cigarettes long before any pro-THR opposition organized. Specifically, Minnesota imposed a huge tax on e-cigarette products coming into the state (which due to its specifics creates some interesting distortions in the market that tend to favor mods over disposables, but that is beyond the present scope). More recently, one Minnesota city after another has pursued usage restrictions on e-cigarettes. This resulted in a deluge of lies by the anti-THR activists to try to trick lawmakers who had not (unlike the activists) already made up their minds before seeking information.
Kelvin Choi is just a bit player, but happens to be the only Minnesotan noted in the blog by name this year (though some other Minnesotans contributed to the upcoming first and second place awards). Choi seems to be actively trying to set himself up as an Ellen Hahn or Stanton Glantz-like figure — doing pretend science with preordained conclusions for purposes of becoming an activist spokesman — though it seems unlikely he will succeed at this because he lacks the Barnum-like showmanship the other two have. But though he will probably remain just a minor annoyance, his institution, the University of Minnesota, is among the most anti-THR organizations historically, playing a substantial role in anti-THR in the pre-ecig era. His activism suggests it might regain some of that role. That this university includes anti-THR activists seems to be coincidental with the state’s tendencies, but it does make this inward-looking state much more likely to be anti-THR.
New York City politicians and activists (is there even a difference there?) deployed the full armada of anti-THR lies in their move to treat e-cigarettes as if they were cigarettes in terms of onerous place restrictions. Once again, the policy seemed to have little to do with the facts. Indeed, given how lopsided and inevitable the vote was, there was not really even a reason to lie to win votes. Instead, it is more a case of the local extremist activists (Bloomberg, et al.) creating policy as an effort to promote the lies. In almost diametric contrast with Minnesota, New York is the meeting place of the world and thus has a lot of influence. It was not local insularity as with Minnesota or Canada; it was local politicians trying to affect the policies of the entire world. Still, the lies that came out of each (some of which were recognized here yesterday) looked pretty much the same.
The European Union is responsible for the worst anti-THR regulation in the world, the ban on snus (outside of Sweden) which has kept Sweden’s great THR success from spreading to most of its nearest cultural and geographic neighbors (in contrast with its impressive spread into non-EU Norway). But they largely do not even bother to lie about it anymore — they just keep the policy without trying to justify it. This says a lot about their motives as they deliberate how to regulate e-cigarettes (if what they are doing could be called deliberation).
Whatever the European Union ends up doing with e-cigarette regulation is, of course, huge. It could still be anything between a de facto ban and minimal intervention and it forcibly affects hundreds of millions of people; thus what is in play is as momentous as anything happening in THR today (the only competing candidate being what the US FDA decides to do with e-cigarettes and its MRTP process). But the EU does not top the list of liars because there has been remarkably little effort to aggressively lie. The proposed bad policies are largely not influenced by the anti-THR lies. Instead, the roots largely trace to simple officiousness. Unlike the American system where “allowed unless specifically prohibited” is the legal and moral norm, nations that still put the pictures of hereditary monarchs on their money have found it all too easy to create an institution that defaults to “banned unless specifically permitted by the royal court”.
Interestingly, one corner of America that does use a banned-by-default rule is the FDA. And what the EU started with (though it now appears to be off the table) is very similar to what FDA tried to do in 2009, which is to effectively ban the products as unapproved drug delivery devices. In both cases, this seemed to have little to do with intentional policy making (and thus had nothing to do with the lies) and everything to do with just blindly following onerous rules according to the worst stereotypes of government bureaucrats. In fairness, it is not entirely clear that the rule-makers should be included with the liars in this case, since it is usually the UK government sock-puppets that dominate the anglophone anti-THR lying related to the EU process. But the lies are, again, following the policy.
In some sense, these top liars of the year blur the lines between speech and action. In this case, the policy making — by communicating the message that these bad policies have some legitimate justification — is in itself the lie.