by Carl V Phillips
The New York Times has some good health science reporters, but their best known health writer, Jane Brody, has been a reliable embarrassment for that newspaper for decades (and it takes a lot to embarrass the newspaper that led the drumbeat to start the disastrous war with Iraq, repeating and even embellished the claims about WMDs). It might not be fair to blame the newspaper itself for one writer who seems to have managed to learn nothing of the science she has written about forever, but for the fact that the paper has been editorializing against THR also. So blame for the lies should go to both the author and the editors.
The first of her two-part series on tobacco product use is no worse than typical Brody standards. It focuses on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Surgeon General report on smoking, and the burst of associated activity. It is typical naive transcription of the standard claims, many of which are exaggerations of the risks from smoking or are otherwise not quite right, but are mostly not too harmful. It is specifically remarkable that someone who is supposedly an expert would declare that her husband’s cancer death — 15 years after he quit smoking — was definitely caused by smoking. (Yes, it is certainly quite possible it was caused by the smoking, but that long after cessation, there is a good chance it was not, as anyone who understood the science would know.)
It is tiresome to read the naive and self-serving claims of the tobacco control industry repeated once again (hey, we can’t expect a reporter to bother to check whether there is any real basis for what she is being told, can we? reporters are far too busy to do that). But most of them do relatively little damage to the world. That is, until they spill over into denigrating proven-effective smoking cessation methods in favor of the self-serving failed approaches of the TCI, which is where Brody goes in her second post.
[CDC Director] Frieden and public health specialists everywhere are seeking better ways to help the 44 million Americans who still smoke to quit and to keep young people from getting hooked on cigarettes.
And she might actually be naive enough to believe that claim. As I said, she is known for having a remarkably poor understanding of what she presumes to write about.
The reality, of course, is that “public health” people are the active opponents of the better ways that are emerging. The only proven method of substantially further reducing smoking is THR. But instead of embracing it, “public health” continues to come up with even more absurd and socially burdensome interventions that accomplish approximately nothing.
Brody’s litany of claims about the wonderful effectiveness of the ruling class’s anti-smoking methods is so antiquated it appears to be a joke. She spends a quarter of the post on WHO’s 2008 pabulum regulatory guidelines and even mentions, as if were news, a year-old proposed tax increase. Strangely, she apparently did not read her own first post, which laments how all interventions to date have proven inadequate. Logical consistency has no place in tobacco control or, apparently, NYT reporting.
Before getting to the part that matters most, it is worth calling out this:
“A higher cigarette tax is not a regressive tax, because it would help poor people even more than the well-to-do,” Dr. Frieden noted.
Frieden and Brody should both take a minute and look up what “regressive tax” means. But even aside from this being a bald lie, just pause and think about the mindset behind it. The ruling class has decided that imposing a huge punishment on poor people helps them. After all, if the savages are not beaten, they will continue to sin. The only thing missing is “qu’ils mangent de la brioche.”
Brody’s actively damaging lies start after that, as she concludes her discussion of how not enough has been done to reduce smoking with an attack on the one recent innovation that has dramatically increased cessation:
Electronic cigarettes are being promoted by some as a way to resist the real thing. E-cigarettes, invented in 2003 by a Chinese pharmacist, contain liquid nicotine that is heated to produce a vapor, not smoke. More than 200 brands are now on the market; they combine nicotine with flavorings like chocolate and tobacco.
Setting aside the first common misconception (e-cigarettes were invented at least as long ago as the 1960s and the current form was invented by an American in the 1990s), how clueless do you have to be to say they contain “liquid nicotine” (rather than a very diluted nicotine solution) and that there are only 200 brands? Ok, so far it is just illiterate, but not harmful.
But their contents are not regulated, and their long-term safety has not been established. In one study, 30 percent were found to produce known carcinogens.
Not regulated — just like the vast majority of the (largely useless) cessation methods she recommends in her post. Not established — as opposed to the wonderful long-term safety of the approach her husband used, which was to repeatedly fail in his attempts to quit smoking until (according to her) smoking finally killed him. Seriously, is she even reading her own prose? And don’t even get me started on the NYT’s supposed expert health reporter falling for the “produce known carcinogens” silliness (hey guess what, Jane, 100% of humans tested produce known carcinogens).
Dr. Frieden said that while e-cigarettes “have the potential to help some people quit,” the method would backfire “if it gets kids to start smoking, gets smokers who would have quit to continue to smoke, gets ex-smokers to go back to smoking, or re-glamorizes smoking.”
Yes, and it would also backfire if it caused a resurgence of smallpox, triggered a nuclear war, or was a prelude to an invasion by space aliens (as I have speculated it might be — have you seen some of those mods?). Too bad we do not have an institution in society whose job it is to ask questions of government flacks, like “so, is there any reason to believe that is a real risk?”
Nearly two million children in American middle and high schools have already used e-cigarettes, Dr. Frieden said.
And, of course, that was a lie. But, hey, it is not up to the transcriptionist to check the accuracy of what she is writing.
In an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last year, Dr. Matthew B. Stanbrook, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, suggested that fruit-flavored e-cigarettes and endorsements by movie stars could lure teens who would not otherwise smoke into acquiring a nicotine habit.
Well then, a random medic speculated about this. And demonstrated his expertise by being able to write it down. Must be true.
A survey in 2011 of 75,643 South Korean youths…
A minor aside, but anyone who does not even know how to round numbers to leave out irrelevant detail should not be reporting about science. Nor should anyone innumerate enough to quote Stanton Glantz as if he had even half a clue about science.
…in grades 7 through 12 by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, revealed that four of five e-cigarette users also smoked tobacco. It could happen here: Stanton A. Glantz, the study’s senior author and a professor of medicine at the university, described e-cigarettes as “a new route to nicotine addiction for kids.”
That is the note she ends on: most teens who even tried e-cigarettes were already smokers, and therefore we better put a stop to it.
Ms. Brody, I suggest you go back and read your own posts, and then ask yourself: Who is it that is dooming millions of people to keep smoking, as your husband did? Could it perhaps be those who are lying about the benefits of switching to a low-risk alternative, a group that now includes you?