Tobacco control industry really annoyed that tobacco industry is making cogent policy arguments

by Carl V. Phillips

In a recent paper, Anna Gilmore and “researchers” at the University of Bath’s anti-tobacco QUANGO — a group known for not understanding the basics of either the epidemiology or the economics they write about — has demonstrated that they might actually have learned something about how public policies are debated in free societies.  Of course, the spin they put on it is that such debate and freedom are obstacles to be thwarted.

They reviewed (in a faux systematic way, though their methodologic failures are hardly the real problem, so are not worth addressing) publications and documents about the tobacco industry’s responses to proposed regulations in order to create a taxonomy of the types of arguments made.  Their tweet about this actually misrepresented it, since it was not actually a study of “extent”:

(Tobacco Research ‏@BathTR) Extent of tobacco industry’s lobbying tactics unveiled by new paper today – http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/2014/02/06/tobacco-industry-lobbying/

My take on it, I think, better sums it up:

(Carl V Phillips ‏@carlvphillips) MT @BathTR Extent of tobacco control industry’s complete lack of anything useful to do unveiled by new paper today – http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/2014/02/06/tobacco-industry-lobbying/

But that this is a colossal waste of resources really understates what we can learn about the tobacco control industry from this.  The authors comment:

This systematic review has identified common tactics and arguments that the TI [tobacco industry] uses to prevent the implementation of regulation, and has shown that they are repeatedly used across different jurisdictions. Policymakers need to be aware of these in order to understand how the TI may try to manipulate the regulatory environment in their own interests, and public health advocates can use this information to prepare effective counter strategies. The recent failure of the British government to pursue plain packaging legislation highlights the importance of such knowledge.

and

The tobacco companies have a diverse repertoire of tactics and arguments they repeat time and time again to prevent policies which protect the public from its deadly products. Governments around the world need to wise up to when the industry is lying and protect policy development from the vested interests of the tobacco companies.

and

Significantly the paper found that the same tactics and arguments are being used across multiple jurisdictions, showing that the tobacco industry is repeating its activities in high, middle, and low income countries around the world. This suggests that the tobacco industry believes that what works best to influence policy-makers in developed countries will have a similar effect on policy-makers in developing countries. Importantly the paper also identifies a broader range of corporate tactics and arguments than previous studies have suggested.

My god! What kind of “lying” “tactics” are they using to influence policy makers “across multiple jurisdictions”?

It turns out that companies’ arguments fall into four categories:

  1. That a proposed policy will have negative unintended consequences – for example for the economy or public health.
  2. That there is insufficient evidence that a proposed policy will work.
  3. That there are legal barriers to regulation – including that it infringes the legal rights of a company.
  4. That a proposed regulation is unnecessary because the industry does not market to young people and / or adheres to a voluntary code.

Yes, that’s right. The companies are daring to point out how anti-THR measures hurt people’s health and how that cigarette restrictions fuel the black market. They bring up inconvenient truths about how most current tobacco control industry proposals are not based on any evidence. They try to assert their legal rights.

It is difficult to imagine what kind of devious tacticians could figure out how to make such arguments in both high- and low-income countries. And these companies must not really be in competition with each other — they must really be some kind of coordinated monolith — for them all to be employing the same off-the-wall arguments.

But seriously, setting aside item 4, which you may or may not buy, that list of “tactics” is basically a list of the cogent arguments that should be considered before imposing a regulation on consumers (and have no doubt that the proposed regulation of “the TI” has far more impact on consumers than on companies). If the regulators actually cared about people, the industry would not even need to make these arguments because they would be part of the initial analysis. In most cases, these concerns would carry the day if regulations were rational and not driven by lobbying.

But since they are driven by lobbying — the lobbying by the enormously wealthy tobacco control industry — it falls to the tobacco products companies to be the voice of rational public policy.  Yes, this does mean that we depend on corporations to support rationality, consumer interests, and the rule of law by pushing back again those who are paid by tax dollars (the regulators themselves and the TCI lobbyists).

Make no mistake, the industry is not the consumer’s best friend in the world (that would be CASAA, in case you are wondering).  Companies that sell cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and/or e-cigarettes frequently propose or support regulations that would give them a competitive edge at the expense of consumers — in the form of restricting options or raising prices. But it is clear that industry interests are mostly aligned with consumers’, and both are sharply contrast with the interests of the non-stakeholders who presume that they should own the policy process and resent the intrusion of the actual stakeholders.

But equally remarkable is the extent to which some vapers and e-cigarette companies seem to take the TCI’s side of this policy debate, endorsing consumer-harming, evidence-free, illegal regulations of cigarettes, and lambasting the industry’s push-back against them.  It shows a remarkable lack of understanding of history. I am not talking about a rewind to “First they came for the Socialists…” history (though that is a relevant lesson too).  I am just talking about the 15 years since public health morphed into the tobacco control industry and its imitators in other sectors. Each restriction on consumer choice and reduction of consumer welfare paves the way for the next one. The more outlandish the accepted restriction is, the more outlandish the next proposal can be.

And even if a supporter of tobacco harm reduction is oblivious to history, just look again at that list of the “tactics” that the TCI resents. Anything seem familiar about those?

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7 responses to “Tobacco control industry really annoyed that tobacco industry is making cogent policy arguments

  1. Anna Gilmore’s tactics
    I’ll thcream and thcream till I’m sick – I can you know.

  2. Deep within the psyche of the recent ex-smoker/new vaper exists the desire to be a part of the group that for so long oppressed us. We lived with (to us) the reality that we were wrong, were harming others, and were generally to be shunned and isolated. We want to be readmitted to society. What better way to do that than to renounce our former selves and join the cause of the anti-smoker?

    Let’s try not to be too hard of the vapers who are towing the TCI line. After a while, those who care enough to know what’s going on actually begin to read and learn. My point is, new vapers often don’t know any better. That’s one more reason your work is so important to us. Hopefully most of us begin to understand what’s going on and speak intelligently about it. Those who don’t take the time to understand it would do well to not discuss things they don’t understand, but that’s perhaps asking too much. It seems to be outside the bounds of human nature to make the decision to know one’s subject matter or to keep quiet about it.

    Just realized I was writing a book. Just deleted half, and I’ll end here!

    • Carl V Phillips

      Word. (Though I really don’t think that understanding before writing is asking too much.) And it seems like it would have been a good book – you could have left it.

      The effectiveness of systematic oppression to make a the oppressed people subconsciously aspire to join the oppressors is certainly well established, with examples ranging from slavery to apartheid to closeted gay politicians who support anti-gay laws. But it is generally very harmful to the oppressed class and very convenient for the oppressors, so while I understand it, I am not going to coddle it. Also, of course, no such excuse applies to the ecig companies that join the oppressors — they are being calculating about it.

    • “Deep within the psyche of the recent ex-smoker/new vaper exists the desire to be a part of the group that for so long oppressed us. We lived with (to us) the reality that we were wrong, were harming others, and were generally to be shunned and isolated. We want to be readmitted to society. What better way to do that than to renounce our former selves and join the cause of the anti-smoker?”

      While this might apply to some people (..not trying to be snippy) in the vaping community, it certainly does not apply to me.

      I never felt that way when I smoked and I certainly don’t feel that way now that I vape. I never felt that I was “wrong” either. Conversely, I always thought that it was my choice to smoke (or not) and that it was no one’s business but my own. Ditto for smoking bans. If adults choose to assemble in a smoke-filled environment (whether there exists a risk or not), that’s their choice. It’s called free will and the right to assemble with whom you choose.

      As per the issue of 2nd hand smoke, I soon learned about the lies of 2nd hand smoke after digging underneath the surface a bit.

      ..and then I started digging up information on harm reduction and how it’s been systematically buried from the table of public “debate”….

      I always recognized the oppression for what it was/is because I like to read between the lines while questioning “authority”.. …Maybe I’m just “different”:-)

  3. You’re absolutely correct with regards to the companies. That’s what I was writing about before I decided to cut it short. In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I’m involved with the industry at the wholesale level. I rarely interact with customers but I’m a cog in the system.

    The giants in the industry are indeed quite calculating. It’s quite inexcusable. Millions were invested for the defense that was mounted in this country (the US) that electronics are not medicine, and the pursuit of medical status in the EU and Canada. How can one company be so myopic as to think this is a good strategy? How can a former US Surgeon General sleep at night on the board of a company that’s doing this? The other large companies are much less aggressive (at least publicly) with their attempts to destroy the market

    On the other hand, I think a lot of the smaller companies are falling into the same trap as the individual new vaper. It’s unfortunate, but there are shops opening daily that are run by folks who aren’t experienced enough and don’t read enough to know what’s going on, and these shopkeepers often make the same mistakes as new vapers because they are in fact new vapers. I find that many of my wholesale contacts are completely oblivious to what’s going on out here (something they may have wanted to be aware of before opening a business). Most are receptive once I can point them int he right direction, but some don’t want to hear it.

    In the case of the smaller companies, it comes back to what you’ve said so many times. Ignorance masquerading as authority constitutes a lie. Either way, it’s unacceptable.

    • Carl V Phillips

      Thanks for that. I think perhaps you should be guest posting on this blog rather than just commenting. “Ignorance masquerading as authority constitutes a lie” — I don’t think I have ever phrased that so eloquently.

      It is truly amazing how many people jump into the ecig biz without even realizing that they could be banned tomorrow, let alone that, say, equipment that can heat the atomizer too hot creates a health hazard. It does create a bit of sympathy for the “wild west” rhetoric that is out there. (Note that CASAA actively favors consumer protection regulation, so long as that is what it really is. Cryto-bans are not good for consumers, obviously.)

      I would add that not only is implicitly supporting medicines status a bad idea, but they seem to have no idea what it takes to get a product approved as a medicine: millions of dollars, expertise they do not have in house, etc. Then comes the fun when they discover that they cannot improve the product, or even adjust their supply chains for components, without approval.

      I would also argue that it is NJOY that should be embarrassed about being associated with S.G. Carmona, not the other way around. Carmona is probably the worst single anti-THR liar in history, and he has never recanted or apologized for his lies.

  4. Pingback: Some follow-up questions for Richard Carmona | EP-ology

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