by Carl V Phillips
The CDC has been one of the most dedicated opponents of people avoiding the risks from cigarettes by using low-risk alternatives. This dates back from before I started working in the area, long before e-cigarettes happened. But it has usually been the same pathetic offhand lies you see everywhere, like those I documented from CDC Director Tom Frieden in the previous post. But it has also become a fully Orwellian war on truth (or, as I just learned, perhaps Peleven-ian is the modern update of that, though I have not read him), an attempt to create an alternate reality that will trap the ignorant masses.
Toward its finale, The X-Files had an amusing conceit that FEMA was the government agency in charge of the grand conspiracy to do something-or-other. FEMA could get away with what the military or CIA could not, because no one was looking at them with that eye of suspicion. That, of course, was before FEMA proved incapable of delivering bottled water to New Orleans (though in fairness, before the agency was turned into a patronage dumping ground in the 2000s, they would have done that right and might have been more capable of conspiring with alien invaders). But X-Files got it wrong about which supposedly-beneficial federal agency was trying to engage in mass Orwellian mind-control.
It has been observed, particularly by Jeff Stier, that CDC is engaged in clandestine funding of state and local governments to pursue particular policies, probably in violation of federal law and certainly in violation of how Americans expect their governments to operate. Stier sees this as partisan, though I would argue it has little to do with left-right politics. Either way, it is far more important and troubling than politics-as-usual. The people seldom have much chance against big money, but the money from CDC comes with more effective strings attached than do campaign donations and similar influence peddling. Basically it appears that, governments receive a big offer of cash (your federal tax dollars), with strings attached, either explicitly or implicitly, that receipt or further flow of the money depends on implementing particular policies. This creates the incentive for the government as a whole — not just one politician — to ignore what their constituents actually want. It turns out that the most notorious smoking guns (see previous link) about CDC are about nanny state policies other than anti-THR. But there are smoking guns about anti-THR bribery from other sources and hints of the same from CDC. Given CDC’s aggressive anti-THR lying and other documented behavior, it is very plausibly that the spate of local anti-THR efforts is being pushed forward by their bribe money.
At the retail level for improper CDC maneuvering is this campaign to recruit people to be the tools of disinformation about THR (screenshot here for when they inevitably memory-hole that page). CDC’s sponsorship of this is evident from the attached letter from Tim McAfee, the Director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health (emphasis added). They are offering to pay money to people who come forward who:
- For at least a year, used e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco while continuing to
smoke some cigarettes; and
- Thought using e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco to cut back on some cigarettes
would be good for your health; and
- Despite cutting back, you were later diagnosed with a serious health condition.
We are particularly encouraging qualified English speakers of Asian descent to consider applying to be a part of the ad campaign.
(Emphasis in original.) Leaving the possible racism for someone else to deal with, this recruitment leaves little doubt about their plan. They are going to find a handful of people who employed THR but still got diseases that are sometimes caused by smoking. They are then going to declare that these particular cases of the disease were caused by “tobacco” (though they have no way of knowing whether that is true) and insinuate that they would not have occurred had the smoker just quit by using the smoking cessation products CDC touts rather than pursuing THR (which they have even less basis for claiming).
The details of the recruitment suggest they are focused on disinforming smokers about the benefits of reducing consumption (perhaps they will lie and imply it offers no benefit at all). But you can be sure that they will try to discourage all THR by implying that the low-risk product was part of the problem, because it contributed to the disease or kept people smoking who otherwise would have quit. Never mind that there is no evidence that either of these occurs — they are going to insinuate it anyway.
If they were really concerned about health, they would pitch the message “you partially switched to a low-risk alternative, so you should really complete the transition”. But they are not, and they will not. It will be all anti-THR lies, you can be sure. Moreover, the bald self-contradictory nature of CDC’s lies is just stunning.
We can start with the anti-scientific remark by CDC Director Frieden that I ridiculed in the previous post, “the plural of anecdote is not data.” I pointed out that this is technically true only because one anecdote alone constitutes data, so no plural is needed. People who do not understand science — like Frieden, and apparently the CDC more generally — try to use simplistic rules of thumb to substitute for skills. That quote is one of many examples of the simplifications that are probably better than utter ignorance, but are still often wrong, as any real scientist knows. An “anecdote” (or as those who are not trying to engage in anti-scientific denigration prefer to call it, a testimonial or case study), or a collection of them, is definitive evidence for some questions, worthless for some questions, and in-between for others.
So, if your question is have some people (or a lot of people) quit smoking thanks to e-cigarettes, then one testimonial (or a lot of them) are definitive evidence that it is the case. (Assuming the data is correct, that is, but you have to accept that assumption for data of any sort.) That is exactly the question that Frieden was addressing when he spouted his nonsense about “anecdotes”.
By contrast, if your question is something like “does a THR product (or failing to quit smoking entirely) cause cancer?” then a single case study is worthless. There will always be a coincidental case if you hunt hard enough (which is, of course, exactly what they are doing). Some people who use smokeless tobacco and who never smoked get lung cancer. Being able to find one of them has no information value. To determine whether smokeless tobacco use causes cancer, you need to compare cancer rates between exposed and unexposed populations. (And, of course, that has been done and no measurable risk of any cancer is apparent.)
Different questions require different types of data, and what works for one question will not necessarily work for another. (See also: the clueless notion that randomized trials are a good way to determine if e-cigarettes are helping people quit smoking.) CDC pretends testimonial evidence is uninformative when the results do not suit their politics, but they plan to disinform the public with anecdotal propaganda where it is genuinely uninformative.
The second self-contradictory crime against science is worse.
People are often baffled about why CDC’s official statistics for the death toll from smoking (which they of course lie and call it “from tobacco”, rather than accurately identifying smoking as the cause) keep going up, given that smoking rates are going down and thus the total number of American smokers is not increasing. A good question. The answer is that most of the deaths they attribute to smoking are former smokers. Most experts believe that they are cooking these numbers, but since they are based on data and calculations that CDC refuses to share (further evidence that they are cooking the numbers) it is impossible to figure out exactly how they are doing it. But they report enough to know that CDC is claiming that most people who die from smoking do so long after they have quit.
So fast-forward to the expected propaganda campaign. They are going to present someone who smoked for a while and then claim that the disease he got later was caused by THR, or at least because he only cut back with THR, rather than quitting entirely. But according to CDC’s most prominent statistical claim about tobacco, there is a great chance he would have died from his past smoking even if he had quit completely. Yet in the propaganda they presumably are going to claim exactly the opposite.
Orwell and The X-files were right; they were just early. And even the authors of the latter probably did not realize just how dominant America’s medical-industrial complex would become in the 21st century, dwarfing the size of the military sector that originated such thinking and capturing branches of government that do far more harm to the population than just wasting their resources.