CDC goes full-Orwell in opposition to tobacco harm reduction

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.

25 responses to “CDC goes full-Orwell in opposition to tobacco harm reduction

  1. Pingback: CDC Goes Full-Orwell In Opposition To Tobacco Harm Reduction • The Spinfuel Vaping News

  2. Pingback: CDC Director Frieden explains that he hates ecigs because he is clueless | Anti-THR Lies and related topics

  3. Reblogged this on artbylisabelle and commented:
    While we are more earnestly coming together to fight for our lives against those who are paid to pretend they are, we must see how their schema works.

  4. Pingback: CDC goes full-Orwell in opposition to tobacco h...

  5. jredheadgirl

    Spot on once again Carl.

  6. Chris Price

    What can people do about this takeover of government health policy by those with ulterior motives?

  7. Geee, just a few days ago we could read that the good Dr. Frieden (which ironically mean “peace” in german) finds thousands of anecdotal reports irrelevant for his kind of “if”-science. And now his agents try to collect some by bribing vapers to give (presumably false) testimony for some nefarious pupose?

    Sounds like a very scient-if-ic approach to me.

    (Caution: This contribution may contain traces of sarcasm and irony. You shouldn’t have read it, if you are allergic or percetionally challenged.)

  8. Allison Taylor

    On the topic of accepting anecdotes as evidence only when they support your predetermined position…

    While reading through the FDA proposed regulations, I noted that any statements about the relative saftey of e cigs compared to combustible cigarettes contained heavy qualifiers. Additionally, references to e cig studies with positive outcomes were qualified with descriptors like “some studies of very few numbers”. No mention was made of the overwhelming amount of testimonials of successful smoking cessation. (After all, those are just anecdotes.)

    However, in one of the sections discussing the likelyhood of young people being attracted to e cigs for the flavors and subsequently becoming smokers, there is a line that goes something like this… (I’m paraphrasing slightly as I do not have the document in front of me.)

    One newspaper reported that students said their peers used electronic cigarettes because they “tasted good.”

    So, to clarify: A student told someone writing a newspaper article that his or her friends vape because of the flavorings and that is used as supporting data in the FDA’s official regulatory proposal.

    • Carl V Phillips

      Yup. See also the ongoing series (frozen at part 1 because of the CDC interruption) about that very topic.

  9. I’m not arguing against at least the correlation between smoking and lung cancer but I still have to wonder: Since apparently 15-20% of lung cancer happens to never-smokers, how can we know for sure that it was their former smoking that led to the lung cancer in former smokers? IOW, that they wouldn’t have gotten it anyway? Also, since– forgot the %– of lung cancer is actually metastasized from known or unknown cancers elsewhere, how can we know that all the lung cancer in current or former smokers was related to their smoking? Further, in cases of a smoker’s or ex’s lung cancer, how can we separate their smoking from the other known risk factors? I.e. was it the smoking or the asbestos mining, or the repeated infections, etc.

    I’m not trying to make trouble here; I’d really like to know to what extent all this confounding distorts the picture. And I assume there’s also confounding when it comes to emphysema ,bronchitis and even more as it relates to heart disease. Huh?

    • Carl V Phillips

      You infer that the exposure is causing the disease by comparing the rates in the exposed and unexposed populations, as I allude to in the post. As I further allude, this means that you can never know whether the exposure caused any particular case of a disease (unless the definition of the disease includes the exposure, of course, as with many infectious diseases and the infection). We can only calculate what portion of all the cases were caused by the exposure. Thus, anytime someone says “this *particular* case of D was caused by E” where D=cancer and/or E=smoking, they are being sloppy (as in casual conversation, where “my grandmother died from smoking” really is meant to communicate “my grandmother smoked and died from a disease that is often caused by smoking” when the speaker is smart enough to know the former cannot be demonstrated) or they are lying (as when CDC puts the claim on television or a medic claims it on the witness stand).

      Also, the questions you pose are not about confounding. Confounding means that there is something different between the exposed and unexposed populations that is not caused by the exposure. Confounding is not a plausible explanation for the lung diseases — the signal is way too strong and there are no other causes that are strong enough to create the confounding. With heart disease, there are other comparably strong causes but the signal is robust to attempts to control for them (which is necessary in this case because the signal is weaker and the potential confounders stronger).

  10. Thank you. Playing off your blog, I was, in fact, thinking of the specific individuals the CDC is recruiting and therefore will be tacitly implying– if not outright saying– that their specific illnesses were caused by their smoking , or failure to quit smoking, or, for all we know, caused by a deadly combination of propylene glycol and vanilla flavoring. Since on the individual level there’s no way to know, all such ads featuring individuals are likely to be “iffy” if not downright deceptive. IMO. (I’m also thinking of some of Frieden’s ads showing diabetics with missing digits which, in some cases, he blames on Marlboro Reds and in others on Pepsi Cola .)

    • Carl V Phillips

      Yes, exactly. I am guessing that their planned lies are a bit different, though they might do what you said too: They are going to claim that someone used THR to cut down but would have quit entirely within the same time period had they not (hahaha!), and that the continued smoking caused the disease (even though, as we both noted, there is no way of knowing it was caused by smoking, and furthermore, if it was, there is no reason to believe it was the most recent year of smoking instead of the accumulated previous years).

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  13. I hope a pro-ecig organization or company can afford to counter advertise with people who have stopped smoking with ecigs and have improved health. These people wouldn’t want paid either, and are many more in number. I’m one of those people, I stopped smoking 4 years ago and have better health as a non-smoking ecig user. One would wish the CDC really cared about health and wouldn’t resort to this Orwellian propaganda. I hope the masses see through this charade, but probably not. Cheers Carl, thanks for the post.

  14. Have we pointed out the fact that the CDC recieves money from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation? (You know the anti tobacco “foundation” arm of Johnson & Johnson (who actually holds the patents on most of the “approved” NRT products))…incedentally look at who else is getting grants from the RWJF (American legacy foundation, WHO, campaign for tobacco free kids, Stanton Glantz, ALA, Americans for Non-smokers rights)… And/Or
    some time ago the CDC and WHO’s anual conference ever so subtley
    changed the name from “conference on smoking and health” to “conference on smoking OR health”…christ, the CDC states how much money each state should be spending on tobacco prevention yearly and the ALA uses that on their state report cards….just pointing that the CDC is definitely not the puppeteer but the puppet. J&J is the real man behind the curtain. Perhaps our cause as far as THR would be better heard if it was accompanied by a boycott of J&J and their holdings products.

    • ….a govt agency such as the CDC can accept grant $$ from a non-profit? I didn’t think that to be possible. Did I read this correctly or am I just tired and hence, not getting the point? If this is indeed what is taking place, how do we know it to be fact?

      • Oh they are definitely holding hands..too many things to quote and link here…just google (RWJF CDC)…and prepare to be disgusted…

        The RWJF, CDC and AMA are all hand in hand…and partner up frequently

        You can also see current and past grants that the RWJF has made through their site..
        And there’s a thin line between the CDC and “the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention” which is probably how they get around that whole pesky giving money to a government entity thing, they just give it to the “foundation” established by said government entity.

        • Carl V Phillips

          There is a lot to complain about in the specific actions of some of these organizations, usually individually, but sometimes in collaboration. Let’s stick with that rather than guilt-by-association games that come across as the same as the paranoid ad hominem attacks from the ANTZ.

        • With all due respect, I disagree. If you look at several of the internet forums there are many people who are fired up about the actions of the ANTZ and throwing the blame in several directions and forcing us to fight the war against us on many fronts. Pointing out where and who is really in charge of the enemy seems the smarter choice instead of fighting off each battalion.
          If Johnson & Johnson (via RWJF) is trying to protect and drive sales of Nicoderm, Nicoderm CQ, Nicorette, Nicotrol, Zyban by throwing money at the AMA, ALA, ACS, CDC, WHO, TFK, Glantz, and individuals in Congress…we should make it clear exactly who is driving that war against us…and while defending ourselves against the FDA (under the influence of the CDC, AMA, and WHO) we should be on the offensive ourselves by calling for a boycott of all products from J&J and it’s subsidiaries (making it very clear and public as to the why)…
          Once J&J realizes the impact of all vapors boycotting all of their products perhaps they’ll relax their lobbying against us…perhaps they might even notice the $ they could be making by just selling their USP nicotine directly to our juice manufacturers without the cost of having to process and package it all into their own NRT products.

        • jredheadgirl

          “..perhaps they might even notice the $ they could be making by just selling their USP nicotine directly to our juice manufacturers without the cost of having to process and package it all into their own NRT products.”

          Check this out:

          “Our organic nicotine extraction is performed through partnership with one of the providing labs to Johnson & Johnson’s global line of nicotine based products for your assurance of chemical purity, quality control, and reliable results.”

          Whether the association with J&J is either direct or indirect is not clear in this case, but what is clear is that there is at least one e-cig company that is sourcing their nicotine from the same place.

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