by Carl V Phillips
The most fundamental lie of the tobacco control industry (TCI) is what I have dubbed the “demonic possession” theory of tobacco use. It is the myth that no one likes to use tobacco products.
It is obvious why they need this. If they admitted that people derived benefits from consuming tobacco, then they would have to balance the (supposed) benefits of their actions against the loss of benefits caused by the actions. More important, and the reason this myth is fundamental, is that if they admitted the truth they would have to admit to themselves that most of what they do inflicts harm — serious harm — on the hundreds of millions of people who they pretend they are trying to help. While many in the TCI are truly evil, and would not be bothered by this, many are not, and so need to preserve this fiction to be able to sleep at night. (And, no, “evil” is not hyperbole. It is clear that many people in tobacco control derive pleasure from inflicting pain on people who they consider to be The Other, exactly the same evil impulse that causes racism, homophobia, etc.)
The TCI never attempts to explain the obvious discrepancy between (a) there are no benefits and (b) lots of people choose to do it. So it fell to me to fill in the missing step: possession by demons. Those billions of daily acts of consumption by hundreds of millions of people occur, contrary to the consumers’ true preferences, because the consumers are all possessed by demons. Thus their actions are not based on volition, which is based on preferences, but are arbitrary. Once you assume that people are acting arbitrarily, everything we know about welfare economics goes out the window — in particular, the conclusion that we draw about all other consumer choices, that people are generally taking the actions that make them happiest.
But you cannot wall-off an error/lie this big. Once you add it to your postulates, it creates endless ripples of problems. In a mathematical system it is trivial to show that if you add a single false statement to the postulates (e.g., “assume 1=0”), then it is possible to prove any other statement, and so there is no longer any distinction between true and false. This is a pretty good metaphor for the TCI in general, and in particular their understanding of economics, which is far worse than their understanding of epidemiology and the other sciences they abuse. It turns out that to understand economic phenomena, you need to understand something about economics (see, e.g., my recent analysis of profitability) — go figure.
Case in point is this recent piece by Becky Freeman, Research Fellow/Lecturer at University of Sydney. The leading TCI liars about economics seem to be at University of Bath, so perhaps this is some kind of geospheric balancing. And before anyone suggests it, no I do not think this is Simon Chapman in drag. I have never seen Chapman string together that many words without actively trying to hurt someone [nb: potential irony noted — but I will point out that sometimes I analyze science and sometimes I analyze people, and I do not confuse the two], so it is pretty clearly not him. There is a reason I make this observation: Freeman does not seem to be trying to abuse anyone in this piece, suggesting that she is in that category of “needs to pretend in order to sleep at night.” Thus, it nicely illustrates how the TCI demonic possession premise inevitably results in the denigration of hundreds of millions of people, even when the author is not trying to be evil.
The premise of Freeman’s commentary is the usual “e-cigarettes are a plot by Big Tobacco” stuff, with the supposed goal of the commentary being,
to consider why the global tobacco industry has taken such a keen interest in buying e-cigarette companies.
Oooh, pick me, I know that one! It is because it is an emerging promising market, and thus anyone who wants to make a profit has an interest in going into it. However, it is the major tobacco companies who have the specific expertise and infrastructure to do best in this new market, so entering is much more valuable to them than it would be to, say, General Motors. Moreover, because e-cigarettes are under attack by the enormously rich and powerful TCI, most major companies would not want to face the threat to their core business from such attacks by entering this market. Thus, while Hostess Brands has most of the same expertise and infrastructure that it would take to do well in the mass-market e-cigarette business, they have too much to lose. But the tobacco companies — already the targets of the TCI — do not. Finally, for cigarette companies, e-cigarettes are an effective hedge, since increases in the e-cigarette market cause decreases in the cigarette market. While efficient market theory and duty to shareholders tells us that individual corporations are not supposed to hedge like that, we know that managers have the incentive to do so.
Did I get it right?
Yes, of course I did. I understand economics and do not start with any grossly false premises. Now let’s see how Ms. Freeman did.
On the surface, it might look like the tobacco industry is simply buying up these companies before they become a major threat to its profits. Or even, that it sees a bright future for e-cigarettes and wants to control the market.
First failure from the fundamental false premise: It is not the e-cigarette companies that are a threat to cigarette profits, it is the growing preference of many consumers to buy e-cigarettes rather than cigarettes. The companies just fulfill that demand.
Of course, the TCI starts with several important obviously-false premises when looking at the economics, not just the one. Another important one is that there is some unified actor called “the tobacco industry”. I think this one may be a simple mirror-image delusion: The TCI have an effective conspiracy and system of omerta, in which none of them ever compete with the others, ever point out how totally crackers or genuinely evil some of their allies are, etc. When you are so immersed in such a culture, it is hard to not think you are looking into a mirror when you look at your chosen enemies. It does not even occur to you that they are not similar to you. But, of course, companies compete fiercely with one another. Each of them would have been delighted if the others had stayed out of the e-cigarette market.
Further on the false premises — though this one is probably not calculated, and is simply a matter of knowing little about how the world works — you cannot just eliminate a competing product sector by buying a handful of the producers. I trust that my readers are enough smarter than Freeman’s target audience that I do not have to explain why. It is just amazing that a basically literate person does not understand that, but you see cluelessness like that throughout the TCI’s attempts at economics. You can reduce competition if there are high barriers to entry or an acquired company owns critical IP, of course, but those are not the case here (notwithstanding some moves that probably will not go anywhere).
But considering just how much more profitable traditional cigarettes are than e-cigarettes, and the tobacco industry’s long and chequered corporate history, it’s important to question what other motivations they might have.
See above for their real motivations.
The “more profitable” seems to refer back to her previous paragraphs which point out that the cigarette market is far larger than the e-cigarette market. Freeman never actually said anything about profitability, just total sales volume, which may reflect further failure to understand how the rest of the world works: In the TCI, you just extract tax money from consumers, and so every penny is pure profit, leading to an inability to understand the difference between revenue and profit. The failure to understand the basic functioning of industry — despite TCI’s obsession with industry — is further illustrated by not realizing that major companies with hugely successful product lines still try to do new things on a different scale. Having large units and blockbuster products does not mean you cannot also do well with some small units. You would think that the pharma industry could explain that to them.
Tobacco advertising on television is nearly universally banned, the tobacco-friendly states of Indonesia and Zimbabwe being two holdouts. It has been decades since a tobacco ad appeared on television screens in the United States and United Kingdom. But e-cigarette marketing is a booming business in both countries with controversial television ad campaigns and celebrity endorsements.
Using celebrities, sex, glamour, adventure, rebelliousness, youth and beauty to sell addictive products is very familiar territory for the tobacco industry. These sorts of campaigns contradict the tobacco industry’s pubic relations message that it is only interested in selling e-cigarettes to adults who are unable to quit smoking.
Add to the fact that PMI can no longer show packs of Marlboro on store shelves or splash the iconic red Marlboro chevron on Formula One cars, it can promote the US$69 billion Marlboro brand by putting it on the HeatStick product.
I should point out that I did not skip any text after the previous quote. These were her lead answer to her “what other motivations” question.
The banning of broadcast advertising was one of the best things that ever happened to the major tobacco companies, saving them enormous amounts of money that they had previously had to spend fighting each other for market share, as well as preventing any new entrants from effectively competing with them. I am sure Coke and Pepsi drool at the idea of scoring such a ban for themselves. Almost no one in the TCI understands that. And thus they arrive at the absurd notion that entering a new market where expensive advertising is needed — both to grow the sector and to try to compete with other companies — represents a benefit rather than a cost.
As an aside, that “two holdouts” phrasing, wonderfully reflects the imperialist view of the TCI: “How dare a major sovereign nation (along with a basket-case principality) not obey our diktats?! They need to be more like those wonderful people who run Somalia, Syria, and Russia!”
Returning to the illiteracy, how exactly does using effective advertising techniques contradict the message about who the target audience is? If advertising supposedly contradicts that message merely by using effective tactics (that accusation is just hand-waving innuendo, of course), just what advertising would not? The only apparent answer are ads that explicitly emphasize the message, “this product is a great way to quit smoking”, which, of course, are not allowed in the most important jurisdictions thanks to the actions of the TCI. I suppose this one is less about illiteracy and more about chutzpah (in the classic sense of “murdering your parents and then pleading for mercy on the grounds that you are an orphan”). The TCI knows full well that they have created the situation that they are pretending to complain about.
As for the reference to HeatStick (a heat-not-burn cigarette), there is every indication that PMI plans to choose the regulatory strategy of declaring these to be an improved cigarette, not something separate. Thus all the restrictions on cigarettes will apply. But, of course, TCI propagandists are not going to let simple facts get in the way of good innuendo.
And finally, though I know this is a little juvenile [nb: and further irony noted: I admit I am a terrible self-proofreader], the typo in the second sentence of the middle quoted paragraph was in Freeman’s original text. It will probably be fixed in the original, but I got a screenshot. One might say that it tells us something about the anatomical region from which this commentary came.
Returning to the lies that stem from the fundamental false premise:
E-cigarettes could also help the tobacco industry undo the effects of policies that have seen cigarettes pushed out of social settings that kept people smoking. While smoking bans are principally about protecting people, especially workers, from secondhand smoke, they have an additional positive benefit of reducing smoking rates.
Pushing to allow e-cigarette use in pubs and restaurants means there is no need to quit, because when you can’t smoke, simply use an e-cigarette instead. But, don’t forget to keep smoking the real stuff when you can too.
Because it is, of course, the industry that suffers from inconvenience, withdrawal symptoms, loss of social life, having to stand out in the cold, and other harms that come from usage bans. It is the industry that votes against pro-“public health” parties in elections because of the privations that are being inflicted upon them. Of course, it is a lie that bans are about protecting workers. Perhaps they were once, but this lie has long since given way to facts, like how negligible the risk (and thus the protection) is, that smoking bans are extended to places where there is no conceivable risk, and that there are no allowances for anyone to voluntarily agree to accept the supposed risk as there are for every other occupational exposure in the world.
At least she admitted the real reason, though she pretended it was secondary. But the fundamental lie reappeared when she referred to “intentionally inflicting pain on people who choose to smoke to try to force them to do what we demand of them” as a “positive benefit” (as opposed to a negative benefit??). It is only a benefit under the demonic possession fiction that no one really wants to smoke.
Her additional unstated and undefended premise — that encouraging smokers to use e-cigarettes some of the time will result in more smoking rather than more quitting — is an empirical claim. It could theoretically be true. But the reality is that all available evidence suggests it is diametrically wrong (it is obvious that smokers who try low-risk alternatives are much more likely to switch to them entirely than those who do not try them; but also, lots of e-cigarette trialers “accidentally” quit smoking), and not a shred of affirmative evidence to support her claim. Moreover, the same claim could be made about the NRT that the TCI just loves (which is predominantly used not for quitting, but by continuing smokers to deal with place restrictions and for THR), so it is obviously disingenuous. But even if the absurd empirical claim were true, it would do nothing to mitigate the pure evil oozing out of these paragraphs. The TCI is terribly bothered by the possibility that the human beings who choose to remain smokers might suffer less than they currently do.
Since acquiring e-cigarette brands, not one tobacco company has stepped out of the way of tobacco control policy makers working to reduce smoking. The industry has not raised a white flag and agreed to no longer oppose effective tobacco control policy reform.
Um, wasn’t it you, Ms. Freeman, who a few paragraphs earlier pointed out that their cigarette business remains orders of magnitude larger than the e-cigarette business? (Note: Yes, I know you did not say “orders of magnitude”, but rather made silly overly-precise claims.) So they obviously remain far more interested in their cigarette business for now, right? (Note: Freeman conveniently omitted from the list of companies she is attacking the one traditional tobacco company whose stake in the future of e-cigarettes rivals that of its stake in cigarettes.) Yes, I realize that your commentary is more than eight hundred words long, Ms. Freeman, so you cannot be expected to remember what you have already written in order to avoid contradicting yourself. But surely you must have read back over it once to remind yourself.
It is business as usual: oppose, lobby and litigate when countries implement laws that impact on cigarette sales. Which is why the global treaty to reduce tobacco use, the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, is explicit in banning tobacco industry influence in tobacco control policy. Finding a “fundamental and irreconcilable conflict of interest” between the industry and public health means the industry is not a welcome stakeholder in formulating public health policy.
The TCI is not a stakeholder at all. This is not all that difficult to understand, given the letters in that word. “Stakeholder” refers to those who actually hold a stake in something. That is basically just the consumers and the industry (including merchants, employees, etc.) in this case. So, the TCI’s fundamental lie eliminates the primary stakeholder into nonexistence (there are no consumers, only demons) and their self-serving exertion of raw power eliminates the secondary stakeholder, leaving only non-stakeholders in the process. Pretty convenient there. It is almost like there is some kind of evil conspiracy.
E-cigarettes are a potentially useful tool in giving the tobacco industry a seat back at the policy table. If it can point to e-cigarettes as “proof” it cares about consumers and is working to reduce tobacco harms, then perhaps it will no longer be shut out of the regulatory process. No matter that e-cigarettes are a tiny portion of its total business.
To trANTZlate that: Our TCI cabal is in power, and ruthlessly exerts that power to perpetuate itself, particularly by excluding from the process the vast majority of the human population who do not agree with our real goals. But since we need public support, we lie about our real motives and thus must lie about our tactics, dressing up pure power-grabs with cynical claims about them being about “not allowing those who just want to sell deadly cigarettes to influence the process”. But lies like that create a problem, especially when world so inconveniently changes without our permission: sometimes the lie does not perfectly correspond to our real goal (i.e., excluding all the stakeholders from the process). Therefore, the TCI needs to be alerted to the fact that we have to engineer a new lie to exclude e-cigarette manufacturers (and, of course, consumers) from the process.
And finally, e-cigarettes are a huge distraction to tobacco control advocates and policy makers. No doubt the tobacco industry celebrates witnessing the debate and division among tobacco control colleagues over the utility of e-cigarettes in reducing the harms of tobacco use. The less attention paid to the deadly US$800 billion arm of the business the better.
I cannot sum that up better than Clive Bates did in the comments: “‘unity in tobacco control’ is not a prized outcome”. But to take it a step deeper, I think Ms. Freeman accidentally betrayed her tribe here, not realizing that the TCI is ultimately far more worried about THR than they are about cigarettes. (It is just so hard to keep straight so many contradictions between public statements and real motives!) Cigarettes keep the TCI in business, and the real brains of the operation know that their gravy train dries up when tobacco use is no longer terribly hazardous and the public balks at giving them limitless funding (most of which comes from the sales of cigarettes). Moreover, the anti-tobacco extremists (those who want everyone to quit all tobacco, regardless of whether it is harmful), who are a large part of the TCI, know that their dream of a tobacco-free world can only happen if tobacco stays highly hazardous and thus people have a reason to quit. Finally, the anti-industry people in the TCI — who not only do not care about people but also do not really care about tobacco use, and really just want to bankrupt the big companies they hate (good luck with that!) — know that their hope is lost when the industry migrates.
Thus, fighting THR is far more important to the TCI than fighting smoking. You seem to have missed that memo, Ms. Freeman. That makes you part of the TCI’s problem of “debate and division”. You might want to be careful about answering your door for a few weeks.
To summarize the lessons from Freeman’s commentary: 1. Be careful about making false assumptions, even if you need them to be able to sleep at night. If you forget they are fiction and start making other claims that are premised on them, you are going to end up lying a lot. 2. Do not try to analyze topics (e.g., economics, how industry works) that are completely outside your expertise. It makes you look really stupid. 3. If you are going to lie, at least make sure that your lies are consistent within each individual piece of writing. 4. Existing within a sea of lies requires that you be very smart and not talk much (note the behavior of those working in spy agencies and diplomacy). You cannot babble endlessly when you live in a sea of lies without getting the party-line lies wrong a lot of the time. 5. Wherever possible, remove “pubic” from your spellchecker dictionaries.
[UPDATE: Submitted the following to the comments on Freeman’s commentary:
This commentary has achieved the status of having great scientific value. Not for the content — that is naive and obviously wrong. But it is definitive proof that people in Tobacco Control don’t read. I have long observed that there is no evidence that Tobacco Controllers give no sign of being aware of what anyone outside their tiny echo chamber says. This commentary provides useful affirmative evidence for the point.
As most people reading these comments are probably aware, I wrote a dissection of this commentary in my blog. While I do not expect someone like Freeman to correct any of her substantive mistakes in response to a scientific critique, I also pointed out a really embarrassing typo. That was five days ago, and they typo has not been corrected. This makes it clear that no one from Tobacco Control — at least no one sufficiently in the inner circle that would send a note to Freeman about the typo — reads my blog, even though it is one of the two or three leading sources for scientific analysis of Tobacco Control writings. Moreover, links to my post have been put in these comments by at least two people, and thus it is apparent that Freeman does not even read the comments on her own commentary. This is quite remarkable, and tells us far more about how the minds of Tobacco Control work (or rather, don’t) than her actual content.