Endgame: the Islamic State approach to tobacco control

by Carl V Phillips

Clive Bates has just published an excellent analysis of tobacco control’s “endgame” fantasies, specifically about a special issue on the topic in the journal entitled Tobacco Control (at least they were honest enough to give the journal a title that says “this is all about supporting a special-interest political position rather than doing honest science”). I wanted to add a few additional thoughts to what he wrote. Bear with me through a few musings before I get to the substance evoked in the dramatic title.

Regular readers will know that I find this whole discussion funny from the start due to the “You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means” factor. I have previously riffed on how “endgame”refers to a particular situation in a chess match, and that the current tobacco use and tobacco control situation does not remotely resemble that situation. Chess matches are divided into the opening (the part where you can play from a memorized script of good moves and responses, because the starting position is always the same), the endgame (when there are very few pieces left, pawns are very important, and kings are used offensively rather than just hiding, and even a moderately good player can work out exactly what will happen many moves in advance), and the middlegame (everything in between, when things are much more complicated).

“Endgame” does not mean “near the end of the game” or “how to win the game”. Most chess matches are won during the middlegame, with no endgame occurring. (I’ll even admit that I once managed to lose a tournament match while still well within the opening — I was never really dispositionally suited to play in tournaments.) Indeed, tobacco control people must dream of reaching a real endgame, where things will get simple enough that they can understand what is going on. The reality is that we have only recently left the opening phase when it comes to tobacco product use, and the tobacco control people discovered, “Hey, wait a minute, I don’t know how to play this game when my opponents are acting freely. I just memorized some opening scripts. Help!” In particular, they are discovering that their script — which goes: propagandize, vilify and punish all product users in any way you can think of, and assume you will get impunity for doing so — no longer works in the e-cigarette era.

This brings us back to Bates’s post, in which he catalogs the “endgame” proposals. Most of them consist of punishing tobacco product users even more, by forcing prices to rise or the quality of the products to be lowered. Bates points out both practical problems with these plans (black markets, and such) and the ethical dubiousness. By what right do the endgamers presume that imposing such force on free people is acceptable? We have no idea. They never say. Never. They just pretend that their tobacco control enterprise does not face major ethical challenges. They act as if they have divine mandate.

That brings up the Islamic State analogy. Bates invokes Islamic State’s anti-tobacco approach a couple of times. Now one might worry that bringing up the Islamic State in a political debate is 2015’s version of invoking Nazi Germany, which is almost guaranteed to hurt your credibility. But Bates pulls it off because it is a direct analogy. He points out that punishing people for choosing to use tobacco is exactly Islamic State’s approach, and it required horrifically harsh punishments, and yet they still could not make it work. Yet the endgamers are so out of touch with reality that they think this is a good approach. Indeed, Ruth Malone (editor of Tobacco Control) among others, took to Twitter to praise Islamic State for pursuing beheading-based anti-tobacco policies, and lamented when they backed off. When you start feeling all right about “this choice might kill you, so we must stop you from making it, even if we have to kill you ourselves to do so”, it is probably time to rethink your life’s work.

What struck me most about the endgame proposals, something made clear by Bates’s summary that I had not noticed before, is the purely supply-side approach. The Tobacco Control editors labeled a specific subset of proposals — those having to do with direct government takeover of parts of the production chain — as the supply side measures. But all the other proposals were also supply-side, with the exception of the wacky proposal to raise the age at which tobacco use is a criminal status offense (i.e., by making it a status offense not just for people who are minors, but for everyone born after, say, 2000 for the rest of their adult lives).

Bates notes this (and I will be so crass as to claim credit for suggesting that observation in a conversation we had a few hours before he posted his analysis). But I wanted to expand the point further. The fundamental problem with all of tobacco control — whether endgame fantasy or otherwise — is that its foundation includes the fundamental lie that demand for tobacco use is caused by supply, rather than supply being caused by demand. They have to do this or their entire enterprise collapses under the weight of the contradiction embodied in that “kill you ourselves” observation. Tobacco control tactics consist primarily of punishing (i.e., intentionally hurting) people — via taxes, place restrictions, social vilification, imposed shame, etc. — despite the professed goal of helping those same people. Islamic State’s position is at least cogent; if you believe that tobacco use is an affront to your god, then punishing people for it might make sense. There is no pretense that it is for their own good.

No doubt many people in tobacco control are motivated by basically the same view, though in most cases there is no divine prohibition in their worldview and it is more like “tobacco use is an affront to me, and I assume unto myself the status of god over these peons.” But they cannot admit that, of course. So they pretend — and many of their useful idiots actually believe — that demand is caused by supply and that punishing tobacco users hurts only those evil suppliers, and somehow does not hurt the consumer. By forcing themselves into the fiction that there is no demand, the endgamers ignore any demand-based solution like, oh I don’t know, maybe encouraging everyone to use low-risk products so that the downsides are eliminated while everyone remains happy. I guess the good news is if they had included a paper about a demand-side approach, it probably would have recommended imposing an anti-nicotine “vaccine” on all children, the ethical equivalent of genital mutilation.

Despite the absurd war on supply, the suppliers are doing quite well for themselves. That makes the endgamers rather jealous, and leads to what they call supply side approaches, which is their euphemism for government confiscation of the means of production. Bates does a nice job of questioning the legality and ethics of this, so I will not repeat those points. I will just add one observation: What would happen after governments acquire the lucrative tobacco product manufacturing and distribution businesses, especially if they put up the money to buy them rather than just taking them in defiance of every law and norm? The endgamers think that governments would then endeavor to destroy the value of their new asset. Um, yeah. I will delve further into that theme in another post within a day or two.

Approximately every single scene of a chess match in television or movies includes someone saying “Checkmate!”, which is funny because matches between halfway decent players do not include checkmate. If a checkmate move is possible, you see the threat and avoid it; if you cannot avoid it, you resign before it happens. (Ok, I’ll confess again: I was checkmated in tournament play. Twice. I never could concentrate in that environment.) But more often among decent players, you do not even reach that point, but rather realize there is no realistic chance you can win even though you cannot envision exactly how you would finally be finished off. That is when you resign. It seems safe to say that the e-cigarette phenomenon eliminated any remaining chance that tobacco control could end all tobacco product use. There is no realistic possibility there will be fewer tobacco/nicotine users in 2030 or 2050 than there are today. So the bigger issue than the details of their “endgame” fanfic is the question: when will those who write it figure out it is time to resign? Unfortunately, since they keep talking about how they will win, it is apparent they do they not know they have already lost. So they may just keep dragging out the misery they inflict on the world until that “Checkmate!” moment that is always scripted by fiction writers who do not understand how the game really works.









23 responses to “Endgame: the Islamic State approach to tobacco control

  1. Excellent extension of tobacco control’s “endgame” metaphor as them having lost several moves ago but still thinking they can “win” with their dwindling pieces. But really, I have GOT to get a screenshot of Malone’s tweet urging on the ISIS tobacco control efforts. Just to remind me of the utter depravity of thought these people are capable of. Any chance she’s proudly left it in her timeline?

    • Carl V Phillips

      I thought about going to try to find them again, but I got lazy. If someone wants to check, I would be delighted to add links or images.

  2. The neo-prohibitionists play the same game concerning alcohol. Availability (supply) ’causes’ consumption (demand). Thee people are stupid to the point of invincible ignorance – and dishonest as well.

  3. When is it is time to resign (for ANTZ)? Unfortunately never. The war on nicbacco will probably go on forever. And the new (old) wars against obesity and alcohol are just gaining momentum. AOAZ (Anti Obesity and Alcohol Zealot) might be the new part time profession of the ANTZ. And finally it is all about control.

  4. Grow your own or buy blackmarket cigs,alcohol just make your own a still is easy and the mash even easier……….I can do both to perfection.

    • I can make any item you please for an E-Cigarette, but I do worry about the millions of people who can’t or just won’t because of the trouble. Them dying isn’t nothing.

  5. “There is no realistic possibility there will be fewer tobacco/nicotine users in 2030 or 2050 than there are today.”

    Carl, I think you’d find STRONG disagreement from the Antismokers on that count. They have not yet implemented NYC-level taxes worldwide, nor have they managed to completely limit indoor smoking to stand-alone houses without children, nor fully achieve car bans or bans on city sidewalks, nor have they achieved any widespread acceptance of employers refusing to hire nicotine afficianados.

    Those are all very important elements of the Endgame. As I pointed out in “TobakkoNacht — The Antismoking Endgame” last year, they ARE moving toward total control of college campuses in terms of open-air bans and also moving to close up the remaining gaps in bar bans in the US and Euro countries.

    I believe the above are the prime areas in which they are playing at the moment. Yes, you have the Crazy Glantz types out there screaming about people who vape, and you’ve got this nonsense obsession over plain packs and cigarette colors and store displays — but I think those are really just sideshows to the main game. Unless they’re able to concoct studies showing actual substantial threats from vaping, I don’t think they’ll be able to continue on that battlefront, and the display/packs/colors thing is relatively minor compared to the rest. But the things I talked about in the last section of TNacht and outlined in the first paragraph here are where I think we’ll see their main push over the next ten years.

    It doesn’t matter HOW low the figures go: If they get the general numbers down to 5% and they do a study showing college students smoke at 5.1% they’ll scream bloody murder about how “more children” are smoking than adults and how harsher penalties and more grant money are the answer.

    – MJM

  6. The psychology of Tobacco Control is not only funny but endlessly fascinating. Little wonder they have no time to consider the philosophical underpinnings of their enterprise – the psychological effort required to remain in such a state of self delusion must be exhausting and all consuming. Imagine the effort required to rationalize away reality at every turn…lol.

    The ‘tobacco endgame’ is of course an example of near genius in self delusion. What better way to hide the fact from oneself that the real purpose of the game is not to win, but to keep it going, than to pretend it has an endgame?

    Of course there is an endgame of sorts – it’s called SNUS or ecigarettes. Predictably Tobacco Control resists this solution at all costs.

  7. I liked the analogy of the chess field,the only thing I find wrong,is that a chess field usually denotes a level playing field at the start,but it isn’t.The odds are against us from before the start of the game.Perhaps using a golf analogy,with it’s handicap system would be more suitable for us❗

  8. And you have to admire the way the Antis found such a nice, comfy euphemism for their “Final Solution to the Smoker Problem.”

    – MJM

  9. Yes, please! A snapshot of Malone’s noted remarks! I went looking myself and got pretty far down her list of tweets (many are retweets of others) and didn’t find anything like that. Though I did find a tweet or retweet (forget now) where the message was the real problem for democracy is not at the hands of terrorists but at the hands of billionaires and corporations. WTF!? Maybe as a form of terrorist herself she needs that deflection? Bottom line… her tweets/retweets are a fascinatingly disturbing look into her mind.

  10. 1) Just wondering. If one has a friend trying to jump and you know he didn’t make a properly thought out decision, would it be immoral to do anything to stop him by force? What about a close relative?
    2) Many who are not free from libertarian leanings would likely hold that there’s more ground for government restrictions on a product for which 90% of it’s users admit regretting having started, some 70% report wishing to stop (ie, their smoking against their own will?).
    3) Availability to minors makes prohibition moral.
    4) You can correct me if I’m wrong, but there appears to me to be evidence that nicotine doesn’t really provide pleasure other than treat withdrawal symptoms, some sources here:
    Even if there is some positive effect, it would likely be mitigated with desensitization.

    • Carl V Phillips

      1. I assume you are referring to attempting suicide. I don’t see how that is a valid analogy: We are not talking about an emergent situation, for one thing. Just as the most controversial cases do not make good case law, emergencies do not make good ethics. In any case, my core point is still not whether someone could make the ethical argument, but the fact that they do not think they even need to try.

      2. See Phillips-Nissen-Rodu on what those statistics really mean.

      3. I can’t see managing to make that into a valid ethical argument. But, again, see point 1.

      4. There are those who claim that. But it is clearly false, as tobacco product users can tell you. There is room to address the question of how much of the marginal benefits of current use were created by running to stand still. It might even be that eventually the current net effects are negative compared to never having used (though that would be on average — pretty clearly not for everyone). But claims that there are no benefits are patently absurd. Now if someone could honestly make the case that the lifetime net effects were indeed negative on average, that would be the basis for starting a discussion about whether it is ethically justified to use force to deny people the liberty to decide about that for themselves. But in any case, the observation alone would not constitute the argument.

      • As to #4, there are a couple of general examples that demonstrate that the benefits of nicotine use are not exclusively the relief of withdrawal. First, initial use, for obvious reasons, cannot be attributed to withdrawal.
        Establishing a pattern of daily use must be driven by non-withdrawal benefits before “dependence” develops. I know of no credible model that posits these positive benefits largely disappear over time and are replaced by benefits based on negative reinforcement. Second, there’s a fairly significant subclass of nicotine users who are clearly non-dependent. They smoke only a couple cigarettes a day, go days without smoking, or only smoke in certain situations. They clearly must be receiving benefits that are also not associated with withdrawal.

    • “3) Availability to minors makes prohibition moral.”

      Of course the same argument could be used regarding both alcohol and candy (think diabetes).

      – MJM

      • Carl V Phillips

        …and weed, and cars, and guns, and pharmaceuticals, and porn, and knives, and fireworks, and power tools, and…

  11. Carl, can you point to that P-N-R reference? I’ve always criticized statements like that largely on the grounds of respondents simply not wanting to appear “dumb” or not wanting to have to get into an argument or mount a defense or listen to a lecture.

    A *partially* corrective study COULD be made (though of course the Antis would never pay for it) by getting statements from a subject pool first, using whatever methods the Antis use, and then taking those subjects, assuring them of absolute privacy and anonymity, and tripling their fee if they promise to really, really, truly, write down *exactly* what their sincere feelings are if they strip away thoughts about what they are “supposed to” say or what they’ve been TOLD that they SHOULD feel.

    You wouldn’t be able to totally eliminate the bias effect, but I’ll bet the numbers would still significantly change.

    – MJM

    – MJM

    • Carl V Phillips

      The working paper is posted at EP-ology. Oh, ok, I will go find it for you… http://ep-ology.com/2014/11/24/working-paper-phillips-nissen-rodu-understanding-the-evidence-about-the-comparative-success-of-smoking-cessation-methods-choice-second-order-preferences-tobacco-harm-reduction-and-other-neglecte/ The simple observation is: “of course that is wrong; they could choose abstinence, but are choosing smoking; obviously, all things considered, they prefer smoking”. The paper implicitly suggests how you might ask the right questions, with the right education about the difference between preferences and second-order preferences. That would probably deal with most of the problem. Or you could use the available evidence — that they choose smoking over abstinence — and conclude from that.

    • This is a very important point Michael, and one I haven’t seen made very often. We hear all the time about smokers who want to quit, because they’ve been asked the question, but little or nothing is given in context to the answer of “yes I want to quit”.

      Having asked this question of many smokers, and having been asked this question myself when i was smoking, I know that there is a tendency to answer “yes”, because of the reasons you mentioned. This is particularly obvious when asking smokers in my country, Australia, where there is a great deal of discrimination against smokers, so many smokers either do not admit to smoking, or if they do admit to being a smoker, they always qualify this with the statement, “I smoke, but I’m trying or wanting to quit”, as this is usually enough to avoid a lecture, or the need to further their defense.

      I know myself, when asked whether I smoked by a health professional, prospective employer, etc, I simply lied and told them I was a non-smoker, as admitting to being a smoker would have seen me put to the bottom of the list for any medical procedure, (urgent or otherwise), and garnered the usual bigotry, (overt and covert), or destroyed my chances of employment, because of the severe prejudice against smokers.

      I have never trusted those who say, “this is an anonymous survey, but we do need your name and address”, as a child of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, I know that many who trusted government authorities and gave information about themselves, died as a result of this trust, including many of my own relatives. With the increasing fascism and bigotry, displayed by the ANTZ and their government supporters, I have no doubt that they would use any personal information in their pursuit of their “final solution”.

  12. In terms of addictiveness, there’s an argument I don’t think I’ve ever seen made out there:

    Alcohol is clearly highly addictive physically: sudden withdrawal can result in convulsions and death. The same cannot be said for nicotine. About half the “smokers” in the US are actually ex-smokers: people who gave it up, usually without deadly illness (or they’d quickly be ex-people instead of ex-smokers) and usually without medical interventions/drugs or a weekly regimen of going to Cigarettes Anonymous meetings for the rest of their lives.

    But what’s the percentage of drinkers who have successfully kicked their habit? Maybe 10%? 5? 20? I don’t know the figure on that, but it’s certainly WAY below the smoker level of 50%. Of course it could be argued that they don’t quite simply because they LIKE drinking. Duh… that was what smokers usually said too up until the last 30 years or so when they were given the handy escape hatch of being able to say, “Oh, I *tried* to quit, but I’m addicted!”

    Picture a world in which the same social pressure currently aimed at smoking was aimed at drinking. Think we’d see half of them quit? Hmmmm…. didn’t happen during Prohibition, did it?

    So which is more addictive?

    – MJM

  13. Pingback: Antismoker "final solution" - Page 3

  14. Not a member so I don’t know if this’ll be posted but Uri’s contribution triggered an observation on “pleasure”.
    Is there any other term in medicine (or science, let alone the field of statistics) so subjective, so unmeasurable, even by dopamine levels and ECG, that it can be realistically used?
    If, as many posit, some of us use nicotine in instinctive doses to control our mood, having this suddenly removed involves a certain loss of emotional control (as well the fairly minor physical adjustments for a few days).
    Citing one’s own case is never a good argument but apart from an undergraduate degree in History and Philosophy of Science, over 30 years of being treated with antidepressants and done the requisite reading, I find this idea of “just staving off withdrawal, not pleasure” to be flawed as a category error. How could you tell?
    Why would you want to? Except to convince someone that their feelings of pleasure are invalid, not true and therefore they are deluded i.e. psychotically ill and need to scheduled, controlled or “told what you really should be feeling”.
    Personally I don’t care why I smoke. My own personal theory on the control-freaks is that the sight of someone else putting a phallic symbol in their mouth and then sucking causes an extreme reaction-formation against a barely repressed desire to do the same, causing an outburst of anxiety or hysteria.
    I have on occasion when confronted by a stranger assaulting me with “the lecture” explained this theory to them, dropped my strides and suggested they just get on with it. I’ve only ever met with perplexed confusion and retreat. Which is good enough for me.

  15. Pingback: Why is there anti-THR? (3) Anti-tobacco extremism | Anti-THR Lies and related topics

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