Lying with literally true statements is the worst kind of lying

by Carl V Phillips

This is a reprise of points I have made here before, including in the mission statement of the blog. It was inspired by this recent post by Steven Raith in which he, a relative newcomer to the tobacco wars, describes his realization of just how often tobacco control’s lies consist of literally true statements. It is always nice to see people independently derive this observation, though I have been documenting that type of lie from “public health” (along with others) for most of two decades. Raith speculates that their use of such lies is increasing, but this does not seem to me to be the case; rather, once you become aware of the tactic, you notice it more. I will come back to the question of prevalence.

Lies include any communication that is intended to make the audience believe something the communicator knows is not true. Some lies are baldly false statements, like those that dominate POTUS’s lies. I have noted that this is a “welcome to our world” moment: Suddenly everyone found themselves trying to respond to falsehoods from the government that were so obvious that it is hard to get past just sputtering at them. This is exactly the government behavior that those of us in the tobacco wars and other drug wars have faced forever.

Lies also include many technically true statements that are clearly intended to make the audience believe something that is false. I find it useful to think of two main subcategories of these: First are statements that are the semantic equivalent of an optical illusion, which almost explicitly state the lie and trick the reader into reading in the lie. These are the statements that might cause a careful reader to react with, “I see what you did there.” An example is, “smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes,” a statement that is technically true because it is vacuous (nothing is safe), but in intended to be read as “…not safer than….” Second are innuendo, where the true statement does not actually contain any version of the falsehood that it intentionally communicates, such as “smokeless tobacco contains arsenic.” The statement does not actually say “…and this makes it harmful,” but just counts on people’s scientific innumeracy to fill in “…and since arsenic is bad, anything that contains it must be bad.”

It is these innuendo lies that I personally despise the most. Not only do they seek to mislead people, but they intentionally take advantage of innumeracy that our supposedly-scientific agencies and organizations should trying to fight rather than embrace. Moreover, they tend to make that same innumeracy worse. The intended innuendo is that smokeless tobacco must be harmful because arsenic can be detected in it, but the equally clear message is that anything with any arsenic in it (i.e., vegetables and any organic matter) is harmful. This is perfect ammunition for anti-vaxxers or anti-biotech liars or all manner of anti-scientific activists.

[Random deeper dive points — please skip the next four paragraphs if you already think my posts are already too long.

There are further subcategories and cross-categories of lies, and I am not attempting anything close to a complete taxonomy. Presenting as True a claim that might be true, but is highly uncertain, is another classic tobacco control tactic. One version of this is misrepresenting a single result from a single study as a robust generalizable estimate. Of course, that is also done when there is overwhelming evidence that estimate is wrong, in which case it is simply an overt lie.

Some observers like to classify “lies of commission” versus “lies of omission”, but I find that distracting rather than useful. It roughly corresponds to the “literally false” versus “literally true” division I am emphasizing. But not quite; sometimes literally true lies involve some obvious omission of an important fact, but not always. More important, “commission” implies that other types of lies are not equally intentional acts of volition, which they are.

Not all literally false statements are lies; some are merely simplifications that are acceptable in context (“Earth is a sphere”) while a few are crafted to better communicate the practical truth than the literal truth would (a “I’m allergic to peaches” rather than “I have topical mucosal reaction which does not appear to be IgE mediated, and so is not actually an allergy, but produces the bad reaction of…”).

Not all literally false communications are statements. A question can be a lie. Or a glance. Or a lack of a glance: I had a dog who cleverly tried to lie to me about whether I had really tossed him a treat by letting it go past him without apparently knowing it; if I walked away rather than tossing him another, he would immediately turn and pick up the first one, aware of exactly where it was. More relevant, the act of citing a source in a paper can be a lie if that source is merely one piece of evidence that points toward the claim it is attached to, but is clearly not a sufficient basis for the claim.

end deeper dive]

Can something also be a lie if the person stating it actually does believe it? I would argue yes, and include other circumstances in my definition of lie for this blog. If someone has had every opportunity to learn the truth (e.g., tobacco control leaders who are confronted with the actual evidence), but they intentionally insulate themselves from it for political reasons, then their false claims (or innuendos) that contradict the truth are lies. If someone claims expertise on something that they do not really have (e.g., tobacco control’s useful idiots), but make statements as if they know what they are talking about, they are lying. Perhaps some might argue that they are only lying about their knowledge/expertise, and the statement is not itself technically a lie. But either way, they are lying. So if your layman brother says, “you should not switch to e-cigarettes — those things are worse for you than smoking”, chances are he is just a victim of propaganda, not a liar. But if @DrSJKelderMD tweets out that message, he is implicitly claiming expertise on the matter (despite also being a victim of propaganda) and that makes him a liar. (Of course, what either one of the should really be saying is “I read somewhere that…”, but that ability to accept that one’s “knowledge” is limited is beyond most people.)

Deception, not the literal truth of a statement, makes a bit of communication a lie. Some of our less insightful news media, notably including NPR News, have issued an editorial policy that they will not use the L-word to describe the claims of certain people in government because we cannot know for sure that they do not really believe the nonsense they are spouting. This is an utter fail for a couple of reasons. First, there are those I just noted: If there is clear evidence a claim is wrong, and that is available to the liar and within his ability to understand, then either he is unaware of it, making him a liar in his implicit claim he is knowledgeable about the matter, or is capable of making himself believe something he knows is not true, which is layers of liar and other pathologies of various sorts.

But there is a second, rather more important, reason why NPR et al. are wrong. It goes to the serious failure to understand the nature of knowledge that consists of putting claims in the bins {known, unknown}. If those are the categories, then everything about the material world falls into the second. This is the same error that appears in so many debates about interpreting study results — e.g., whenever you see someone (who clearly does not understand scientific knowledge) say “this is an observational study [or ‘cohort study’, or whatever] and so cannot prove causation.” No body of evidence can ever prove or let us to know (with certainty) anything about the material world. We only have degrees of confidence in a conclusion. So refusing to properly label a lie just because we do not know what is the speaker’s mind is a logic that precludes ever reporting any conclusion about anything.

So with respect to degrees of confidence that tobacco control (and “public health” more generally) statements are lies, the evidence is pretty overwhelming. They are constantly told, by people who are obviously expert, why their claims are wrong. They cannot not know. Those who genuinely cannot understand the truth are lying about being minimally competent to have an opinion on the topic.

In fairness our confidence that someone is lying should diminish as there start to be legitimate reasons someone might believe a claim. Arguably, it might also diminish if the claim is obviously wrong, but it requires serious technical expertise to understand why. But much of what “public health” claims is obviously and indisputably wrong, at a level that any undergraduate should be able to understand.

Consider especially the cases where they torture their phrasing of the lie so that their exact words are technically true. This is evidence that they actually do know the truth. Someone who asserts an obviously false statement might genuinely believe it (though still be a liar for the above reasons). Someone who carefully crafts a statement that communicates a lie, while still being able to claim that his statement does not violate the Administrative Procedures Act prohibition against false statements, is not making a mistake. Both the lie itself and the effort to keep from being sued for it are obviously intentional. That is the most evil kind of liar. There can be no question that his intent is to lie.

Of course, there is nothing novel or clever about this. Every teenager figures out how to lie with literal truths. “I got home before midnight, just like you told me to” (“…before sneaking back out”). “I was at work all evening, and did not go out partying with my friends” (“…they just dropped by at my break and we smoked weed in the parking lot”). Of course, a parent who figures out that the literal truth was really a lie is unlikely to be particularly impressed by the use of literal truth. And neither should those judging public health liars.

Finally, to Raith’s suggestion that the tendency of tobacco control to lie with literal truth seems to be increasing, I have to say no. It is, of course, impossible to really apply any precise measure to this. Which statements should we count? Every last utterance by some useful idiot, or only the more faux-authoritative statements? Who do we count as faux-authoritative? How do we weight a lie by CDC that gets reprised by a hundred idiots at local health departments versus a lie by the Truth (hahaha) Initiative that is broadcast on television? Statistics are fairly meaningless for things like this, and anyone who suggests otherwise is, well, lying. (This morning on the radio, I heard the claim that anti-semitic incidents had increased by 86% since Trump took office. Just ponder how incredibly stupid this precise statistical claim about an ill-defined and difficult-to-document collection of events is.)

That said, I think in terms of chronicling the lies of tobacco control, I am probably the best excuse for a lie-o-meter that we have. I have been carefully observing and documenting their lies and methods of lying for the course of the 21st century. My observation is that out-and-out false anti-THR lies were more common at the start of the century than they are now. But thanks to badgering by Brad Rodu, me, and a few others, the leading liars were forced to back off of those. So for a decade or more, technical truth lies have been predominant. When some novelty emerges, like they whole phenomenon of e-cigarettes or a single new junk “study”, we tend to see an increase in the literally false lies. But there is a drift back to an equilibrium where most lies are the “optical illusion” or innuendo type.

So someone who has focused only on the lies about e-cigarettes, from the time that tobacco control started lying about e-cigarettes, will probably have noticed an increase in the prevalence literal truth lies. But the mix of public health lies overall — about smoking, ETS, smokeless tobacco — has been pretty consistent. Literally true lies are the norm. Thus it is important to recognize that they are clearly worse than the literally false ones.

30 responses to “Lying with literally true statements is the worst kind of lying

  1. Just to be clear, I did state that I had only *noticed* it; I’m aware from your output that these – how can I put it politely – berks have been at it for years. As we have discussed (and as you kindly note) I’m fairly new to this.

    That said, if I put the sort of effort into my real job as I do this stuff these days, I’d probably make terrifying headway in migrating the servers to new versions of the underlying operating systems, but I digress….

    What’s more surprising is that they seem to think that (beyond people literally just skimming, or who are ideologically opposed to the actual scientific knowledge base) we’re stupid enough to miss it.

    It really does show a level of contempt for the public (and thus, public health) that should immediately disqualify these people not just from public health or policy work, but from any position where they could have any kind of influence over people full stop.

    That is, they should probably be flipping burgers, but not managing those who *do* flip burgers.

    Hell, even flipping burgers is probably way beyond their station. Too risky, all that hot oil and sharp objects…

    • Carl V Phillips

      There is definitely an element of assuming stupidity on the part of the audience. I should add that to what makes the literally-true lies worse.

      Unfortunately, they are not wrong. Of course we — you, I, anyone reading this — are not too stupid. But they would not lie that way if it was not effective. That is part of why I am particularly bothered by the innuendo lies. They not only happily take advantage of people’s ignorance and misconceptions, but actively reinforce them in pursuit of their lie-based goals.

      • natepickering

        I was just talking about this over at Doc Siegel’s, before discovering you’d written this piece yesterday. I referred to it as an art form, the way tobacco controllers lie by telling the truth, because it really is.

        But, as you mention, the really sleazy bit is the way they take advantage of the intellectual shortcomings of the very same people whose knowledge they’re supposed to be expanding, and to whom they are (in some cases) literally required by law to disseminate honest and unbiased information on matters of health.

      • Originally it wasn’t stupidity they assumed, but the lack of means to verify those claims.

        Back when this all was refined into an art form, ordinary citizens had no convenient way to access scientific background information. Communication was pretty much top down. We simply had to believe or doubt the sermons delivered to us. If we were lucky, we might glimpse the fallout when experts from opposing ivory towers had some arcane dispute.

        When the SHS propaganda hit the media fans, I still had faith in the basic objectivity and integrity of most scientists and experts. I simply assumed that the exaggerations and oversimplifications in the claims on SHS must be caused by the press. For the sake of headlines. Gathering information about vaping and related topics has thoroughly smashed this illusion.

        With the internet there has been a massive shift in the information pathway paradigm. Now everybody has the chance to check the claims of the professional liars. Freely exchange information with concerned peers. enter a dialogue with “heretic” experts. True, not too many use this option, yet. But our numbers are growing. And the medieval Church of Healthism has a Reformation coming. It will be their Kodak moment. Inevitable.

        • “With the internet there has been a massive shift in the information pathway paradigm. Now everybody has the chance to check the claims of the professional liars.”

          Back in the early/mid ’90s there was an ongoing debate on the old Usenet “alt.smokers” forum with some radicals claiming that “Dr. Stanton Glantz” wasn’t ACTUALLY a medical doctor, but just a Ph.D. in engineering.

          Most of us more rational, middle-of-the-road critics of Tobacco Control discounted those claims as simply being too outrageous to be true.

          It wasn’t until around the turn of the century that the Net became powerful enough that tracing that sort of information down actually became easy, and Lo ‘N Behold: Glantz was indeed uncovered as NOT being a medical doctor or (as he was sometimes cited as) a “Cardiologist.” (Unless mechanical engineers are now considered cardiologists…)

          I probably spent well over a hundred hours in the bowels of the U of PA’s medical library in the 80s/early-90s researching the primary sources of secondary smoke research. One of the nice things about those warrens was that at the end points of every other dusty column of journal stacks there was a little carrel, a desk with a built in ashtray where researchers could do their medical research while enjoying a smoke.

          The Internet is MUCH easier! LOL!

          – MJM

        • Carl V Phillips

          Yes, good points.

          I will note that what I was mostly thinking about when I wrote the previous reply in this thread were the “smokeless tobacco contains arsenic” type statements. With those, basic numeracy will tell you they are innuendo lies, with no research needed. Ok, it might actually be that they are claiming “contains enough arsenic to be dangerous, unlike every other chunk of non-purified matter in the biosphere”, and you would have to check that. But they would probably say more if that were true. So with these they are not playing on a lack of access to the fully body of research about ETS, or whatever, but a more fundamental problem of scientific understanding.

          Your observation suggests that the shift in information availability means that other types of lies should have become much more difficult to do. That leads to the hypothesis that the mix should have changed over time. Unfortunately, it is pretty much impossible to document any change, for the reasons of category definition I mentioned in the post, and also because no one collected the old data and now it is gone. On the other hand, the intense lying is really only 20 years old. I mark the start of it as c1998, when the MSA gave the liars more money than they knew what to do with, and when the major tobacco companies decided to stop trying to police and call-out the tobacco control lies. Of course that was not the only cause. But that is the relevant time period. It seems like forever, but it is actually all within the information age. Thus much of this hypothesized change would have had to occur before the lying got out of control.

          However, the lies about ETS and about smokeless tobacco did indeed begin before that. They were heating up through the 1990s, when the information age had not yet gone public, as it were. I am not sure about ETS. But the ST lies, which I have a much more complete knowledge of, do seem to fit your hypothesis (or is it my hypothesis? whatever). In the 1990s, the lies were out-and-out “the studies show” stuff. With modern wisdom (which I will take credit for creating much of), we can see that these were bullshit then too. But it worked then. In his landmark 1994 paper which launched the modern conversation about product substitution THR, Rodu implicitly conceded some of this bullshit. (The analysis was, in effect, “even if all that is true, the risk is still only 2%”. Note that this is the source of the erroneous “98% less harmful” claim that you still see.)

          Oh, but also, the very modern information age — not just searching for info and places to find non-establishment views, but realtime fact checking and such — offers some threat to the innuendo and innumeracy lies also: Anyone who follows the subject eventually runs into someone like me pointing them out. If the reader is smart enough, that should permanently immunize him against falling for it ever again.

          Still, most of the communication is still top-down from those with money and power, directed at people who do not seek out information. They still seek out people who are stupid (innumerate, uninformed) enough to buy it. Why else would Truth Initiative pay to put their lies in every commercial break during Tosh.O and such. (Please note the implicit apology to the people that I kinda almost just called stupid: I would not know that if I did not watch those shows too. :-)

  2. For the few who don’t know it yet, here is a well-know example of lying with literally true statements:

  3. As Dave Kessler said as head of the FDA: There’s a BIG difference between a statement that’s true and a statement that’s merely accurate.

    E.G. If you take the EPA Report on secondary smoke and lung cancer as being correct, then it is accurate to say “Nonsmokers exposed to smoke have a 19% increased risk of lung cancer.”

    Most people see that and translate it more or less in their minds to, “If I walk by smokers on the sidewalk there’s a 19% chance I’ll die from lung cancer.”

    The TRUTHFUL presentation of the EPA claim would incorporate intensity and duration of exposure while also expressing the numbers in terms of the base rate of LC.

    Thus… it would be more truthful to say, “Working under the ‘Mad Men’ type very smoky conditions of the 1940s through 1980s every workday for forty years increases your chances of lung cancer by 19%: i.e. an increase of 1 in 1,000 added to the normal 4 in 1,000…. basically one extra case of lung cancer for every 40,000 worker-years if such prolonged, constant, and intense exposure occurs.”

    OK… that’s a lot longer and more complicated, but you could fall back on just the last phrase (basically…. occurs) and be at least as truthful as the Antis who simply wave the 19% around.

    – MJM, who switches jobs every 39,000 years just to be safe…

    • Carl V Phillips

      Actually, someone who really understands the science would NOT consider the first of those statements to be a literally-accurate lie. At best it is a string of words that are literally nonsense, which perhaps constitutes another category. An epidemiologic statement that does not specify the exposure (completely, not in vague terms), exact outcome, and population is meaningless. There are no constants in epidemiology. At best this is an example of the kind of lie I note, when a single result from a study is presented as if it were established universal fact.

  4. I think a more effective counter would be “Did you know that [insert the name of your favorite restaurant] puts an ingredient found in toilet cleaners in the food?” Go ahead! Google “toilet cleaners vinegar” — quite a few of the greener ones contain it. And in it’s pure form, acetic acid kills about 30% of those who ingest it and damages most of the others. (Of course you probably have to make sure it’s not a restaurant that uses only limes or lemons instead…..)

    • Carl V Phillips

      I have been responding with those forever, as have others. It is always good to do it, and I encourage everyone to jump in when they see a chance. Water usually works: it is the most common solvent, cleaning material, coolant, etc. Salt and vinegar are close seconds. It was amusing when Glantz was first deciding to extend his lies to e-cigarettes and kept repeating that they expose people to scary scary acetic acid. I honestly think he had no idea what that way.

      Still, I think it is critical to respond at a higher level too, to push back against the innumeracy itself, not just a particular bit of it.

  5. Those of us who take an interest in these things are well aware of the points you make Carl, but there are far more blatant examples that abound.

    For example, I have in front of me a pouch of tobacco I bought recently in Duty Free. On one side of the pouch, in large typeface, black on white, it states “SMOKING KILLS”. On the other side, the message, in similar typeface states “SMOKING WHEN PREGNANT HARMS YOUR BABY”.

    These warnings are presented as statements of incontrovertible fact.

    Now we all have our opinions on the degree to which smoking may or may not be harmful, but the bald statement “Smoking Kills” is patently a complete and utter barefaced lie. Or perhaps the recently deceased Indonesian chap who smoked heavily all his life and reached a reputed 146 years of age just hadn’t read the warnings. Likewise, all those smoking mothers in the 1940s and 1950s who gave birth to the robustly healthy baby boomer generation (of which I am one) obviously hadn’t heard the news either.

    So how are they allowed to get away with such fallacious scaremongering?

    Because smoking doesn’t kill. The vast majority of smokers live their four score years and ten without any health issues.

    So how do you view the pack warnings, Carl? As technically true, insofar as there is a chance, a possibility that smoking may kill you or harm your unborn child? Or do you view it as a barefaced lie?

    • Carl V Phillips

      I am not sure those statements stand up to this kind of analysis. They are more like a sign that says “Danger!”, with no further information. Their real purpose, of course, is just to be annoying and thus lower the quality of the product slightly, reducing the utility of those who choose to use it. This makes it a physical act disguised as communication (like telling a mob to commit violence or a protest march blocking a door or road), which calls for an entirely different analysis.

      See my response to MJM about how reporting an epidemiologic claim without particular bits of information is always wrong. However, these are even further removed from complete information, such that no one would really mistake them for information. It is like the Danger sign. If we are trying to parse the exact words (which I do not consider appropriate — again, they are not genuine information conveyance), “Danger” is literally true if there is any way in which the implicit full statement, “if you do something here that is plausible for someone to do, you might get hurt”, is true. “Smoking kills” is true if “kills” is interpreted as “substantially shortens someone’s life”, since the phrasing means “it happens sometimes”, which is accurate. The one about “your baby” is not literally true as phrased because it is stated as certainty about a particular case (harms your baby) rather than a general statement that it does happen (harms fetuses).

      But again, I don’t think any of these are properly analyzed as if they were a substantive claim whose accuracy should be analyzed.

  6. ““Danger” is literally true if there is any way in which the implicit full statement, “if you do something here that is plausible for someone to do, you might get hurt”, is true. ”

    I’ll sometimes approach this with an argument as illustration. My favorite involves the danger of butterflies. If you notice butterflies outside or there is a news report of one in the neighborhood, you’d best stay indoors. If you’re out walking and it happens to fly into your face when you’re at a curb you might be startled into stepping into the street and under a speeding trolley!

    No one knows how many have been killed in lingering, painful, and early deaths by deadly butterflies, and there’s been almost no government effort to protect us from these wanton marauders.

    Fortunately, we now have Donald Trump as president and soon, very soon, the full might of the US military will be brought to bear on these wanton killers of our children. There isn’t a butterfly in the world that can stand up to good healthy volley of cruise missiles!

    (Red butterflies are the worst: they’re Communists!)

    – MJM, who always carries a butterfly net on his bicycle — just in case!

  7. Roberto Sussman

    Thanks, you provide a very useful guide to understand the “art of lying”, routinely and systematically practiced by anti-smoking advocates disguised as public health researchers.

    There are subtle ways in which a lie that does not follow from the actual results of a study can become widespread, and I do not mean a lie propagated by tendentious press releases written by science ignorant journalists. Also, I do not mean the PR effort to embellish an article by highlighting the strong points and hiding the shortcomings (we all do this to some degree). I mean a more subtle form of deception based on deliberate ambiguity, which may be a common form of lying in research topics constrained by political agendas, as tobacco research is.

    The authors know that their obtained results are bound to present difficult nuances that could produce unwelcome controversy. Hence, they cleverly play with deliberate ambiguity to publish these results without unsettling the desired agenda. This involves choosing a clever wording for the most visible parts of the article (the title, the abstract and the conclusions) in order to make it hard for non-specialists to detect the discontinuity between the real results and the desired policy recommendations. This form of lying works because the real results are buried inside the technical part of the article, and thus will never be appreciated by the lay public and journalists (who lack the skills to understand the technicalities). In fact, it is likely that this tactic can fool even researchers that are not specialists, as currently scientists lack the time (and the incentives) to dive deep into published material.

  8. Roberto Sussman

    Another issue: why public health lies are successful?

    Perhaps the main reason is the tendency to trust science in general. Trusting existing knowledge is an essential element for science to work. No scientist has the time or skills to fully read, understand and reproduce all existing knowledge, so we try to balance reasonable skepticism with reasonable trust of previous work. This trust is based on the conviction that previous work has survived harsh tests of fundamental internal scrutiny and efforts of disproving it. Scientists tend to assume that these intellectual self regulation mechanisms are practiced in all official sciences, including public health science. Tobacco controllers know that this mistaken assumption will protect their lies from external scrutiny by other scientists.

    The lay non-scientific public (including politicians) still trusts “science”, even in the current “post factual” climate. The public has no time nor skill to dive into the studies, so they tend to trust the whole chain of knowledge transmission from the official scientists to the press releases. If the lay pubic trusts the authority of prominent physicists, such as Kip Thorne or Steven Weinberg, on black holes or gravitational waves, how can you convince them not to trust the authority of public health official science figures like Glantz or Chapman on tobacco? How can you convince the lay public that some scientists are to be trusted and other others distrusted? It is a difficult task, and the liars have (so far) bet on this difficulty to propagate their lies with impunity. However, sooner or later this lying with impunity will reach a breaking point. After all, there is a long history of “lies” (ie science frauds), such as the “superior race” theories or homosexuality as a mental disorder, that were upheld by official scientists and are now discredited. I am certain that this will also happen to the lies from tobacco control science.

  9. It occurred to me that my “The Truth Is A Lie” page might be of interest for this thread. This is one of the last Appendices to “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains.” Fifteen of the lies are examined and dissected, 8 refer back to more complete examinations in the body of the book (and if there are any in particular folks would like to see more of I’m happy to do some cutting and pasting), and two are just sort of “summaries.” In any event, here is the page link!

    – MJM

  10. Simon Crapman has been with the current antismoking crusade from the early days and has been highly influential in getting a raft of antismoking measures instituted in Australia.

    Crapman helped to seriously put the antismoking “movement” on the deception track with his contribution “The Lung Goodbye”, a manual of underhanded tricks and tactics to advance the “cause”, presented at the 5th World Conference on Smoking & Health in 1983. Crapman (see Godber Blueprint ), whose background is in sociology/media, is a political activist (he is also a “master” of incoherent analogy). He knows how to use information deceptively for maximal inflammatory effect. There were some journalists in the early days of this “crusade” that complained of Crapman’s bullying. If they dared question him or disagree with him, they would attract the standard antismoking tactic of being accused of being tobacco industry shills complicit in the “killing” of countless smokers.

  11. Here are a few of Crapman’s recommendations from “The Lung Goodbye” (1983) that have been used incessantly over the last three decades and that are still used today.

    The Chapman Trick
    For more detailed information on the Chapman Trick, see comments by magnetic01 at:

    You’ll find the Chapman Trick in reports by the Surgeon General. You’ll find it on the CDC website. You’ll see it on government websites. You’ll see it on a plethora of antismoking websites. That’s how a nonsense is propagated as “fact”.

  12. Unfortunately, many e-cig sellers use the Chapman Trick to peddle their own wares.

    What’s remotely amusing is that e-cig users then get in a great fluster when the trick is used against e-cigs. Again, the nature of the trick is to take some chemical(s) from one circumstance, usually at trace levels, and associate it with its use in an entirely different, irrelevant circumstance, usually by many orders of magnitude. The goal of the trick is to evoke revulsion in the gullible. In the early days, the major chemical targeted in e-cigs was propylene glycol. And the trick was immediately applied –
    “As the FDA and others have noted, electronic cigarettes pose a wide variety of potential dangers to users, and perhaps also to those around them, both of whom inhale a mixture of nicotine (a dangerous drug) and propylene glycol (which is used in antifreeze[)] and may cause respiratory tract irritation”

    Nowadays, there’s even more to play with. For example,
    What’s in an e-cigarette?
    Formaldehyde (used in embalming fluid)
    Cadmium (used in car batteries)
    Acetaldehyde (solvent)
    Nickel (used in electroplating)
    Lead (neurotoxin)

    The way to combat this inflammatory propaganda is to point out where it originated and that the trick is solely intended for its propensity to evoke revulsion. That’s what zealot nutcases are constantly playing upon – negative emotion.

    • Carl V Phillips

      It would be interesting (in the sense of documenting history, not for any practical reason) if an origin for a particular tactic — in this case the “evil ingredient” innuendo lie — were solidly traced. That would take some doing, however, since this trick is not particularly clever or original, being used in countless anti-science efforts that involve physical substances. It would thus have been independently derived by a lot of people.

      It is certainly true — and much more general than this specific method of lying — that many ecig proponents embrace tobacco control tactics that are easily used against their cause. This is one of several reasons I warn against the embrace of ostensibly pro-ecig tobacco controllers.

      Fighting these particular lies should include educating people so they are immune to them. This has positive spillover effects in other areas (e.g., it also immunizes them against similar anti-vaxxer propaganda). However, this needs to be done in conjunction with pointing out that tobacco control and similar branches of public health should never be trusted.

      • “However, this needs to be done in conjunction with pointing out that tobacco control and similar branches of public health should never be trusted.”

        I try to always do this in any extensive vaping writing I do with phrasing along the lines of the following: “Always remember: Antivapers are simply Antismokers dressed up in new clothing. They use the same lies, the same tricks, and the same methods they used so successfully against smokers. Some vaping advocates use the well-tailored antismoking propaganda and soundbites to promote their products: DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP — When it comes to smoking and vaping it’s very much a case of “If we don’t hang together, we’ll most assuredly all hang separately.”

  13. Another “strategy” suggested by Chapman in his 1983 presentation of The Lung Goodbye is the “mythological good vs evil drama”:

    “Such a list could be added to considerably, but most entries would be characterized by being somehow cast in a mythological good versus evil battle in an arena observed by mass numbers of people. The good (health/clean air/children) versus evil (cancer/uncaring, callous industry) dimension is the ineluctable bottom line in the whole issue and a rich reservoir for spawning a great deal of useful social drama, metaphor, and symbolic politics that is the stuff of ‘news value’ and which is almost always to the detriment of the industry.” p.11

    The zealots cast themselves in the role of the “mythological good” (health/clean air/children) battling the “mythological evil” tobacco industry (cancer/uncaring, callous industry). The zealots, being the “mythological good”, are always right, benevolent, and virtuous. Therefore, anyone who disagrees with them is “obviously” wrong, malevolent, and wicked, and most likely, according to the “mythological good” zealots, a shill….. an emissary of the “mythological evil” tobacco industry.

    It’s all contrived. In more common parlance, this is zealots with a “god complex” – delusions of benevolence, omniscience, and infallibility – playing a common, garden-variety, self-serving smear routine. This framing of the issue in “good vs evil” terms has allowed the zealots to shut down most criticism over decades. Again, it needs to be pointed out to as many that will listen that this “framing of the issue” is a self-serving contrivance.

    • Wonderful presentation as always Mag! :)

      A type of that “good vs. evil” trick is used with “The right to breathe vs. the right to smoke” and “The right to work or the right to fill the workplace with smoke”

  14. Arsenic

    U.S. Department of Agriculture
    Farmer’s Bulletin No.1356
    Issued June, 1923

    Tobacco Hornworm Insecticide
    Recommendations for use of powdered arsenate of lead in dark-tobacco district.

    “Describes methods for the use of arsenate of lead to control the tobacco hornworm and prevent damage to crops.”

    The Apple Bites Back: Claiming Old Orchards for Residential Development

    LA was introduced in 1892 in Massachusetts for use against the gypsy moth. Two other arsenical pesticides (copper acetoarsenite, known as “Paris green,” and calcium arsenate) also were in use, although LA largely replaced them in the 1930s due to lower cost, greater efficacy, and lower phytotoxicity. Even though arsenic residue was recognized as a problem as early as 1919, LA was the most widely used pesticide in the nation—recommended by the USDA and applied to millions of acres of crops—until the late 1940s, when DDT (considered at the time to be safer and more effective) became available. LA continued to be used in some locations into the 1970s, and was ultimately banned in 1988.”
    Environmental Health Perspectives 2006

    Arsenic- Tobacco Link Pointed Out By Doctor – 1960

    “Imagine the fear that swept through the British Isles in November, 1900, when 6,000 millhands and coal miners of the Manchester-Salford-Liverpool districts came down with arsenic poisoning from drinking adulterated beer”

    “At that time, few in the U.S. read the reports with more care than a young hospital intern from New Hampshire named Dr. Henry S. Slatterlee.
    Yesterday Dr. Slatterlee, now 86 and retired from general practice in Newport, N.H. pointed out in a telephone interview two lessons learned from the 1900 beer-poisoning epidemic, of interest to researchers studying the relationship between cigarette smoking, air pollution and lung cancer in 1960.”

    As you say, lying with literally true statements used entirely out context is the worst kind of lying.

    • Carl V Phillips

      Um, you don’t actually say what your point is. It seems to be that sometimes agricultural products have sometimes had disturbingly high concentrations of arsenic in them. That is certainly a possibility, including for tobacco. However, that is irrelevant to my point which is about the claim that arsenic is present (i.e., at least one atom), which is always true for all plants and most everything else, and the intentional implication that this must be bad, which is obviously false. They do not actually claim there is a concentration that is sufficient to provoke legitimate worry.

      • ” arsenic is present (i.e., at least one atom), which is always true for all plants and most everything else, and the intentional implication that this must be bad, which is obviously false.”

        I’m fairly certain I’ve seen an authoritative claim that arsenic is actually an essential element for the human body. I’m not sure if there’s a minimum amount we need to take in or whether the body can manufacture it somehow on its own though.

        Still, I wonder… if you DO have to ingest some minimum amount of arsenic, and IF your diet was sorely deficient in it… COULD you absorb the “healthy amount” from smoking?

        Heh, can you imagine if the Antis successfully eliminated all smoking in some remote island population and then it turned out they all died from arsenic deficiency?

        Hmmm… maybe they could then jail Chapman and Glantz (make them share a cell… perhaps triple bunking with Repace or somesuch) and put them on a “no-arsenic” diet themselves!

        MJM, dietician of the Stars…

      • Ahh! I *knew* I’d written about this someplace before! Here ya go: An answer I quickly got up on Quora after one of the Antis set up a loaded question. LOL! My answer was so good that the Antis never even came back to try to argue it!

        And below you will see a discussion about arsenic being a dietary requirement: the bag seems to be mixed:

        – MJM, a Quixotic Quoran…

      • My point is that there is or was a grain of truth in many of the things they say, but it is not necessarily relevant or current.
        For instance, the cadmium they warn us about in tobacco comes from trace amounts in phosphate fertilizers made from calcined apatite rock, used on all manner of food crops grown everywhere.
        It’s written on the label of my bottle of tomato fertilizer as a trace ingredient.
        But they make it look as if it were important and deliberately put into cigarettes.

        I wanted to know why they had mentioned arsenic at all, so I researched it some years ago and thought you might be interested.

  15. For anyone interested, Chapman was recently confronted on a comments board about the “Chapman Trick”. In a rarity, he “responded”, typically by attempting to weasel his way out of any responsibility for the trickery or its consequences. He manages to work himself into a corner. See “Comments” section:

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