by Carl V Phillips
Sorry for the silence, though it may get worse. As some of you know, I lost my funding to keep working on THR issues, and I expect I have to fully move on to other work. But I thought I would pop in with some insight from the old guard. After that, I have an epic post that is almost finished (years in the making). These will be good notes to go out on.
For those not familiar, “ratfucking” is a term from the Nixon era that refers to political dirty tricks. The word has had a major resurgence in the age of Roger Stone, Stephen Miller, et al. [Fun fact: I was not sure of the spelling of Miller’s name, so I typed a search for “Trump advisor smug weasel” and his name appeared as the second entry after an article about presidential advisors in general.] The nuance of the word typically refers to sowing false information or allegations to harass and damage the opposition. The acts are usually barely legal (except perhaps insofar as they constitute a criminal conspiracy) or at least are impossible to prosecute, but they are a clear violation of norms of social behavior and other rules of conduct.
In the political arena, ratfucking includes such things as push-polls, doctored photographs, engaging in public bad acts while pretending to be a member of the opposition, and other methods of trying to exacerbate problems that are blamed on the opposition. As practiced by tobacco controllers, ratfucking includes, well, such things as push-polls, doctored photographs, engaging in public bad acts while pretending to be a member of the opposition, and other methods of trying to exacerbate problems that are blamed on the opposition.
One particular form of ratfucking that occurred over the last few weeks is using false pretenses to try to shut down the opposition’s ability to freely communicate and assemble. Over the years, I have documented many such cases. Recently, one or more tobacco controllers have apparently been abusing the Twitter user protection tools to cripple the accounts of many vaping and/or THR proponents. This is undoubtedly based on false claims, since for at least some of these individuals, the nastiest thing they have ever written is far more polite than the median content that comes from many prominent tobacco controllers (and from about half of everyone else on Twitter). Most of this seems to have taken the form of Twitter “shadow bans”, a particularly terrible (on the part of Twitter) method that involves hiding someone’s posts from the world without even informing the individual that they are now tweeting into the void.
There is nothing even slightly unusual about tobacco controllers engaging in such behavior. Indeed, despite the outcries I have seen that the recent ratfucking was stunningly outlandish, it is not at all impressive as tobacco control ratfucking goes. It is nothing compared to dozens of things that have been done to me and the others who have been at this a while. (Contrary to the apparently common perception, resistance to tobacco control — attempts to promote harm reduction and other humanitarian agendas — did not start in the 2010s.)
Here is the real significance of this: Yes, these individual acts are committed by only one individual or a small conspiracy, not voted on at an FCTC COP meeting or anything. But the individuals carrying out the acts are intentionally aimed and fired by those pulling the strings, who egg-on any followers who are inclined to violence (either metaphorical or literal). Just as Trump is fully responsible for the (literal) violence that he incites his followers to commit, the tobacco control establishment is to blame for its little weasels engaging in little ratfucking projects.
More significant still, these acts are never denounced by anyone in tobacco control, including the “moderates” who are the darlings of some vaping supporters. This silence is unambiguous complicity, just as any member of the POTUS’s political party during the Nixon/Segretti era or the Trump/Stone/Miller era who did not actively denounce their acts is complicit. Just ignoring it — thinking, “well, I did not do such things” — is not good enough.
If you do not police your own (at least to the point of opening calling them out), then you share the blame for their actions. Even though tobacco control is not inherently an anti-humanitarian, abusive, and borderline criminal endeavor — and indeed was populated mostly by decent people before the turn of the century — it is fertile ground for temperance extremists, other narcissistic fanatics who are incapable of understanding the concept of other people having different preferences, nasty individuals who simply get off on hurting others, and other sociopaths. Thus it was taken over by them. (See this interesting thread for a narrative about how organizations associated with a cause can be taken over by embarrassing factions whose focus is not really even about that cause.) People who fall into those categories are exactly the ones who are inclined to engage in ratfucking.
Anyway, welcome to my world. For many years, vaping supporters mostly got a pass from tobacco control, in terms of the ratfucking and other abuses. But with the full declaration of war on vaping that has been adopted over the last couple of years, this is almost certainly the new normal.
And don’t hold your breath about this passing in a few months or years. I remember sitting with Brad Rodu in a bar in New York discussing the future of THR promotion. It was 2002, the era when THR was all about smokeless tobacco. We had just finished a summit-type meeting (an actual summit, not just some random conference that the sponsors call “Summit” as seems to be the game these days) about trying to reach a useful compromise on the subject, a proposal that was was aggressively quashed by the tobacco controllers present. Brad suggested that in a couple of years, the tobacco controllers would change their tune and start claiming that promoting low-risk product substitution and harm reduction was their idea all along. We laughed bitterly, believing it to be true. Um, well….
On a similar note, be hesitant about expecting the British government to ride to the rescue of vaping. Back then, the Swedish government was effectively an advocate for low-risk alternatives, but accomplished almost nothing beyond their borders. Today that government is one of leading anti-smokeless-tobacco voices around (and appears to be much more effective in that role).
Vaping happened only because people chose to fight the power. The fact that the power is now fighting back — in their usual way — should make it even clearer that winning will not come via either appeasement or baseless faith in the possibility that the tobacco control movement will somehow become rational, ethical, honest, or humane.