Tag Archives: why anti-THR?

Why is there anti-THR? (4) Money, money, money

by Carl V Phillips

Continuing this series. Sorry about the cheesy title. But it never hurts to have a reminder that Sweden is the most important population in the annals of tobacco harm reduction. (Click here to get ABBA-rolled.)

The sale of cigarettes generates an enormous amount of net revenue. Truly enormous. A pack of cigarettes costs tens of cents to produce and sells for 5, 10, or even 20 dollars in places where most readers of this blog live. Manufacturers and merchants keep some of that. But the vast majority of those purchase prices are taxes. In the order of 90% of the net revenue accrues to governments. Few consumers realize this, perhaps because unlike most other sales, excise, and value-added taxes, these taxes are intentionally never broken out. Look at a the receipt from purchasing cigarettes, and it does not tell you that most of what you just paid was tax. Continue reading

Why is there anti-THR? (3) Anti-tobacco extremism

by Carl V Phillips

Continuing this series. In the previous post I made several references to the importance of anti-tobacco extremism among the anti-THR opinion leaders. It was impossible to avoid jumping ahead like that because extremism is the leading cause of anti-THR activism and lies, but I felt starting with it would distract from the origin story.

I coined “anti-tobacco extremist” as a technical term. Non-thinkers sometimes interpret it as name-calling, perhaps due to the degradation of the legitimate and descriptive word “extremist” (it  is most often used — inaccurately — as a derogatory description of holy warriors). But it means what it says: those whose position is the most extreme one can take on an issue (or in the neighborhood of that). The thought experiment I devised for defining it was the answer to the question: “If you could magically change the world such that either (a) people could continue to enjoy the benefits of tobacco product use with absolutely no health risks or (b) all tobacco product use was eliminated, which would you choose?” Anyone who actually cared about humanity would obviously choose (a) — after all, what kind of person would pass up the chance to offer benefits without costs? As it turns out, a large portion of tobacco control opinion leaders would choose (b), making them anti-tobacco extremists. They do not want people to stop using tobacco products because they are concerned about the people; they want them to stop because they consider tobacco itself to be evil and any use to be a sin. Continue reading

Why is there anti-THR? (2) “Not Invented Here” syndrome

by Carl V Phillips

Continuing this series from the previous post, I want to start with an explanation for why the opinion leaders genuinely oppose THR that may not make for good inflammatory rhetoric, but is a critical part of the narrative. Though it is not a dominant force anymore, I believe it represents the origin story for why anti-THR became established in the first place.

The one-sentence version that I often offer is: Those who spent their careers trying to get people to stop smoking, but accomplished almost nothing[*], resent the possibility of smoking being substantially reduced in spite of their efforts rather than because of them. Continue reading

Why is there anti-THR? (1) The importance of narrative and Opinion Leaders vs. Useful Idiots

by Carl V Phillips

[This series continues with:
(2) “Not Invented Here” syndrome
(3) Anti-tobacco extremism
(4) Money, money, money
…more to come…]

Prologue [update (Sept 2016)]: In retrospect, I realize the title of this series does not quite match the subject matter that evolved. To correct the ambiguity: In the title and most places in the text, I use THR as a shorthand for a single aspect of THR, the substitution of low-risk products for high-risk ones. I am not going down the paths of other aspects of the harm reduction approach in this series. I and others often employ this shorthand when the context is clearly about product substitution, but there is no such context here, and thus this was probably a mistake.

This matters because there is an unfortunate tendency to think of harm reduction as being only about technical fixes like product substitution, seat belts, and needle exchanges. These are usually the most tangible and discussed aspects of harm reduction, and thus tend to “capture” the term, but they are not at its core. The shorthand has the harmful effect of distracting from the bigger picture. The core principle of harm reduction empowering people (with information and rights) to make their own best choice. Technical fixes are not even the most important concrete step in harm reduction, which is ending caused-harms. I have discussed these points recently, here and here.


The average person, upon learning that there is violent opposition to tobacco harm reduction (THR), is quite reasonably baffled. It is difficult for them to fathom that an entire (taxpayer-funded) industry could be devoted discouraging smokers from switching to low-risk alternatives, or even to discouraging people from making the free choice to use a low-risk product rather than being abstinent. It is more difficult still to believe that their leading tactic is promulgating blatant and easily-refuted lies. To any caring and honest person — no, make that any caring or honest person — this seems to be either insanity or pure evil. Indeed, it seems so crazy, that most people just assume the blatant lies must be plausible claims. After all, if they were not, why would anyone oppose THR? Continue reading