Second Thoughts About Tobacco Tar

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Longtime tobacco researcher Michael Siegel, who started a blog in March, has broken with his fellow anti-smoking activists, at least partly over their habit of using ad hominem attacks to discredit their opponents:

In the 20 years that I was a member of the tobacco control movement, I was led to believe that there were only two sides to any anti-smoking issue: our side and the tobacco industry side. Therefore, anyone who disagreed with our position had to be, in some way, affiliated with the tobacco industry. I was also taught to respond to their arguments not on any scientific grounds or on the merit of their arguments, but by simply discrediting the person by attacking their affiliation with the tobacco companies.

This, Siegel now realizes, was wrong:

As I have found out over the past two decades, there are a lot of individuals who disagree with a number of positions that the anti-smoking movement has taken (interestingly, now I find myself to be one of them). And not all of these individuals are affiliated with, or working for the tobacco industry. As individuals who are not part of a tobacco industry campaign, these people are entitled to express their opinions and their arguments really deserve to be addressed on their merits. At very least, anti-smoking organizations and advocates should not attack these individuals. Attacking their arguments is legitimate, but attacking the individuals, in these cases, is not.

Siegel is especially critical of Stanton Glantz's Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, on whose board he used to serve. He describes an episode in which ANR refused to let him clarify descriptions of two critics of the anti-smoking movement in an article he wrote that was posted on the group's Web site:

I learned that when it really came down to it, ANR was not interested in science and scientific integrity. It was above and beyond all interested in advancing its political objectives. And it would sacrifice anything–even one of its own Board members and his authorship rights and copyright–to do so….

I resigned from the ANR Board because I didn't want to be associated with an organization that put its own political agenda ahead of legitimate concerns for scientific integrity and which ignored basic legal rights of individuals, including its own Board members, in an all-out and self-righteous effort to disparage individuals who disagreed with its own position on the issues.

As the recipent of many tobacco-related ad hominem attacks over the years, I can testify that there have always been a few honorable exceptions to the tendency Siegel describes. I'm glad to see him join them; better late than never.

What's more, Siegel's perspective as an estranged activist who is still determinedly anti-tobacco makes for some interesting analysis. For instance, he parts company with leading anti-smoking groups by criticizing the protectionist bill, backed by Philip Morris but opposed by its competitors, that would give the FDA authority over tobacco products. He questions knee-jerk support for higher tobacco taxes. He opposes obesity litigation. And he has some on-target comments about the federal government's RICO lawsuit against the major cigarette makers, which groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids see as an opportunity to demand all the anti-smoking measures on their wish lists. As Siegel notes, any remedies ordered by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler (assuming the Justice Department wins) have to be forward-looking, aimed at restraining the tobacco companies from committing future RICO violations (various kinds of fraud). It's hard to see how forcing the industry to subsidize smoking cessation programs, the main idea under discussion, qualifies as a RICO-authorized remedy.

[Thanks to Linda Stewart for the tip.]

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  1. As a former anti-smoker myself (until I took it up…), I can testify that the only reason I hated it was because of the smell. I just could not and cannot fathom that these groups like “Tobacco-Free Kids” actually care about anyone’s health. That said, I’m still waiting for the patches that my six dollars or so of taxes per pack are paying for to arrive in the mail.

  2. I don’t know how common this is, but a large number of my associates are big anti-smoking crusaders. They are also opposed to the war on drugs. Through the magic of Orwellian doublethink, they are able to tell me with a straight face that there is nothing contradictory nor hypocritical in their positions. Anyone else know of people like this?

  3. Obviously, Siegel is a tobacco industry shill.

    JMoore, if they are anti-smoking because of the “dangers” of second hand smoke, then they are only hypocritical about second hand reefer smoke.

    If they are anti-smoking because they are anti-vice, well, fuck ’em and feed ’em beans.

  4. “Anyone else know of people like this?”

    Most of the people I know are like this, that is, self-contradictory and hypocritical. It’s quite discouraging!

  5. JMoore,

    Do your friends advocate for blowing joints in restaurants while seated next to a family with kids? Spiking people’s drinks with mescaline?

    No?

    What we’ve got here are a group of people mature enought to recognize a middle ground.

  6. JMoore,

    Not to play devil’s advocate, but I doubt doublethink is in play in their reasoning. Chances are good if there was a big reefer industry that was targeting kids to smoke the weed, then grassroots (no pun intended) campaigns would pop up to challenge the effects of Big Reefer on today’s children.

    Basically I don’t think it’s doublethink cause most people’s arguments against big tobacco are anti-industry, not anti-smoking. It just so happens that Big Tobacco is an especially visible target cause they offer a product that is so unhealthy for you.

    (side note: heh. Big Reefer. That’d be the day, huh?)

  7. Fron today’s Yahoo! Finance quiz:
    In the history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, what percentage of gains have occurred on days when Congress was out of session?

    A recent research paper by Michael Ferguson of the University of Cincinnati and Hugh Witte of The University of Missouri titled “Congress and the Stock Market” found that an astonishing 90% of all the gains in the Dow Jones Industrial Average occurred while Congress was not in session.

    (I’m proud to say I correctly guessed 90%)

    full story here

  8. Aaron & Joe

    Those criticisms are fair, I suppose. Although there is no equivalence between secondhand smoke and spiking someone’s drink with mescaline, and you know it!

    I’ve always suspected that anti-smoking crusaders are not so much opposed to smoking per se as they are to corporations (there is a nasty anti-capitalism undertone in some of their rhetoric) and the smell.

    I just wish they’d say “we don’t like big companies, we prefer small-time drug dealers” and “we don’t like coming home smelling of smoke when we go out to get drunk (on a drug sold by greedy capitalists).

    By the way, in the interests of full disclosure, I smoke two packs a day. I can’t stand the smell either, which I why I always go outside to light up.

  9. JMoore, I think you’re on the wrong track with “anti-corporate.” There is a great deal of room between the legal status of cigarettes circa 1985, and the legal status of cocaine circa 2005.

    There is nothing at all hypocritical in believing that “controlled substances” – defined to include tobacco, liquor, and currently-illegal recreational drugs – should have roughly similar legal status, comparable to where cigarettes are now.

  10. The kind of thinking that Siegel complains about is a result of generation educated in the post-modernist belief that there are no “facts” only motives. Post-modernism holds that a “what” a person is, race, class, economic interest etc determines what a person believes to true. Subjectivity rules all discourse. In order to get to the truth of any argument one must therefor always understand the motives of the individual making the argument. This in turn as led to a style of argumentation were a revelation of motives is perceived to be all that is needed to discredit an idea.

    The concept that the validity of an idea or a fact is wholly separate from the individual motives that a person might have for promulgated that idea or fact is wholly lost on post-modernist. The opposition of tobacco companies to the idea that second-hand smoke is dangerous must mean that it is, in fact, dangerous. The opposition of oil companies and other corporate interest to anthrogenic global warming must mean that global warming is in fact occurring.

    The last 40 years has seen the rise of class of individuals educated in the humanities who cannot evaluate arguments on their own internal merits but who can only try to attack the motivations of the persons making the argument. Tellingly, I think, Siegel was educated as a scientist.

  11. joe,

    Being anti-anti-smoking does not necessarily mean advocating blowing smoke in kids’ faces. It *does* mean leaving the decision to allow smoking or not up to the businessowner, and the decision whether to patronize a smoking establishment up to the customer. I personally can deal with no smoking in offices and restaurants, but bars? That’s gone too far.

  12. Possibly on wrong track with anti-corporate, I’ll acknowledge; it’s just a subjective impression.

    If the call for the end to the War of Drugs is a call to give heroin the same status as tobacco & booze (and not change the status of tobacco & the drink), then I agree there is little or no hypocrisy. But I see the anti-tobacco lobby as pushing for ultimate prohibition (tax it enough and it will effectively be prohibited).

  13. Rhywun

    You’re right. There is something weird about no smoking in places where patrons come to use a far more dangerous drug (alcohol). It’s like prohibiting knives at a gun show.

  14. Massachusetts is one of those states where ALL smoking is forbidden in ALL business establishments, presumably to protect the employees who are stupid enough to take jobs that will kill them. A friend of mine owns a comic shop in the state; he has no employees but tends the counter himself, and yes, he DOES smoke on the job. Another friend of ours is an attorney in Massachusetts, and we’re all just waiting for Comic Book Guy to be arrested or fined for smoking on his own property; the attorney has already said he’ll take the case pro bono.

  15. Jennifer

    What’s even more absurd is that you can’t smoke at a tobacconist’s.

  16. JMoore-

    I know. I’m just waiting for some dopey live-in servant to bring her smoking employer to court for “smoking in the workplace.”

  17. JMoore,

    Anti-capitalism is at the heart of the environmental movement as well.

    Shannon Love,

    You really don’t know much about post-modernism. It is rather funny to watch you lump all the world’s ills into one simplistic notion. Honestly, post-modernism refers to such a wide assortment of things (from architecture to music to philosophy), which are often very unrelated, that its just simply bizarre for you make these sorts of statements.

    Post-modernism holds that a “what” a person is, race, class, economic interest etc determines what a person believes to true.

    You are confusing things like “critical race theory” with the length and breadth of post-modernism. After all you are a self-declared scientist; its not surprising that you are wholely ignorant in an area outside your field.

    In order to get to the truth of any argument one must therefor always understand the motives of the individual making the argument.

    You don’t know much about 19th century politics either. Study the campaigns of Jackson in 1828 and 1832; you’ll learn quickly that Jackson ran and won by bashing the “motives” of his opponents – the same is true for the election campaign of Jefferson in 1800. Playing on such prejudices, etc. has always been part and parcel of American politics and is no more prominent today than it was in 1800.

    Tellingly, you yourself are using the same sort of shrill, uneducated emotional rhetoric that you are essentially claiming is the balliwick of “post-modernists.”

  18. Let’s get this straight about Shannon Love’s thoughts:

    * News outlets should self-censor themselves regarding information about terrorist acts (yes, Shannon Love promotes the denial of reality)

    * Shannon Love finds heroism in the actions of creationists to fight the “man” (never mind that most Americans are creationists of one sort of another; her is more praise for those who deny reality)

    * Shannon Love believes all the worlds ills can be placed on the backs of post-modernism (never mind that attacking individuals, groups, etc. for their motives is as old as the pre-Socratics and has been a rich area of American politics almost since the inception of our nation), a concept which is so varied in what it encompasses that such an accusation immediately leads to doubts about Shannon’s knowledge on the subject

  19. The rampant inconsistencies in Shannon Love’s thoughts can only mean one thing: she’s a Republican. 🙂

  20. “Anti-capitalism is at the heart of the environmental movement as well.”

    Watermelon analogy: Green on the outside, but red to the core.

  21. Russ R.,

    Hadn’t heard that before. Funny.

    I’ve known quite a few of “traditional” and radical environmentalists over the years and they are just heaping over with anti-capitalism for the most part.

  22. Shannon, your strict separation between judging the motives of a speaker and discerning the level of truth in his statements is inarguably true when judging the validity of a factual statement. The sky is/is not blue. Exposure to second hand smoke does/does not cause the constriction of blood vessels in the lungs.

    But in the real world, when people make arguments about political issues, they don’t limit themselves to a litany of falsifiable factual statements. Every speech, column, op ed and blog post is a rich mixture of factual assertions, subjective impressions, myth/metaphor and opinions. In this context, knowing where the speaker is coming from is an important part of figuring out which way is up.

  23. Hakluyt,

    You have made me ashamed. I’ll know better next time to use a general term in a hundred word comment post instead providing a 50,000 word overview complete with footnotes. I definitely won’t count on the readers intelligence to feel in the gaps.

    No, I lie, I will. Especially since your dead wrong about post-modernism. Despite its fuzzy boundaries and its widespread application to many disciplines its defining aspect is the elevation of the subjective over the objective. I have never read any source on post-modernism which does not include that as primary, if not the principle, attribute.

    Comment threads are not the place to wallow in nuance. There is an infinite regression of detail in world. One can always nitpick concise statements to death if one so chooses. My labeling of the intellectual movement as post-modernism is quite adequate for this forum. Stop being so pedantic. Its tedious.

  24. I think comment threads were intended to serve as a venue for wallowing in nuance, pedantry, nitpicking, and tedium.

  25. Hell yeah, joe, why do you think we’re all here? 😉

  26. Shannon Love,

    Your response is absolutely pathetic.

    …its defining aspect is the elevation of the subjective over the objective.

    Wrong. I bet Foucault is laughing at you from his grave. Foucault never had a problem with “objective,” reason, etc. This is your problem of course; like anyone with a child-like knowledge of an area you’ve been told a few things about post-modernism without being critical of those claims and you regurgitate that here.

    I have never read any source on post-modernism…

    I know you haven’t. 🙂

    In all seriousness, which post-modernists have you read? Anyone with ANY serious knowledge of this area knows that who and who is not a post-modernist is major area of contention (e.g., Foucault claimed that he wasn’t a post-modernist, though individuals like Charles Murray slap that label on him). For example, Bloom is attacked as one, while others claim that he isn’t.

    Comment threads are not the place to wallow in nuance.

    Only when its convenient for you. 🙂

    But here, let me grant you the chance to differentiate what you mean by the term? Are you referring to post-modernist architecture? Or post-modernist philosophy?

  27. And my weekly search for something to agree with joe on is over. On Monday afternoon! I can devote the rest of the week to snarky asides and wallowing in nuance, pedantry, nitpicking, and tedium.

  28. joe,

    This is always the problems with critics of post-modernism; they make a number of high-level criticisms of post-modernism which don’t hold up when you actually look at the subject from the perspective of it as practiced.

  29. So is Hakluyt really Gunnels? Multiple posts, opinions on things most people never heard of, and bashing others.

  30. I’m amazed by this bit:


    Therefore, anyone who disagreed with our position had to be, in some way, affiliated with the tobacco industry.

    I’ve heard that accusation many times before (“All of our opponents’ studies are funded by Big Tobacco!”) but I didn’t quite realized they actually believed it, instead of just using it as a handy smear. If you ask me, that shows just how much the movement resembles a religion – “anyone who disagrees with us is ipso facto in league with Satan, so we not only can but must disregard what they say”.

  31. Anyone else know of people like this?

    The entire town of Boulder, Colorado.

    While I find Shannon’s posts kind of annoying, Hakluyt’s are downright bizarre. I’ve never seen someone so intently attempting to concretely define post-modernism.

    Say what you will about po-mo, but at its root is the concept of distrusting and questioning everything and then appropriating whatever strikes the philosopher’s fancy as being part of post-modernist thought. It tends towards ambiguity and obfuscation, and is generally antagonistic towards much of the Enlightenment period.

  32. I just re-read my post, and now I want to kick my own ass.

    Probably the single most unifying thing among adherents of Post-Modernism is that they’re all uniformily insufferable assholes.

  33. mediageek,

    I’ve never seen someone so intently attempting to concretely define post-modernism.

    You need to hang out with philosophers more. 🙂

    …but at its root is the concept of distrusting and questioning everything…

    Its much more about distrusting “meta-narratives” than anything and looking at the provisional nature of knowledge.

  34. You need to hang out with philosophers more. 🙂

    Ugh. Been there, done that, still not sure if the t-shirt really exists or is just a socially-agreed upon non-extant construct of psychical projection. Or not.

    Its much more about distrusting “meta-narratives” than anything and looking at the provisional nature of knowledge.

    Yes, but broadly defined, the term “meta-narrative” can be described as anything bigger than three emo tweeners making out in the park.

  35. Ugh. Been there, done that, still not sure if the t-shirt really exists or is just a socially-agreed upon non-extant construct of psychical projection. Or not.

    YES.

    Now, I’m nobody with a degree in philosophy or semiotics or anything, but from what I understood, isn’t the “meta-narrative” what the tweemo kids aren’t saying? I always thought po-mo was about the rejection of beginnings, middles, ends, and right angles. But like I said, I could be wrong.

    -sam

  36. As I understand it, a meta-narrative is any large-scale philosophical construct that a society agrees upon: mainstream religion, Capitalism, Communism, fascism, scientific method, etc.

    Po-mo, as far as I can divine, posits that large-scale, one-size-fits-all understandings of how the world works have become fragmented and increasingly useless as subcultures grow, flourish, break apart, and come up with their own methods for defining the world around them and where they fit in it.

    The main problem with po-mo is that it tends to be relatavisitc in application. There’s no peer review, hence it becomes a matter of “if it works for them*, who am I to judge?”

    In the end, Post Modernism shies away from actually trying to come to concrete conclusions.

    *Them being any demonstrable sub-culture, ranging from Holocaust deniers, to Furries, Trek Geeks, fascists, goths, radical environmentalists, Peter Singer, etc. etc.

  37. So is a “meta-narrative” the same as a “totalising discourse”?

    I think Shannon may have been trying to say that recent movements in western intellectual thought (e.g. po-mo) have been pretty irrelevant to the world at large. I’d go along with that. Po-mo just seems like a rehash of Nietzsche’s perspectivalism to my inadequately informed brain.

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