The Strategic Value of Scary Lies

|

By Michael Siegel 's count, at least 68 anti-smoking groups are falsely claiming that a half-hour's exposure to secondhand smoke can cause atherosclerosis and heart attacks. He traces the hoax to an "internal strategy document" produced by the American Cancer Society, the International Union Against Cancer, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The groups urge activists to promote smoking bans by emphasizing "the immediate effects of secondhand smoke," including "cardiovascular problems such as damage to cell walls in the circulatory system, thickening of the blood and arteries, and arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) or heart disease, increasing the chance of heart attack or stroke." According to the document, an effective pro-ban message "conveys the fact that even short periods of exposure are harmful"; "evokes an emotional reaction from the use of scientific terms"; "utilizes startling and memorable imagery"; and "clearly states the risk of grave health conditions such as heart attacks and strokes."

Siegel's conclusion:

This appears not to be simply an innocent misinterpretation of scientific evidence. Instead, it appears to be an intentional manipulation of people's emotions through the manipulation of scientific findings in order to make public claims that are more startling than they would otherwise be, in an effort to promote a desired public policy outcome….

There are really only two possibilities I can think of to explain what is happening.

One possibility is that anti-smoking groups are lying to the public about the science in order to promote smoking bans. If this is the case, then we face an ethical crisis. Such misconduct would represent a serious violation of accepted ethical standards of public health practice.

The second possibility is that anti-smoking groups are not lying, but that they actually believe that hardening of the arteries can occur in 30 minutes. If this is the case, then we face a crisis of scientific credibility.

NEXT: Immigration Bill Moves a Bit in Senate

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. NYC is a prime offender of abusing this “information”. Their current ad campaigns are galling in their complete misrepresentation of what is know about second-hand smoke.

  2. Bush & co may be more anti-science than the progressive movement, but neither side has actual respect for scientific integrity.

    One side ignores it, the other makes it it’s propaganda machine. Ugh.

  3. What is the old saying? “Don’t ascribe to bad intentions what can perfectly well be explained by ignorance or stupidity”.

    Well, I’m keeping my options open. I’d love to see how long it takes, if ever, before the MSM picks up on the BS and calls them on it.

  4. IN 2006 THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY, ALONG WITH OTHER ANTI-SMOKING FASCISTS AUTHORED AN INTERNAL MEMO STATING THAT THEY SHOULD LIE AND EXAGGERATE THE NEGATIVE HEALTH EFFECTS OF SECOND-HAND SMOKE IN AN ATTEMPT TO FURTHER THEIR SHAMELESS SOCIO-POLITICAL AGENDA.

    THEY CLAIMED THAT “A HALF-HOUR’S EXPOSURE TO SECOND HAND SMOKE CAN CAUSE ATHEROSCLEROSIS AND HEART ATTACKS.”

    THESE ANTI-SMOKING ACTIVISTS ARE LYING TO YOU IN ORDER TO GAIN POLITICAL POWER OVER YOUR LIFESTYLE CHOICES!

  5. Punk…: Nice parody to the TRUTH ad campaign! Very good irony.

  6. MP,

    With all those bodies piling up you think somebody could name three “victims” of SHS…

  7. MP — I read your link to the NYC propaganda. Sickening. The worst was the last piece (surely to enhance the recency effect on the reader):

    Up to 2,700 deaths from SIDS [in NYC per year].

    Given that no study has ever shown what causes SIDS, and every source of health information out there says as much, you’d think there’d be no basis for a statement like this.

    But as we all know, nothing seems to stop out of control politicians, or cynical baby-products companies (“our product reduces the risk of SIDS”), from making these false claims, whenever it serves their interests to do so.

  8. One possibility is that anti-smoking groups are lying to the public about the science in order to promote smoking bans. If this is the case, then we face an ethical crisis. Such misconduct would represent a serious violation of accepted ethical standards of public health practice.

    They’ve been doing that since Day One. This should not come as s surprise that they’ve upped the ante after seeing the smashing success of all the other lies.

    People will believe anything the ACS tells them and politicians know an easy win when they see one. The plantiff class can only salivate even more.

    Incidently, this is why the ACS and its other cig banning brethren will never get a dime from me. I don’t need to pay people to usurp my liberty even further. I can get that for free from my local guvmint (and up).

  9. If they persist in this nincompoopery, Bit Antitobacco is gonna give me a heart attack.

  10. One possibility is that anti-smoking groups are lying to the public about the science in order to promote smoking bans. If this is the case, then we face an ethical crisis. Such misconduct would represent a serious violation of accepted ethical standards of public health practice.

    They’ve been doing that since Day One. This should not come as s surprise that they’ve upped the ante after seeing the smashing success of all the other lies.

    People will believe anything the ACS tells them and politicians know an easy win when they see one. The plantiff class can only salivate even more.

    Incidently, this is why the ACS and its other cig banning brethren will never get a dime from me. I don’t need to pay people to usurp my liberty even further. I can get that for free from my local guvmint (and up).

  11. Big Ant-Tobacco is gonna give me a heart attack with all this pseuodscientific nincompoopery.

  12. Good god, imagine if the president started using such tactics! He could start a war, or something!

  13. Sorry, ‘nincompoopery’ is my word for the day.

  14. First of all, I also will try to fit ‘nincompoopery’ into my next cocktail party conversation. A great word.

    I lean toward the second possibility. In a country where more people believe in a virgin birth than that all primates shared a common ancestor, that toilets swirl one way in the northern hemisphere and another in the south, and that a half a degree temperature change since 1880 is unquestionable, conclusive proof of catastrophic human-induced global warming, it’s no wonder that scientists (and I use the term loosely) could hold such sway over them.

    Think for yourseves, People! A little sketicism might be healthier for you than avoiding second hand smoke.

  15. This appears not to be simply an innocent misinterpretation of scientific evidence. Instead, it appears to be an intentional manipulation of people’s emotions through the manipulation of scientific findings in order to make public claims that are more startling than they would otherwise be, in an effort to promote a desired public policy outcome….

    This is news? “Assault weapons stack bodies like cordwood.” “World famine.” “Reefer madness.” “Jazz is the voice of evil.” “Deamon rum.” ad infinitum.

    accepted ethical standards of public health practice

    Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

  16. Let’s assume for a second that what they say about SHS is actually factual. Even if it was, I still wouldn’t be for one damn bit of the legislation against businesses and public establishments that exists now. The types of anti-smoking laws they pass piss me off on fundamental grounds, regardless of what they are able to prove scientifically. That political position is one I seldom hear them refute. Call me selfish, but even if smoking in my house put you at risk, tough shit; get out!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.