Obviously we can't go into all the tactics used by the "advocates."
But we'd like to call your attention to a few recurring gambits, because
they're so... well... recurring... in every facet of this War. Perhaps
the first is:
1. "QUICK AND DIRTY"
On July 31, 2000 The Coalition for a Smoke-Free City (see Joe
Cherner) ran a full page ad in the New York Times, lobbying the City
Council for a total ban on smoking, not only in all restaurants, but in
nightclubs and bars.
Instead of quoting the ad, we'd like to quote from an editorial that
itself quotes from the ad. The editorial was written by Dr. Elizabeth
M. Whelan, president of the American Council
on Science and Health, and no friend of smokers. In it, she accuses
her own compatriots of "alarmism" "hyperbole" and --to put it uneuphemistically--
lying about the effects of secondhand smoke in order to push their agenda.
To quote Dr. Whelan:
"[T]he headlines... are
alarmist: 'Secondhand Smoke... causes lung cancer, heart disease, asthma
and respiratory disease...[and a sub-head goes on to claim], 'The
#1 Killer in the American Workplace is... Secondhand Smoke.'
What we have here is...hyperbole
about the likely effects of secondhand smoke...[T]he main message from
this ad is that workers (such as bartenders) exposed to secondhand smoke
are at significant risk of lung cancer and heart disease. [But] the evidence
linking ETS with chronic disease is much more speculative than that...simply
put, the role of ETS in the development of chronic diseases like cancer
and heart disease is uncertain and controversial [and your assertions are]
without scientific basis.
By exaggerating, the Coalition
only serves to give ammunition to those who...maintain that health advocates,
motivated by the "end justifies the means" philosophy, frequently play
quick and dirty with the facts in an attempt to justify the interventions
they want." (1)
So there you have it. From one of their very own. They are
playing quick and dirty. And, insult to injury (the insulted-and-injured
party here is nothing less than The Truth) not only do they present
"controversial" "uncertain" "speculative" linkages as hard empirical fact,
but add numbers to give them weight.
And not only that, but the numbers keep mounting. The speculative
body- count rises from 3,000 to 53,000 to 65,000 and, at last years hearings
at the New York City council, somebody racked it up to 150,000. But,
hey, who's counting? Nobody's counting, because there aren't bodies
to count. These are speculative conjectures, based on an iffy theory (and
more on that later) and even the possible range of these computer-projected
numbers are quoted only at peak.
Whelan says as much in a discussion about her article in an ACSH forum:
"The estimates of ETS
caused deaths are guesstimates at best...Theoretical numbers...Maybe there
are no deaths due to ETS in the workplace."
Perhaps equally interesting, is the activists' rationale for why they
have to play the game.
Dr. Whelan has maintained, staunchly, under attack from a lot of the
other advocates, that "science-wise
and PR-wise, I think we'd accomplish more...if we stressed the known, proven
effects of ETS and dropped the theoretical charges."
She defines the known effects as:
"Irritation of the eyes,
nose and respiratory tract and aggravated pre-existing asthma. Surely that
is enough to justify [bans]."
Another "advocate" snaps back:
"Surely it isn't. Your
opinion on sufficient reason doesn't count here. It's the opinions of
the legislators and city councils that count, and irritation isn't enough
for them... That's why it's a bad idea."
Another chimes in that there's little point in having those epidemiological
"if we won't let it influence
public policy. It's downright stupid...when we want those facts to motivate
Trouble is, they're not "facts."
But the point-- the defense of "alarmism," "hyperbole," "exaggeration"
and using "facts" that have "no scientific basis"-- is.....to mess
with the minds of officials. Legislators can't, in the advocates'
estimation, be properly "motivated" to set "public policy" if they're offered
the simple truth, which just isn't that hairy.
And thus they prove her case: that they are indeed "motivated by the
ends justifies the means philosophy [and] frequently play quick and dirty
with the facts in an attempt to justify the interventions they want."
"WARNING: OVERSTATING THE CASE AGAINST SECONDHAND SMOKE..."
More "facts" that aren't facts have been forwarded by the current mayor
of New York City, who now rattles off implausible numbers of "lives saved"
by the enactment of bans in bars.
And once again, Dr. Whelan comes to silence the false alarm:
"[Mayor Bloomberg's] estimate
of 1000 deaths prevented is patently absurd. Our best estimate of
the number of deaths prevented is somewhere between 0 and 10 to 15."
The latter only included since at least "theoretically,
[10 to 15] individuals with severe asthma could suffer an acute, fatal
attack in a smoky bar."
However, Whelan continues, mere theoretics aside --
"[t]here is no evidence
that any New Yorkers-- patrons or employees -- has ever died as a result
of exposure to smoke in a bar or restaurant."
Thus the putative "10 to 15" remains in the realm of theory, the "0"
remains the fact, and the "1000" remains propaganda sown by a quick --
or a dirty -- mind.
Bloomberg Exaggerates Secondhand Smoke Risk
2. ATTACK THE MESSENGER
You don't have to actually kill him; just attack his credibility. And
the best way to do that-- and it's done again and again, so it must be
pretty good-- is to call him a "lackey" "surrogate" or "front" for the
Tobacco Industry. No matter how slim or vague, no matter how far
in the past, and most crucially, no matter if there is such a tie,
the tie gets pulled from the rack.
Politician, scientist, engineer, academic, even average Joe Citizen.
Anyone's fair game.
The last time this happened in American history, it was called McCarthyism.
The following example was culled from an article
(with links to all the actual correspondence) -
[Please note: "Americans For
Non-Smokers Rights" is run by Stanton
Glantz and keep in mind, too, that Michael Siegel will again appear
on these pages as the author of a study about RESTAURANT
WORKERS, in which he will evidence Tactic #1.]
"Americans for Nonsmokers Rights has had the courtesy (unwitting) to
acknowledge that politics is more important to its cause than science.
How did ANR come to make this confession?
It started with an article...authored by Michael Siegel of the Boston
University School of Public Health and posted on an ANR web page.
In the article, Siegel advises anti-tobacco activists:
"Do not get into arguments
with the industry about scientific evidence... Instead, the best approach
is to expose the tobacco industry ties of the so-called scientists making
[Or: when you can't rebut the argument, attack the guy who made it.
And by all means, attach a "so-called" to his degree. (Einstein,
the so-called physicist, who smoked...)]
In enumerating the "so-called" scientists allegedly on the payroll of
the tobacco industry, Siegel mentioned two by name, stating that both "have
strong connections to the tobacco industry," and adding that "Americans
for Nonsmokers Rights can provide copies of tobacco industry documents
which reveal the details of these authors' ties..."
In response to Siegel's allegation, both "so-called" scientists demanded
a retraction, and further challenged Siegel to provide the "so-called"
copies of the "so-called" documentation--which they knew he couldn't provide
since they knew it didn't exist.
Siegel, thus challenged, admitted that neither he nor ANR had any documents,
that the article and its implications were "misleading" and indicated that
he'd asked ANR to post his retraction and an apology on its web site.
End of story? Don't bet.
ANR (see Stanton Glantz) refused
to post Siegel's retraction and apology, stating in e-mail correspondence
to Siegel that--(emphasis added)
"After further discussion..[and]
input from other ANR Board members, we have concluded that the possible
'clarification' that you and I discussed is simply not feasible...I realize
that your views on the matter are heart-felt and sincere, and that mere
removal of your name from the paper without more, will not be entirely
satisfactory to you. But at this point ANR must put its political credibility
ahead of what you consider to be your scientific credibility."
Politics (once again) trumps--oh, name it--truth, science, integrity.
3. TOSS THE JARGON, BAT THE STATS
It's a pretty safe assumption that the average American, no matter how
intelligent he or she is, knows little to nothing about chemistry, toxicology,
epidemiology or statistics. Which makes him an easy mark.
If I walked into a restaurant and said, "This is a stick-up, and I'm
holding a vial of acetic acid in my hand," I might actually convince a
few diners to fork over. Certainly I'd succeed by just reading the
definition from my chemical dictionary: "Acetic acid: Highly toxic
by ingestion; strong irritant to tissue. Tolerance (only) 10 ppm in air."
They might indeed be surprised to learn (later; after I left) that this
vile vial of acid was in the restaurant all along. That, in fact, they'd
ingested it. That they've probably ingested it daily for many years.
Acetic acid, diluted, is... vinegar.
Which also proves (we hope) the first principle of toxicology: The Dose
Makes The Poison. Dilute acetic acid is no harm at all.
Or to put that another way, there is a safe level of exposure to
I have here in my hand a nasty-tasting pill called salicylic acid--
33 of which, taken together, can do you in. But here-- take
one. Are you ready to accuse me of attempted murder?
The pill is... an aspirin.
The same kind of games can be played with statistics. You know
the old quote about the three kinds of lies: "lies, damned lies, and statistics."
Lying with statistics is as easy as anything gets and the point is, it's
not exactly a lie, it's just... statistics.
Epidemiology-- the science used in studying secondhand smoke-- is a
science of...statistics. That's all. Stats. Easy to frighten
you with and easy to game. (A +50% risk is the "vinegar" of
numbers; it's been called "statistical static.")
And to understand why, we urge you to read our HOW
TO READ A STUDY.