If there is one thing that has become clear to me this week after seeing Action on Smoking and Health's efforts to promote the firing of smokers by employers to save health care costs, it is that a crisis of credibility is imminent for the tobacco control movement.
This episode has highlighted, I think, just how fanatical some anti-smoking groups are and just how silent the rest of the tobacco control organizations are in the face of that fanaticism.
When the public catches wind of the fact that anti-smoking groups are supporting the firing of smokers, I think they are going to get the idea that "these people are just crazy" and they are going to lose respect for all anti-smoking organizations, even those which are promoting reasonable and important interventions to improve the public's health.
I think people tend to underestimate the value of the reputation, image, and credibility of a social movement because when things are going well, there seems no reason to think about these aspects of the movement.
The problem, however, is that things can change almost overnight. And when they do, it may be impossible to ever reclaim the favorable image.
In Robert Greene and Joost Elffers "The 48 Laws of Power," law #5 is "So Much Depends on Reputation -- Guard It With Your Life."
Greene and Elffers argue that "reputation is the cornerstone of power." It "inevitably precedes you, and if it inspires respect, a lot of your work is done for you before you arrive on the scene, or utter a single word." It gives you "a degree of control over how the world judges you -- a powerful position to be in." "Reputation has a power like magic: with one stroke of its wand, it can double your strength." Therefore, "reputation is a treasure to be carefully collected and hoarded."
However, "one false slip, one awkward or sudden change in your appearance, can prove disastrous." And once holes have been opened in your reputation, your enemies can "stand aside" and "let public opinion hang" you.
I think the anti-smoking movement now stands at the verge of a crisis of credibililty. Our reputation is on the line. I simply don't think we can tolerate having prominent anti-smoking organizations going around and publicly promoting policies to fire smokers and not lose our reputation as a movement of good-will and of reason.
It only takes one major slip, as Greene and Elffers suggest, before we are viewed as fanatics, and our reputation may be permanently tarnished. And I think this could qualify as being that major slip.