Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Suggestion that Heart Disease Takes More than 30 Minutes to Develop Spurns Attacks on Tobacco Control Researcher: PART I - Kicked Out of the Movement

In response to my attempts to ensure scientific integrity in the tobacco control movement and to help save the movement from the potential damage that will be done if it loses its public credibility, Smoke-Free Pennsylvania has publicly "ex-communicated" me from the tobacco control movement.

My colleague - the executive director of the Smoke-Free Pennsylvania organization - with whom I have worked closely for over a decade to fight the tobacco industry - has stated publicly that I am no longer a part of the tobacco control movement:

"Since Mike's allies are primarily affiliated with FORCES (instead of the anti-smoking movement), it is inaccurate for Mike to continue using the term "we" to refer to the anti smoking movement. I suggest that from now on Mike correctly use the term "we" to refer to his lying colleagues at FORCES."

The Rest of the Story

I am highlighting this personal attack only because it is an important illustration of a general principle that I have observed in the tobacco control movement: there is no room for dissent and when someone expresses an opinion which goes against the established dogma of the movement, that person must be personally attacked and expelled from the movement, rather than actually entering into an evidence-based consideration of the issues that are being raised.

Gian Turci, the executive director of FORCES Italy, once laid out what he perceives to be the 4 commandments of the tobacco control movement. The third commandment is quite interesting, and I think is worthy of some exploration and discussion here:

"Public health is the paramount value of society. All other values - such as liberty, constitutionality, truth, economics, free enterprise, personal responsibility and moral integrity - are absolutely irrelevant and/or have to submit unconditionally. Any dissent from that credo only defines the enemy to be silenced."

In this blog, I have been suggesting that the value of truth needs to take precedence over our desire to pass smoking bans. (The "truth" is that I actually don't think that it helps us to pass smoking bans by exaggerating the science, but let's assume that it is the case that making these exaggerated claims will actually help the cause).

Apparently, Gian Turci is correct. My view is not tolerated because the movement will not allow the truth to get in the way of the agenda. So instead of discussing the scientific evidence, the almost uniform reaction is to attack me and try to silence me.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that I'm completely wrong. Let's stipulate that a healthy person can walk into a smoky restaurant, order a sandwich, and walk out 30 minutes later with coronary artery stenosis (narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle).

If that's the case, then an appropriate response to my suggestion that it is false to tell the public that it takes more than 30 minutes to develop hardening of the arteries would be to provide scientific evidence that I am wrong. Put forward a study that demonstrates that a person can develop heart disease from being exposed to secondhand smoke for just 30 minutes.

Frankly, if someone did that, it would not only shut me up, but I would issue an apology and retract all of my recent posts.

But the unfortunate truth is that there is no such study. (Actually, it's quite fortunate, because if it there were such a study, the majority of the population would be walking around with heart disease, and mortality rates would be astronomically higher than they presently are).

So instead, the response is to attack the dissenter and treat me as if I am no longer in the tobacco control movement.

Well if it's true that I'm no longer in the movement, then I guess I was a spy last week when I spent two days at the FAMRI scientific symposium and served on a panel of "Distinguished Professors" who had been rewarded for their efforts in confronting the diseases caused by secondhand smoke. And I guess FORCES must support 100% smoking bans in all workplaces, especially casinos, since it was apparently as a colleague of FORCES that I expressed sharp criticism of the exemption of casino workers from protection from the hazards of secondhand smoke in their workplace, in front of hundreds of people at that meeting.

And I guess I am an external "plant" in my capacity as a statistical editor for one of the leading two journals on tobacco control science in the world (Tobacco Control).

And I suppose that the research I am presently doing, which is the first of its kind to document that restaurant smoking bans lead to a dramatic decline in youth smoking initiation, is just a ruse.

The rest of the story is that any challenge to the established dogma of the movement and its dominant agenda cannot be tolerated. There is apparently no room for the expression of such opinions in the movement. If you challenge the dogma, you're out.

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