Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Anti-Smoking Movement Not Discussing the Substance of Issues; Just Trying to Silence Dissent

In yet another example that illustrates the tendency of the anti-smoking movement to silence dissent rather than tackle the substantive issues being put forward by the dissenter, a message sent to a list-serve of which I used to be a member asked those who know me to give me a good talking to and whip me into shape. (This is the list-serve I was thrown off of several months ago for "interfering" with the quality of the list-serve discussion by disagreeing with some of the dogma of the movement, not the list-serve I was thrown off of three weeks ago).

The message addressed an op-ed piece I published in the Boston Herald which argued that policies by which employers refuse to hire smokers (or fire existing smokers) are discriminatory and unduly intrusive of individual privacy and are therefore not justified from a public health perspective. The piece also suggested that broad outdoor smoking bans which regulate smoking in areas where nonsmokers can easily avoid smoke exposure are going too far, as they are not supported by any scientific evidence of a substantial threat to public health that would justify the use of the state's police power to interfere with individual liberties.

"I am sending you a letter by Michael Siegel in a Boston paper. He is really going to hurt the smoke-free movement. I hope some of you that know him will talk to him about the damage he is doing. It is going to make it more difficult to get smoke-free bans."

The Rest of the Story

What is most interesting about this communication to the list-serve is that it asks those who know me to try to silence me not because anything I'm saying is inappropriate or wrong, but simply because people don't like what I'm saying and feel it is going to hurt the cause. The note does not point out a single problem with my argumentation or even suggest that my arguments do not hold up. But people don't like what I'm saying, so I must be silenced.

I apparently need a good scolding from my colleagues because I have gotten out of line and criticized our strategies and tactics to achieve our goals. I need a talking to because I have pointed out that some of what we are communicating to the public is fallacious. I need to be whipped into shape because I am opposed to discriminating against smokers in employment. And I need to be kept in line because I came to the conclusion that there is not adequate scientific evidence of the harms of outdoor exposure to secondhand smoke to justify policies that ban smoking in places where nonsmokers could easily avoid exposure, such as streets, sidewalks, and parking lots.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. What is hurting the cause is not my demanding a higher standard of scientific integrity and public health accountability. What is hurting the cause is the complete loss of a science base and solid public health policy analysis to justify and support our actions and our agenda. What is hurting the cause is our use of junk science to promote smoking bans. What is hurting our cause is the fanaticism in the movement, which is going to make the public think that we are crazy zealots, rather than evidence-based public health advocates. What is hurting the cause is our increasingly outrageous "scientific" claims, which are going to destroy our credibility and make it impossible to convince anyone of anything, even when it is scientifically solid.

The personal attack on individuals who dissent, based on the contention that what they are doing is "hurting the cause" is simply a tactic used in the anti-smoking movement to silence dissenters. By heaping the movement's scorn on them, it makes it close to impossible for them to express their opinions. The technique might work on me, except for the fact that I'm not a public health advocate - I'm a professional writer for pro-smoking groups!

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