It appears that there is a sort of double standard in a large segment of today's anti-smoking movement. When the tobacco industry lies to or deceives the public, the industry is worthy of condemnation. But when anti-smoking groups make precisely the same fraudulent statement to the public, it is perfectly acceptable.
Furthermore, if you criticize the tobacco companies for deceiving the public, you are a tobacco control hero. But if you criticize anti-tobacco groups for making the same exact statements, you are a scoundrel and traitor.
H.L. Mencken wrote:
"The truth, indeed, is something that mankind, for some mysterious reason, instinctively dislikes. Every man who tries to tell it is unpopular, and even when, by the sheer strength of his case, he prevails, he is put down as a scoundrel."
Every part of Mencken's quote played out last week.
Indeed, anti-smoking groups do not want to hear the truth: that some of major health and anti-smoking groups are lying to the public about the relative hazards of real (tobacco) vs. fake (electronic) cigarettes. When you point this out, you are indeed unpopular. And even when the strength of your evidence is so strong that the groups realize you are correct, you are then put down as a scoundrel and traitor.
On this very day, the FDA is telling the public that it is not known "if there are any benefits associated with using these products [electronic cigarettes]."
With this statement, the FDA is implying that we don't yet know
whether electronic cigarettes are any safer than tobacco cigarettes.
After all, if these products are safer than cigarettes, then there
certainly is a health benefit associated with using these products
instead of cigarettes, as many vapers are doing.
Thus, the FDA is telling the public that vaping may be no safer than smoking.
We now know for a fact that if a tobacco company were to make precisely the same claim, a number of anti-smoking groups and advocates would condemn those companies. But the very same groups showed no interest when it was the FDA, instead of a tobacco company, that was making that claim. In fact, these groups were ready to pounce on the tobacco company for making a claim that it took directly from the FDA's web site!
However, it is important to point out that from an ethical perspective, there is no moral principle of which I am aware by which a lie told by a tobacco company is unethical, but a lie told by a health group is ethical. If we are going to hold tobacco companies to the standard of honesty and to be taken seriously doing it, then we ourselves must be at least somewhat honest in our communications with the public, no?
Moreover, it is important to point out that from a public health perspective, undermining the public's appreciation of the harms of smoking does damage, whether it is a tobacco company doing the undermining or a health group.
I have received numerous pleas from my colleagues urging me not to continue to point out false statements being made by anti-smoking groups because it "hurts the cause." Actually, what hurts the cause is groups making false statements. The problem is that many health groups are lying to the public and undermining the public's appreciation of the hazards of smoking, not that some anti-smoking advocate is criticizing these groups and arguing that they should tell the truth, thus attempting to protect the integrity of the tobacco control movement that he has been a part of for the past 28 years.
As H.L. Mencken concluded:
"But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. ... And I believe that it is better to know than to be ignorant."