Wednesday, September 21, 2005

More Personal Attacks by Anti-Smoking Advocates: Idea that FORCES Represents Legitimate Interests of its Members Seems Too Much to Take

In response to my post of July 25, welcoming FORCES readers to my site and suggesting that its members are not merely tobacco industry fronts, but that they largely represent their own legitimate interests, several anti-smoking advocates have unleashed yet another set of personal attacks.

This time, the recipient of the attacks was not a tobacco industry-funded or pro-smoking advocate, but instead, was ...

A number of anti-smoking advocates questioned my funding source, suggested that the administration of Boston University be asked to investigate my funding source, suggested that the administration of Boston University should intervene to presumably stop what I am doing, once again accused Martha Perske of being a tobacco "industry mole," and accused me of being funded by the Republican party.

They also reiterated the charges that FORCES is merely a tobacco industry front group and that they are lying about where they get their funding.

The Rest of the Story

Clearly, my suggestion that FORCES is not merely a tobacco industry front group but that it truly does represent legitimate interests of its members was too much for a number of anti-smoking advocates to take. But instead of attempting to refute my arguments, they resorted to issuing personal attacks and unfounded accusations.

What surprised me about this is not the attacks, but the fact that I only really said two things in that post which prompted such a vigorous response.

First, I welcomed readers from FORCES, as well as from Reason Online's Hit & Run blog and the Smoker's Club. This seems perfectly appropriate, since I knew that readers from these sites were going to be visiting my blog, as several articles on my blog were linked to from these sites.

Second, I made the daring suggestion that FORCES was not merely a tobacco industry front group, but that its members generally represented their own legitimate interests and are not merely being used by the industry to promote the industry's own goals.

In fact, the evidence demonstrates that FORCES was established independent of the tobacco industry. A 1999 Philip Morris document establishes that the company was not funding FORCES at the time and it was an investigation of pro-smoking groups that brought FORCES to its attention. At least at the time, Philip Morris itself acknowledged that FORCES "does not accept tobacco industry funding."

The only evidence presented to suggest any funding at all from the tobacco industry to FORCES was made by an anonymous commenter, who claimed that FORCES received tobacco industry funding to run an ad campaign on a California ballot initiative. Let's stipulate that's true. It certainly doesn't make FORCES a tobacco industry front group. And it certainly doesn't suggest that its members are merely tobacco industry "moles" who are merely doing the industry's bidding for it and not truly representing their own interests.

But the strongest evidence that FORCES is not a tobacco industry front group is FORCES itself. Its position is that: "The Master Settlement Agreement is a massively corrupt price-fixing scheme contrived between forty-six states and the major American cigarette manufacturers. As this latest challenge states, upon signing the MSA, 'the States became business partners in establishing one of the most effective and destructive cartels in the history of the Nation.' If there is any justice left in the USA these suits shall prevail. The happiest outcome of all would be total bankruptcy of the major manufacturers to the benefit of fair dealers and the public. We have a bottle of Dom Perignon cooling for the day Philip Morris and the rest bite the dust. Big Tobacco's ignominious demise is a dream that really could come true. ... It's going to take years. That's okay. Smokers and all seekers of justice are watching, and strategizing, and we're ready for the long haul."

I hardly think a Big Tobacco front group would call for the demise of Big Tobacco (much less for its ignominious demise).

The web site of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights still accuses FORCES of being a Big Tobacco front and based on responses I have received on my post, I seem to be the only public health advocate around who sees that the members of FORCES are largely representing their own concerns about government intrusion into their lives and not primarily trying to protect the interests of the large tobacco companies. (Yes - these interests do often coincide but that does not de-legitimize the interests of FORCES members.)

In fact, most of the FORCES members that I know would love nothing other than to see Big Tobacco go under so that some more vigorous price competition can finally enter the market and maybe they won't have to spend so much money on cigarettes.

I think that until anti-smoking advocates start listening to the arguments that smokers' groups are making instead of attacking the individuals who are making these arguments, they are going to remain blind to many of the reasons why it is becoming increasingly difficult to get tobacco control and its funding on the public and political agenda.

While I see no need to defend myself (those who know me well are still laughing at the suggestion that I am being funded by the Republican party), I refuse to allow Martha Perske to be attacked publicly in a defamatory manner.

So let me state that Martha Perske is a remarkable, talented (truly gifted) individual who has tremendous integrity and has made quite incredible contributions to the public's welfare and that she is in no way representing anything other than her own personal interests. She is an independent, private citizen who, far from being on the tobacco industry dole, has put her own time and effort into what she believes is the promotion of societal policy that reflects scientific evidence.

While our interpretation of that scientific evidence has differed, I have the utmost respect for Martha Perske and I think that we have far more common ground than we have differences. What I hope I will be able to one day say is that I share Martha's ability to look into the eyes and heart of each and every individual and see the beauty of that person. So I am happy to be able to now call Martha a friend.

While we in tobacco control talk all the time about the tobacco industry's deception and lies and the impact it has had on the public, I am beginning to see that we seem to have our own blinders on and our inability to look past the dogma we have been exposed to is starting to impair our own ability to see the truth for what it is. I think our view of reality has been severely tainted by the narrow, prescriptive, dogmatic perspective with which we view the world.

If this blog can play any role in helping to broaden that perspective, then I will consider it to have been a success.

No comments: