Monday, November 28, 2005

It's Not All or Nothing: Renouncing Some, But Not All, of the Anti-Smoking Agenda and Tactics

It has come to my attention that a number of people are having trouble placing me upon the overall stage of the tobacco control movement.

On the one hand, some anti-smoking advocates appear to be taking my criticism of some of the agenda and many of the tactics of the tobacco control movement lightly, and to assume that I simply have "grudges" with certain anti-smoking groups and am not really renouncing any of the agenda or tactics, but just using these issues to try to take out these "grudges."

On the other hand, some anti-smoking advocates appear to be taking my criticism too heavily, and to assume that I am renouncing the entire anti-smoking agenda and all of its tactics.

The Rest of the Story

Actually, neither of these impressions is accurate.

One of the dogmatic axioms of the anti-smoking movement that I've recently learned is that the agenda and the tactics basically come in an all-or-nothing package. There's almost a religious element to it, almost an orthodoxy, by which you cannot really as an individual choose to honor some specific elements of the agenda and of the tactics. If you criticize any, you are accused of being a heretic or a naysayer (or even worse, of being a tobacco industry supporter).

So no - I have not rejected the entire anti-smoking agenda and all of its tactics. At the same time, I am very serious in the criticisms that I have made.

Ironically, the two groups/individuals who seem to be able to place me perfectly are outside of the tobacco control movement.

First, FORCES International seems to really understand where I am coming from. In featuring a number of my commentaries over the past months, FORCES has always shown an accurate understanding of who I am. They continue to describe me as a tobacco control advocate and they seem to understand that just because I have opened my eyes to what I see as some inconsistencies and unethical tactics in the movement, that doesn't mean that I'm not a part of that movement or that I have rejected it all.

Second, in highlighting a number of my posts, Jacob Sullum, in Reason Online's Hit & Run blog, has also got me pegged quite accurately. While acknowledging some areas where I have expressed dissent with the dogma of the movement, he also describes me as being "determinedly anti-tobacco," demonstrating that he understands exactly where I am coming from as well.

In fact, I continue to support and work for much of the tobacco control agenda, including efforts to protect nonsmoking workers from secondhand smoke in the workplace, something I have been working for during the past 21 years, as well as strong statewide tobacco control programs with effective media campaigns. What I renounce, however, are what I see as policies that have gone beyond the realm of public health - such as those which discriminate against smokers in employment, tax smokers to balance budgets in a politically comfortable way, and ban smoking in open, non-enclosed outdoors areas where people can move about freely.

And more importantly than the agenda, I renounce many of the tactics being used by tobacco control groups. I don't think it's acceptable to be dishonest, deceptive, or not to be forthright. I do think it's important to have integrity, sincerity, and consistency in one's positions. I don't think it's OK to issue personal attacks against individuals, especially when they are not supported by appropriate documentation. I don't think it's OK to imply false information about groups, even if they are on the opposite side of the fence on the issues we are working for. And I don't think it's appropriate to allow the agenda to dictate our interpretation of the science.

I think it's important for people to understand that it is not all or nothing. I think one can look at the current agenda and current tactics of the tobacco control movement and based on 21 years of experience in the movement, come to an opinion that some of that agenda and some of those tactics are inappropriate. And I don't think that means you are just expressing a "grudge" or that you are renouncing the entire tobacco control movement and packing your bags to start working for the tobacco companies.

A number of people have asked me whether I think there is anything tobacco control is doing right. Of course I do. If I didn't, I would have completely renounced the entire movement. I think much of what the individual tobacco control advocates are doing is right, but unfortunately, I see the movement as having been largely co-opted by a few large national organizations that are exceedingly well-funded (compared to the advocates), and those organizations are basically charting the course.

Although I believe the overwhelming majority of advocates are doing the right thing or want to do the right thing, I'm afraid that when the leadership of a movement becomes tainted and starts to pursue an errant agenda and to use unethical or inappropriate tactics to do so, it reflects upon the whole movement. It's kind of like a large company where the CEO or management does some sketchy things. That doesn't mean that everyone who works at the company is doing anything wrong, but it's impossible for the actions of the leadership of the company not to reflect poorly on the company itself.

And so, it's precisely because I think there is so much worth saving in the tobacco control movement that I have chosen to speak out, to create this blog, and to use this blog as a forum to try to spark some change in the tobacco control movement.

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