Friday, December 02, 2005

Disrespect in the Tobacco Control Movement: For Individuals and for the Science

I want to comment today on two areas of disrespect that I have recently noted in the anti-smoking movement that I hope will be corrected in order to preserve the integrity of the movement.

First is disrespect for persons who offer an opinion or analysis that may run counter to the traditional dogma of the movement.

I have to honestly say that never in my years of testifying in tobacco litigation have I ever been treated with as much disrespect as has been shown to me by several tobacco control advocates who apparently are intent on assassinating the character of anyone who disagrees with their opinions, rather than engaging in any intelligent discussion of the scientific issues.

Even tobacco industry lawyers have always treated me with respect and dignity - nothing like the lack of respect I have been shown by a number of anti-smoking advocates in the past few days.

If, ten years ago, someone had told me that I was going to be accused of lying, falsifying information, and presenting analyses and opinions only to satisfy my ego, and had asked me who I thought would be the perpetrators of such insults - tobacco industry-affiliated persons or colleagues in the public health community, I would have guessed tobacco industry-affiliated persons. And I guess I would have been quite wrong.

Frankly, I am appalled by the way I have been treated in the tobacco control community because of my willingness to tell it like it is and challenge the dogma of the movement. Even if I am dead wrong in my analysis and commentary, there is no reason for colleagues to attack and insult me and treat me with disrespect. I would never do that to another person, no matter how much I disagreed with their opinions.

The second thing I'd like to comment on is disrespect for the science. I am incredulous as to what it was that precipitated this flurry of personal attacks and insults. All I did was perform an analysis of heart attack admission trends in states with and without statewide smoking bans for the years 1997-2003 and reported the results of this analysis and my conclusions based on the findings. That's it!

A simple analysis of heart attack trends over time, conducted in order to try to elucidate the relationship between smoking bans and acute cardiovascular morbidity should result in public attacks and insults by colleagues?

What this showed me is that the science doesn't really matter. It's the agenda that matters. Had my very same analysis turned out to show a decline in heart attack admissions in states with smoking bans, I would most likely have been praised by the very same colleagues who attacked me and the results would have been widely disseminated by now. It is clear to me that it is not my analysis which offended a number of my colleagues - it is the results that did.

I think we need to have a little more respect for, and interest in the science behind tobacco control. I see too much dismissal of scientific evidence simply because it does not support our position or because an author of a study once wrote a letter to a tobacco company. As public servants, I think it is our obligation to examine the science and evaluate it. Ultimately, our own credibility is at stake. And ultimately, disrespect for persons and for science is going to hurt the tobacco control movement far more than it is going to help.

No comments: