Friday, June 02, 2006

IN MY VIEW: Anti-Smoking Movement Needs Serious Discussion of Critical Issues, Not to Stifle Discussion by Limiting Expression of Dissenting Opinions

As I reflect on the week, I am struck by the tobacco control movement's failure to engage in any meaningful discussion regarding the validity of scientific claims that we are making regarding the acute effects of secondhand smoke, about the wisdom of employment policies that ban smokers from workplaces, about the justification for banning smoking in all outdoor places, about whether classifying smoking around children as child abuse is an appropriate strategy to deal with the problem of childhood secondhand smoke exposure, or about any of the many other critical issues I have raised in the past few months within the tobacco control community.

In lieu of any discussion of these issues, what has been "discussed" has been my behavior and actions and whether I am a complete scientific fraud, a tobacco stooge, a liar, or some other form of deranged or inappropriate public health professional. In other words, instead of discussing the issues, many anti-smoking advocates have instead chosen to attack and insult me, attempt to discredit me as an individual (not discredit my arguments), and censor the expression of my opinions.

I have come to appreciate that this is a technique by which the movement is able to suppress dissent from its prevailing wisdom, actions, and agenda. By turning dissent around into ad hominem attacks, rather than discussion of the issues, dissent can be quelled.

I have recognized that this is indeed a tactic that we have used with arguments made by people who oppose tobacco control policies. Rather than debate the issues or refute the arguments, we tend to attack the individual and try to discredit them. But it surprised me to see that we use the very same tactic even when the person expressing the opinion is on our side!

I think that we need more meaningful discussion of these critical issues in tobacco control, not less. I think we need to open up our communication forums to allow more discussion, not less. I think we need to re-examine the justification behind our agenda, not to continue blindly following the path without asking questions. I think we need to be asking more questions, not fewer. I think we need to make it easier for people to contribute their opinions to the discussion of these issues, not to make it impossible for people to feel comfortable speaking out for what they believe. And I think we need to encourage people to contribute more to our discussions, not to try to limit what people are allowed to say.

I think that the program is moving in the wrong direction.

Perhaps it's a good thing that I was thrown off of the list-serves that I had been on. Perhaps I've reached a point where I realize that I am banging my head against a brick wall. Perhaps there is so much group-think in the tobacco control movement and so pervasive an element of McCarthyism (with blacklisting and censorship of those who dissent from the prevailing wisdom) that I cannot possibly succeed in changing the movement from the inside. Perhaps I should give up on trying to change things from within and take my case outside the movement - to the people (the public) and to the media. Perhaps it is only by engaging the support and understanding of people who are outside the movement and therefore do not have blinders on (like I myself had on for so many years) that this social movement can be reformed in a positive way.

I have a lot to reflect on, but one thing is for sure: I don't like the direction this program is going.

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