Thursday, October 05, 2006

On the Deafening Silence of the Tobacco Control Movement: The Need for Some Moral Courage

The most shocking revelation to me over the last 18 months (the length of time I have been writing this blog) is the complete silence of anti-smoking groups over each and every one of the critical issues I have brought to the movement's attention.

As a veteran of the tobacco wars and of the tobacco control movement, I have pointed out, over the past year and a half, a series of important issues that the movement needs to address. These include the deterioration of our science, unethical tactics being used to promote our agenda (such as disseminating false or misleading information and the use of deception), and the degradation of the agenda itself (such as the embracing of employment discrimination against smokers as an approach to the smoking problem).

But throughout this entire time, not a single U.S. anti-smoking group has joined me in speaking out against the use of deception, the dissemination of findings resulting from shoddy science, the unethical practices of tobacco control groups, or the discrimination against smokers that our movement is now supporting.

I do not believe that the reason for this silence is that not a single anti-smoking group agrees that deception is occurring or that it is wrong or that employment discrimination against smokers is appropriate. One major reason for this silence, I am quite sure, is the fear of retaliation if advocates or groups criticize or question the established dogma of the tobacco control movement.

As I have learned, it is heresy to question. You are sure to be attacked and condemned by your colleagues. You are putting your career at stake by doing so. You, and/or your organization, are risking your continued funding. It is, therefore, perhaps not a surprise that advocates and groups within the movement are afraid to publicly condemn what they know is wrong, inappropriate, or misguided.

The response of the movement to my questioning of some of our tactics, our science, and our agenda has been three-fold. First, ad hominem attacks on me, including questioning of my own motives, character, honesty, and funding. Second, censorship, mainly in the form of expulsion from the tobacco control community's discussion forums. And third, a curious defensive posturing by some that fails to confront any of the issues but seems more like a knee-jerk reflex reaction to the idea that anything negative could be said about any anti-smoking group or anything they are doing.

While I understand the position of these groups and advocates, I do think it is time that they step up (like I have) and display some moral courage. If one group does it, it will be risky, but it will break down some of the barriers that stifle the expression of dissent. If a number of groups do it, then the barriers will come crashing down, as it becomes impractical to attack, censor, and try to discredit when there are multiple dissenters.

I think the time has come. In fact, I think the future of the movement now rests on the shoulders of a number of anti-smoking advocates and groups and hinges on whether they have the moral courage to break out from the groupthink mentality that has overtaken the movement.

No comments: