Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Prominent Anti-Smoking Advocate Accuses Rest of the Story Reader of Being Big Tobacco Lackey

In a letter to the editor published yesterday in the Edmonton Journal, an anti-smoking advocate who is past president of the Canadian Thoracic Society accuses Michael J. McFadden of being a Big Tobacco mole, but without providing any documentation to back up his claim. The letter comes in response to a letter written by McFadden several days ago, in which he argues against a ban on tobacco grants at the University of Alberta. The letter, written by Dr. Irvin Mayers, suggests that the reason why McFadden supports the funding of university research by tobacco companies is that he is a Big Tobacco front - working for an organization (The Smoker's Club) which receives major funding from tobacco companies.

Mayers writes: "Any time tobacco is discussed, the author must make full disclosure of conflicts of interest. Mr. McFadden did not state his full credentials; he is the mid-Atlantic regional director of the Smoker's Club, Inc. This organization avidly supports the freedom to smoke and finds fault in most anti-smoking legislation. The organization's web site does not declare its funding sources. Tobacco support groups often receive major funding from tobacco company affiliates. ... I suspect that Mr. McFadden is just "blowing smoke" and trying to keep a tobacco presence in all our lives."

The Rest of the Story

It certainly took no time at all for an anti-smoking advocate to demonstrate the point I made in yesterday's commentary about how tobacco control advocates are brainwashed into thinking that anyone who opposes an anti-tobacco policy is a Big Tobacco front and that we should publicly accuse them of being a tobacco lackey in order to discredit them.

In fact, the very same day, the past president of the Canadian Thoracic Society accused Michael McFadden of being a tobacco lackey. The clear accusation in the letter is that McFadden's arguments are not sincere - that he is merely blowing smoke in order to protect tobacco industry profits since he is affiliated with The Smoker's Club, which Mayers intimates receives tobacco funding.

The problem, however, is that Mayers provides no evidence or documentation to support his accusation.

Even worse, a cursory examination of the easily available and accessible factual information would have revealed the following disclosure which makes McFadden's funding situation eminently clear: "Michael J. McFadden does not have any financial connections or obligations to Big Tobacco."

When you make a public accusation that someone is blowing smoke because they are secretly being funded by tobacco companies (and not revealing it), you are making a serious charge. It could have substantial implications for that individual's reputation and for how the public views that person's character and integrity. So I think it is therefore very important that you be able to document the truth of your accusation before you make it.

In this situation, not only is no documentation provided, but there is easily available evidence that directly contradicts the assertion.

While Dr. Mayers has every right to his opinion about tobacco research funding (an opinion which, incidentally, I agree with) it is not responsible or appropriate for him to issue an ad hominem attack and accusation of impropriety without being able to back up his assertion.

To further demonstrate my point, another anti-smoking group - Smokefree Pennsylvania - made an undocumented accusation of its own on my blog yesterday. Its executive director insinuated that FORCES is a Big Tobacco front group, but again - failed to provide any documentation to support this claim. Other than perhaps a single website ad, I challenge anyone to document that FORCES has received any substantial funding from tobacco companies.

Not long ago, another prominent anti-smoking advocate publicly accused my good friend Martha Perske of being "a tobacco industry mole." This assertion appeared on a tobacco control list-serve. More publicly, Ms. Perske was accused of being a tobacco lackey in the American Journal of Public Health. Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights accused former Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum of being a former tobacco industry lawyer, without any documentation that he had ever personally represented any tobacco company. To this day, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights continues to imply that FORCES is a Big Tobacco front group.

As I wrote a while back: My experience and observations have led me to challenge this dogmatic perspective within the anti-smoking movement. There are now two sides to this issue, and I hope that both can now be heard. As Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote in his introduction to Mark Lane's Rush to Judgment: "The fact that the advocate believes his own version is not relevant: advocates often do. Before judgment can be given, the advocate of the other side must also be heard. ... He too believes in his brief. Thanks to that belief, he too may err in detail. But at least he has the right, which in America has often been denied to him, to a fair hearing. When both sides have been heard, and not before, posterity may judge."

I am quite confident that when posterity judges the actions of the modern-day anti-smoking movement, it will conclude that a systematic process of indoctrination of anti-smoking advocates with the belief that anyone who opposes an tobacco policy is fronting for Big Tobacco has resulted in false and undocumented accusations against a number of individuals and groups.

Unfortunately, it will be too late: posterity cannot retract these accusations or apologize to the affected groups and individuals. That's something which the anti-smoking advocates and groups making these undocumented accusations ought to do - today.

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