Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Another Canadian Anti-Smoking Advocate Makes Unfounded Accusation that Tobacco Policy Opponents are Big Tobacco Lackeys

Last April, I relayed the story of a letter to the editor written by a Canadian anti-smoking advocate who make an undocumented and false accusation that the author of a letter opposing a ban on tobacco grants at the University of Alberta was a Big Tobacco lackey. In a letter to the editor published April 16, 2007 in the Edmonton Journal, an anti-smoking advocate who is past president of the Canadian Thoracic Society accused Michael J. McFadden of being a Big Tobacco mole, but without providing any documentation to back up his claim. The letter came in response to a letter written by McFadden several days earlier, in which he argued against a ban on tobacco grants at the University of Alberta.

Now, about 9 months later, another anti-smoking advocate has published a letter in the Edmonton Journal which, without documentation, accuses a number of individuals who have written letters in opposition to various tobacco policies of being funded by and working in a campaign orchestrated by the tobacco industry.

Norman Temple, a professor at Athabasca University in Alberta, writes in the January 26 issue of the Edmonton Journal: "There appears to be a coordinated campaign across North America on the subject of restrictions on smoking. This campaign has all the hallmarks of being financed and coordinated by the tobacco industry. On Jan. 9, The Journal published my letter on the Alberta government's smoking ban ("'Liberty' argument just smoke, mirrors"). On Jan. 14, two letters were published attacking my views. The writers of both letters live in Ontario. On Jan. 21, The Journal published a letter by Irena Buka on the subject of banning smoking in cars ("Time to ban smoking in cars"). Then on Jan. 25, we find three letters attacking Buka. One of the writers lives in Ontario, one in Winnipeg and one in Philadelphia. How do these writers across North America manage to so quickly discover these letters in The Journal on the subject of smoking? Are there dozens of people across North America who have so much spare time that they can read the Edmonton Journal every morning (and maybe several dozen other papers) and then write letters on the subject? I think not. After all, we never see letters flooding in from across North America on other topics."

"Here is a far more likely explanation. This is a campaign orchestrated by the tobacco industry. ... The tobacco industry wishes to propagate the view that passive smoking is not harmful and that smokers have a right to inflict their poison on those around them. But how can they state this viewpoint when their credibility went up in smoke many years ago? The obvious way is by running a campaign where the activists appear to have no association with the tobacco industry."

Among those accused of being tobacco industry lackeys are Roy Harrold of Edmonton and Michael J. McFadden of Philadelphia.

The Rest of the Story

This story demonstrates the point I made in my April 16, 2007 post that anti-smoking advocates seem to be brainwashed into believing that all opposition to smoking bans is orchestrated by the tobacco industry, and that anyone who either challenges the science connecting secondhand smoke exposure and severe health effects or opposes tobacco control policies is a paid lackey of Big Tobacco.

Here, several writers from across the continent have expressed opposition to a number of policies, including a car smoking ban and a university ban on tobacco company grants. In the eyes of this anti-smoking advocate, this automatically means that the authors of these letters are merely props of the tobacco companies, apparently paid or otherwise persuaded to act in an organized campaign orchestrated by Big Tobacco.

It apparently never occurred to this professor that individuals can be opposed to smoking bans or can oppose the idea of a university refusing to accept tobacco grants without necessarily being mere tobacco industry fronts.

There is no problem in being wrong in one's own opinions about the reasons for an individual's opposition to tobacco policies. However, there is a major problem when one proceeds to make an accusation like this publicly and without documentation.

We in tobacco control have long criticized the tobacco companies for making public statements without sufficient documentation. We should therefore shudder when we see people within tobacco control making personal accusations and attacks like these without any documentation.

If the writer is going to insinuate that McFadden, Harrold, and others who have written letters to the Journal are tobacco industry lackeys who are being paid by, and/or orchestrated by the tobacco industry, then it is his obligation to provide the evidence to back up his claim. Here, the writer provides not a shred of evidence to support his accusation. It is simply a malicious, unfounded attack.

If Dr. Temple wishes to attack the arguments made by those who have expressed support for the University of Alberta accepting tobacco company grants, then that is fair game. But to attack the character of the individuals who have expressed these opinions - without documentation or evidence to back up his attack - is inappropriate.

We need to address issues on their merits, not based simply on speculation that the individual making the argument is somehow affiliated with the tobacco industry. What if the individual is not affiliated with Big Tobacco? Does that automatically validate his argument?

Ironically, it appears that Dr. Temple would probably assume that I am part of the tobacco industry's campaign against smoking bans, since I have publicly opposed car smoking bans and certain outdoor smoking bans. But my opposition to these policies hardly indicates that I am, by definition, accepting tobacco money to express these opinions or that my actions are being coordinated by tobacco companies.

The tactic of making undocumented accusations against tobacco policy opponents - claiming that they are fronts for Big Tobacco - was perfected by, and advanced by Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR), an organization whose Board I used to sit on. You can read more about some of ANR's unsupported accusations here and here. Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights actually encourages local anti-smoking groups across the nation to insinuate that opposition groups are funded by Big Tobacco even in the absence of evidence.

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