Saturday, March 28, 2009

North Star Writers Group Column Highlights Deterioration of Tobacco Control Movement from Health-Based to Pure Ideology

In a column published by the North Star Writers Group, Candace Talmadge highlights the deterioration of the anti-smoking movement, and several other social movements, by ideology-fueled extremism and an unwillingness to consider alternative points of view. The column is entitled "The Biggest Threat to Freedom: Ideologues in Extremis."

Talmadge starts by talking about my own experience in tobacco control and then generalizes to other movements.

She writes: "Michael Siegel is a public health physician who has testified against tobacco companies in seven major trials, including the Florida case that in 2000 resulted in the largest-to-date jury punitive award. He favors smoking bans in all public places and workspaces. Siegel, however, instantly became a pariah among the anti-tobacco movement. Why? He dared question, in an editorial recently published in Tobacco Control, the trend toward banning smokers from the workplace instead of merely proscribing their habit. Morphing from hero to goat isn’t an experience unique to Siegel by any means. Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker had similar rage directed at her last fall when she finally had enough of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and dared express that opinion in public. Author Frank A. Schaeffer, prominent in evangelical political circles during the 1970s and 1980s, was equally ostracized when he published a revealing book about the religious right." ...

"The problem is that almost every worthwhile idea or cause, taken to an unyielding extreme, starts doing more harm than good. It contracts into an ideology, and the most extreme (and thus most vocal) adherents of which brook no dissent or even mere questions. Right-wing or left-leaning, the ideologues are making it impossible for the rest of us to discuss issues or move toward policies and legislation that offer something for all sides to accept nd support."

The Rest of the Story

I think this column makes a really insightful point that applies perfectly to the anti-smoking movement. Yes, it began as a noble idea and cause, but recently, in taking it to the extreme, there is a threat that it could do more harm than good. For example, the recent calls for policies that bar smokers from certain public places, disallow smokers from seeking employment, treat parents who smoke as child abusers, and do not allow smokers to adopt children are all examples of actions that would result in more harm than good.

In many ways, tobacco control has contracted into an ideology and its most vocal adherents do not allow any dissent, nor are they willing to even entertain any questions that might challenge the orthodoxy.

Readers interested in a detailed treatment of this point may enjoy listening to my first roundtable interview with the late Gian Turci of FORCES International. Gian called this interview "Dissidence or Orthodoxy?" and describes it thusly: "As he [Siegel] discusses with the host, the tobacco control movement has degenerated into an ideology aimed to control behaviour and culture through demonization, censorship, discrimination and promotion of hatred and intolerance, and for which any means – truthful or not, moral or not – is legitimate to get rid of the smoker. Such ideologies do not tolerate the slightest dissent, and promise harsh punishments for those who dare."

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