Monday, February 06, 2017

Anti-Smoking Leader Demands Prosecution of Tobacco Company Executives for "Crimes Against Humanity"

An international anti-smoking leader has called for prosecution of the heads of the tobacco companies for "crimes against humanity."

According to an article in the Jerusalem Post:

"Prof. Judith Mackay, the British, Hong Kong-based physician who has been described by the tobacco industry as “one of the three most dangerous people in the world,” has called for heads of the industry to be prosecuted for their “crimes against humanity.” Mackay, an international anti-tobacco advocate who has led a campaign against tobacco in Asia since 1984, appeared by video conference at the annual meeting, held in a Caesarea on Friday, of the Medical Society for the Prevention and Cessation of Smoking of the Israel Medical Association."

The Rest of the Story

While the tobacco industry has done many despicable things and should be held civilly liable for damages caused by its products to users who became addicted prior to the time when the industry acknowledged that its products were deadly, prosecuting tobacco industry executives for "crimes against humanity" is going way too far.

Not only does this accusation go beyond reason, but it also undermines the significance of world leaders who have committed real crimes against humanity and is insensitive to the victims of these crimes. Moreover, it obscures the fact that the tobacco industry is not the only entity that was complicit in the tobacco epidemic.

Despite the condemnation-worthy actions of the tobacco companies, it must be remembered that it was the government that sanctioned the sale of tobacco products. At all times, the tobacco companies were acting in an environment in which the government made it legal to sell cigarettes. And although smokers did not necessarily make an informed decision to smoke, neither were they forced to smoke. There is an element of behavioral decision-making involved. So to compare the sale of tobacco to "crimes against humanity" is an injustice to the many victims of actual crimes against humanity who did not play any role in their persecution.

In addition, many entities played a role in the tobacco epidemic. Should the owners of convenience stores which actually sold the cigarettes also be prosecuted for crimes against humanity? What about the government officials who accepted tobacco industry contributions and voted against policies to regulate cigarettes? How about the publishers of magazines that advertised cigarettes and the producers of movies who accepted money to depict branded cigarettes? The list goes on.

But there is a particularly ironic aspect to the rest of this story. It could be argued that Professor Mackay herself has helped to protect cigarette sales. How? Well, she supported a ban on nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes in Hong Kong. So apparently, she is OK with the youth and adults in Hong Kong purchasing deadly tobacco cigarettes but she doesn't want them to be able to buy much safer tobacco-free alternatives that could save their lives.

Moreover, Professor Mackay has publicly claimed that smoking may be no more hazardous than vaping. As recently as last May, she wrote a widely publicized op-ed in which she claimed that: "There have been signs that increasing numbers of young people are taking up vaping thinking that it is a less harmful alternative to smoking even though science is far from conclusive on this presumption."

So what she is saying is that we don't know for sure that smoking is any more hazardous than using a completely tobacco-free product that involves absolutely no combustion and which has no significant known chronic health effects. If this doesn't undermine the public's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking, then I don't know what does. Furthermore, this is exactly the kind of false propaganda about the hazards of smoking that we have condemned the tobacco industry for spewing.

On top of this, her organization - the World Lung Foundation - has spread false information about vaping, claiming that it is a gateway to smoking. In fact, the World Lung Foundation disseminated the conclusion that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking based on a barely comprehensible quote of a single kid in Fife.

Hyperbole is often acceptable to make a point. But not when it involves placing individuals in jail or being insensitive to the victims of horrible human rights violations.

No comments: