In zijn laatste blog-post haalt Michael Siegel, anti-roken onderzoeker van het eerste uur en tegenwoordig groot criticus van de anti-rokenbeweging, weer krachtig uit naar zijn voormalige medestrijders. De huidige anti-rokenbeweging kenmerkt zich door brainwashingtechnieken en propaganda, zegt hij. De individuen in de beweging worden allemaal, via doelgerichte training, gehersenspoeld zodat ze geloven dat iedereen die tegen de beweging is, automatisch betaald moet worden door de tabaksindustrie.
Maar ook naar buiten toe verspreiden ze misinformatie, onder andere door alle tegenstanders van rookverboden tot tabaksindustrie bondgenoten te betitelen of door de kritiek op het gevaar van meeroken te bagatelliseren.
“I was able to overcome my “brainwashing,” but it took a lot of courage to do so, and a lot of risk to my career. I paid a heavy price for breaking out of the mold into which I had been cast. It shattered my career in tobacco control. But at least it didn’t shatter me, and the person who I really am.”
What turned out to be errant information about the nature of opposition to smoking bans was delivered to me via a systematic method of formal trainings in which these ideas were deliberately spread to me and other tobacco control advocates with the purpose of furthering the anti-smoking cause.
These ideas ran counter to my own pre-conceived and firmly held ideas about the nature of opposition to smoking bans and to challenges of the health effects of secondhand smoke. After all, I had many good friends who challenged the connection between secondhand smoke and chronic disease, so I “knew” that not everyone who challenges the science is a Big Tobacco lackey. I also had met many of the opponents of smoking bans and it never occurred to me that they were tobacco moles. Nevertheless, this wisdom was so strongly imparted upon me in the trainings (which were largely delivered by, or influenced by ANR) that I came to believe this information, even though it was at odds with my pre-conceived beliefs.
Importantly, only one perspective on this issue was presented to us in the trainings. There was no room for disagreement or challenge. These ideas were presented as scientific facts, not subject to debate. In fact, if we were to challenge the ideas, the implication was that we – ourselves – might be accused of working for Big Tobacco or receiving secret payoffs.
The most prominent and dogmatic idea presented to us was that “The debate is over.” There is no room for questioning of the link between secondhand smoke and chronic disease. Anyone who challenges that link or suggests that it is being exaggerated must therefore be a front for the tobacco industry. No reasonable person – acting of their own accord – would challenge this undebatable science.
This dogma, however, is untrue. While it is certainly the case that most of the scientific challenges to secondhand smoke science came from tobacco industry-funded initiatives, there are a number of scientists and others who have challenged the science but are not paid by Big Tobacco to do so. The American Council on Science and Health, for example, has challenged the strength of the link between secondhand smoke and chronic disease, while acknowledging the acute effects of tobacco smoke. Martha Perske wrote some very well-researched and meticulous critiques of secondhand smoke science. I have myself challenged the claims made by many anti-smoking groups about the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke. So no – not everyone who suggests that secondhand smoke health claims have been exaggerated is a paid lackey of the tobacco industry.
Moreover, not all opponents of smoking bans are tobacco industry front groups. FORCES International – one of the groups most prominent in opposing smoking bans – is not a Big Tobacco front group, despite continued accusations by ANR that this is the case.
To this day, ANR instructs local anti-smoking groups to suggest to the public that any group opposing a smoking ban is a Big Tobacco front group, even if we can’t prove it: “Advocates should shine the light on these associations and connections to the tobacco industry. See our factsheet on how to follow the money to find industry connections in your community. There isn’t always a “smoking gun” linking the tobacco industry to these groups, either due to lax local campaign finance laws, or money getting funneled through third parties. Often we don’t find out until years later that the tobacco industry was funding opposition activities. In any case, showing that suspicious groups are pulling out all the familiar tricks will encourage people to take the Big Tobacco message delivered by these groups with a grain of salt.”
ANR continues to claim that any scientist who finds no relationship between secondhand smoke and chronic disease is not legitimate: “All major governmental and public health agencies and legitimate researchers have clearly affirmed that secondhand smoke kills.”
In other words, if I conduct a study and it fails to show a significant relationship between secondhand smoke and chronic disease, then all of the sudden, I have automatically become an illegitimate scientist.