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Bate and tobacco

May 29th, 2008

In discussing Roger Bate’s response to my article with Tim Lambert in Prospect defending Rachel Carson against the slurs of the DDT lobby, I thought it would be best to leave aside the question of Bate’s links to the tobacco lobby (already discussed in comments to an earlier post) and focus on Bate’s substantive concessions that the supposed ban on antimalarial use of DDT was mythical and that the Carson-inspired ban on agricultural use of DDT was beneficial.

Unfortunately, a number of our more gullible local delusionists took this as an admission that Bate had never really been a tobacco lobbyist and that they hadn’t really been suckered by a particularly nasty piece of tobacco industry PR, in this case a diversionary attack against the World Health Organization. (Here, for example is Currency Lad at Club Troppo). If they had taken a moment to think, they would have realised that picking a fight with Tim Lambert over a question of fact is a very silly thing to do, especially now that he has access to that gift that keeps on giving, the tobacco archives.

This post from Tim (promised as the first in a series) lays out chapter and verse on Bate’s dealings with the tobacco lobby (and even finds a mention of his offsider, Richard Tren).

A few side points;

1. According to this antismoking group, the tobacco lobby spent $100 million in 2006 alone in largely unsuccessful efforts to fight US bans on smoking. With a budget of this kind it’s unsurprising to find them spending the odd million on diversionary campaigns on seemingly unrelated environmental issues.

2. Following its exposure in the lawsuits of the 1990s, Big Tobacco largely abandoned its network of bogus scientits (Milloy, Seitz, Singer and many others) and hired thinktanks (Cato, Heritage, Marshall, TASSC, IPA and mony others), but most of them moved straight on to the ExxonMobil payroll. As Cindy Baxter observes, public pressure has forced Exxon to dump some of the worst of these groups, but the company is dragging its feet.

3. The fact that so many people could be fooled by industry propaganda on issues where the scientific evidence is clear requires some explanation, and two obvious explanations are available. First, the majority of those who have been fooled are on the political right, and are being told what they want to believe. This is usually an easy sell, enhanced by the more general insulation from reality that prevails on the US right in particular. Second, the tobacco industry is selling a product that has been known for decades to kill a large proportion of its consumers. This takes real expertise, and this expertise is transferrable to other fields. If you can persuade someone to ignore scientists warnings of a long and painful death from smoking, persuading them to ignore climate scientists worries about future generations is child’s play.

4. A general hint to anyone who wants to take the antiscience side in any debate on environmental issues. If you want to quote someone on your side who was active in the 1990s, check the tobacco archive first. It’s ten to one on that they were on the Big Tobacco payroll. If they’ve been active any time in the last decade, do the same check for ExxonMobil. The odds are much the same. If you still want to rely on these sources, feel free, but don’t expect me to take your viewpoint seriously.

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  1. May 29th, 2008 at 21:47 | #1

    John, The searchable archive that reveals much about Bate is:

    http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/.

  2. John Mashey
    May 30th, 2008 at 07:26 | #2

    re #1 hc
    Thanks for reminding me of this, it’s a nice interface to the common files. As HC likely knows, UCSF of course has long been a leading institution studying tobacco, via Center for Tobacco Control Research, which has 40+ faculty members.

    I recommend reading one of the items highlighted on the UCSF page: RJR’s 6-pager The Importance of Younger Adults.

    There is much discussion of the importance of the 18-24-year-old market segment. Of course, the game is given away early:

    - 31% of smokers start after 18
    - less than 5% start after 24

    Let’s see: does anyone think RJR was under the illusion that the 69% of smokers that didn’t start after 18 started *at* 18″? Recall the RJR is the purveyor of candy-flavored tobacco cigarettes like Twista Lime…

    Of course, CDC is a good resource lookup teenage smoking. The earlier someone gets addicted, the harder it is to stop.

    So, it’s not just that cigarette companies sell damaging products to adults, their entire business model depends on getting kids addicted while they’re most vulnerable.

  3. pat
    May 30th, 2008 at 08:18 | #3

    Suddenly the movie “Water World” seems like an early future escape-from-reality TV show. Should have had had a few libertarian oceanic spars in it though.

  4. Joseph Clark
    May 30th, 2008 at 11:57 | #4

    “If you can persuade someone to ignore scientists warnings of a long and painful death from smoking, persuading them to ignore climate scientists worries about future generations is child’s play.”

    Are you suggesting that smokers are delusionists too?

  5. jquiggin
    May 30th, 2008 at 13:36 | #5

    “Are you suggesting that smokers are delusionists too?”

    Bearing in mind that the term includes
    people deluded by propaganda, obviously yes.

    I guess if you’re willing to say that smokers are people who’ve made rational assessment of the scientific evidence, formulated a sensible lifetime plan and decided to smoke anyway, it’s not surprising that you might take a similar view on climate change.

  6. Joseph Clark
    May 30th, 2008 at 14:18 | #6

    What about people who plan to quit next month?

  7. zardoz
    May 30th, 2008 at 17:10 | #7

    #6 um, that would be something like people who plan to start cutting carbon emissions next month, I think…

  8. rog
    May 30th, 2008 at 17:58 | #8

    Once you limit activity to risk life becomes a tad dull; studies into sports for kids have shown mental and physical benefit goes with an increased risk of injury. Mothers are keen that sons take up soccer in the belief that it poses less risk than rugby – yet some of the soccer injuries are shocking.

    I wouldnt go bungee jumping if you paid me but I dont get too anxious about driving down the road – yet analysis shows that bungee jumping is much safer.

    Balancing risk against activity is a tricky business particularly when beating the odds is a popular activity in many cultures, and women like a winner.

    By any analysis smoking is a high risk activity yet it remains popular – the facts are out there and people make choices according to their situation.

  9. chrisl
    May 30th, 2008 at 18:00 | #9

    So now people who are skeptical of global warming are not only likened to holocaust deniers(who can seriously deny the holcaust) but also smokers.
    Smokers are addicted to nicotine for goodness sake.Most would give up if they could

  10. rog
    May 30th, 2008 at 18:12 | #10

    ABS stats indicate that smokers are more likely to be poor and/or aboriginal and tend to eat less fruit and veg, take less exercise and drink more alcohol – they took more risks. If they gave up the gaspers would their health improve?

    Mortality rates are unclear – whilst obvious conditions such as lung cancer and emphysema are obvious the links to other conditions like pancreatic cancer are less well defined. I would think it most likely that deaths by tobacco are much higher than what is known at present.

  11. May 30th, 2008 at 18:21 | #11

    If you want to understand the real risks of tobacco, take a look at the graph in this post which shows that ~ 1/4 of all male deaths in industrial countries were smoking related by 1990. The ladies are catching up.

    If you look at that and keep smoking you are in deep denial.

  12. rog
    May 30th, 2008 at 19:27 | #12

    yeah well, in India they found that tobacco also increases the risk of TB.

    But in India maybe having a bidi is one of lifes few remaining pleasures

    And smokers are always having a chat, its a break from the daily grind.

    So you cant deny the validity that some have for smoking.

  13. May 31st, 2008 at 00:12 | #13

    “And smokers are always having a chat, its a break from the daily grind.”

    Same thing with a nice hot cup of tea. Pls try to say something that isn’t entirely vapid.

  14. rog
    May 31st, 2008 at 11:11 | #14

    Nicotine is a highly addictive substance and a small amount of caffeine is hardly a reasonable antidote.

    Smokers are addicts as much as heroin or cocaine users are; its a miracle tobacco is still legal – in Australia heroin was made illegal around 1900.

  15. John Mashey
    May 31st, 2008 at 12:27 | #15

    SG:
    Smoking in Canada (2003) is a useful overview.

    As usual, averages can be misleading, as regional differences matter: B.C. was low at 16%, Quebec high at 25% at that point.

    US: slightly newer is: State-specific prevalence of cigarette smoking, in which US states range from:
    11.5% UT
    15.2% CA
    to
    26.8% TN
    28.7% KY

    UT is low due to Mormon influence.
    CA is CA, but also for years ran a brutally-effective ad campaign aimed at discouraging teenagers from starting.

    In one commercial, a group of young men in tuxes light their cigarettes as a beautiful woman walks in. Voiceover mentions cigarettes-imp*tence connection, and the cigarettes all go limp. Woman walks away. Voiceover: “Cigarettes? Still think they’re s*xy?”

    The fiercest was probably the one with a woman who’d been smoking since she was a teen, had had throat cancer, but was still smoking through a hole in her throat, because she couldn’t stop.

  16. OSweet
    June 1st, 2008 at 05:14 | #16

    Ouch.

  17. P
    June 2nd, 2008 at 21:41 | #17

    This is being discussed (attacked) at The Volokh Conspiracy http://volokh.com/posts/1212258084.shtml.

  18. jquiggin
    June 3rd, 2008 at 06:38 | #18

    Thanks P, I’ve responded there

  19. June 13th, 2008 at 20:31 | #19

    John, I see that you commented over at Jon Adler’s defense of Roger Bate at Volokh Conspiracy, but didn’t see your response to his narrow point that Bate’s connection to tobacco firms is eesentially irrelevant to his push to confirm the usefulness of DDT in fighting malaria. As Tim Lambert notes, Bate has confirmed that the tobacco firms never responded to his request to them for contributions, and that in fact he received none from them. Thus your allegation of a tobacco connection is unfounded (in addition to being irrelevant as to the merits of Bate’s substantive arguments, which now seem to have migrated to yours).

    Assuming this to be the case, given the strength of the rest of your position about the Carson/millions killed slur, I hope that you will see fit to acknowledge the correctness of Adler’s/Bate’s narrow point about tobacco.

  20. jquiggin
    June 13th, 2008 at 20:55 | #20

    TT, I’ve been meaning to post a bit more on this, and will do so soon.

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