DDT, tobacco and the parallel universe

The piles of documents released as a result of litigation against Phillip Morris and Exxon are gifts that keep on giving for those of us interested in the process by which the Republican parallel universe has been constructed. Previous research has shown that the core proponents of global warming delusionism including Stephen Milloy, Fred Singer and Fred Seitz got their start as shills for PM, denying the risks of passive smoking. A string of rightwing thinktanks including Cato, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute helped to promote these hacks and the lies they were paid to peddle.

Now it’s turned out that one of the hardiest of parallel universe beliefs, the claim that Rachel Carson and the US ban on DDT were responsible for millions of deaths in the third world, arises from the same source.

One of the great puzzles of the DDT myth has been that it appeared to arise from pure ideological animus against Carson and the environmental movement – DDT is not patented so there were no profits to be obtained from pushing it. It turns out that the DDT campaign was pitched to the tobacco industry as a diversionary attack on the World Health Organization which was playing a leading role in campaigns against smoking. The leading figure in the exercise was Roger Bate of the American Enterprise Institute and its front organization, Africa Fighting Malaria.

So, far from helping to save lives, the bloggers and commentators who’ve pushed the myth of the DDT ban have been the (presumably unwitting) dupes of an industry even deadlier than malaria (CDC estimates that tobacco kills 5 million people a year compared to 1 to 3 million for malaria.

Update WHO hits back on passive smoking. Having neutralised the DDT issue with a greatly overstated change of policy not long ago, it looks as if they are back on the attack

The AFM pitch to the tobacco industry ends with a classic paragraph bringing together many of the main themes in the parallel universe

At UNEP, the desire to push through treaties on Persistent Organic Pollutants, Climate Change, Hazardous Waste, to name but a few draw heavily on the Montreal Protocol as well . However, the Montreal Protocol is highly flawed (like the tobacco control document) . It contains inaccuracies, cost underestimation and dubious ethics . To influence the direction of future UN legislation we must criticise the Montreal Protocol. A paper is proposed to accurately apply the lessons learned from the Montreal Protocol to new or developing conventions (especially POPs, tobacco and climate change).

As Eli Rabett concludes,

Roger Bate’s existence is a strong argument against the existence of a just God.

21 thoughts on “DDT, tobacco and the parallel universe

  1. wow, your skill at ad-hominem attack is certainly impressive. Is Richard lindzen also a right-wing hack liar evil satan %$$@!##^%!#?

    As this comment was also posted at CT, I’ve outsourced the reply to Daniel Davies

    taking these in order:

    Right wing: yes
    Hack: yes
    Liar: he certainly appeared to have reneged on a public offer to make a bet; probably not enough evidence to dismiss him as “a liar� tout court
    Evil: don’t know
    Satan: No
    %$$@#: don’t know

    For those who’ve missed the connection, while Lindzen is a promoter of delusionism wrt both tobacco and AGW, I haven’t seen any evidence that he’s taken tobacco money, which is why I didn’t list him with Singer, Seitz and Milloy. bonga picks me up on this omission.

  2. I’ve been working through the history of the movement against tobacco smoking. It is true that many denied that passive smoking caused health damage – a claim we now know is definitely false.

    Maybe people lied here but that is not clear. Groups such as the various State Cancer Councils also urged people to switch to filtered cigarettes and ‘low tar’ cigarettes as a way of reducing their health risks. Heavy smokers were urged to cut their smoking intensities to reduce their cancer risks.

    All of these claims are now known to be wrong. If people smoke ‘low tar’ cigarettes or filtered cigarettes or cut back their consumption they don’t reduce their health risks at all. The reason is compensatory behavior – smokers adjust their style of smoking to retain the equilibrium level of nicotine that their addicted brain dictates. They smoke harder.

    I don’t think the Cancer Councils lied and I am also unsure the passive smoking denialists lied either. I am sure they all got it wrong and that we continue today to pay a heavy cost for this information.

    The various anti-smoking groups have ‘egg on their face’ in relation to past recommendations and hence reject interim measures that could substantially reduce the risks that 3.5 million Australian smokers face. Persuadiung people to substitute snuff or medically supplied nicotine for the cigarettes smoked could cut the health risks of smoking by 1/1000th.

    The medicos won’t say this because they have made mistakes in the past. It doesn’t help to say people definitely lied in the past. Maybe they just got it wrong.

  3. Brilliant post JQ. As you say in the global warming update, it’s good to get it on the record-if nothing else, to serve as a resource to those trying to attract more public scrutiny to this well documented and diabolical menace to society.

    Speaking of Exxon, petrol prices are up again- at least in the US- this time despite any notable move in the oil price. The curious juxtaposition has the minions of presumably well paid apologists cranking up the boilerplate. We’ve been inundated with industry friendly rhetoric: ‘it’s supply and demand’, ‘there’s no evidence of any misbehavior’, ‘numerous investigations by the FTC have exonerated’ and yada yada yada. Never mind that the oil market is so ologopolistic and ‘vertically integrated’ that a few companies control the entire refining and distribution network in the United States, or the vast amount of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence suggesting that they have discouraged investment in refining and pipeline capacity as well as used ad hoc techniques (e.g. export of refined product, curiously frequent refining accidents and curiously high maintenence downtime, etc.), for keeping refined product off the market. Never mind their obvious cognizance of the inelasticity of their product, of the huge fillip to their profits and stock prices of supply shocks (in either direction), of their malfeasance with respect to other matters which impact their pockets, e.g. Shell’s misreporting of known reserves, or of their return on assets which are anomalous at best for such a mature industry. Never mind many of these same ideologues said the same thing about electricity prices during the California energy crisis of 2001- before the treasure trove of Enron documents discovered only because of the bankruptcy and subsequent fraud investigations demonstrated it was actually the result of well orchestrated and extreme market manipulation.

    Is it just me or is something rotten in Denmark?

  4. As you say, rog, Wikipedia does mention the b word, saying “DDT has never been banned for use against malaria in the tropics.”

  5. hc –
    Yes, you’re right that not all pro-passive smoking advice was done in bad faith. But John’s point is that these particular people gave their advice in bad faith, and continue to give advice on other issues in bad faith, and in the real world that advice continues to cause real deaths.

    As for the problem with low-tar cigarettes, why not restore the nicotine level by adding the drug to them to avoid the compensatory behaviour?

  6. “As for the problem with low-tar cigarettes, why not restore the nicotine level by adding the drug to them to avoid the compensatory behaviour?”

    I’ve always wondered about this. I suspect that there may be some misplaced anti-drug puritanism at work here.

  7. There is a lot of discussion the semantics of DDT “bans” and in line with past decisions (like North American Regional Action Plan and World Health Assembly resolutions) and I am happy to accept the line form the CDC publication;

    “Countries are banning or reducing the use of DDT because of continuous international and national pressures against DDT (e.g., the International Pesticide Action Network is “…working to stop the production, sale, and use…” of DDT [14]) and aggressive marketing tactics of producers of more expensive alternative insecticides. It has become easier for political pressures to succeed given the global strategy to deemphasize use of the house-spray approach to malaria control. A recent agreement of the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation for eliminating the production and use of DDT in Mexico within the next 10 years3 is the latest development in the campaign to eliminate DDT.”

  8. Adding nicotine to cigarettes has been suggested since at least the late 1970s. It should reduce the intake of carcinogens by improving the efficiency with which nicotine can be delivered by smoking fewer cigarettes. An alternative is just to consume nicotine replacement medications while you smoke. Its a very good idea if you smoke and cannot give up.

    The only sensible argument against adding nicotine to cigarettes is that adolescents would get addicted to nicotine more quickly. It might also encourage ‘chippers’ (those smoking

  9. rog, aren’t you just a tiny bit shamefaced to have been sucked in so thoroughly by the tobacco lobby? Can I suggest that, at this point, an admission that the whole campaign against Rachel Carson, WHO etc was a total fraud might enhance your credibility in the legitimate debate over the appropriate, minor but important, role of DDT in the fight against malaria?

    I notice most of the usual suspects have been keeping pretty quiet while they digest this one.

  10. ??”..sucked in so thoroughly by the tobacco lobby..”??

    I know of no link between the tobacco lobby and the CDC and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

  11. So, rog, you acquired your views on malaria directly from these sources, and not via the general campaign organized by Bate, and extensively publicised on the rightwing sites on which I’ve encountered your comments? Perhaps you could indicate where your interest in this topic arose, and how you came to hold views that represent a distinct minority position among those actually concerned with malaria.

    I propose the alternative hypothesis that you bought into the “DDT ban killed millions” lie, recognised that this position was indefensible, and are now conducting a strategic retreat. All of this whilw maintaining the unwillingness to admit error characteristic of the rightwing blogosphere on this topic, not to mention weapons of mass destruction, the Iraq war as a whole, AWB, children overboard, climate change etc etc etc.

  12. Please feel to correct me but is it not also the case that the same corporation that gaves us DDT also were responsible for Agent Orange, GM modified canola and now the patent grab on pork? With such clear and demonstrated civic goodwill and boundless benficence to humankind, of course they would need the services of such illustrious lobby groups, who else would handle a PR brief without any conscience whatsoever? Then peddle lies as fact!

  13. No JQ, I read (some) comments both here and there but formed by opinion by accepting that as there has been no proper criticism of the CDC document as both fair and reasonable.

    As for your alternative hypothesis, it is rubbish

  14. Indeed, rog, MFI is a totally separate organization which has never defamed Rachel Carson and which pronounced itself entirely happy with the outcome of the POP agreement in 2000. The post on which you are commenting is about AFM, a front organization set up by the American Enterprise Institute.

    So, as you say, dragging MFI into comments on a post about AFM, AEI and Bate is indeed “smear by the most untenable of associations�. You should apologise to them as well as to the memory of Rachel Carson.

  15. You seem to be conflating various issues JQ; MFI worked against the banning of DDT, they did not work against Rachel Carson.

    I have no issue with Rachel Carson and I wonder why you do.

    You continue to place extraordinary importance on this group known as the “tobacco lobby” yet you are unable to provide evidence of their effect on policy. I would suggest that they are a marginal group of little to none importance and also I suggest that you would profit more from pursuing issues that are more real.

  16. OK, Rog, if I understand you correctly you have no problem with Rachel Carson and you agree that the American Enterprise Institute, AFM, Bate, Milloy, and the rest of the tobacco industry hacks are a bunch of liars for calling her a mass murderer, for claiming that DDT was banned and so on.

    Your point is just that I shouldn’t get so upset about them, and should spend my time on other topics. Maybe you’re right, but then giving time management advice to a blogger is unlikely to achieve much.

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