Why Do They Lie?

It is clear to anybody observing the vape debate that many within tobacco control are prepared to bend the truth – the question is why?

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Electronic cigarettes disrupted traditional approaches to tobacco control. As vaping took off, the benefits became clear and the body of supporting independent research grew. Despite this, a sizeable number of tobacco controllers have engaged in denialism and lying. Professor Peter Sandman, a professor of environmental journalism at Rutgers University, has offered up a theory as to why they do it.

Last week saw the release of the Tobacco Atlas report, a document produced by Vital Strategies and Tobacconomics – funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg. The authors claim smoking rates are falling but the truth is that the overall global figure has stubbornly remained static.

One of the authors, Jeffrey Drope, a University of Illinois public health professor, points the finger of blame at the tobacco industry: “The industry is still preying on emerging economies in ways that will lock in harms for a generation or more.”

His tired and stale perspective repeats the us vs. them position of tobacco controller pitted against the tobacco industry. Vaping didn’t just disrupt traditional approaches to smoking cessation and the traditional nicotine product markets, it threatens tobacco control.

The effect of mods and e-liquids still isn’t understood, Drope lied.

Gambia is moving to ban ecigs, Kenya and South Africa are attempting to put in place prohibitive taxes. How can vaping help reduce smoking in emerging African economies when Bloomberg’s Vital Strategies is busy urging nations to make access as difficult as possible? Moreover, what is driving these people to say things about vaping that are plainly untrue?

Going some way to explaining this, Professor Peter Sandman has published an excellent article on his blog titled Public Health Tells Noble Lies. Although not mentioning vaping, he covers some recent examples to explain the thought process going on behind those who stick to their version of the truth.

Starting with Anthony Fauci’s call for the American public not to use face masks, Sandman explains that Fauci knew that telling the public they had no need to use masks wasn’t true, that he did so in order to preserve supplies for healthcare professionals who would be needing them when dealing with patients.

Three things are unusual about this example of public health dishonesty in a noble cause. First, the lie was unsustainable; officials would soon be urging us all to mask up. Second, Fauci later acknowledged the lie. And third, public trust in public health significantly declined as a result,” Sandman writes.

He moves on to another example of his environmental activist clients.

The core task of activists is to arouse and mobilise stakeholder outrage to achieve social change goals. Activists remain faithful to the ‘truth’ as they see it, but they’re almost always willing to cherry-pick, exaggerate, or even misrepresent some on-the-ground facts to make their truth more persuasive.”

Parallels are all to visible. We see the same approaches taken by tobacco controllers on a weekly basis. They cherry-pick data and misrepresent evidence to support their truth.

Meanwhile, as we are seeing, the result is increasing numbers of smokers believing the lies or finding access to vapes restricted – and that global number of smokers justifying the tobacco controllers continue to get paid to do their job of fighting an enemy that won’t be defeated.

Professor Sandman adds: “Public health professionals (and other do-gooders) do try not to lie, since a carefully crafted half-truth can usually do the job. And they don’t consider themselves dishonest. Even on those rare occasions when they’re forced to confront the gap between what they believe and what they say publicly, they still don’t consider themselves dishonest – because their hearts are pure. Misleading people into wise health choices doesn’t feel like misleading people at all.”

The problem for Tobacco Control is that they aren’t misleading people into wise health choices, they’re keeping them smoking.


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Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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