Friday 15 September 2017

It's Not About Health: A Potted History

It's almost become a motto of this blog to state that the bans and restrictions imposed by 'public health' and, in particular, tobacco control have nothing whatsoever to do with health.

There have been regular weekly examples of this over the eight plus years that I've been writing here, but New York Times science columnist, John Tierney, has put together the milestone themes in an excellent essay for The Manhattan Institute. Entitled "The Corruption of Public Health", it is a must-read.

Here are a few teasers, firstly on e-cigs.
In a bizarre historical twist, the public-health establishment is protecting the cigarette industry with the same infamous techniques that Big Tobacco formerly used. Just as tobacco apologists once argued that no conclusive scientific evidence showed that smoking was harmful, American public-health officials now insist that there’s no solid evidence that smoking is worse than vaping. No tobacco executive today would dare make such a ludicrous claim about cigarettes—he’d fear the resulting lawsuits—but government officials enjoy legal immunity that lets them engage in deadly deception, without paying the consequences.
It's true that vaping has brought the tobacco control industry's disgusting, inhuman and venal rent-seeking out into the open, but - as we know well here - it isn't a new phenomenon; they have always been disgusting, inhuman and venal rent-seekers. Tierney recognises this and accurately runs through some of the lies and egregious abuses of liberty that went before it.
But the vaping story is part of a much bigger and longer-running scandal. It is the most flagrant example of how a once-noble enterprise became corrupted by ideology and self-dealing. 
It redefined its mission to include just about any social problem or individual behavior that might pose health risks and provide a rationale for the government to intervene in people’s lives, as James T. Bennett and Thomas J. DiLorenzo chronicle in their history of the public-health movement, From Pathology to Politics
Now that the World Health Organization has redefined its mission to be the achievement of “physical, mental and social well-being,” the field has boomed with new jobs—not just for medical researchers but also for psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, environmentalists, and assorted activists.
Jobs and salaries. Because selling your services as an 'expert' is a lucrative enterprise.
Many smokers were persuaded to quit, but not enough to satisfy the progressives who came to dominate public health. They shared the passion for social engineering of the original Progressives, who had helped lead the movement to ban alcohol in the 1920s, and they adopted the same prohibitionist approach to tobacco. In Jacob Sullum’s history of the antismoking movement, For Your Own Good, he describes the profession’s new philosophy: “The public health perspective, which seeks collective prescriptions to reduce morbidity and mortality, does not take individual tastes and preferences into account. Having noted that smoking can lead to illness, public health specialists now identify smoking itself as a disease, something inherently undesirable that happens to unwilling victims.” 
To rescue these victims, public-health officials sought a “smoke-free society.” They lobbied for bans on smoking in indoor public spaces, reasonably enough—why should taxpayers using public property be involuntarily subject to a nuisance that’s smelly and can irritate respiratory ailments? But the activists also successfully fought for state and local bans on smoking outdoors and in private restaurants, bars, and workplaces, an expansion of government power ostensibly justified by the deadly menace of secondhand smoke. 
That claim, unlike the surgeon general’s landmark warning in 1964, wasn’t based on rigorous empirical analysis. Led by the Environmental Protection Agency and the CDC, the new generation of public-health activists cherry-picked studies and massaged data to support claims that secondhand smoke was causing thousands of cases of lung cancer annually and that banning it in some towns brought dramatic declines in the rate of heart attacks. Prominent researchers contested those claims at the time, leading a judge in 1998 to rule that the EPA had grossly manipulated “scientific procedure and scientific norms.” 
Long-term studies have subsequently debunked the alarms, but antismoking activists remain unapologetically convinced that the ends justified the means. In 2013, when the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published an exceptionally rigorous study that tracked 76,000 women (including wives of smokers) and found no connection between secondhand smoke and lung cancer, the results were dismissed as irrelevant to public policy. The journal quoted one expert explaining that ending the health risk of secondhand smoke was never really the point of the bans: “The strongest reason to avoid passive cigarette smoke is to change societal behavior: to not live in a society where smoking is a norm.” Science should never get in the way of social engineering.
Tierney's piece goes on to detail how these charlatans subsequently perverted science to demonise smokeless tobacco and snus, along with their routine defence tactic of smear, innuendo, ad hominem and professional sabotage, and he also touches on the role of Prohibitionist pharma organisations in the colossal deceit.

It is a great piece of work which illustrates how the pursuit of funding and profit - not the good of the public's health - is why nicotine in e-cigs is now categorised as harmful by people who self-describe as 'experts', but should rightly be in prison. It should be required reading in Ministries of Health the world over to show how a corrupt movement is playing politicians like gullible chimps on a daily basis.

I urge you to go read the whole thing here. It's highly possible it might make you angry, but go read it anyway.

UPDATE: Tierney also published a shorter piece in the Wall Street Journal on the same subject. The response from Mary Bassett, Commissioner at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene confirms his article is correct more than a thousand further words would.
John Tierney is incorrect in his criticism of New York City’s new e-cigarette regulation (“New York’s Mayor Gives Smokers Another Reason Not to Quit,” Cross Country, Sept. 9). E-cigarettes are a serious public health concern, especially for young people.
These people are barking mad lunatics. 

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