The Anti-Smoking Lobby & the Erosion of Public Trust

An interview with Chris Snowdon, author of Velvet Glove Iron Fist.

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ECD: The [anti-smoking] story, I think, is not over by a long stretch, and recent developments with the electronic cigarettes are fascinating. Do you think there will be follow up book?

Chris: At some point it is quite possible, it won't be for a year or two, I shouldn't think, I need to let things happen but things are moving on so quickly.

I'm blogging, and initially I thought if I start blogging am I going to have enough things to write about but here's stuff coming out every single day, interesting stuff - or to me it is anyway. Things are moving on very quickly, things I think are coming to a bit of a head. They are testing the public's credibility with a lot of this stuff.

Like you said before people are very inclined to the appeal for authority, to respecting what they read, both from journalists and from what scientists are reported to say, and that is starting, I think, to break down judging by a lot of the comments I've been reading all over the place recently about the heart attack miracles, about the third hand smoke issues, even about the e-cigarette. And users of e-cigarettes, even if they didn't see it before, they are starting to see how these people operate now and realise they are coming under threat.

ECD: I think it is fascinating, these lies, when you realise you have been lied to once it leads to a general breakdown of trust. I've become a global warming sceptic now because I just think how can I believe anything I'm told.

Chris: Exactly, it is very damaging potentially to science. It's not like it is going to bring down science overnight but it damages the credibility of the vast majority of serious scientists who are doing real work and creating good drugs and so on, because it just leads to this gradual erosion.

Scientists are among the most respected people in the world, they are on the opposite side of journalists and politicians, who are the least respected, which is why politicians and to a less extent journalists need to keep citing scientists all the time to bolster what they are saying.

It's a problem and it's a shame that there are not more people like Michael Siegel speaking out even on these quite simple issues where people are clearly just not telling us the truth. And eventually the conventional wisdom might turn around, you know.

At the moment the conventional wisdom is that everybody knows that second hand smoke kills, well that can just change, if you push people's credibility so far eventually the conventional wisdom just becomes these anti-smoking people just exaggerate and make things up. And once that happens you have a sea change in public opinion.

ECD: Before these people came out so strongly against electronic cigarettes we were asking them to get involved, to take part in surveys, talk about things, do some interviews and we had no reaction at all [see A Reply to Ash's Call For Greater Regulation]. They are happy to shout out about the electronic cigarette but no-one was interested in doing any actual testing, or following people who were taking up the electronic cigarette and seeing how their health changed or anything.

Chris: The fact of the matter is still that the vast majority of people haven't heard of e-cigarettes, let alone seen them. There is no way of really knowing what public opinion will be. And you haven't really had much in the news of them.

But it should be obvious from the incredibly credulous response that has greeted the third hand smoke study that people will believe nearly anything and it wouldn't take much more than a press release from one of these groups to say that nicotine is a poison, e-cigarettes contain nicotine, it goes into the atmosphere, it goes into your environment, it should be banned.

And you can say these things without lying, that's the thing. It's quite easy not to tell the truth without actually lying. So you can say nicotine is toxic, because everything is toxic at some dose. You can say it is linked to blood vessels constricting because it is - at a certain level. What they always ignore is the dose and real life circumstances and the real life conditions and the fact that these things are to all extents and purposes completely harmless.

ECD: Yes, everyone we have spoken to has said the same thing. If you say, is it dangerous, it is the wrong question. You have to say: How dangerous is it? To which they say it is about one percent the risk of smoking.

Finally, if anyone wants to buy your book, where is the best place to get it.

Chris: For most people in most countries Amazon has it, or you can get it on my website, and on that website there is my blog, which I keep updated most days, if you want to get in touch or just read what's going on.

ECD: Thank you very much Chris.

Chris: It's my pleasure.

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