In this interview we speak to Freedom to Choose representative David Atherton, discussing why they were set up, the anti-smoking lobby's effects on civil liberties in the UK and of course the electronic cigarette.
Why Freedom to Choose began
David, why was Freedom to Choose set up?
It was set up by Feal-Martinez in 2005 who was a Swindon publican, and he is still is as far as I am aware. I think he wanted to do something that was quite separate from FOREST. This was 2004, 2005 when the pub smoking ban was due to come in. Like a lot of the people, before we had taken the smoking ban in good grace, because there was always the pub where you could go and have a smoke in - I think that was the straw that broke Bob's back to get himself motivated to start a campaign to stop the ban at the time, which obviously failed, and to hopefully get it amended now.
FOREST have tobacco industry funding whereas you don't.
They do, that's correct. In fact, I don't see that as a problem, I know Tesco's and Sainsbury's have got a retail group pressure group themselves, I can't see anything wrong with tobacco companies having a pressure group but certainly you can't make the accusation that we are funded by tobacco companies.We are not motivated by financial interests, we are motivated by social reasons to meet and associate with each other.
Was Freedom to Choose set up before or after Forces?
Oh, Forces was set up in 1995 in San Francisco. It was set up in America, I suppose what Bob could have done was to become the UK branch of Forces, but instead, he decided to set up a separate entity. But obviously, we do know each other, we do swap emails, we are linked to each other on Facebook and we do swap information. You probably wouldn't get in a cigarette paper between us in terms of differences.
We've both come across examples of blatant lying by the anti-smoking lobby. What's the worst example you have come across?
It's a toss up between Professor Jill Pell's 17% reduction in heart attacks study in Scotland or the third-hand smoke story.
Third-hand smoke - that's the big story of the moment.
Well, did you know, James, that there is a specific paper out at the moment which goes into third-hand smoke and how harmful it is?
Is this the story where they took tobacco residue and sprayed it with hydrochloric acid?
That's the one. It was done in the cab of a lorry driver who smoked, and the study used detection equipment so fine it can measure nanograms.
And this is the evidence being used to keep children separate from their parents?
Exactly, yes. It is hugely divisive, and it really is the epitome of junk science. It is now beginning to completely insult the intelligence.
I find it very scary, myself. Some scientists have pointed out that when you are putting all this emphasis on second hand and third hand smoke causing all these illnesses you are ignoring the real causes of illnesses - people are getting lung cancer not just because of smoking but for other reasons and that is being ignored.
Well, it now has been proved medically that second-hand smoke does not cause lung cancer.
" There's been 80 separate cases done... 16 suggest a raised risk, 14 suggest it is actually protective against lung cancer, and the remainder state that it has no effect. "
There's been 80 separate cases done into the connection between passive smoking, lung cancer and heart disease and out of those 16 suggest a raised risk, 14 suggest it is actually protective against lung cancer, and the remainder state that it has no effect. Now for all the anti-smoking lobby's faults, they are correct that smoking does cause lung cancer.
This is the big danger, isn't it? That with the actual lies that are out there about third hand smoking and so on smokers will stop believing that smoking is actually bad for you?
That's correct, I mean 86% of all lung cancer patients are smokers. The reason being is that on chromosome number 11 is what is called the trans protein gene number 53, when you are a smoker - not always but in the case when you do contract lung cancer - your body's continually reproducing its DNA and with the P53 gene it actually starts to mutate.
The purpose of the p53 gene is to fight the growth of cancer cells in your body. With the mutation your body loses the ability to fight the growth of lung cancer. In non-smokers, this does not happen. The P53 gene in non-smokers remains completely intact and completely working. So therefore it is now completely proven that second-hand smoke does not cause lung cancer.
Because there is not enough passive smoke to affect this gene?
Because the P53 gene in smokers mutates, but in non-smokers, it doesn't mutate.
This is a very new study?
Funnily enough, this work has been around for about three years. The Swedish study which I am referring to came out last year but a lot of the original work goes back to 2007 and is even referenced back to 2001.
What has the reaction been to this?
No one knows about it!
That doesn't surprise me - but it does bring me on to my next question....The anti-smoking lobby receives funding from the government and the pharmaceutical companies. How do you compete for a voice with these really well-funded organisations?
I think, I believe, Forest is reasonably well funded by the tobacco manufacturers. It's not only the funding issue which is the thing, that we are up against, but the mainstream media, television and radio that really don't want to hear the other side of the story.
For example, I probably write two or three emails a week to the BBC and various newspapers and you very rarely even get a response. I wouldn't say it is a conspiracy to exclude people who are pro-choice on smoking, they do seem to be extremely sympathetic towards the government and also the department of health and ASH (who are funded by the government).
It wasn't so long ago that I personally thought that people who talked about passive smoking being rubbish were conspiracy theorists.
Yeah, sure, I try not to sound that paranoid, but I take your point.
Well, you tend to assume that when people in positions of authority tell you things they are true. It was only when I started working for an e-cigarette business and I started reading studies that I began to realise how much we had been lied to.
Exactly, anyway to answer your first question obviously the internet and the blogosphere are our main weapon. I've noticed that a lot in research - there is a quote from Jerome Arnett, he's a pulmonologist in South Carolina, he’s got a very specific wording of it, if you Google it comes up in about 40 places in the world where it ends up being quoted. (David may be referring to the study Scientific Evidence Shows Secondhand Smoke Is No Danger.) I think one of the things we have been particularly in successful in fighting ASH on is the junk science, and also the economic effects of the smoking bans.
So you think you are making a difference, you and other websites like FORCES?
Sure. I think that leading on from the work we have done on the blogosphere it is now slowly beginning to be picked up in the mainstream media as well, which is very useful to say the least. I have been interviewed on the radio a couple of times myself, and I have also noticed that some stories are being picked up in the Guardian.
You know, by the blogosphere, by a series of osmosis it is now reaching to the very top.
Have you got an example of that - about it reaching to the top?
Yeah indeed, now it was Chris Snowdon who did something which was picked up in Spiked writing about Jill Pell. And by the way, Chris Snowdon is not a member of Freedom to Choose directly, he's a historian and author.
After the smoking ban came in Professor Jill Pell tried within the first year to argue that heart attacks had been reduced by 17% as a result of the smoking ban and most politicians think that too. They just read the press release and they believe that rubbish as well. That's an example of how the blogosphere has seeped through to mainstream media.
He actually used the freedom of information act to request the specific heart attack figures out of the health ministry and what he proved was the reduction in heart attacks was unaffected by the smoking ban and in fact in the second year of the smoking ban the number of heart attacks, for the first time in ten years, actually rose.
So, if you follow their logic the smoking ban is actually causing heart attacks?
Well, exactly yeah. And Jill Pell fiddled the figures, something she eventually admitted too, she omitted the months of January and February, which have the highest rates of heart attacks, and it was basically pure publication bias.
" Jill Pell fiddled the figures, something she eventually admitted too, she omitted the month... which have the highest rates of heart attacks... "
Following on from that, Freedom to Choose is now getting enquiries from television companies, from media companies and also from newspapers as well. I'm sure it is a matter of time before we go really mainstream.
Essentially, false science is being used to promote policies that impact upon the freedom of others - I think we have seen that with a publican being sentenced to six months in jail for allowing smoking in his pub. What, in your opinion, are the implications for freedom in the UK?
First of all, when it comes to secondhand and thirdhand smoke, the fact that scientists are being financially motivated to mislead the general public has enormous implications for freedom in this country. And I draw a parallel with climate change, where scientists who were being paid for by the United Nations or other interested parties have what appears to have blatantly misled people on the effects of climate change. If you can't get an honest answer out of a scientist who can you get an honest answer out of?
" Smoking cigarettes is quite legal, and I can't see any philosophical argument for banning smoking in a pub... "
Also, the government has set this precedent that they can dictate, on private property, what you can and what you can't do. Smoking cigarettes is quite legal, and I can't see any philosophical argument for banning smoking in a pub, particularly when if you don't like smoking or you are allergic to smoking or for whatever reason, you have every single right not to be there.
And also the government are now putting the blame on other people for allowing that to happen.
Yeah, indeed, yes. It is another example of the way in which personal responsibility in this country has been compromised. I really think that the long term aim is the illegalisation of tobacco.
Although that would be a disaster - you just have to look at prohibition in America - it would lead to massive smuggling, and don't you think that some things just become more attractive when they are illegal?
Freedom to choose and the e-cigarette
Electronic cigarettes - I know some smokers are against e-cigarettes, which is perhaps understandable given some of the marketing. However, on the other hand the e-cigarette and related issues has led to many people educating themselves more about passive smoking, third-hand smoking and the lies behind it. So what's your position on the electronic cigarette?
Well, I think it is a personal choice, isn't it? If you want to smoke tobacco, smoke tobacco, and if you want to smoke an electronic cigarette, smoke an electronic cigarette. I am really not here to dictate to people how they should live their lives. If the anti-smoking lobby wanted to get smoking down in my opinion the electronic cigarette would be the most effective weapon in doing that. And, for example, what people might want to do is smoke the electronic cigarette during the day and go home in the evening to smoke normal cigarettes. I have no objection to them whatsoever, personally speaking, however, Freedom to Choose does have reservations about them, but I personally don't.
" I am really not here to dictate to people how they should live their lives. "
So what are the reservations based on?
Do you know something - I don't know!
There was something on the e-cigarette forum where e-cigarette users were complaining they had had aggression from smokers who seemed to think they (the vapers) were letting the side down.
I take their point - it does look as if they are letting the side down, and possibly you might have given in, but so what, that's a matter of choice, isn't it?
(Clarification: In an email following up to this interview, Freedom2Choose stated that they considered electronic cigarettes an "instrument of coercion", a position which we strongly disagree with.)
What, in your opinion, is behind the opposition to the electronic cigarette?
I think it is best summed up by Bill Godshall. He wrote that because e-cigarettes probably have the best ability to reduce the prevalence of smoking tobacco, and they are not produced by pharmaceutical companies, it is basic cynicism on the side of the anti-smoking movement to get e-cigarettes outlawed - so that the only alternative nicotine therapy available will be those produced by pharmaceutical companies. I was shocked that Bill Godshall wrote in the tobacco analysis blog - that these people involved in tobacco and nicotine prohibition are bigoted puritans, that they are ideologues, they don't want to be reminded of cigarettes, and also that anyone who mentioned that cigarettes were safe would get fired from their job if they worked in anti-tobacco.
And Bill is not pro-tobacco - he is from Smoke-free Pennsylvania.
Exactly. And for the ultimate in fascism and complete lack of logic and humanity, some would prefer smokers would (to) die if it would prevent others from smoking. That absolutely beggars belief! Even I would never have dared to suggest that!
Well, this is from the country which produced ASH. Did you see ASH's press release suggesting smokers be put on trial for murder, and be sentenced to death in those states which have capital punishment?
To be honest, I had never heard of that? Is that ASH America?
Yes - the actual press release has been removed but there are extracts on the Tobacco Analysis blog.
Personally I quite welcome Banzhaf and ASH in America, coming out with all this hysteria. They are so extreme that they will eventually be seen for what they genuinely are - a bunch of narrow minded bigots and puritans who can't be trusted to tell the truth.
" They are so extreme that they will eventually be seen for what they genuinely are... "
He's hugely beneficial to your cause, I think because in being so extreme he makes the anti-smoking movement look ludicrous. And also Stanton Glantz, who suggested that allowing smoking to be viewed in films was comparable to poisoning the water supply.
I welcome it. And David Goerlitz, who was the original Winston man, and who then worked for the anti-tobacco movement, and who used to work with Glantz and Banzhaf and saw them becoming so bigoted and extreme in their views, has come over to the pro-choice lobby to a certain extent.
Yes, he's the one who admitted on video to being offered money to lie for the anti-smoking movement in court. And Michael Siegel also, he's another one who left the anti-smoking movement.
Sure. And his blog is an absolute gold mine.
And he is increasingly getting a voice in America, he has been on two radio shows in the last three days.
Can we really just hope that the tide is turning?
It is changing in the UK, isn't it, because they are starting to embrace a tobacco harm reduction strategy. However, we are concerned at the moment because the MHRA wants to license e-cigarette as medicine. And we think they should be widely available as possible. We think it should be regulated for quality, but not as a medicine.
I actually spoke to the MHRA and they gave me two reasons why they think e-cigarettes should be regulated as a medicine. One, it was the only way that (the MHRA) can regulate it, and two, because it contains nicotine, and apparently they have had legal advice that nicotine is a medicine. What's your take on that, specifically that nicotine is a medicine.
That nicotine is a medicine? So cocaine's a medicine, heroin is a medicine as well? Alcohol is a medicine? Where are these people going? This strikes me as nothing more than a power plan by a group of public paid officials. This isn't about tobacco reduction or improving people's lives, this is about a chance to expand an empire, increase the amount of staff and get more government funding.
Well, the funding would come from the companies who were producing the electronic cigarettes, not from the government. The MHRA is funded by pharmaceutical companies.
Aren't they attached to the government?
They are a government body funded by pharmaceutical companies.
Well, personally if I was an electronic cigarette smoker I wouldn't have any problems with having regulations to make sure there was a certain level of manufacturing standards.
I think we need it. We really want regulation because we have to deal with competition from people bringing in electronic cigarettes made overnight in China with no inspections, no insurance, no lab studies, no quality control - nothing. And it makes it difficult to compete. So we would like regulation.
Exactly, sure. There is no problem in my mind having standards of manufacture, quality standards and things like that. But if it gets around to the stage where they ban these e-cigarettes, I think that is quite appalling.
" ...if it gets around to the stage where they ban these e-cigarettes, I think that is quite appalling. "
Well, some people think it is a plan to ban e-cigarettes, I think it could possibly be a plan by the pharmaceutical companies to take the industry over or maybe it is something different I am not sure. But I am just thinking if you are regulating on the basis it as nicotine then surely you also have authority over cigarettes. In America now the FDA was defeated in court over their attempt to ban e-cigarettes, and part of the reason was that the judge said if you can do this you can also regulate cigarettes. And there are vegetables which contain nicotine, albeit very low levels of nicotine, and at the other end you have cigarettes with much higher levels of nicotine.
I think this is more about central government power and empire building than it is about good regulation.
The anti-smoking movement and extremism
Finally, Chris Snowdon is of the theory that the increasing extremism of anti-smokers could lead to the demise of their cause. Is this something you agree with?
I think so as well. And also, you know, because they are getting more and more extreme with second-hand smoke, thirdhand smoke, and now as you say they are calling for the death penalty for smokers, unfortunately, people are going to stop believing that smoking is bad for you. And I think Banzhaf actually said that e-cigarettes are as bad for you as normal smoking, one of the things had the temerity to say. He completely shot both himself and the anti-tobacco cause in the foot in one fell swoop.
Yeah, saying nicotine is toxic and very bad for you unless it is in an NRT product, in which case it is fine.
I am not aware of anybody directly dying from nicotine poisoning. I am sure there is a theoretical level which you could get to, I remember reading about a fourteen-year-old who was given a packet of NRT chewing gum, and I think he chewed about 20 or 40 - I think it was 40 actually - and I think he collapsed from nicotine poisoning and he was taken to hospital but he was fine. Apart from that, I don't know anyone whose enjoyment of nicotine has lead to them getting a an illness as a direct result of that nicotine or certainly not dying.
There was a kid in America who died, as a result of using nicotine cessation products. And certainly, some kids get nicotine poisoning as a result of eating cigarettes - but it is very unusual, certainly more people have died per year from Chantix/Champix than from nicotine poisoning.
Yes, from suicide and depression. That's why the civil aviation authority in America has banned pilots from taking Champix. If you are a pilot in America you can't take Chantix.
" If you are a pilot in America you can't take Champix "
And yet these public health smoking bodies, which are so worried about tiny amounts of thirdhand smoke or residue are happy to promote it.
Dave, that's the end of our interview - thank you so much for your time!
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