How Low Will They Go? The Irony From The World Conference On Tobacco Or Health

Carl V. Phillips | Contributor

This week, tobacco controllers from all over the world gathered in Cape Town, South Africa for the largest of their hate-filled pep rallies. You can check out the Twitter tag #WCTOH2018 for a view into the unfettered id of tobacco control, because in these echo chambers any modest restraint ultimately dissolves. The tag also offers a collection of responses to what is being presented there — cogent criticisms, hilarious quips and damning accusations. One of the clearest themes from the meeting is the strong opposition of the WCTOH cabal to any hint of a harm-reduction approach.

There is much to say about what has come out of the meeting, but it seems worth starting with just how low they have gone.

WCTOH stands for World Conference on Tobacco or Health. That is not a typo. This meeting was originally properly entitled “…tobacco and health,” but some fanatics who do not understand how words work decided that it was wrong to use the conjunction because their core position is that tobacco is bad for health. So now the conference is saddled with a name that suggests borderline illiteracy or weird obsessiveness.

The highlight of the tweets from WCTOH participants is the irony. Some excellent irony came from by Becky Freeman, a high-profile member of the Australian anti-vaping and anti-tobacco cabal, including this:

New research organisation: all the money comes from one funder, that funder set the terms of reference, and the funder handpicked the head – how on earth can the organisation claim to be independent of the funder? PMI thinks so! #WCTOH2018

The reference is to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, an independent research organization created with a billion dollars in unrestricted (i.e., no control and no strings attached) funding from Philip Morris International as part of their efforts to migrate smokers to low-risk alternatives. It appears that trying to demonize and vilify this foundation was the leading topic at WCTOH this year. It is little wonder, given that it threatens the near-monopoly control on funding tobacco controllers exercise over research (excluding product-specific research by industry).

That will be covered more in a later report, but for now just savor the irony. Most tobacco control research is funded by a single ideological funder. Even when someone has funds that technically come from multiple funders, they are invariably all from the tobacco control monopoly. It is seems unthinkable that the foundation (let alone PMI, in its completely hands-off role) will try to control the behavior of researchers, whereas those receiving anti-tobacco funding know they will be cut off forever if they dare question the party line.

Freeman also tweeted this similar bit of irony, a quote from someone whose entire career (like hers) is built on “research funding” that is transparently a political tool:

The @InsidePMI Foundation for a Smoke Free World is not a research fund, it is a political tool intended advance tobacco industry corporate interests – Anna Gilmore @BathTR #WCTOH2018

But edging out Freeman for greatest irony was this tweet:

‘Nothing about us without us’  Malebona Precious Matsoso #WomenDay #WCTOH2018

Matsoso is a high-ranking WHO official. It is not clear whether the quotation marks indicate that she actually said this, or if it merely refers to her identity as an African woman holding a position of power in anti-tobacco. (Similar dispatches praised the fact that the WCTOH president is also black African woman.) The phrase “nothing about us without us” was originally coined by disability rights advocates and it was eagerly adopted by illicit drug harm reduction advocates. It has become widely recognized as a legitimate demand in tobacco policy [in no small part, I believe, thanks to my efforts for more than a decade to promote use of the phrase]. However, the above tweet suggests that merely having women or people from outside the colonial powers constitutes including “us,” ignoring the fact that the phrase has nothing to do with desegregation or racial inclusivity.

This is particularly ironic because tobacco control never offers a seat at the table for product users, the people whose behavior it is all about. The seat on the FDA’s scientific advisory committee that is statutorily reserved for a consumer representative has always been occupied by a prohibitionist tobacco controller. There are no consumer representatives participating in WCTOH and probably less than a half dozen attendees who are even tobacco users. Tobacco control operates entirely “without us.”

Returning to the theme of Women’s Day and irony was this tweet:

Inspiring to be at #WCTOH2018 panel putting women’s rights at core of #TobaccoControl on #InternationalWomensDay

The notion that tobacco control efforts are supportive of people’s rights in any way is truly Orwellian. But there was an extensive statement issued claiming just that, another subject for a future report.

Then there was this tweet from the World Health Organization’s official feed, in a thread about the opening plenary speech by their Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus:

“Last year, four tobacco companies were forced to publish advertisements in U.S. newspapers & TV channels admitting they had lied to the public about the dangers of smoking in their advertising & marketing campaigns.”—@DrTedros #NoTobacco  #WCTOH2018

It is darkly ironic that a unit of the United Nations is praising the use of forced (their word) public confessions. Then again, given that the U.N. Human Rights Council membership includes Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, and the membership of their Commission on the Status of Women includes three countries rated among the ten worst for women’s rights, they appear to be oblivious to such irony.

Finally, there is this quote from Tedros, in what was certainly a carefully scripted and vetted speech:

Smoking is “a small fire at one end, a big fool at the other end, and some tobacco in between.” – @DrTedros #WCTOH2018

Just in case there was any doubt that WCTOH was somehow about helping people, this should put it to rest. Forget “nothing about us without us.” This is all about abusing “us.” Three or four decades ago, tobacco control was about health and about helping people. But due to easily understood, though unforgivable tendencies they now consider people to be the enemy and health to be a mere side issue. Indeed, they have sunk so low that they simply ridicule product users, and they have become so arrogant and complacent that they do not even hesitate to say the quiet parts out loud.

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Carl V. Phillips



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