Friday, July 4, 2008

Propaganda and prejudice

In 1975 Sir George Goober informed the World Health Organization (WHO) that to encourage smokers to quit, it would be necessary to: “foster an atmosphere where it was perceived that active smokers would injure those around them, especially their family and any infants or young children who would be exposed involuntarily” to secondhand smoke.

In fact, Goober was proposing a propaganda war against smokers similar to the propaganda campaigns used by the Nazi’s in 1930. And, the anti-smoker lobby heeded his advice. They reasoned that, if smokers would not quit for their own health, they could be forced into quitting if non-smokers were led to believe that their habit was injuring or killing others.

According to Wikipedia: “Propaganda is a concerted set of messages aimed at influencing the opinions or behaviors of large number of people. As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda in its most basic sense presents information in order to influence its audience”.

“Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus lying by omission), or gives loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented”.

“Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist."

A web site called Tobacco Control Strategy Planning, provides several guides on how to conduct the propaganda war on smokers and how best to influence the public, the press and politicians to get them to do what they want. The following excerpt from Guide 1: Strategy Planning for Tobacco Control Advocacy, illustrates just how propaganda has been used to garner support among the non-smoking public for the bans, punitive taxation and blatant discrimination being used to force smokers to quit.

One of the questions in the anti-smoker guidebook asks: “What messages are most likely to move our target audience to do what we want?” Note that the question does not ask how to present the truth to the public, politicians or the press. The question is how do we convince people to do what we want (ie prohibit smoking).

In response to their own question, the guidebook says: “As advocates, we are eager to develop strong messages to persuade the public that action must be taken to control tobacco use. Indeed, we might be so eager to create such messages that we fail to stop and ask the question that will make our messages strategically effective. The question is not, ‘What do we want to say?’ but, ‘What must we say to persuade our target audience to take the actions we recommend?’”

In other words, don’t tell people they want to force adults to quit smoking (what they want); tell them they want to protect the children (what they want the public to believe).

In simple terms, tobacco control advocates are being advised to distort the truth and cover up their real agenda (to coerce smokers into quitting) by focusing attention on the hazards of secondhand smoke (protecting the children).

It makes no difference to the anti-smoker brigade that the hazards are grossly exaggerated (and in many cases non-existent). Nor do they care that the bulk of the scientific evidence suggests no association between secondhand smoke and major diseases like lung cancer and heart disease (lying by omission).

The objective is to create the perception that secondhand smoke kills, thereby making smoking bans necessary to protect workers and children. The truth of the message is unimportant. The goal is to force smokers to quit.

Simply providing honest and accurate information to the public would not achieve the desired effect, so they give “loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information”.

Most non-smokers would simply shrug their shoulders and say “So what?” when told that smokers were killing themselves. They would be unlikely to tolerate state intervention in the form of bans or other discriminatory tactics.

But make them believe that smokers are endangering their children and they will support, and even applaud, any discriminatory action directed at smokers. They will react emotionally rather than make a rational evaluation of the information.

In effect, the message that secondhand smoke kills is intended to spread fear of smoking and hatred of smokers. And the anti-smoker fanatics don’t care whether or not it’s true, as long as the public believes it’s true.

The propaganda campaign launched by the anti-smoker zealots parallels, and perhaps surpasses, the efforts of the Nazi’s so many years ago. Such manipulation of the public is an insult to a democratic society.

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