Sunday, August 17, 2008

Education . . . or indoctrination?

Are anti-smoker groups exploiting kids to promote their private agenda?

Casa Cubana, a Montreal-based importer of quality cigar products, issued a press release on April 29, 2008 claiming that “anti-tobacco groups in Canada have felt it increasingly necessary to use kids in their attempt to manipulate public perception, create public outrage and force governments to over-regulate tobacco products”.

According to Luc Martial, spokesman for Casa Cubana (formerly with the Non-Smokers' Rights Association and the Canadian Council on Smoking and Health, among others) said: "These extremist groups are now tricking "kids" into promoting their self-serving agendas against tobacco".

He continued: "While perhaps well-intended, these kids and their youth-oriented anti-tobacco groups are unfortunately simply regurgitating misrepresentations actively promoted by anti-tobacco extremist groups. These kids, unfortunately, have not learned to question the information being force-fed to them by people and organizations that on the face of it seem trustworthy. And that's the problem."

And, he may have a point.

According to their website, “The Students Commission is a charitable organization dedicated to creating and promoting opportunities for young people to learn and grow in a positive and safe environment” Through their website, Tiny Giant, they distribute SmokeFree Spaces: Activist Toolkit. The toolkit, they tell you “is a great resource that can help youth become engaged in positive activities. The toolkit is a cool, bilingual, easy-to-use CD-ROM for young people and their adult allies to take a stand and create smokefree spaces”.

I believe most parents want their kids educated about the potential hazards of active cigarette smoking. But, there’s a world of difference between education and indoctrination.

The Activist Toolkit apparently feeds these kids the same unsubstantiated propaganda about secondhand smoke as that directed at the adult population. Secondhand smoke kills. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. They’re being told that the evidence is conclusive and unequivocal. And, that’s simply not true.

It’s one thing to feed adults a diet of propaganda and distorted science. It’s quite another to use those tactics on unsuspecting young people and their parents. Educate them about the potential dangers of smoking, by all means; but keep the experiments in social engineering out of the schools.

Earlier this year, on his blog Tobacco Analysis, Dr. Michael Siegel questioned one of the facts contained in the toolkit, produced by Health Canada.

“Health Canada provides the following as an example of a research "fact" that should be used: "A non-smoker in a smoky room, such as a bar, inhales the equivalent of 35 cigarettes an hour".

Dr. Siegel points out that this claim is inaccurate by saying: “It is far from a "fact" that nonsmokers in a smoky bar inhale the equivalent of 35 cigarettes an hour. In fact, it is false”.

He goes on to explain: “In terms of nicotine exposure, a nonsmoker in a smoky bar inhales the equivalent of less than one-thirtieth of a single cigarette in an hour. So clearly, you cannot accurately claim that a nonsmoker in such a situation inhales the equivalent of 35 cigarettes an hour. You are in fact in error - and by a whopping factor of about 1000. You're off by three orders of magnitude!”

He notes that, in terms of some smoke constituents (notably NDMA), nonsmokers in a smoky bar may inhale the equivalent of about 2 cigarettes an hour.

Then, he also asks a very troubling question: “I don't understand why Health Canada needs to use a false piece of information as an example to children. Are they trying to encourage students to exaggerate and distort the facts as anti-smoking groups are known to do?”

If that’s what they were trying to do, it’s unconscionable and reprehensible for a government body.

I don’t know if the Activist Toolkit produced by Health Canada is a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate children. But, I do intend to take a closer look at the matter. I've requested a copy of the CD ROM and the facilitator’s guide. And, I will be reviewing it closely and asking a few questions.

I’ll keep you informed of what I find, if anything.

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