Saturday, September 26, 2009

Anti-smoker propaganda, not so subtle deceptions

Propaganda is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person”. Sounds fairly innocuous. Until you realize that misleading statements and the omission of pertinent information (even outright lies) are often used by the propagandist to convey a message that is not, in fact, accurate.

A recent example of propaganda is the FDA assault on, and efforts to ban, the electronic cigarette. The FDA informed the public that electronic cigarettes contained carcinogens. But they neglected to mention that the same carcinogens were present, in similar concentrations, in nicotine replacement products such as nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges, etc. They lied by omission.

Another example: the results of scientific studies, ostensibly showing a decline in heart attacks following the implementation of smoking bans, are released first to the media, prior to peer review and publication in a legitimate medical journal. And when the conclusions turn out to be unwarranted, the media have already disseminated the baseless conclusions. But, corrections are, more often than not, ignored, leaving the public to believe the original lie.

It's a process known as “science by press release”. And, it's simply another form of propaganda.

Even the more subtle forms of propaganda can alter public perceptions to troubling degrees. For instance, the anti-smoker claim that: “Smoking causes more deaths every year than homicide, suicide, car accidents and HIV combined”; or the many variations on that theme.

Most Canadians accept such assertions without question, especially when they come from government sources such as Health Canada or the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion. But, many such claims are deliberately intended to mislead the public. They fit the definition of propaganda.

The claim that smoking causes more deaths every year than homicide, suicide, car accidents and HIV combined is meant to suggest that there is only one cause for those deaths – smoking. But, no one actually dies of smoking; they die from so called “smoking related diseases”, which have been, to greater or lesser degrees, statistically linked to smoking.

There is no ICD (International Classification of Diseases) classifying smoking as a cause of death. Smoking may, or may not, contribute to deaths caused by ischemic heart disease (IHD), lung cancer, influenza, etc., but smoking is not the cause of those deaths. To claim otherwise is disingenuous and deceptive.

And, there are 20 individual classifications of death lumped together in the non-existent disease classification of smoking. These classifications include 11 different cancers (including lung cancer), influenza, stroke and pneumonia. It includes IHD which causes over 40,000 deaths annually, only 13% of which are attributed to smoking.

So those “smoking” deaths are the sum of 20 distinctly different causes of death, not smoking. Using a non-existent disease classification (smoking) obscures that fact. It is a propaganda ploy.

Even the term “smoking related diseases" is meant to mislead. It implies that these diseases are caused exclusively by smoking when the truth is that they are multi-factorial; they can be (and are) caused by any number of factors totally unrelated to smoking.

Health Canada and their anti-smoker allies don't mention the multi-factorial nature of smoking related diseases, however. They don't mention that slightly less than 1/3 of deaths from so-called smoking related diseases are attributed to smoking.

Along similar lines, Health Canada also claims that almost half of current smokers, unless they quit, will die of a smoking related disease – eventually. That may not be a lie. It is, however, misleading.

What Health Canada fails to mention is that “almost half” of all deaths recorded in Canada in any given year are likely to fall into one of the 20 ICD classifications designated as smoking related diseases: heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia, lung cancer, influenza, etc. StatCan's 2002 mortality tables, for example, show that, of the 223,000 deaths recorded in that year, roughly 110,000 (“almost half”) were caused by one or another of those “smoking related diseases”.

So, is it really surprising that “almost half” of smokers would also die from those same diseases?

This kind of propaganda has always been used as a tool to achieve political goals. It is not exclusive to any one form of government. Regimes of all kinds, communist, dictatorship, socialist and, yes, even democratic governments use propaganda to influence public opinion.

The inherent problem with propaganda, of course, is that it can be used by the unscrupulous to maliciously denigrate and demean targeted groups within a population. And, that's the case with the propaganda campaign being waged against smokers.

It is being used, not merely in an attempt to influence public opinion, but to create a public perception of smokers as abnormal, degenerate human beings. It is intended to promote fear and hatred of smokers through the deliberate distortion of facts. It endeavours to justify blatant discrimination against smokers in such areas as employment, housing, social interaction, parenting, etc.; all in the name of “public health”.

And, whether you call it propaganda or bullshit and bafflegab, it means that 5 million Canadian smokers are getting the shaft.

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