Tobacco, Climate Change, Denials And Inevitability

The Lancet has published the largest ever tobacco study ever undertaken, and the results are staggering.

The new study, the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), focused on countries in which smoking is known to be a growing problem and the WHO warns that “if current trends continue, it will cause up to one billion deaths in the 21st century.”

Let me repeat that: Tobacco use = 1 billion deaths this century.

I can still remember the CEO’s of America’s major tobacco companies appearing at the Hearing on the “Regulation of Tobacco Products House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment”.

Under pressure for decades regarding scientific study after scientific study that indicated cigarettes were killing people, the CEO’s were finally called to the carpet.

The US Congress, after years of inaction caused by intense lobbying funded by those same tobacco companies, finally relented to the growing scientific evidence, and to public pressure, and got involved.

On April 14, 1994, this is what those CEO’s said:

REP. RON WYDEN: Let me begin my questioning on whether or not nicotine is addictive. Let me ask you first, and I’d like to just go down the row, whether each of you believes that nicotine is not addictive. I heard virtually all of you touch on it. Yes or no, do you believe nicotine is not addictive?

I believe nicotine is not addictive, yes.

REP. RON WYDEN: Mr. Johnston?

Mr. Congressman, cigarettes and nicotine clearly do not meet the classic definition of addiction. There is no intoxication.

REP. RON WYDEN: We’ll take that as a “no.” Again, time is short. I think that each of you believe that nicotine is not addictive. We would just like to have this for the record.

I don’t believe that nicotine or our products are addictive.

I believe that nicotine is not addictive.

I believe that nicotine is not addictive.

I believe that nicotine is not addictive.

And I, too, believe that nicotine is not addictive.

All of these men would have known that their own internal research proved otherwise.  All of these men would have known that they had been adding extra nicotine to the product for years to grow addiciton and sales.

Yet, having lived a lie for so long, having spent millions and millions of dollars denying there was a problem, they ended up looking like fools.

Despite these obvious denials, it was not very long before laws were created to combat this scourge. Awareness campaigns were created. Smoking was no longer “cool”.

As marketing laws in North american tightened, companies looked to the developing world, where they could easily target younger people with their tobacco advertising.  They targeted places with far less regulation, where they could sell a product that was a known killer.

And not only has it worked, it has paid off handsomely for the tobacco industry.

I bring this up because as a denial movement, it appears an almost perfect copy of what is happening with climate change.

As I explained in my last post, the tobacco industry had to invent a way to combat growing scientific consensus.  This was so successful, it likely delayed meaningful legislation by 50 years, killing tens of thousand or more.

Just like the tobacco industry, the players who are responsible for CO2 emissions and those who benefit from it, have hired powerful PR firms, spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying governments, and have created fake organizations who’s sole existence is to sow doubt about real scientific research.

These fake organizations assume official sounding names like “Friends of Science“, “Natural Resources Stewardship Project” and many others. These fake groups then go out and commission studies that come to the conclusions they need, and polls are created to get the results they want.

News outlets, who are sympathetic to their biggest advertisers, report on these polls and studies, as if there is a 50/50 debate among real scientists.  They mislead by skewing headlines to suit their own agenda.

This selling of fake doubt, along with well funded lobbying in the US and Canada has led to real scientists being censored by politicians.

And the public has been misled.

There are several reasons why companies such as Exxon and Shell have had some success playing the global warming denial card.

David McKnight, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales puts it best:

“First, the implications of the science are frightening. Shifting to renewable energy will be costly and disruptive. Second, doubt is an easy product to sell. Climate denial tells us what we all secretly want to hear. Third, science is portrayed as political orthodoxy rather than objective knowledge, a curiously postmodern argument,”

And while the tobacco industry is the template for the fossil fuel industry’s campaign, McKnight says that there is an important distinction:

“There are no ‘smoke-free areas’ on the planet. Climate denial may turn out to be the world’s most deadly PR campaign.”

1 billion dead this century from smoking.

And we now know, completely, that the science on tobacco was always 100% correct. We look back and wonder, how could they have been so easily fooled?

What will the numbers be due to the denial of climate change?

There’s one study I don’t want to have to read.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but is always too late.