It is almost cliché to observe that American society has recently experienced a loss of common decency and civic virtue unlike any time in living memory. It is qualitatively different from mere political struggle. Fierce and bruising political fights can occur among people who recognize that, win or lose, they would not want that battle to tear the fragile fabric of society. Today, political combatants seem unconcerned about the lasting damage political tactics might cause for the health of the government and the people; indeed, many seem to consider damaging those to be part of the goal.
Tobacco control – the movement whose mission is to end usage of tobacco, and now also vapor products – acted this way long before 2016.
Some of tobacco control’s unethical and harmful behavior is well documented, like their lies about what scientific evidence shows. Some is equally bad but largely escapes notice because its threat to a well-functioning society is more subtle, like their attempts to sneak through rules at inappropriate levels of government. But most of their harmful acts are so insignificant, taken individually, that they escape notice.
Taken together, however, these acts show a political movement that does not hesitate to damage the social fabric if it might offer some tiny support for their special interest goals. Most observers overlook individual bits of abuse or collateral damage, and give tobacco control the benefit of the doubt, not recognizing the pattern of antisocial behavior it represents. This article is the first in a series that will look at such small acts, attempting to present the larger pattern of disregard for civic norms that they represent.
The first example is a tweet by the Orwellian-named Truth Initiative. This is the taxpayer-funded (specifically sales taxes on cigarettes)organization that changed its name from The American Legacy Foundation to match its “truth” advertising campaign which is notorious for its lack of concern about the truth.
The tweet came after sensationalistic reports about the about former first-daughter Malia Obama acting like a normal college student. It read, “Malia Obama spotted with a cigarette over the weekend is just the latest example of how celebrities can become unpaid spokespeople for the tobacco industry.”
The reporting about the young Obama, sometimes simple clickbait (which existed in gossip rags long before clicking was a thing) and sometimes a bizarre attempt to attack the legacy of President Barack Obama, was widely condemned. Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton both pointed out that Obama is a private citizen who deserves her privacy. Replies to the tweet were also consistently critical.
Truth Initiative included a link to an op-ed by their CEO which claims that any “A-list celebrity” who allows the world to see an image of them smoking is effectively working for the tobacco industry (their other rhetoric suggests they feel the same way about vaping, though that was not mentioned in this case). The claim is that the mere act of smoking a cigarette or being a smoker is an endorsement and persuades others to do the same. Only someone obsessed with tobacco products as an existential evil would not see the absurdity of portraying someone’s every consumer choice as if it were an active endorsement.
More disturbingly, this “I don’t want the children to ever witness this” attitude is exactly the common justification for denying the rights of other minority groups in society. The toxic claim, repeatedly endorsed by tobacco control, is that people should not be allowed to live their lives and make their choices openly if someone thinks it is a bad influence (regardless of whether the public figure or others agree). This is a serious threat to a functioning pluralistic society. Tobacco controllers take this as far as insisting that the minority should cooperate in their own oppression, demanding that they hide their choices and beliefs.
This is bad enough when applied to someone who made a concerted effort to become famous, and does get paid to make endorsements. Obama, by contrast, made no such effort and has taken no such advantage of her accidental fame. Criticizing her personal choices not only is a demand that she volunteer in her own oppression by tobacco control, but an invasion of her privacy. There is no apparent limit to how low tobacco control will go in pursuit of their special-interest activism.
Truth Initiative has not responded to repeated requests for comment.