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How Low Will They Go? Deafening Silence From Tobacco Controllers About Glantz Allegations

YouTube screenshot/University of Kentucky

Carl V. Phillips Contributor
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As previously reported, anti-smoking and anti-vaping activist Stanton Glantz, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, has been accused of sexual harassment and related academic fraud, among other transgressions. The accusations appear in a lawsuit filed by his former postdoc, Eunice Neeley, who also filed a complaint with the university. There are suggestions that other junior researchers possibly have filed or will file other complaints. Glantz is probably the most influential figure in tobacco control politics outside of government; he controls millions of dollars in grant money and dozens of people.

The recent deluge of harassment accusations against powerful men has produced particular patterns of responses. Sometimes the accused largely concedes the accusations are true and resigns from his position of influence; then those connected with him issue condemnations of the behavior and statements of respect for stepping up. (Glantz has issued a blanket denial of all accusations.) When that does not happen, there is usually an outcry, with many of the accused’s own allies and friends calling for him to step down. Occasionally – though it is becoming rare except in cases of defending control of political offices – a few of those connected with the accused aggressively defend him. More common, especially in he-said she-said cases where the accusations are impossible to prove, are “troubling if true” messages that acknowledge the accusations look bad even while trying to emphasize that they are unproven. (The accusations against Glantz include at least one claim that is easy to document, if it is true, and references to multiple witnesses.)

So which of these responses did we see from tobacco controllers when a powerful member of their political movement was accused?

None of them.

There appears to be no public statement about the Glantz accusations from anyone in the tobacco control community in the week since the news became public (and some in that community clearly knew about the accusations well before that). There has not been so much as a statement of “I find this difficult to believe, but if it is really true….”

This is yet another of the many ways in which tobacco controllers are willing to damage the fabric of society in order to promote their political agenda, from promoting scientific illiteracy, to invading people’s privacy, to trying to censor anyone who disagrees with them. It does not seem unreasonable to call this cult-like: members do not acknowledge accusations against their cult’s leaders, not even to express doubts about their veracity.

The most notable silence comes from Ruth Malone, arguably the second-most influential U.S. tobacco control academic, behind Glantz, and a fellow professor on the same campus. Malone is a prolific tweeter on a variety of political subjects, including the #MeToo movement and sexual harassment accusations. In the week before the Glantz news went public, she tweeted four times about sexual harassment allegations, but not once since.

Of course the #MeToo movement is not going to be harmed by losing the tweets of one California professor, or even of every single tobacco controller. But this is symptomatic of something much worse. One reason there were so few harassment accusations, until there was a flood, is that men and women who were quietly covering up or ignoring credible accusations in their own backyard were inclined to downplay all accusations. The cognitive dissonance and risk of being revealed as a hypocrite were simply too great. Thus it was only when so many harassed women started speaking up, and quiet coverups became a less viable option, that social pressure to fight back against harassment exploded.

To defend their special-interest agenda, tobacco controllers have remained silent about the Glantz accusations, effectively aligning themselves with those who wish to sweep the widespread problems of sexual harassment back under the rug.

In addition, Malone is a senior professor at the same campus, and so has the same in loco parentis responsibilities as Glantz (which he grossly violated if some of the accusations against him are true). That is, professors are not just employers, like film studios who are are expected to exploit the labor of their employees (though not for sexual gratification, of course). Professors’  duties include generally taking care of the vulnerable young people they advise. There are many vulnerable young people on a university campus, and one professor can only worry about a few of them and sometimes cannot do anything to help them in any case. But Glantz’s advisees are among those that Malone should worry about; they are in Malone’s own field and she presumably has interacted with them. She is in a position to help protect them by expressing even tentative public concern about what they are alleged to have experienced. Her silence is a dereliction of her duties and, given that she is extremely outspoken, cannot be attributed to her merely being shy to speak up.

[Malone has ignored numerous requests to comment on the Glantz accusations and on this story specifically.]

Tobacco controllers – unlike proper academics – have long maintained secretive communication channels, knowing how much of an embarrassment it would be if their conversations were revealed. It is possible that some tobacco controllers have made “troubling if true” statements in these channels. But that changes nothing. Keeping concerns about powerful men possibly harassing young women secret is exactly what prevented a response to such problems for decades.

One of the clear divides, in terms of whether a harassment accusation is met with harsh words from the accused’s colleagues or not, is whether they are answerable to the public. Entertainment companies have been quick to dismiss accused employees, knowing that they need to care about public opinion. Another clear divide is whether the institution thinks of themselves as the good guys. Good guys police their own, even if it might create some setback for their cause, believing that there are costs too great to pay for a little political advantage. Tobacco controllers have basically just demonstrated that they consider themselves neither answerable to the public nor good guys. At least they got that much right.

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