Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tobacco Corporations Killing Us for Profit in Yet Another Way

For many decades tobacco corporations wanted to suppress the fact that tobacco use is addictive. Scientists have known about nicotine addiction for a long time. However, when Congress subpoenaed the executives of the major tobacco companies to testify in 1994, all of the executives raised their hands and swore that they did not believe that nicotine was addictive. About that same time, an employee of one of the tobacco companies copied some of the internal research documents and released them to the Journal of the American Medical Association. These documents proved that the tobacco companies knew, from their own secret research, that nicotine was addictive. The corporate researchers even referred to cigarettes as NDDs—nicotine delivery devices. Not only did they know they were selling an addictive product, but addiction was their product. (The Russell Crowe movie The Insider tells this story.)

The tobacco corporations not only knew that addiction was their product, but they knew that most smokers start smoking when they are young. They accordingly focused some very successful advertising campaigns on young consumers. “Joe Camel” was a particularly successful image that made young people think smoking was cool.

In the late 1990s the federal government and state governments sued the tobacco corporations for the health care expenses due to lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases. Tobacco corporations had been making the profits from, and taxpayers footing the bill for, smoking-addiction-induced cancer. Despite their best efforts and attempted appeals, the tobacco corporations had to pay these expenses, and in addition had to stop marketing their products to young people.

A similar thing is happening with the corporate attempts to discredit global warming science. One of the early leaders of these attempts was the same man who fought to discredit the link between smoking and cancer: Frederick Seitz. One of the groups that fight to discredit global warming, the Heartland Institute, still denies the health dangers of smoking. They used to have this on their home page, but now keep it hidden on a web page that is not easy to find.

The truth gets even more indirect and mysterious. I describe now a report I heard on All Things Considered yesterday. Today, nearly everyone has heard that stress causes numerous health problems, including heart attacks. The scientific research behind the stress-heart disease connection is excellent. But the earliest major researcher who studied the physiology of stress—Hans Selye—got most of his funding from tobacco corporations. The reason is actually quite simple. Numerous things cause heart attacks. Stress is one of them. Smoking is another. Others include poor nutrition and genetic factors. All of these factors interact with one another. And what the tobacco companies wanted to claim, although Selye never actually said this himself (as far as I can tell), was that stress, not smoking, caused heart attacks. What Selye did not say, the tobacco companies were eager to say. Their advertisements openly proclaimed that you should smoke to relieve stress. Tobacco corporations wanted to blame stress and avert criticism of smoking.

And Selye went right along with this. Mark Petticrew, Director of Public Health for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and his colleagues examined thousands of documents that were made public as a result of the “tobacco settlement” of the late 1990s. They found that tobacco corporations vetted the content and wording of Selye’s papers (see hyperlink above). Says Petticrew, “tobacco industry lawyers actually influenced the content of his writings, they suggested to him things that he should comment on.”

Hanse Selye was certainly a famous scientist, author of thousands of papers and 39 books. But was Selye a liar? It does not appear so. But tobacco companies paid for his research and used his results to lie to the American public. Blood is on their hands, and Selye was their, apparently willing, tool.

You see, some scientists will say whatever you pay them to say. Far fewer scientists will do this than lawyers and politicians, but there are some. Corporate interests, such as the coal and oil industries, have found these few and use them over and over and over.

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