The Alarmist Playbook

For some time now – perhaps even the last 10 years – I’ve tended to strongly associate antismoking alarmism with global warming alarmism, with antismoking alarmism the senior partner that preceded global warming alarmism by some 50 years, with one being the daughter of the other.

Both use the same playbook, which is firstly to establish the existence of some hitherto-unrecognised mortal threat to humanity, and then to urgently press for more studies of the threat,  for increased public awareness of the threat, and finally for preventive action to be taken to forestall the threat. Establishing the threat is usually done with science and, more particularly, mathematics – usually statistics. Once the reality of the threat has been established, and a consensus scientific view reached (usually very rapidly), it is used to leverage funding of further studies from governments, foundations, and wealthy private individuals (e.g. gullible people like Michael Bloomberg or Bill Gates). With growing considerable funding, the new consensus then finds its way into journals, newspapers, magazines, and books, all of which serve to raise public awareness of the threat, and to build up political pressure on governments and regulatory agencies to act to meet the threat. And eventually governments surrender and start banning things – i.e. tobacco smoke and/or carbon dioxide. And at this point the slowly-accelerating bandwagon becomes an unstoppable political juggernaut.

It helps if the threat is of something that might happen quite soon. If the threat is of something that will happen tomorrow, nothing will be able to be done about it, because it’s too late. And if the threat is of something that might happen in the distant future, hundreds or thousands or even millions of years hence, nobody will be in the least bit bothered about it. So the ideal threat is one which will manifest itself in a few decades time, within the lifetime of people alive today – or if not their lifetime, then in the lifetime of their children or their children’s children. In this respect, antismoking alarmism uses a period of about 40 – 50 years, which is the length of time it is believed to usually take smokers to develop lung cancer (or any number of other maladies). Global warming alarmism operates at a slightly longer time scale: we will all be cooked in about 100 years time. And these are timescales perfectly suited to carry out research to establish the reality of the threat, raise funding and public awareness, and force governments to take action.

Both forms of alarmism eventually attract the interest of the political revolutionary left, who are always looking for ways to upturn the existing political order, and smash capitalism/money/society/families. What better way to smash society than to ban smoking everywhere, exile smokers to the outdoors, and start a civil war between smokers and antismokers? What better way to cripple the economy than to ban carbon dioxide and coal and oil and engines and cars, and replace them with useless windmills and solar farms? No need for violent revolution: the political order can be made to dismantle itself, of its own accord. And so both attract revolutionary leftists, who infiltrate the alarmist movements, and direct them to their own purely political ends.

And both forms of alarmism are essentially ponzi schemes which rely on new investors being drawn in to provide the cash flow to fund older investors. They have to grow all the time. The difference with antismoking and global warming alarmism is that they have to attract new believers rather than new investors, for it’s only when they have enough noisy believers that they will be able to extract government grants and private donations for further studies or publicity or political campaigns. And while ponzi schemes like those of Bernie Madoff offer a reward in the form of increased income, antismoking and global warming alarmism hold out the promise of increased health and longevity of life for future generations, if the threats can be successfully neutralised.

And both forms of alarmism, in raising an alarm, act to sow public fear and panic. People lie awake at night worrying whether they’re going to be boiled alive by the carbon dioxide from their neighbour’s SUV, or infected with cancer and heart disease and lumbago by the tobacco smoke from his cigars.

And in this respect both antismoking alarmism and global warming alarmism share the same kind of threat: trace amounts of gases – tobacco smoke and carbon dioxide – in the atmosphere, both of which have magical properties. For example it’s one of the magical properties of tobacco smoke that it can go through walls. And the magical property of carbon dioxide is that it can trap heat in the atmosphere, and set up an entire chain reaction of feedback effects which trap yet more heat, causing runaway global warming.

In addition, both forms of alarmism feed upon widespread ignorance of anything and everything scientific. They require a general ignorance of mathematics – and in particular statistics -, chemistry, physics, and biology. The result is that most people are completely unable to counter their mathematical and scientific arguments with mathematical and scientific counter-arguments. They feel obliged to surrender to the wisdom of the army of experts who have descended on them, and flee before the barrage of propaganda raining down on them from every quarter.

But there are some signs that the tide of panic and alarm may be beginning to abate. And this is probably because, as the threat level is ramped up higher and higher, it becomes progressively less and less credible. And as the claims made by the alarmists become more and more incredible, fewer and fewer people continue to believe them. And the result is that counter-alarmists start to appear in growing numbers, talking down the threat rather than talking it up.

Such counter-alarmism is most strongly developed in the case of global warming alarmism. There is now a considerable body of global warming scepticism, or “denialism”. In fact, it has almost become a majority view, with US president Donald Trump among the principal sceptics.

Antismoking counter-alarmism seems to be far less well-developed. Most people believe that smoking causes lung cancer, even if they’re not so sure whether carbon dioxide causes catastrophic global warming. And there would seem to be two reasons for this. The first is that antismoking alarmism is far older, and far more well-established, and so far more unquestionable (in the western world, at least), than the relatively new upstart of global warming alarmism, which is not quite so well-established, and so not quite so unquestionable. And the second is that antismoking alarmism was first established in an era when mainstream media – newspapers, radio, and TV – could all broadcast the same antismoking propaganda, and nobody could reply. But in our new internet era (which is the era in which global warming alarmism has gathered momentum) nobody has a monopoly on the news, and there are multiple conflicting sources of news and information, and for every claim by anyone about anything, there will almost certainly be a counterclaim somewhere else.

If there is to be a strong antismoking counter-alarmist movement it’s much more likely to emerge in the east than in the west. And this is because while in the west, everyone has been subjected to intensive antismoking propaganda for the past 70 years or more, the former communist countries of eastern Europe and the Russian federation were places where such propaganda was largely absent, and so the population has not been conditioned to be frightened of tobacco and tobacco smoke. One result of this is that there is a far higher prevalence of smoking in eastern Europe and Russia (and also China) than there now is in the western world. And there is also probably a much higher level of disbelief in the dangers of tobacco and tobacco smoker than there is in the west. And these two factors are bound to result in a much stronger counter-alarmist movement than any in the west. For example, regular commenter Dmitri Kosyrev appears quite often on Russian TV to robustly argue with antismoking activists (I’ve watched him do so, even if I couldn’t understand a word he was saying). Can anyone imagine any sort of similar robust debate taking place in the UK? Of course not. With one or two exceptions, British smokers are a cowed and beaten bunch of silent people. Clearly the same is not true in Russia. And it probably isn’t true in any country in eastern Europe, or China, and maybe even India too.

About Frank Davis

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9 Responses to The Alarmist Playbook

  1. Rose says:

    So the ideal threat is one which will manifest itself in a few decades time, within the lifetime of people alive today

    If you are totally unscrupulous it must be fun terrifying people out of their wits about small and relatively harmless items by blowing things out of all proportion.

    Having studied anti-tobacco methods for years, with the right massaging and omissions and taken entirely out of context ,I now have a series of scientific studies that could be used to transfer the newly created terror of tobacco smoke to a fear of all nightshade vegetables in the general public as a whole.

    The Phantom Menace
    You have all been contaminated, no one is exempt.

    The Nicotine Content of Common Vegetables

    “To the Editor: The presence of nicotine and its metabolite cotinine in the body fluids of nonsmokers is usually taken as evidence of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied 800 people, both smokers and nonsmokers, all of whom tested positive for urinary continine.

    There is considerable evidence that nicotine is present in certain human foods, especially plants from the family Solanaceae (such as potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant).”

    Dietary nicotine: a source of urinary cotinine
    “A range of potential values for urinary cotinine concentrations (0.6 to 6.2 ng/ml) was calculated based upon estimated average and maximal consumptions of these foods and beverages. Because of the potential for exposure to nicotine by way of these routes, the use of urinary cotinine as a biomarker of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke may be compromised.

    “To put that number into context, a widely cited study has determined that an average cotinine level of 0.4 ng/ml increases lung cancer deaths by 1 for every 1,000 people and increases heart disease deaths by 1 for every 100 people.”

    Many constituents of third hand smoke can be found in all homes and cars, regardless of smoking

    Simon Chapman

    “But it is equally important that consumers and policy makers are not led to believe that the chemical compounds thus located are somehow unique to tobacco smoke.
    Unless in the extremely unlikely event that residents burn copious quantities of solanaceous vegetables (aubergine, tomato) which contain small amounts of nicotine, tobacco is going to be the only source of nicotine in homes.

    But it will not by any means be the only source of many of the ingredients of “third hand smoke” that the unwitting or the fumophobic may believe are attributable only to smoking.

    The omission of this information in such reports risks harming the credibility of tobacco control.”

    Too right, and they have been omitting this information for as long as I can remember.

  2. waltc says:

    This chronicles the four stages of the rise and fall of faddish “causes” in general and as applied to climate hysteria in particular. Too bad that the monetary costs of tobacco control aren’t great enough (or the existing ones publicized enough) to accelerate its demise:

  3. Smoking Lamp says:

    Frank, you hit the nail on the head here. Great essay! Tobacco control is a Ponzi scheme that cashes in of fear and the thrill of persecution.

  4. Lepercolonist says:

    “Time for a quick reality check,” Pence wrote. “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer.”

    Mike Pence, vice president of the U.S.

    • Joe L. says:

      Sixteen years after making this statement (when he was nominated for Vice-President of the U.S.), the media dug this quote up and dragged Pence through the mud, trying to make him sound like a crackpot for simply reciting factual, unbiased statistics.

      Sadly, it appears as though the Antismokers got to Pence, because he hasn’t stood up for smokers once since becoming V.P.

  5. RdM says:

    That’s a terrific essay, Frank;- glad to read it.
    I mean, very good! Thanks for such a great exposition.
    Says many of the things I’ve been thinking, saying, even!

  6. mactheknife says:

    We’re not cowed Frank, our being here is proof of that. What we are, is gagged and excluded. Bitterly frustrating, but I don’t see us going away any day soon…

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