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« An Englishman abroad | Main | Oxford blues (another debate lost) »
Sunday
Mar062016

Carl Phillips – a welcome voice of sanity (and science) leaves CASAA

On Thursday Carl Phillips announced he had left his role with the US-based Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA).

I don't fully understand what has happened but I'd like to express my appreciation for the work Carl has done and I hope this isn't the end of the line because he still has an important contribution to make.

I don't know him well - we generally meet once a year at the Global Tobacco & Nicotine Forum (GTNF) - but having enjoyed several chats and being a reader of his blog (Anti-THR Lies and Related Topics) I believe he's one of the more objective advocates of tobacco harm reduction (THR). He's certainly one of the least subjective when it comes to smoking.

Carl is one of the few THR commentators who shares (I think) some of my contempt for the tobacco control activists who have leapt on the vaping bandwagon. ('Contempt' may be a bit strong but you get my drift.)

A keen advocate of ecigs and other harm reduction products, he's also a student of irony. He recognises, for example, how bizarre it is that people who spent years disseminating propaganda about smoking (secondhand smoke in particular) are among the first to complain about 'junk science' when it affects e-cigarettes.

If I've understood him correctly, Carl's endgame (like mine) is a world in which adults are allowed to make informed choices about a range of nicotine products.

Carl would like smokers to switch to less harmful products but he believes such choices should be based on genuine science and education, not propaganda and coercion.

If people make the 'wrong' choice it's a matter for them, not government or public health campaigners or vaping enthusiasts who have seen the light and become the worst kind of ex-smoker, puritannical and intolerant of others.

In short, Carl may be a THR campaigner but he's not 'anti tobacco' and he's certainly not 'anti smoker'. Nor is he A Billion Lives style evangelist or public health activist who believes vapers are the "new frontline smoking cessation advisors".

In the increasingly interdependent worlds of tobacco control and tobacco harm reduction this makes him (a) extremely unusual and (b) a potentially disruptive influence.

The reason I am personally grateful to him is that by speaking out (sometimes obliquely – he's more diplomatic than I am!) Carl indirectly encouraged me to comment too because no-one likes to feel they are entirely isolated in a public debate.

So when I read that Carl agrees with me I am quietly comforted because I respect his views (even when we disagree). I appreciate too his courage in speaking out because I know for a fact that some THR advocates are being silenced or intimidated by tobacco control and their craven response sickens me.

The truth is, many of the leading advocates of e-cigarettes are at the forefront of the war on tobacco. For years they misled people about the health risks of passive smoking and to this day they exaggerate the risks of smoking which are considerable but not on the scale their persistent propaganda would have us believe.

Carl recognised much of this and I hope it's not a factor in his departure from CASAA. Likewise his principled refusal to become a mindless cheerleader for e-cigarettes at the expense of consumer choice.

Whatever the reasons I wish him well. We need more not fewer people like Carl Phillips so I hope his voice will continue to be heard.

I'll just add this. I can't think of anyone I'd rather trust to write a genuinely impartial review of the forthcoming documentary A Billion Lives.

That's how highly I value his opinion. No more than 1,000 words, though, Carl. I don't have the attention span for some of your longer posts!

Update: Carl has added a comment – worth reading.

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Reader Comments (5)

Interesting. Whilst I don’t personally rue the departure of any e-cig advocate from the debating table – because the fact is that even the tolerant ones like Phillips are never actually going to lend any active support to the fight against bullying and unfairness which smokers, still much more than vapers, are subject to; any support which might come our way being merely a by-product of their real fight against restrictions on vaping – this does sound a little bit like the sidelining of the ex-ASH head honcho (was that Clive Bates? Can’t remember now), who was more concerned with THR than banning tobacco all over the place, to be replaced by the much more extremist and puritanical Arnott, who had a very different approach and a very different agenda.

One might almost don one’s tinfoil hat and start thinking that “covert forces” are at work here, ensuring that anyone who fronts up a campaign group with a conciliatory, tolerant, reasonable approach or who requests a “solution” which doesn’t necessarily involve having things all their own way, with no room for compromise – anywhere or any time - are swiftly removed and replaced by someone more strident and demanding ...

As I say – interesting.

Monday, March 7, 2016 at 1:00 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

"to this day they exaggerate the risks of smoking which are considerable but not on the scale their persistent propaganda would have us believe."

- how "considerable" depends on how much one smokes and how often but unfortunately consumers are being deliberately misled and misinformed. Dose makes poison so the risks of active smoking may not be quite as "considerable" as some people think.

Anything in moderation won't harm anyone that much but smoke 100 fags a day, down two bags of sugar, followed by a 100 pints of beer a day and all of these things can be considerably harmful.

The problem is we have what used to be called hypochondriacs and phobics with mental health disorders pushing all this public health scaremongering and that is what needs to be exposed.

Smokerphobia harms them and others around them. That is the true message.

Monday, March 7, 2016 at 10:18 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Simon,

It is no secret that I believe that defenders of the rights to use any tobacco products are really all fighting the same battle (as are defenders of the right to use other drugs or any other "impure" behavior), and I would describe it much the way you do. The ethical grounding of all such defenses are the same, and the sensible tactics involve forming a common cause. As a corollary of that, anyone who is a cheerleader for the use of just one product is probably just trying to dress up their self interest as a larger cause (perhaps without realizing it), or in the case of the grandees who support vaping, temporarily dressing up a particular personal authoritarian preference in the language of freedom.

I find an interesting contrast between the failures to recognize that among pro-vaping commentators and pro-smoking commentators. (Or "anti-anti-" rather than "pro-" if you prefer.) As you allude, I am at >95th percentile among the influential punditocracy (or whatever it is you want to call the likes of us) in terms of agreeing with Forest manifesto. Yet many from your blogosphere are quick to attack even someone like me (this have gone as far as calling for me to be killed).

The contrast is: In your camp there are a lot of people who will reject real allies who do not pass every last litmus test (e.g., not just rejecting those claims that smoking that exaggerate the harms from smoking, but also rejecting what the evidence really does show about the harms). In the vaper camp, there are many who will embrace and exalt anyone who says something that seems to be pro-ecig, even when that individual's full agenda is clearly not pro-freedom-to-vape, and even when the claim is ultimately harmful to the cause (e.g., that vaping is 5% as harmful as smoking). Both of these are rather self-defeating, but interestingly different. I will grant that smokers' rights people's attempts to alienate potential allies probably do not really matter much given the "little left to lose" position, plus the fact that someone who is already in agreement is not likely to care much about such attempts.

Thinking out loud, I suspect the contrast results from those in your camp having learned the lesson of being cynical about ultimate motives and long-games the hard way. The vaper blogosphere has a lot of political naifs. In fairness to them, it might not be a terrible tactic to just think about this month -- the more vaping becomes established in the short run, the better the position to fight in the long run. But, of course the history of anti-smoking shows that an installed base of consumers is hardly sufficient to win the long game.

I really cannot see any serious improvement for either smokers' rights or THR advocacy until the underlying power of the "public health" political faction is damaged, which requires focused attacks on its core. When the enemy consists of a machine that just keeps grinding away at you, a war of attrition is a sure loser and even the effects of brilliant battlefield tactics are soon clawed back by the grinding. Cheerleaders who think that the mere existence of ecigs and their advocates is game changing there, all by itself, seem to be in an echo chamber that ignores the fact that the moment they are losing ground most everywhere every day.

As for the length of posts, maybe you are just not my target audience ;-). I hope you at least read to the end of this.

Monday, March 7, 2016 at 13:10 | Unregistered CommenterCarl V Phillips

Simon, please add my name as a co-author to your post. (Of course, I kid about actually doing that -- taking credit for your work -- but the thought is 1000% genuine.)

Carl has always stood behind the principles of the matter to lead him. If everyone got behind the principles rather than narrow self-interests we'd have a formidable army with the stronger case, rather than factions that unfathomably feel exaggerations and distortions (both camps) and sacrificial lambs (sorry, that's pretty much vapers alone) that at best leaves us all treading water in the throes of the antis' tsunami.

To my own camp I will point out that even before e-cigs came on the scene, Carl was exposing the secondhand smoke science, so I've been quite perplexed and disturbed by any hostilities directed at him -- especially any accusations over his loyalties or ulterior motives. It has always been clear to me that his loyalty is to principle and his motives are to advance the issue facts guided by it. He has never deviated from that. There is no way to slip up or leave yourself open to question with that simple math equation.

To quote Carl, "core" and "focus." That's the simple math. Meanwhile too many run around turning 2+2 into some monster calculus problem and blaming its own people for the antis not being able to solve it (i.e. get it and be repelled by it).

Monday, March 7, 2016 at 18:59 | Unregistered CommenterAudrey Silk

Fwiw, I add an amen to Carl's response. Indeed, the larger principle is, and always was, the actual point but it keeps getting lost in pointless squabbles about exactly how many devils are dancing on the lighted tip of a cigarette. We are further conquered by having been far too successfully divided but the question that remains is about that machine -- juggernaut, really -- and how, and even why, it grew to be so great and how the hell to stop it. Or does it have to just go to its illogical extremes before it eventually discredits itself with an excess of whoppers?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016 at 6:55 | Unregistered CommenterWalt Cody

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