Skip to content

Anti-Tobacco Lobbying Is Bad For You

There is a smoking story making the rounds here in New York. Seems the New York State Legislature has cut funding thirty-percent to its anti-smoking program. These cuts were over a three-year period.

Many other programs and agencies also saw their funding reduced: the State has a large budget deficit.

Among other consequences, the tighter anti-smoking budget forced a scaling back of the free nicotine-patch program.

That’s not my “free”, incidentally. It arose from the fruitful imagination of one Russ Sciandra, who bills himself director of the Center for a Tobacco Free New York, a mysterious not-for-profit.

We must not be too harsh with Mr Sciandra: many people mistakenly use that word for government give-a-ways. Pennies from Heaven isn’t in it.

But we can take exception with Sciandra for this statement: because of the cutbacks “105,000 adults started smoking who otherwise might not have.”

That instantiation of the quote came from the Albany Times Union. It also appeared word-for-word in the New York Post and many other outlets in the state over the past two days.

The quote anchored the story in each of the papers in which it appeared: that is, the first paragraph was, as near as could be discerned, identical in each paper.

Which means, quite sadly, that the story is likely not a story at all, but a press release gathered from a wire service which lazy editors substituted for real news. Press releases, as we all know, are free; reporters cost money.

What is worse is that Mr Sciandra’s claims didn’t set alarm bells ringing. Editors should have been asking themselves: how can this claim be true?

105,000 people started smoking who otherwise would not have if the government didn’t confiscate money from its citizens to tell them what they already knew: that smoking is bad for them? It doesn’t make sense.

It cannot be that the increase came from a reduction in the “free” nicotine patches. After all, to require a nicotine patch requires first that one is an addicted smoker.

Sciandra also said that the cutbacks forced a reduction in quit-smoking advertisements. But it’s tough to argue that ads which ask people to quit smoking also induce (a substantial proportion of) non-smokers to remain non-smokers.

And then there is that pretty, round number. How did it arise? The evidence is circumstantial, but probably like this: Mr Sciandra made it up.

He probably did so in a semi-scientific sounding manner. He probably started with a number which said, “For every dollar expended by the government in its anti-smoking crusade, X number of people will never start smoking.” From there, it is an easy extrapolation to the 105,000.

The difficulty comes in finding X, which almost certainly is a bald guess, inferred indirectly from surveys of people who quit, and the guessed-at relationship between those folks and those who never began smoking.

Next question: How did the cuts in the anti-smoking program arise?

In the press release cum news story, it is surmised that Philip Morris parent Altria Group Inc., a lobbying entity, donated $30,000 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. Not once, but twice.

And they did so at precisely the right moment to encourage the Democrat-controlled Legislature to vote to cut funding.

Not mentioned is how the, as we’re told constantly, incorruptible Democrat party would allow itself to be influenced by filthy lucre.

Indeed, Eric Blankenbaker, spokesman for the Senate Democratic campaign, said, “There is no connection” between the money and the vote.

Well. That’s enough for me: I’m convinced.

Anyway, somehow the story missed pointing out that the wily Mr Sciandra is a lobbyist himself. One of his self-proclaimed specialties is, we are not surprised to discover, “message development.”

Mr Sciandra is under the pay of the American Cancer Society, a noble organization which is saddened when it sees people smoke. The Center for a Tobacco Free New York, which Mr Sciandra “directs”, is actually an arm of the ACS. It’s website tobaccofreeny.org is defunct. And according to the Whois database, it is owned by a domain reseller.

In plainer language, it does not appear that the Center is a genuine, independent organization, but one which exists solely to provide a more pleasant sounding name to attach to press releases.

But we can’t help wonder why. Isn’t “American Cancer Society” as a name both authoritative and majestic? The subterfuge hardly seems necessary.

Perhaps it was because the ACS—and not the Center for a Tobacco Free New York—was one of the routine recipients of the New York State’s anti-smoking monies?

9 thoughts on “Anti-Tobacco Lobbying Is Bad For You Leave a comment

  1. And to think they were influenced by an amount less than an aide’s annual salary. I’m holding out my donation until next year when the price goes down to a tuna sub and fries.

  2. So a contibution of $30,000 to the Democrat party led to 105,000 New Yorkers starting to smoke. Therefore, a small contribution of just 29 cents to the Republican party could save one New Yorker from ever smoking.

  3. Jerry,

    To be fair, it was $60,000. But with that, and probably using the same kind of logic that gave us the 105,000, for every million donated to the Democrat party by pro-smoking lobbyists, we’d have about two million new smokers. And since they have received far more than just one million over the past decade, it’s a wonder that not everybody in the State is smoking by now.

  4. The ACS lost all credibility with me years ago. When James E Enstrom and Geoffrey C Kabat published their study “Environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality in a prospective study of Californians, 1960-98” the ACS claimed the study was fradulent. The ACS had no problem with the study until it became obvious that it would not show any association between environmental tobacco smoke and lung cancer, then the ACS called the researchers incompetent and the study junk science.

  5. According to a study of smoking cessation (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5624a4.htm) in New York City a major 2005 media campaign reduced the number of NYC smokers by roughly 80K. This is the equivalent of 200K state wide, which means that the stopping of the campaign would lead to a restart of smoking of 50% among those who had previously quit. What is unclear is the percentage of individuals who restart smoking after they have quit. The numbers appear to be much lower than the 50 indicated by Sciandri estimate. Moreover, increasing taxes seem to be far more effective than media buys.

  6. “Quitting smoking is easy, I’ve done it hundreds of times.”

    My plan to save social security was to give away Cigarettes. More people dying in their 60s means fewer people social security has to support.

    I suspect that in annother 50 years, someone will discover all the healful affects of tobacco, pork fat, and chocolate.

  7. That darn ACS. Doug M has nailed it. If it weren’t for the efforts of the ACS we wouldn’t have so many “former” smokers walking about and would’nt have needed Obamacare.

    If only they would have taken on something really unhealthy, like cell-phoning in public, I’d say OK. All those radio waves buzzing about have got to cause harm somewhere to something, according to my data at least.

  8. I think I may have found the answer to the 105,000 claim. Apparently Hookah smoking is leading to a disturbing increase in smoking in the 18 to 24 age bracket.

    (see CBC News here http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2010/05/10/hookah-smoking.html )

    I mean with Alice in Wonderland romanticizing the practice is there really any wonder?

    But have no fear…

    “It’s still under the radar currently. But I think there’s a kind of major awakening,” Maziak says, pointing to the fact that the U.S. National Institutes of Health have started funding research into hookah use.

    “This is spreading so fast.… People now understand it’s really a major public health threat.”

    I propose that monies be set aside for Cheech & Chong to lead this effort. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *