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?