In 1964 the Surgeon General issued a report on smoking and health. It was the first time big tobacco lost its grip on manipulating the research to hide the fact that their product causes lung cancer. Up until that point, big tobacco threw down all the money they could to hide and alter research that would show the truth about their products.
The American Tobacco company ran this ad in the early 1930’s. The best part of it is that there’s no indication how many doctors they actually asked, and the ad ran multiple times and the number grew as they got more responses confirming their desired message.
For decades, the public was weary of cigarettes causing health problems. And during that time, big tobacco threw truckloads of money at researchers to manipulate studies and hide negative results from the public.
This is another old trick employed by people who want to muddy the water about scientific studies. First, they describe, “science” as though it is a monolithic entity. Second, they load up a study or survey no doubt flawed in fundamental ways and present it as though they found the Higgs Boson. But, this study can’t be flawed. The guy has a lab coat and a microscope. Now that’s sciencey!
Big tobacco lined their pockets with profits earned from the premature deaths of countless people. They lied and killed and spent billions to be able to do it. In the early 60’s America was lucky enough to have a Surgeon General to finally put together a definitive report on the dangers of smoking. Big tobacco got away with it for a long time, but eventually the government caught up with them and someone in power finally set the record straight.
We’ve already reported on a manipulative tactic used in a Forbes ad to mislead about the science behind climate change. On that page, the headline ran in massive type declaring that a recent study revealed that scientists overwhelmingly doubted humans cause climate change. As we discussed, the scientists in question were all from an area where they were overwhelmingly likely to derive their living directly from oil and gas, and there were also almost no scientists that worked in relevant fields to make the call.
Lamar Smith has become known widely for two things; taking in massive campaign financing from big oil, and issuing subpoenas to climate scientists so that he can try to discredit their research in hearings. Those two facts certainly seem like a case where correlation does indicate causation.
Big oil learned by studying the big tobacco playbook, but this time around they left no room for error. The effort to blur the science is apparent if you look. There are countless think tanks and industry groups doing surveys like the one in the Forbes article. The smartest ones dress up their climate denial by claiming to support, “clean” fossil fuels, as if there was such a thing.
The major improvement that big oil made when it employed the big tobacco playbook was stepping up their game in Washington. The Koch brothers, with their billionaire coal and fracking empire, took great care to find a court case that they could back to knock down the laws restricting how much money they could pour into politics. When the Citizens United case came along, they knew they had a winner.
They didn’t leave anything to chance. In the year before the court case was announced, the wife of Clarence Thomas was making big money as a Tea Party lobbyist. He failed to accurately document that fact on his financial forms.
Antonin Scalia broke with judicial ethics and made a personal appearance at a Tea Party rally.
The Koch brothers money paved the way for SCOTUS to open the door to unlimited money in elections. After buying their court decision and years of propaganda discrediting climate change, big energy is set to keep us all smoking as long as they’d like.
As a parting shot, here’s another gem from the Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology:
The difference between the damage done by big tobacco and the damage being done by big oil is that big tobacco caused a health crisis for individuals, and big oil is causing the exacerbation of an existential crisis for the species.