The 2018 Biosemiotics Gathering at UC Berkeley organized by myself and Terry Deacon takes place June 17-20 at the International House. Please see www.biosemiotics.life for more information. The Biosemiotics schedule can be found here.
PLOS Medicine just published an article I wrote with Jesse Elias and Pam Ling at UCSF on “Public versus internal conceptions of addiction: An analysis of internal Philip Morris documents.” This article discusses previously secret industry documents pointing at the disconnect between the Philip Morris’s public statements of addiction as reduced to nicotine, and their secret unpublished research showing that nicotine is a minor overall component of smoking addiction.
Public health researchers interested in helping smokers would do well to critically appraise the public statements, policies, and actions of tobacco and nicotine dealers, especially as these are strictly for-profit companies beholden to their lexical priority of fiduciary responsibility increasing shareholder value at all costs.
Rather than bandwagoning on nicotine determinism, addiction is a biopsychosocial disease with lobbying and advertising as disease vectors.
News media on the paper appears in The Outline and other interviews.
The Outline writes:
Publicly, Philip Morris has been willing to admit that cigarettes are addictive since 1998—but would only cop to the role of nicotine in forming an addiction. Yet privately, the company knew that social, psychological, and environmental factors are also central to addiction and how difficult it is to quit smoking. In other words, addiction was never just about nicotine, and Philip Morris knew it.
the researchers hope to remind public health officials that tobacco addiction is about more than just nicotine, and that there isn’t enough long-term data to show whether “reduced harm products” actually benefit public health. Even Philip Morris recognized this.
In other words, they said, PM’s ‘opportunistic’ shift from denying to affirming nicotine’s addictiveness was driven not by a substantive change in scientific understanding but by public, regulatory, and legal pressures.
While Philip Morris publicly acknowledged nicotine’s addictiveness in 2000, the study’s authors suggest that the company scapegoated the chemical as the solitary driver of addiction. By placing the blame on nicotine, company scientists drew attention away from a potential public health focus on biological, social, psychological, and environmental factors that could help people quit smoking….
For addiction researchers, public health researchers, and smokers, it’s clear that smoking is about so much more than the nicotine. But this analysis suggests that a major tobacco company attempted to steer the focus toward only nicotine, decreasing the effectiveness of interventions that could help people quit.
Susan Mayor writes in the British Journal of Medicine writes that while PM’s “Addiction Consensus Group”:
Sounds very virtuous
More like a cover up. An analysis funded by the US National Cancer Institute compared the company’s public position on addiction with what was being discussed within company walls. It found that throughout the 2000s Philip Morris reinforced the idea that nicotine’s pharmacology was the main driver of smoking addiction. But internally, company scientists were saying there was bit more to it than that. Addiction was the result of “interconnected biological, social, psychological, and environmental determinants,” with nicotine just one component.
Here I will attempt to gather and decode euphemisms (saccharine words covering up the dismal reality, e.g., climate change for global warming) and dysphemisms (derogatory terms for neutral ones, e.g., warmist for people who acknowledge the facts of global warming) of corporate-speak.
“Crop Protection Agents” = pesticides
Example: Philip Morris attempting to use the natural anti-pest properties of tobacco to make the claim that tobacco is better for the environment than food crops (remember the neonicotinoid pesticides that are decimating bee and butterfly populations? They come from tobacco)
My new lexicon entry in the Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics on “Fungi Ethics” is online. It can be accessed here. Fungi ethics, which is closely allied to plant ethics, describes how fungi–both for better and worse–are forever imbricated in our food systems. Fungi both destroy and enable crops. Virtually every terrestrial plant is threaded-through with endophytic fungi. A further majority trees and many plants require mycelial mycorrhizae to flourish, and will flag without these crucial extensions and transmitters of their root structure.
I am inspired by recycled electronics. IT Asset Partners (ITAP) recently posted a video about it’s ragtag recycled electronic car surpassing in range the major three manufacturers’ (Tesla, Chevy Volt, and Nissan Leaf) top vehicles. ITAP director Eric Lundgren stresses that we should be reusing electronics rather than reducing them to their elemental components, as this process wastes all the work that went into making these parts, and it takes energy, water, and waste products in order to take apart and reuse the materials in a stripped down form. Lundgren writes,
re-use is the purest form of recycling. it creates zero carbon footprint. re-using parts/components within broken/obsolete electronics is called “hybrid recycling”. this is a much-needed and often missing part of the recycling ecosystem.’
Lundgren, who has come under attack by Microsoft for his efforts in refurbishing and distributing junked computers in a misplaced lawsuit, has made a recycled electric car for $13,000 that outpaces Tesla, Chevy, and Nissan by at least 50 miles.
The question of what is to happen with the millions of electric car batteries after their cars are junked needs to be addressed now, rather than waving the hand in a mañana fashion.
In the Bay Area, and probably all around California, I have been seen at bus stops and on buses a very disturbing ad. What is disturbing about this advertisement, is that whoever made it failed to understand adolescent psychology. The ad says:
Underage drinking and driving: the ultimate party foul
So what’s wrong with this statement? The key word is “underage.” What this implies, is that drinking and driving if you are 21 or older, is not “the ultimate party foul, but it’s something else.” And that something else, can only be less than a big deal compared to under-aged drinking and driving. So, it’s simultaneously telling people over 21 that drinking and driving is much much worse if you are under 21, and it’s also telling people who are under 21 that it’s not as bad if you’re over 21 and drink and drive. Whichever end of the threshold you’re on, the ad challenges you to not think of drinking and driving as such as that bad of a thing.
As we know from research on children and advertising, all you have to do to make something cool, is to say “only adults can do it.” This institutes the no-kids-allowed forbidden fruit policy that precisely draws kids to do whatever they’re not supposed to do. The tobacco industry and the alcohol industry have made use of this knowledge to sell their products to underage youth for decades. So it’s baffling that the American Ad Council, which posts these public service announcements, would create a PSA like this, which completely undermines the very position one would think they’re trying to take (i.e., that nobody, especially young people, should drink and drive). What this amounts to, is simply that they need child psychologists and cultural semioticians to vet all of their Ad work. I volunteer for that position. Because as it stands, they’re messaging is creating the very opposite effect which they intend.
As Freudenberg writes, “Some industry-sponsored ‘Drink Responsibly’ campaigns, for example, use ‘strategic ambiguity’ to create messages that mean one thing to young people (e.g., ‘don’t drink too much’) and another to their parents (‘don’t drink if you’re under 21’). By telling each group what they want to hear, these advertisements offer alcohol companies positive publicity without jeopardizing market share or the recruitment of new customers” (p. 33). What is uncanny, is that Freudenberg is writing about the alcohol industry’s own fake corporate social responsibility campaigns, rather than the the American Ad Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.
(Screenshot from the webpage full of tepid underage memes that have a lot to do with minimizing the actual potential costs of driving drunk, let alone the long-term and short-term health effects and vulnerability from excessive alcohol use)
Just as bad, the rape-prone advice “crash at their place” could cause these agencies a lawsuit if they’re not careful. It turns out that the website is no better than their ill-conceived tips.
When I lived in Germany, there were lots of ads on the streets against teen rape and date rape, especially alcohol fueled. Where are the ads broaching this important subject in the US? Do we just pretend it doesn’t happen? How irresponsible is that?
As the New York Times recently reported, State SenatorScott Weiner’s California Legislature bill to increase density allotments along transit corridors is a much-needed method to solve both housing and environmental burdens. Driving, no matter how you slice it, takes more energy than public transportation, so getting people on high-quality and convenient public transportation, is a sustainability priority.
Unsurprising, however, is that many of the bluechip environmental groups, like Sierra Club, oppose higher density housing zoning near transit centers because their members may be negatively affected by, say, decreased property values from higher density. Such self-serving agendas are understandable, if misguided. Those who got in early in a housing rush, enjoy their peace and privacy, and higher density changes the feel of the neighborhood. On the other hand, a commitment to sustainability, which really means finding a livable way to continue business as usual as much as possible without too much discomfort (like cataclysmic climate change), requires simple measures like smart zoning in order to make it happen. The very notion of a transition town, or a sustainable city is based on accessible public transportation. We shouldn’t fail to see the forest of preventing climate change through the trees of inconvenience. Sustainability means that we all make some small sacrifices now in order to prevent much larger ones down the road.
Sharing the sacrifice is a fundamental principle of democratic societies. For too long, women, people of color, and the poor have had to make sacrifices (living further from work, paying more than half of their paycheck in rent, etc.) while the middle-class and wealthy have serially insulated themselves from as severe costs. Having mixed neighborhoods is a small but important gesture from those who comprise well-funded environmental groups. Overcoming internal resistance to change will allow greater accessibility for those in need of convenient housing. Higher density live/work areas (like any major city in Europe) is smart, low-carbon planning. It is effective because it obviates the need for a car. Sustainable cities are resilient because they have redundancy (more than one way to get to work), flexibility (if one option is closed, take the other), diversity, and slack (abundance, more than enough niches for everyone). California can achieve this much better with more environmentally-sound zoning. One can only hope that the major, private donor-funded environmental orgs can get on the right side of history.