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Grotesque and offensive: a public health response to The Australian’s article invoking Hitler and Nazi Germany in a critique of tobacco control

The Federal Government’s recent economic statement (available here) announced an increase in tobacco excise (staged in four rises between December this year and September 2016), which is expected to raise $5.8 billion.

Public health researcher Dr Becky Freeman estimates the price increase should lead to about 210,000 fewer Australian adults and 40,000 fewer teenagers smoking, or that around 2.5 billion fewer cigarettes will be smoked each year.

But the news prompted The Australian’s economics correspondent, Adam Creighton, to write that the measure “is being sold with the same flawed economic and moral arguments that underpinned Nazi Germany’s policies to stamp out smoking”.

Some in the Twittersphere invoked Godwin’s Law, which relates to the inappropriate use of Nazi analogies in articles or speeches, and is sometimes interpreted as holding that whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.

In the article below, Mike Daube, Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University and President of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, says Creighton’s attempt to smear health campaigners is “grotesque”.

“It is especially offensive to those of us working in this area whose family tree shows all too many from only one generation back whose lives ended in Nazi death camps,” writes Daube. “One of my most precious possessions is a card my grandfather managed to send his family from Dachau concentration camp.”

***

How crass can journalism get?

 Mike Daube writes:

Just when you thought you had seen everything from the tobacco cheer squad, their arguments descend yet further into the gutter.

An article by Adam Creighton in The Australian (“Butt out of Individuals’ Choices”, August 2), attacking tobacco tax increases in particular and public health campaigns in general, equates activities aimed at reducing smoking with Hitler, Nazi Germany and fascism.

There are no less than eleven references to Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany, National Socialism, the Reich, and fascism, as well as a quote from Mussolini.

The only other individual quoted is an extremist Canadian economist with a documented history of working with tobacco companies.

Creighton links modern campaigns on tobacco and other issues with Adolf Hitler’s well-recorded aversion to smoking.  From this he concludes that modern campaigns are still running “his campaign” with the same arguments that he used.

There is nothing new in the observation that Hitler disliked smoking – although it is also true, as Robert Proctor notes in his wonderful history of smoking, that the tobacco companies prospered in Nazi Germany, supported the regime, produced brands such as “Brown Cigarettes” to support the Brownshirts, promoted Hitler on cigarette cards and “wrapped themselves in the Nazi flag, accusing their critics of being unpatriotic or worse….”.

While some early scientific research associating smoking with cancer and other diseases was carried out in Nazi Germany, this achieved little against “the brute economic power of the industry” – which indeed pioneered many of the denial and distraction approaches tobacco companies still use today.

The first widely accepted papers unequivocally linking smoking and lung cancer were published in 1950, in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) and JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) by Sir Richard Doll and Sir Austin Bradford-Hill (who both served in the British armed forces), and Evarts Graham and Ernst Wynder – a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.

The subsequent blockbuster reports on the harms of smoking and the need for action came from the British Royal College of Physicians, the US Surgeon General and the World Health Organization – hardly noted as devotees of Nazi Germany and fascism. More than 160 countries have signed up to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – all, on the basis of Creighton’s warped logic, apparently to be categorised along with the Third Reich.

Creighton’s attempt to smear health campaigners by associating us with Hitler, Nazi Germany and fascism is grotesque. It is especially offensive to those of us working in this area whose family tree shows all too many from only one generation back whose lives ended in Nazi death camps. One of my most precious possessions is a card my grandfather managed to send his family from Dachau concentration camp.

How dare Adam Creighton even think of associating our work with the approaches of that evil regime?

There are other areas where Creighton’s comments run off the rails, from his minimalist acceptance of the harms of smoking to his remarkable claim that taxes on alcohol and cigarettes “typically don’t much alter behaviour” despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

On matters like these, Creighton is of course entitled to comment, even if inaccurately. But he should not besmirch his arguments with inappropriate and offensive comparisons.

The Nazi holocaust caused the deaths of some 6 million Jews in occupied Europe. The tobacco holocaust, whose interests Creighton appears to support, kills some 6 million people around the world each year.

Hitler and the Nazi regime were responsible for murdering millions.  We seek to prevent millions of deaths. There is a difference.

• Mike Daube is Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University and President, Australian Council on Smoking and Health

****

Further reading

• Writing at The Conversation, Patrick Stokes, Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University, identifies some of the moral and logical flaws in Creighton’s argument.

• Also at The Conversation, the University of Sydney’s Becky Freeman writes that the tobacco tax increase is a “gold star public health policy”.

• Mental health policy analyst John Mendoza writes at his blog that there should be more discussion and awareness of the implications of the price increase for people with mental illness, who “comprise the largest, most vulnerable, and yet understudied group of smokers”.

He says there is no evidence that raising taxes has any impact on smoking rates for people with mental illnesses who smoke. He writes:

“The Centre for Disease Control in the US notes: “that many adults with mental illness who smoke want to quit, can quit, and will benefit from proven stop-smoking treatments. It’s true that some people with mental illness face issues that can make it more challenging to quit, such as low income, stressful living conditions, and lack of access to health insurance and health care. All of these factors make it more challenging to quit.”

Regrettably, neither the National Preventative Health Agency or the NHMRC have this issue identified in tobacco prevention efforts.

If the Rudd Government ear-marked 40% of the new funds raised for mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention programs, (including ensuring that every person with a mental illness has access to quit smoking programs whilst in care) then the raising of taxes is a reasonable strategy.

This would not only have the desired effect on the overall population rates of tobacco consumption but also provide the appropriate support for the most vulnerable group of smokers.

If on the other hand it’s just to plug holes in the overall budget, it does nothing more than marginalise already vulnerable Australians.”

Comments 9

  1. Steven Haby says:

    I wonder if Col Allen had a word with Adam Creighton prior to his piece in the Oz to ‘harden up’ his rhetoric. What an odious piece of ‘writing’ from Mr Creighton. The tobacco lobby are just like climate change deniers.

  2. Interrobanging On says:

    Nauseating and stupid, even for the Liberal Party’s press bureau in the Murdoch Press.

    The Nazi references are offensive, dumb, inaccurate and seriously overreaching. What more can be said?

    But it has the requisite dog whistles of the infantile ‘freedom of choice’ argument, cash grab etc. Plus muddying the waters and not offering alternatives. Just like the Liberal and apparently what its supporters want.

    Plus the faked concern for the country’s poor. Price increases are the most effective measure to get poor people to stop, saving them money in the future. That requires the tiniest degree of sophistication in thinking – something Abbott supporters can not afford to have.

  3. timothy ghost says:

    smoking isn’t a “cost of living” expense, it’s a privilege, a lifestyle choice. electricity, food, rent et al. are cost of living expenses, all (arguably) essential to living in a modern industrialised society like australia. can’t afford to smoke? then stop smoking, sheesh

  4. Liamj says:

    Shock, horror, amoral churnalist garnishes prostituted analysis with banal hyperbole.

    Thanks crikey for noting, but really the only surprise is that -anyone- still pays for News Corpse product. Ideally the outraged health workers would be organising a boycott.

  5. MJPC says:

    I really can believe this is an issue. With the smokers of the country fighting a rear guard action to maintain their unhealthy practises, increases in taxes will eventually make is prohibitively expensive to maintain their addiction. Whilst it is abhorrent that News Ltd can publish such rubbish, what do you espect from Rupert looking after his mates interests in big business.
    Todays newpaper headline wrapes tomorrow fish and chips (or used to), I just wonder what point the Australian is trying to make…it’s OK for the populace to smoke unfettered by Government attempts to re-coup the health costs?

  6. Harry Rogers says:

    If disease doesnt kill the smokers either the government or lynch mobs will.

  7. Floss says:

    France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Germany etc not more than 5 euro a pack and have the mg on the side of the pack. Australia 20 bucks a pack removed the mg on the side but when you go to give up and get the helping aids it has a reference to the mg of what you where smoking? (Imagine if alcohol had the % removed) The price of the aids are prohibitive as the cause. The government is not serious about stopping smoking or saving people, and the ones on their pedestal have no idea only toxic comments. I have had a guts full of Australian smokers getting crucified by every blow hard with a gob, treated worse than dog dung on the bottom of a shoe, junkies get treated better along with better attitudes.

  8. john davidson says:

    Ahhh. “Godwins law”. An excuse used by communists, or “Greens”, or anti-smokers, or anti fattists, or any other hippy grouping, to deflect, or “defeat” any reasoned argument/discussion
    away from the clear fact that there IS no difference between them and the nazis, when that reasoning comes dangerously close to proving the fact. And used by Nazis, who are loosing their argument, but can, or will not be seen to be “throwing-in-the-towel.”

    As to “Nazi”. It is a methodology. Or a “world view” NOT an end result. (In fact part of Mein Kampf was TITLED “Weltanschauung” (World view)!)

    It does not matter if you end up eradicating Jews, or smokers, if the METHODS, or even the RHETORIC used are the same that were used by the “Nazis”, then the title is yours. Go and enjoy it.

    (A simple test is to compare methods used by the anti whatever lobby today, and “News”papers such as “Der Stürmer” ( http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_St%C3%BCrmer ), or “Das Schwarze Korps” ( http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Das_Schwarze_Korps ). If the methods match, are so similar as to make no difference, or even if they FEEL that way, then those methods, and those using/purporting them, are nazis, and “Godwin”cango and screw himself sideways..)

  9. Fran Barlow says:

    John Davidson

    That’s just silly.

    I will grant that “Godwin’s Law” is a silly paradigm. If speaking of the Nazi period is salient, then let’s by all means bring them up. The onus is on the proposer of the link to show adequate cause.

    You say though:

    [It does not matter if you end up eradicating Jews, or smokers, if the METHODS, or even the RHETORIC used are the same that were used by the “Nazis”, then the title is yours. Go and enjoy it.]

    That’s not adequate cause. There are a few category errors here. Firstly, you are using “eradicate” both in its hard sense (killing and preventing recurrence of a living thing) and its more metaphoric sense — in this case in relation to the custom of smoking. If smoking does stop being a practice, the people who had been smoking will still live, very probably for somewhat longer than if they’d persisted. Your phrase should have been “if you end up eradicating Jews, or smok ers ing” if you were being precise. Your imprecision helps found a false amalgam between “the methods of the Nazis” and those of the (allegedly similar) eradicators of smoking.

    This is a kind of essentialism. You want to say that there is an essenetial and thus salient connection between the methods of the Nazis and those of smoking eradicators, in order to say that the latter and the former are ethical equivalents, but you need the ide of dead bodies “Jews” and “smokers” for those who might miss it.

    The trouble here is that the premature death toll that some advocates like Creighton adduce in favour of the “no financial harm to others from smoking claim” shows that unlike the Nazis, smoking eradicators are hoping to extend people’s lives not cut them off short.

    If someone eats their breakfast the same way as leading Nazis, it doesn’t make that person an ethical equivalent. One needs to show that the method has some ethical status peculiar to Nazis in order to make a link.

    You try a similar thing when you cite the word “Weltanschauung” as a chapter heading in Mein Kampf. The word appears there because it’s a German word, and Hitler spoke German. It wasn’t his invention, so it’s not peculiar even to him, let alone Nazis as a group.

    It seems to me that one can argue that whereas pleasure in the world is unevenly distributed, and that every reasonable person would want as much of it as was available, and bearing in mind that pleasure will describe different things for each of us, that taxing pleasure where practicable and redistributing the revenue where pleasure is in short supply seems ethically robust.

    If these funds underpin the health or education systems, or to protect the vulnerable or serve to build and improve housing and public amenity and thus spread the pleasure about, then it seems to me that this suffices to do it. Surely, the knowledge of smokers that each puff could save another’s life, grant them one more day of pleasure, would make smoking even more pleasurable than it might seem to advocates of the pleasure had in smoking. Perhaps taxes on smoking are that very rarest of things in public policy — a win-win solution.

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