Tag Archives: #tobacco

Fueling Fossil Feelings

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Over the past year, a variety of elections, polls and movements have demonstrated that, for all the endless access we have to information, we are entering an era that emphasizes acting on emotions and fears rather than weighing facts.

Maybe it’s because the constant tsunami of facts threaten to overturn our personal vessels – it’s easier to pilot the waters on ‘what feels right’ rather than take on board a slew of uncomfortable realities that might swamp us.

Screenshot, 'This Moment, and Beyond', an ad promoting Fueling U.S. Forward. Source: Fueling U.S. Forward/YouTube

Screenshot, ‘This Moment, and Beyond’, an ad promoting Fueling U.S. Forward.
Source: Fueling U.S. Forward/YouTube

And for every moment of uncertainty, there are those who are ready to exploit fear in the name of profit.

It appears that a new initiative to promote the fossil fuel industry is one such undertaking. At a time when the effects of climate change are measurably underway, with each successive year being the latest ‘hottest on record’ and higher CO2 levels impacting everything from polar ice levels to drought, you might think that people would applaud rising renewable energy use, improving technologies and lowered costs.

But Fueling U.S. Forward, a public relations group funded by the oil and petrochemical conglomerate of Koch Industries, is a large-scale outreach program in the grand tradition of the tobacco and soft drinks industries: When threatened with scientific information that could negatively impact long-term profits, a multi-pronged approach is taken of discrediting critics and promoting all the benefits of the industry’s products to specific groups.

In the case of Fueling U.S. Forward, the goal is to undermine the proliferation of alternative energies and technologies (such as electric cars and solar panels) by casting them as damaging to the financial interests of minorities and millenials – and at the same time, promote the familiarity of fossil fuels while intentionally obscuring the widely known dangers inherent in their continued use.

A blog post implying that without fossil-fuel based energy, citizens will lose access to the Internet, entertainment, and connectivity. Source: Fueling U.S. Forward

A blog post implying that without fossil-fuel based energy, citizens will lose access to the Internet, entertainment, and connectivity.
Source: Fueling U.S. Forward

Through soft marketing in the form of concerts and events with ‘informational aspects’ and funding to activist groups, Fueling U.S. Forward promotes the well-established Koch agenda of rolling back support for renewable energies, legislation and regulation.

This is a perfect moment for this kind of strategy. Emotions are high, fear is rampant, and fossil fuels are what we know. It should matter that polls show the majority of U.S. citizens support clean air regulations. But given that the incoming U.S. administration has drawn heavily from Koch allies for a variety of key posts, including climate change skeptics and people with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, policy-making and public messaging is likely to fall in line with the oil industry goals.

Screenshot from Fueling U.S. Forward. Innovation is portrayed as impossible without fossil fuels. Source: Fueling U.S. Forward

Screenshot from Fueling U.S. Forward. Innovation is portrayed as impossible without fossil fuels.
Source: Fueling U.S. Forward

Fueling U.S. Forward’s President and CEO Charles Drevna has called burning fossil fuels the ‘pro-human’ solution. One need only look to the ongoing smog crisis in China to see the effects of unregulated burning of fossil fuels (mainly coal) and vehicle emissions – over a million deaths were attributed to poor air quality in 2012 alone. Unless you are a climate change skeptic (and if you are, thank you for giving champagnewhisky a look!), it might be hard to comprehend how an industry can focus so intently on continued profits in the face of generating so much verifiable damage to human health and the environment. But the simple fact is, for these folks, profits determine their view of the world, and not the other way around.

Statistics are implemented to imply that without fossil fuels, economic security is at risk - and with it, health and standards of living. Source: Fueling U.S. Forward

Statistics are implemented to imply that without fossil fuels, economic security is at risk – and with it, health and standards of living.
Source: Fueling U.S. Forward

We can acknowledge the debt we owe fossil fuels in the history of human progress without being bound to them for the foreseeable future.

We can also acknowledge that in this emotional era, vigilance and determination to focus on long-term goals of sustainability and the insistence on hard facts to achieve those goals will count more than ever before in fighting something that is as dangerous as climate change: the intentional instigation of fear in the name of profit.

Nest Egg Protection

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It’s been fifty years since a watershed report was released in the United States, the 1964 U.S. Surgeon General’s report on the effect of tobacco and smoking on health.

A recent study estimated that as a result of this 1964 report, 50 million lives were saved worldwide that would have otherwise been lost to tobacco-related disease. The number of adults who smoke has been reduced by half – from 40% to 20% – between the 1960s and now.

With the publication of the report, the U.S. and other countries began to implement a broad variety of measures to counter widespread addiction to cigarettes.

What was the reaction of the powerful tobacco industry?

Protecting the nest egg Photo: Brian Klaus

Protecting the nest egg
Photo: Brian Klaus

From before the report was published, and well into the 1990s, the industry countered with independent research that questioned the direct links drawn between using tobacco products and various diseases; new markets with fewer impending regulations were opened; new restrictions were met with litigation and arguments about consumer rights and choices; new forms of cigarettes were presented as less harmful.

Books and studies have dissected the tactics used by a large-scale, highly profitable and powerful industry to save itself. One very thorough book, The Cigarette Papers, quotes press statements released by the Tobacco Industry Research Committee over the course of decades. A sampling:

The tobacco industry recognizes that it has a special responsibility to help find the true facts about tobacco and health. Since 1954, it has been supporting a program of independent research through the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC)…images

The TIRC emphasizes that many clinical and experimental factors still need to be identified, investigated, and evaluated regarding the origin of lung cancer and other diseases. Actually, the number of suspects under study in lung cancer has broadened and now includes viruses, previous lung ailments, air pollutants, heredity, stress and strain, and other factors.

While these [TIRC-funded] research studies have increased our factual knowledge, they have at the same time continued to make clear and to emphasize the great and critical gaps in that knowledge.

We accept an interest in people’s health as a basic responsibility, paramount to every other consideration in our business.

As the book’s authors state, the goal here wasn’t to discover facts, it was to perpetuate controversy about the adverse effects of tobacco, and in the interim, continue to remain an economic force.

And in all fairness, the industry can’t be blamed for trying to protect its interests, nor can those supporters who saw the tobacco industry in terms of employment, industry and taxes.images-1

The fact remains that smoking is harmful for anyone except the tobacco industry itself.

None of this, really, is news except for the part about how many lives were saved due to the Surgeon General’s report and its aftermath.

What I wondered, while I was reading all this and revisiting the ads proclaiming a ‘safer cigarette’ was this:

There have been countless reports on the effects of fossil-fuel consumption on health, the environment, and the climate. The oil industry has reacted in much the same way as the tobacco industry – to the point that numerous financial companies draw parallels between the plight of the two industries for investment purposes.

When it comes to damaging products and industries, it might take time, but regulation, awareness campaigns and alternatives work.

So, when will we have our watershed moment when the majority of us learn to kick the habit?Shell2