Lessons Learned From Tobacco Control Should be Applied to Climate Policy

The approach the world has taken to tobacco control holds many lessons for the COP-15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. A newly-published article in The Lancet (available with free registration) summarizes the many similarities between tobacco control and climate policy, and how the lessons learned from tobacco control can be applied to the way countries approach climate policy.

Deja Vu All Over Again

For both issues, the scientific evidence mounted gradually over the years. Both tobacco and climate change negatively impact public health and disproportionately affect poorer countries and lower socioeconomic groups. Both have long lead times between cause and effect, and the solutions for both require significant political will, comprehensive international policies, and long-term monitoring.

Climate change is similar to the issue of secondhand smoke in the sense that the damage both cause constitute "externalities." That's the word economists use to describe the side effects of a commercial enterprise that negatively impact other parties, where the cost is not reflected in the price of the product. Markets have no mechanism for dealing with externalities, leaving it up to governments to step in to limit the damage. Industries typically pocket the cash their products and activities generate, while leaving the cost of cleaning up their externalities to a larger group, many of whom don't benefit from the product in any way.

On the public relations side, both issues have entrenched, highly resourceful vested interests working to maintain the status quo. Industries associated with both groups have worked to manufacture doubt about scientific consensus, hired consultants to confuse the public and delay effective policies, and both groups have used the "junk science" label to tarnish the mounting evidence of harm deriving from their activities.

Delay Can Be Deadly

The 50-year lag time between the first scientific evidence pointing to the hazards of smoking and the first globally-coordinated tobacco control policy to emerge in 2005 (the World Health Organization's Global Tobacco Control Treaty contributed to the deaths of at least 100 million people globally. The delay in implementing real solutions to the tobacco epidemic is in itself a sad, and major, lesson in the high cost of delay.

Many mistakes were made in dealing with tobacco. As a society, we were naive about the power of entrenched interests to manufacture doubt and generate controversy about overwhelming scientific conclusions of harm. For decades, legislators and regulators put the interests of harmful, private industry over those of public health and welfare. We as a society also had no clue about the tobacco industry's vast and varied public relations strategies to preserve the status quo, and "countermeasures development programs" to defeat public health authorities' efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths. Now we know about all this, and with the benefit of hindsight, mankind should not be fooled twice.

The power of entrenched industries in fighting necessary common sense regulation cannot be underestimated. Governments worldwide need to meet the challenges posed by harmful industries with a united and determined front. It is our sincere hope that the governments represented at COP-15 will learn from past experience and seize their chance to advance comprehensive policies limiting damage from climate change.


Both climate change and tobacco control advocates use the same smoke and mirrors to fool the uninformed public. Both manipulate data and exaggerate conclusions to spread fear across the globe. Each have learned from one another and the socialist control mindset that was set in motion under the Nazi regime. Those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it and the masses will believe a big lie rather than a smaller one are 2 quotes that apply here.

The Issue is quite serious for those people who does not think about business and industries. You can see that not much governments have the courage to take keep a strict ban on the use of tobacco just because they are not ready to loose the revenue that it gives. For keeping the climate intact no government is ever ready to control any of the industries why? Revenue and growth will be affected. So what people want is money and growth and they are not worried about saving the planet.

Hi Anne, 1. I would like you to email me. religionsucks@webtv.net 2. I joined FFRF right after it first started and I am also a member of American Atheists, Atheists United and the Military Assoc. of Atheists and Freethinkers 3. I went to jr, high, high school and went to Mesa. (I was a life guard in GJ for several years as well) Thanks! Neil P.S. Anyone who says there is NO Global Warming would not know what a fact is were it a very sharp pointed cactus they sat on while naked.

The major difference between the current environmental and earlier tobacco crises is size. The amount of money behind corporations resisting positive environmental change is massive. Corporations have become the major influence in the way society has developed, and intertwined with governments to varying degrees they will try to keep control. Besides cleaning up the processes, excess wasteful consumption in the wealthier countries could be reduced providing immediate environmental relief. But this will not happen as long as these businesses need profit and commerce must expand. And when so many of us want more stuff.

I have subscribed to CMD since they exposed fake Video News Releases on local news stations, and I read the weekly updates regularly. This is my first time to respond to an article, and this is the only topic I can think of I lean opposite of CMD on. It is one of two topics I have found CMD to be advocating change for. The major issue at hand is whether "global warming"/"climate change" is man made. I am not convinced it is. This article equates tobacco PR tactics to global warming PR tactics, because we just don't like them tobacco fat kids, do we? No. Well, guess what? Because the "science is in" and "there is no disputing the evidence" for GW/CC, you wouldn't want to harm the starving African kid with the Marlboro bag, would you? No! So support rampant overhaul of global energy consumption standards in Copenhagen! What is going on here, CMD? Why are you advocating for a position? You write: "It is our sincere hope that the governments represented at COP-15 will learn from past experience and seize their chance to advance comprehensive policies limiting damage from climate change." Really? The Petition Project has signatures of 31,000 scientists who are do not believe science can prove man has caused global warming/climate change. I did a search on this site and couldn't find any responses to it on CMD's behalf. Here is the petition <http://www.oism.org/pproject/>. Is CMD is suggesting with this article that the PR spin masters have coerced and manipulated more than 31,000 American scientists into disputing global warming and climate change? Some research now suggests the sun is causing GW/CC, so this throws a whole new dynamic into the debate. To say "the science is in" on GW/CC makes me believe the "experts" at CMD are drinking the Al Gore koolaid. Speaking of Gore, Weather Channel Founder John Coleman says someone should sue Al Gore for financial fraud to settle the debate <http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,337710,00.html> "As you look at the atmosphere over the last 25 years, there's been perhaps a degree of warming, perhaps probably a whole lot less than that, and the last year has been so cold that that's been erased," Coleman said. "I think if we continue the cooling trend a couple of more years, the general public will at last begin to realize that they've been scammed on this global-warming thing." The tobacco battle was big, and yes we want better health standards, but the result for enacting laws to fight man-made GW/CC mean new taxes, carbon police, and more stringent energy consumption standards. Some skeptics go as far to say this could also lead to a new global governing body more powerful than the United Nations. So, I applaud you CMD for your hard work, but understand there are few different dynamics on this issue you should consider. Stuff like this makes me wonder why you have taken sides. If you want to remain objective in your endeavors, you shouldn't take sides.

It may well be true that fluctuations in global temperature happen regularly in the earth's history but there is not much doubt that we are adding to any recent increase by burning fossil fuels. Read Howard Zinn. "You cannot stay neutral on a moving train" and you might see why CMD is taking the stance it is. As regards the 31,000 "scientists" who say there is no problem, what are their real qualifications and, more importantly, who is funding them? CMD have often shown how all pervasive is spin particularly when financed by organisations with huge funds available.

I don't really understand the comparison here, or maybe it should be the other way around. The difference in level of complication and provability between these two issues is astronomical, and it takes a great deal of ignorance to draw these kind of conclusions based on politically infulenced bodies like IPC. The same scientific ignorance resulted in promoting smoking as healthy back in the day, and is promoting Co2 as a main climate change driver these days. There is no other comparison. Climate change is far to complicated to be understood at this point, and basing decisions of HUGE economical impact (especially on 3-rd world countries) on GMC predictions (it's computer modeling) that are completely detached from reality, is a monstrosity under the white clothes of saving the environment. We don't understand the sun activity, we don't understand how clouds work, greenhouse effect is proven wrong time and time again. And what? Ignorance is bliss. My hands are dropping when I hear/read such ignorant articles