07 November 2012

Orwellian language in anti-tobacco, an example

When Orwell's 1984 is invoked in the context of anti-tobacco and other drug wars, it is usually a reference to totalitarian control.  But a rather more specific use of "Orwellian" in reference to those is the twisting of language to make it impossible for people to use the language to question those in power.  This is a tactic that is carefully and intentionally employed by the tobacco control industry to prevent reasoned discourse (which they would surely lose).  I have been meaning to write more about it, especially in the context of "addiction", but for today, one quick example.

This article reports that grey/black market cigarettes now account for more than 1/3 of all consumption in the state of Washington, where per-pack taxes are extremely high (though hardly the highest in the world).  It points out (not in so many words) that such tax create an incentive to avoid taxes by buying "contraband" (i.e., untaxed) cigarettes.  There is no mention that this is further exacerbated by the fact that this tax is designed to be punitive and so people resent it.  (Average people -- unlike bankers and other millionaires -- typically pay their taxes without attempting to evade them, but when a law is perceived as being wrong and unfair, this changes.)

The punchline of all this is the statement in the article:
By the state’s estimate, illicit cigarettes cost Washington taxpayers a staggering amount of money.
Oh really?  Exactly how does not paying taxes cost taxpayers money?  And yet the Orwellian nature of the language around tobacco means that they can get away with that claim, unquestioned.

I realize, of course, that if forced to defend it, they would point out that it costs the state a lot of tax revenue, and that this needs to be made up for by raising other taxes.  But this just means the statement should be that the grey market "forces nonsmoking taxpayers to pay their fair share of taxes rather than offloading a staggering amount of that burden onto smokers."

It is obvious that, at worst, the impact on taxpayers (as a collective group) is neutral.  Of course, that assumes that tobacco/nicotine users are considered to be people, and people who are due the same consideration as everyone else.  The bottom line is that the language has been twisted so that taxes on cigarettes (etc.) are not treated as taxes, or burdens on people at all, so absurd statements like that quoted above pass without notice.


  1. "Of course, that assumes that tobacco/nicotine users are considered to be people, and people who are due the same consideration as everyone else."

    Lol! Ok, not so funny really, but point well stated.


  2. Again Carl right on target. I found that Washington study the other day and passed it along to other folks. The immediate reply was having more than something like 2 packs of stamped out of state cigs was illegal and considered contraband tobacco!

    I fear that with Obama back in the nanny forces will now openly push their anti-gambling efforts,anti-alcohol efforts and take us down the road to total prohibition. No doubt free speech will be even more limitied and attacked in the days to come. New Speak may become the Norm.................Harley

  3. Here is a fine example (I am working from memory, and so the words are not accurate).

    The leader of the association of licensed houses (pubs) said that the smoking ban was damaging pub trade.

    In reply, an ASH representative (Duggan, Arnott - I cannot remember)said in reply,"Mr Ogden says that the pub trade is suffering. The truth is a little different. The hospitality industry had gained 5% more business since the smoking ban. Statistics show that more people are going to pubs now than before the ban" When I complained that Duggan/Arnott had accused Mr Ogden of lying quoting untrue statistics, the Independent newspaper vehemently denied that Mr Ogden had been accused of lying, but how else can you interpret the phrase "The truth is a little different"? Her statement about statistics was wrong. The first draft of the ONS stats seemed to show an increase, but the question asked was 'in the negative'. When the question was repeated later (in the positive) there was a clear indication that attendances at pubs had fallen significantly. The Independent was obliged to publish my complaint about the use of those statistics (but they did so only in their online edition).

    But notice especially how Duggan/Arnott changed the subject from pubs to the hospitality industry. Verbal manipulation.


  4. Carl, I too have been wanting for a long time now to write a piece on just this! The confiscation of language by the anti-smokers that either goes unquestioned or has been warped into a new meaning. My jump-off point is the use of the words "help" and "persuade" (and others like it) to describe the desired effect for such things as cigarette taxes (i.e. "High cigarette taxes 'persuade' people to quit smoking"). To "persuade" is to offer an argument and leave one to make the choice based on that argument -- not impose a burden intended to remove a choice.

  5. The word here is not "persuade" or "help," it is "coerce."

  6. By the same argument, quitting smoking would cause the taxpayers enormous amounts of money! These people don't fear any kind of contradiction !

  7. The irony being it is anti-tobacco that is Orwellian. We think this might hurt you, if we use unacceptable statistical methods this this might be bad for you regardless of if the CDC and WHO both list alcohol as being more dangerous to the drinker and surrounding people. Google it, don't deny it however.


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