The current issue of Tobacco Control has editor Ruth Malone penning Hate mail, tobacco control and social change:
As a result of the USA’s latest mass shooting, there are calls for more civil and civilised discourse. 1 The propagation of ‘hate speech’ towards political opponents, some say, led to this tragedy by fomenting and encouraging always unstable individuals to act on their most violent impulses. While the similarly inflammatory rhetoric of tobacco industry-supported ‘smokers’ rights’ groups 2 is familiar to most tobacco control advocates and many researchers, I can’t help but wonder at some of the exceptionally vitriolic correspondence recently received at the journal, particularly since we instituted the Tobacco Control blog (see http://blogs.bmj.com/tc/ ).
The blogosphere, unfortunately, has emerged as a place for all manner of anonymous adolescent angst and anger to be indiscriminately disgorged and widely disseminated. I am not sure why we thought perhaps the TC blog might be different, but it most assuredly receives its full share—most of which we do not publish because it simply upchucks an undigested stew of incoherent fury and makes no real contribution to the purpose of the blog. For example, among the recent unpublished tirades was one from ‘social leper’, also known as SickofitAll on another blog, who wrote: “I fucking hate you and your profession. I’ve paid for my iron lung—and her brat’s incubator, and that fat bastard’s reinforced bed…You should all be lined up against a wall and shot in your motherfucking faces”. The rant goes on to issue threats of violent rape in graphic detail and ends by …
As much as I disagree with most of what comes out of this journal, I don’t think it is all that productive to hurl outrageous invective however, I do sympathize with the frustration behind the cursing.
First of all, this excerpt is the only bit we have access to since like most of their compadres BMJ-TC meets behind closed doors. While on one hand trying to convince us that smoking related disease is the largest health issue of our time, on the other hand, it seems not quite important enough to let everyone participate in the problem solving (least of all the people who are most affected). I do hope that at some time they will gather enough courage to emerge from the shadows because until they do, we can only think that they do not quite trust their own words.
But based on what they deem fit for public consumption, we see that they feel they are being unfairly castigated by trolls.
What I suspect is more the case is that these enraged citizens are at the ends of their rope dealing with a group that does so much more than just fling words. This journal is part of the grand anti-tobacco movement that deliberately undermines effective tobacco harm reduction solutions. It is no exaggeration to say that they have caused the death of many a smoker (by both their misinformation and their working towards regulating away the safer alternatives) and maybe one of these hurlers of invective is a relative of someone who, as a result, died before their time.
It is amusing to see that Malone compared smokers’ rights advocates to budding assassins. The parallel I see is with the Palestinian boys who throw stones at Uzi toting soldiers. “Speaking truth to power” might seem ridiculous and self defeating but it is the only avenue of expression left.
-Paul L. Bergen