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March 7th, 2015:

Meet the ‘Merchants of Doubt’ Who Sow Confusion about Tobacco Smoke and Climate Change

By Laura Dattaro
March 7, 2015 | 7:40 am

Two weeks ago, an investigation by Greenpeace revealed that the fossil fuel industry had for years paid a scientist frequently called upon by Republicans and conservative pundits to deny climate change. The scientist, Willie Soon, had received more than US$1.2 million from oil and gas companies in the last decade.

There’s a name for people like this: Merchants of Doubt, which is the title of a 2010 book and a documentary film premiering today in New York City and Los Angeles. Both the book and the film detail the extent to which front groups and bought researchers create an appearance of scientific uncertainty around climate science where none exists, using the same tactics the tobacco industry used to sow confusion about the links between nicotine and cancer.

“It’s all about delaying the conversation,” Emily Southard, a campaign manager for climate communication group Forecast the Facts, told VICE News. “It’s not about proving the scientists wrong, necessarily. It’s just about putting in enough question where the solutions aren’t being acted on or people aren’t focusing on the issue.”

Paying individual scientists to produce dubious research is a small part of what’s come to be known as the climate-denial machine, in which oil, gas, and coal companies and their allies create front groups that develop their own reports and research to slow the progress of regulations and the switch to cleaner energy sources. And since the Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, it has become commonplace for donors to obscure where their money is going.

“There’s been an infrastructure intentionally set up by the fossil fuel industry to promote messages of doubt on climate change and to promote messages of doubt on climate solutions like clean energy,” Gabe Elsner, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, told VICE News. “And now we’re seeing the same infrastructure promote messages of doubt on climate policy and climate regulations that the Obama administration is putting forward.”

A 2013 Drexel University study found that $558 million had been funneled to about 100 different climate change denial organizations between 2003 and 2010.

The effect of all this has been to create the impression that there’s doubt among the scientific community about the causes, and even existence, of climate change. While there are extensive questions about the precise impacts of climate change and the time scale on which it will operate, 97 percent of the scientific community is in consensus that burning fossil fuels is causing the planet to warm.

“The public hasn’t really caught up with where the science is,” Elsner told VICE News. “And that is a direct result of campaigns by fossil fuel interests to obscure the science.”

In response to the news about Soon, Democratic senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Barbara Boxer of California, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island sent letters to 100 companies and industry organizations asking them to disclose any funding they have provided to scientists. Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva, also a Democrat, sent letters to seven universities requesting information on researchers who had spoken in opposition to the scientific consensus on climate science.

“The news about Willie Soon is further confirmation that the fossil fuel industry has taken a page out of the tobacco playbook by bankrolling scientists to cast false doubt on the existence of climate change,” Whitehouse said. “The American people deserve to know more about this self-serving effort to distort the facts and prevent action on this issue, and I hope these letters will help.”

Follow Laura Dattaro on Twitter: @ldattaro

Irish State has €9m invested in the tobacco industry

The Government was yesterday accused of double standards and ‘complete hypocrisy’ in its fight against tobacco after it emerged that the State has multimillion-euro investments in the tobacco industry.

Fianna Fáil Finance spokesman Michael McGrath made the charge after figures show that the State has €50m invested in so-called sin stocks, made up of shares in firms in the tobacco, defence, and alcohol industries.

In a written Dáil response to Mr McGrath, Finance Minister Michael Noonan confirmed that the State, through its Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, has €9.6m of investment in firms in the tobacco industry; €27.1m in firms in the alcohol industry; and €14.1m in companies in the aerospace and defence sub-industry.

The revelations come as the Oireachtas this week passed legislation to introduce plain packaging of cigarettes. The bill must now be signed by President Michael D Higgins to bring the rules into law. It has put the Government on a collision course with firms in the industry.

A recent study by Credit Suisse, on the best equity market performers over the very long term, shows that nothing beats tobacco and alcohol stocks.

However, Mr McGrath has described as “utterly hypocritical” the fact that the State holds over €9.6m in investments in tobacco stocks given the recent legislation.

Mr McGrath said: “These figures highlight the extraordinary double standards of the Government on the issue of tobacco in particular, but also on alcohol and armaments.

“On the one hand, [Children’s] Minister James Reilly has declared war on the tobacco industry and described it as evil, while on the other hand the Government is giving the tobacco industry a boost by actively investing in it. The Government’s approach to tobacco is completely hypocritical.”

Mr McGrath added:

“There is a strong case for the National Pension Reserve Fund to review its ethical investment strategy and completely screen out stocks in harmful industries such as tobacco and armaments until such time as the fund completes its transition to investment in the domestic economy.

“This type of ethical strategy has been successfully implemented in countries such as Norway and would ensure the State is not seen as complicit in their activities.”

Separate figures provided by Mr Noonan show that the State’s income from tax revenues on tobacco and alcohol dwarf any earnings the State may receive in dividends from their shares in those firms.

He confirmed that the estimated tax revenues in 2014 from tobacco sales were €1.29bn, with the tax revenues from alcohol totalling €2.19bn.

Legal firm Arthur Cox represents a tobacco firm threatening to halt the plans to introduce plain packaging. Figures show it also carried out lucrative work for the Department of Finance and Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) last year.

Arthur Cox represents Japan Tobacco Ireland, a firm which threatened High Court action over the plans.

Arthur Cox advises both the HSE and the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, and new figures show that the legal firm last year received €824,247 in fees from the Department of Finance.

The company also received €331,379 in legal fees from GSOC last year and an additional €79,198 from Revenue.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

We successfully campaigned to cover up tobacco displays in shops and remove tobacco vending machines.

We successfully campaigned to cover up tobacco displays in shops and remove tobacco vending machines.

Why we campaigned

Tobacco advertising was banned in 2002, yet attractive tobacco displays still existed in shops. Openly displaying tobacco next to sweets and crisps sent the message that smoking is a normal part of everyday life.

Research has shown that by removing the displays, it would reduce the acceptance of smoking with young people.

Vending machines were an easy way for young people to buy cigarettes, with 17% of 11-15 year olds citing vending machines as their ‘usual source’. By removing these machines altogether, underage smokers would be prevented from using these sources. See the latest figures on young people and smoking (link is external).

How we made it happen

In 2008 supporters responded to a Government consultation urging the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments to cover up tobacco displays at the point of sale, and remove tobacco vending machines.

Along with celebrity supporters Sir Richard Branson and Konnie Huq, overwhelming support led to the Government passing new laws in 2009.

However, after the General Election in 2010, the tobacco industry put pressure on the coalition Government not to bring in these laws. Over 1,300 campaigners then wrote to MPs, local papers and signed a petition showing support for the laws to make sure they would come in.

What we achieved

Laws passed to remove vending machines and tobacco display removals (2009 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; 2010 in Scotland)
In March 2011, the Government announced its new tobacco control plan for England
England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland: tobacco vending machines have been removed and displays are covered in large shops, with small shops removing them in April 2015.
The next stage of our campaign to protect children from tobacco marketing is plain, standardised packaging and for all UK nations to have comprehensive, long-term action plans to tackle tobacco use.

More information

You can find out more about tobacco on our healthy living and public policy pages.