Tobacco, lead, and atmospheric modification [i.e., global warming/climate change/air pollution]… what do they all have in common? It’s actually something incredibly fundamental.

All made or make billions of dollars for U.S. industry and created severe adverse health impacts for all Americans, in fact, for pretty much the majority of human beings… and the industrial conglomerates involved in producing and marketing the products that created these massive health problems fought tooth and nail against efforts to educate people and against regulations and laws to stop those impacts…and in the case of atmospheric modification and tobacco, they still are.

From the time of the Romans, people have known that lead has adverse health effects on human beings, but lead has attractive properties for manufacturers. It makes paints brighter and more durable, and in the late nineteenth century essentially all paints were lead-based, but studies showed the danger, particularly to children. As a result, in1922, the League of Nations banned lead-based paint, as did Australia, and within a few years, so did most of Europe. The U.S. did not. In 1943, a report concluded that children eating lead paint chips could suffer from neurological disorders including behavior, learning, and intelligence problems. Finally, in 1971, lead-based house paint was phased out in the United States with the passage of the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act. Even so, a study in 2000 found that 38 million housing units in the U.S. still had lead-based paint, if down from 64 million in 1990.

That wasn’t the only lead problem. In 1921, General Motors came up with a new gasoline formula to allow high compression engines – tetra-ethyl lead. Despite the fact that scores of employees producing TEL either died or suffered severe lead poisoning, GM and its subsidiary, the Ethyl Corporation, effectively lobbied against regulations and managed to avoid prohibition of lead in gasoline for another sixty years. By the time the United States formally banned lead as a gasoline additive in 1986, so much lead been deposited into soils, streets, building surfaces, that an estimated 68 million children registered toxic levels of lead absorption and some 5,000 American adults would die annually of lead-induced heart disease. As lead affects cognitive function, chronic lead exposure resulted in a measurable drop in IQ scores of exposed children during the leaded gas era. And more recently, researchers have suggested that TEL exposure and resulting nervous system damage also contributed to violent crime rates in the 20th century. Within twenty years of the prohibition of TEL, average blood lead levels dropped so markedly that today less than a million children have lead blood levels of concern, although no safe threshold for lead exposure has been discovered—that is, there is no known sufficiently small amount of lead that will not cause harm to the body.

As for tobacco… in 1912, Isaac Adler published the first medical monograph on lung cancer which suggested that the cause might be toxic effects of smoking tobacco and alcohol consumption. The first known controlled study, by Franz Hermann Müller at Cologne Hospital, appeared in 1939, and five separate and detailed studies appeared in the early 1950s, all showing the direct and adverse effects of smoking.

This was no surprise to the tobacco companies. As early as 1946, Lorillard [producer of Old Gold, Newport, and Kent cigarettes] had a report from its director of research observing that scientific studies linked tobacco use to cancer. Despite the fact that a confidential 1953 ‘Survey of Cancer Research’, written for upper management at RJ Reynolds, makers of Camel cigarettes, concluded that tobacco was ‘an important etiologic factor in the induction of primary cancer of the lung’, cigarette manufacturers buried the evidence and continued to oppose public and government efforts to link smoking to lung cancer.

The 1964 Surgeon General’s report, which officially recognized smoking as a cause of lung cancer, wasn’t a discovery, but an acknowledgement of 20 years or more of research, yet as late as the mid-1970s, Phillip Morris was still spending millions on PR claiming that second-hand smoke was not dangerous to non-smokers.

All of this is scarcely surprising, given that the annual world production of cigarettes is about six trillion and that the annual profit of cigarette manufacturers runs to around $60 billion. The industry clearly doesn’t care that cigarette consumption will result in six million deaths in 2015 or that, according to a report of the Surgeon General just released, the annual cost of smoking just in the U.S. now is $300 billion a year, of which $130 billion are direct medical costs.

Regardless of the rhetoric from deniers, climate change is real. Irrefutable evidence from around the world that includes record temperatures, the incredible shrinkage of Arctic ice coverage, rising sea levels, the overwhelming preponderance of retreating or disappearing glaciers, ,the marked increase in extreme weather events, and record temperatures all point to the fact that climate change is happening now and at rates much faster than previously thought. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) incorporates the work of more than 2,500 scientists from more than 130 countries (and that’s one of the largest bodies of international scientists ever assembled to study a scientific issue) and has concluded that most of the warming observed during the past 50 years is attributable to human activities. IPCC’s findings have been publicly endorsed by the national academies of science of all G-8 nationals have publicly endorsed these findings, as have those of China, India and Brazil.

Yet in the United States, climate denial skeptics still abound, or seem to. Why might that be?

Well, according to various sources, the Koch Brothers, owners of Koch Industries, a privately-held fossil fuels based conglomerate with annual revenues estimate at $115 billion annually [enough to rank #17 on the Fortune 500], have so far spent almost $80 million in funding politicians and organizations denying that global warming/climate change now exist. Exxon Mobil has made over $10 million in traceable donations to shill or right-wing, fellow-traveler organizations that deny global warming, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, among others.

And interestingly enough, Exxon Mobil has been consulting with those folks in the tobacco industry on how to fight science, and they’re adopting the same tactics as big tobacco, and even some of the same consultants.

Given just these three examples, you might see why I tend to be rather skeptical when industry types, and all the organizations that they fund, assure me that whatever they’re doing really isn’t a problem… and, in fact, that the problem isn’t even a problem at all, just like lead and tobacco weren’t.

9 thoughts on “Lessons”

  1. Jeff says:

    Good points. Did you see the movie (or read the book), “Thank You for Smoking”?

  2. Tony says:

    As Upton Sinclair quipped, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    What, if any, actions can concerned citizens take?

    1. For one thing, vote against elected officials who accept large campaign contributions from corporations and individuals in the fossil fuels or utilities industries.

  3. wayne kernochan says:

    I would only add re climate change that:

    1) the IPCC is in fact likely to be underestimating future fossil-fuel-caused climate change because (a) at the time of its latest “stake in the ground” (about 2010 afaik) its models did not incorporate the effects of methane/carbon-laden permafrost melting, which is now documented in both Siberia and northern Canada, and which may add 1/2 degree C (cf Joe Romm), and (b) it does not consider Hansen’s study showing that the last such episode of global warming 55 million years ago was accompanied by related effects such as black carbon emissions, albedo change, and (to a small degree) methane emissions, to the tune of more than 1 additional degree C per atmospheric carbon doubling.

    (2)while “climate change deniers” are not as prevalent as in the US, England (Lord Monckton), Australia (Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his party and the Rupert Murdoch-owned news media), and Canada (Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party, who have cut scientific funding and attempted to silence government-employee scientists speaking about climate change) have major elements of society in the denial camp.

    (3)To the list of active deniers in the US, I would add the US Chamber of Commerce.

  4. John Prigent says:

    Well, lead has been know about for ages so I agree with you there. On man-made climate change I remain unconvinced, simply because there have been warmer and colder periods in the last few thousand years before human burning of fossil fuels became prevalent. You’ll remember the reports of Viking-period farms emerging from the retreating Greenland ice, for instance; the climate must have been warmer at the time of the Viking settlement. I do agree that fossil fuel use needs to be reduced, the stuff is far more valuable as feedstock. But when it comes to smoking I’m left unable to find any evidence that tobacco itself is to blame. I understand, perhaps wrongly, that cigarettes are loaded with chemicals to keep them burning. Pipe tobacco isn’t. And last time I checked the actuaries who set mortality tables were still not accepting pipe-smoking for ‘impaired life’ annuities – which means that they found no evidence that smoking a pipe is harmful. But what I haven’t been able to find is any report of research into the effects of chemical additives in cigarettes or into the smoking of pipes. All the research I’ve found reports about has concentrated on cigarette smoking and implies that any effects on health are caused by the tobacco itself rather than by additives. I’d be very grateful if your, Sir, or anyone else here can point me to unbiased research into the effects of unadulterated pipe tobacco or of additives in cigarettes. Though as a pipe smoker for over 50 years I admit that I’m unlikely to stop now – too late to be worth the effort of giving up!

    1. Grey says:

      Global warming vs. previous ice ages

      Key takeaway: “‘It’s really the rates of change here that’s amazing and atypical,’ he says. Essentially, it’s warming up superfast. . . . So it’s taken just 100 years for the average temperature to change by 1.3 degrees, when it took 5,000 years to do that before.”


      Pipe smoking:

      I googled ‘does pipe smoking cause cancer’ and it came back with an overwhelming amount of research that says yes, and also that pipe tobacco contains many of the same components as cigarette tobacco which cause cancer. Given the amount of data on this, were I you I might take a hard look at how easily you determine something is ‘biased’ and ignore it. Smoke a pipe if you want, but don’t lie to yourself.

      1. The rate of cancer among pipe smokers, as I recall from data I can’t find at the moment, is lower, most likely because most pipes are longer than cigarettes and some of the chemicals tend to coat the interior of pipes [which is why they market pipe cleaners] and because pipe smokers tend not to smoke as frequently as cigarette smokers.

        Along the same lines, cases of cancer of the mouth are now showing up among former professional baseball players who never smoked but did use chewing tobacco, confirming that it is the use of tobacco and not the additives that causes cancer.

        As for the Medieval Warm Period, while the North Atlantic area was warmer than in immediate previous and subsequent times, research shows that even the North Atlantic area wasn’t as warm then as it is now, and that other parts of the world, especially the South Pacific, were in fact cooler at the time. Part of the reason for North Atlantic warming was a change in ocean currents that changed the distribution of heat, which isn’t the same thing as overall global warming.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *