I am pleased indeed to have been invited to contribute this preface to a book that I hope is widely read and discussed. In this series of essays, Joseph Bast gives us a clear-eyed and often humorous look at the underbelly of one of the most insidious yet persuasive attacks ever mounted against an American industry.
It is a story that needs to be told.
As a nation we have accepted blindly a change in the education of our children from teaching them what they should know to what a small but politically powerful minority wants them to know, robbing them of the ability in their adult life to exercise critical thought when processing a situation. The change affects many subjects and is widely discussed under the title “political correctness.”
The subject I have watched most closely is tobacco. My company, Nat Sherman, is a maker of luxury cigarettes and premium cigars sold in all 50 states and 40 countries around the world. Three generations of Shermans have guided the company over the years, striving to produce the finest products for our customers.
Having grown up in a family business I am proud of, I am deeply offended when my grandchildren report being told by their teachers that their parents and grandparents are “killers,” “drug pushers,” and worse. The propaganda is wall-to-wall in many schools and on television, radio, and in the popular press.
Where does this disinformation come from? From a small minority who are extremely vocal, well financed, and overtly vicious in their tactics. Either they get their way imposing huge taxes on tobacco products, banning their advertising and promotion, or banning use of tobacco products in “public” places or, failing that, they point to the rest of us and imply we are guilty of treason.
The public most of us has been brainwashed and programmed by “them.” Unfortunately the “them” is “us.” As that great twentieth century prophet Pogo Possum once said, “I have met the enemy … and he is us.” We blame teachers and the schools, but they only channel the opinions and biases of school boards, taxpayer-funded research and health advocacy groups, and the media. In other words, “they” are “us.”
A recent experience illustrates this point. A few years ago the New York Times announced it would no longer accept tobacco advertising. I was offended and took the opportunity to tell publisher Arthur Sulzberger so in a letter. I described how I had watched my father check the placement of his small but persistent ad on the upper right-hand corner of page three of the Times every morning for more than 20 years. I went on to point out that when the responsibility fell to me, I chose to buy larger space on an annual contract and did so until passing the responsibility to my son. I considered and still consider the Times’ decision to be discriminatory, unjust, and unfair.
In his reply, Mr. Sulzberger said he remembered all I had recounted but, unfortunately, most of the mail they received about tobacco advertising was negative in nature. He was only doing what the public said it wanted.
One would think an educated man responsible for informing the public with “All the News That’s Fit to Print” (as it says on the Times’ masthead) would know that the people who appreciate an ad go out and buy the product they do not write letters to the editor thanking them for running the ad. Highly vocal and often professional prohibitionists, on the other hand, can produce a steady stream of letters deploring ads for products they don’t use and disapprove of.
Mr. Sulzberger is allowing a few vocal prohibitionists to determine what advertisers will appear on the pages of his newspaper. Too often, opinion writers, editors, and even reporters at the Times and other newspapers seem to follow the same rules, resulting in a near black-out of pro-tobacco views.
Fortunately, there is The Heartland Institute and a few other organizations like it still willing to practice the art of responsible communication from a public forum. Heartland’s president, Joseph Bast, is one of very few critical thinkers and analysts today willing to question the prevailing wisdom about tobacco.
In the series of articles that compose this small book, Bast uses common sense, real science, and the (almost) lost art of critical thinking to refute and debunk the outlandish claims and comments made by anti-smoking fundamentalists and those who have found great profits in fueling the hysteria.
Where Bast veers from unbiased to biased is when he observes how the sum of this deceit attacks and destroys our freedoms and ultimately our democracy. The slippery slope starts with government making personal choices on your behalf and then using junk science and outright falsehoods to justify their actions. It ends with the total loss of our basic American ideals of individual freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government.
On the subject of freedom, Bast is obviously passionate and his patriotic bias begins to show. On this, and on many other matters, he and I are in complete agreement. The first words that appear on my company’s Web site read, “Freedom of choice is an inherent American value and the decision to smoke is an exercise of that freedom.”
Bast applies the common sense and critical thinking that are often lost by others who search for fame and ratings instead of the truth. With a keen eye he asks the hard questions and tells it like it really is.
I believe you will enjoy this book. I certainly did.
Joel Sherman is president of Nat Sherman International, New York, New York.