Stanford Raises the Bar on Useless Tobacco Research

It must be a slow year for anthropologists.

This article from the Stanford University News reports on a research project called “Cigarette Citadels”, initiated by anthropologist Matthew Kohrman.  The point of this project is to map out where every cigarette factory in the world is located, which supposedly “gives the public a better understanding of where the tobacco industry operates, and shares information that could combat the single largest cause of preventable death.”

While I don’t particularly have anything against such research, I do have a problem with the alarmist way this article reports on the factory locations, and the implication that this research will somehow be useful in lowering smoking-related deaths.  Kohrman speculates that perhaps activists may show up on the doorstep of these factories now that they have easy access to this information.  My imagination is taxed as to how that will lower smoking-related disease, unless more sinister actions by activists-gone-vigilante are taken to immediately reduce the supply of cigarettes from certain factories… but I don’t really want to go into that possibility.

Reading the article you would think this research was reporting on the presence of meth-labs in neighbourhoods, not perfectly-legal cigarette factories.  Imagine reading an article that reported on research that mapped the whereabouts of car manufacturing facilities or industrial sugar sources, as if knowledge of these locations would somehow curb traffic accidents and diabetes?

The article states that these factories “sit on sprawling campuses right off American interstates, pop up in the middle of crowded Chinese cities and fill Australian industrial parks just a short walk from tidy residential neighborhoods.”  Good grief, you’d think that they were stalking us.  I suppose the attempt here is to juxtapose these horrific death-factories against normal looking residential streets and rows of (no doubt happily-ignorant) trees.  Certainly the way Kohrman interviews does not give the impression that he simply wants to provide information to people; it’s quite clear he believes this serves some ideological purpose.  In one paragraph he states that just one factory in the Netherlands is responsible for some 80,000 deaths, but then in the next indicates that “The goal of the project is neither to agitate nor defend”.   Perhaps we’re to think that because he outwardly states his research isn’t there to agitate people, then the rest of his agitation-inciting statements aren’t to be taken seriously?

Again, I don’t think there is anything wrong with mapping out the locations of any type of factory, but it is complete folly to indicate that this research will have any impact at all on smoking-related deaths.



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