Biden’s COVID Advisors Mull New Tactic; Used to Overcome Big Tobacco‘s Massive Disinformation Campaigns
Biden's COVID Advisors Are Considering A New Tactic
WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 2, 2021) - President Joe Biden's advisors on COVID are considering a novel but proven tactic to counter the massive disinformation campaign against vaccinations; the same tactic used so successfully before the turn of the century to overcome the much more effective and massively funded disinformation campaign by the tobacco industry to persuade smokers not to quit, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
Banzhaf, who has been called "The Man Behind the Ban on Cigarette Commercials" and "Mr. Antismoking," says that trying to fight the COVID disinformation campaign and entrenched anti-vax beliefs simply by improving the messaging has proven to be no more effective than relying solely upon health warnings, in the face of tobacco's massive disinformation campaigns, to get people to quit smoking.
Instead, he has suggested to the advisors that Biden simply direct executive branch agencies awarding grants (at least health-related grants) to limit the grants - or at least give preference - to applications from entities in states which have a vaccine requirement in effect by a stated date (e.g., Sept. 1, 2021); to ask for, in effect, the same vaccination requirements as he has just imposed on federal employees.
For dozens of years, the tobacco industry's truly colossal, well coordinated, and massively funded disinformation campaigns - carried out with full page ads, mass mailings, ubiquitous billboards, the bribing of scientists, doctors, and other thought leaders, buying off major organizations, and other tactics later proven to be illegal - easily undercut, overwhelmed, and emasculated the combined antismoking warnings and persuasion campaigns of governments and large public health organizations. Compared to that, today's COVID disinformation campaign - apparently largely carried out by individuals with virtually no funding or coordination - is far less robust, and should be even easier to overcome using similar tactics.
The first breakthrough in overcoming the tobacco industry's campaigns occurred when Professor Banzhaf was able to persuade governments and many private companies to ban smoking in their workplaces, including offices. Although this only made it somewhat inconvenient and annoying to refuse to quit - e.g., by forcing smokers to refrain from smoking for lengthy periods of time, use up their break time just to satisfy their craving, stand outside in inclement weather to smoke, etc. - it nevertheless was very effective in motivating many smokers to quit despite the misleading information they had received, and even despite their addiction to nicotine. In short, inconvenience trumped disinformation.
So it seems clear that a similar move - one likewise designed primarily to protect the innocent - by requiring masking and frequent testing from those who remain unvaccinated, will likewise help persuade many to finally get vaccinated, simply to avoid the inconvenience and annoyance, and despite the disinformation campaign. After all, it's much easier to get vaccinated than to break an addiction to nicotine and quit smoking.
But the most effective means of getting people to quit came when many companies and governmental bodies - armed with legal victories making it legal to do so - began insisting that their employees be nonsmokers. Despite initial strong resistance, as a result of disinformation campaigns or otherwise, most if not virtually all workers at such companies finally had to quit, says Banzhaf, who helped achieve rulings which made such policies legal.
Requiring Workers To Be Vaccinated
Today, now that the Department of Justice and two court rulings have made it clear that employers can similarly require their workers to be vaccinated, and many leading companies are beginning to do so, we should find that this is the most effective way to fight the COVID disinformation campaigns, since making employment contingent upon taking reasonable steps to protect the health of fellow workers - first regarding smoking, now regarding COVID and vaccination - is so very effective.
Biden reportedly asked the Justice Department if a president could legally issue a national vaccine requirement. But any national vaccine requirement would be of doubtful legality - even if passed by Congress, much more so if Biden acted alone - would be tied up for a long time in legal proceedings, and would hurt Biden's popularity with many voters.
On the other hand, since conditions on federal grants are largely within the president's discretion, and even more so his ability to determine preferences in awarding grants, he can with unquestioned legality, and without the need for any congressional action, provide that those seeking health grants be from states with vaccine requirements. After all, why use federal taxpayers' money for health education in states which choose to risk their residents' health and very lives, argues Banzhaf.
Of the many dozens of COVID advisors employed by the federal government, it is likely that at least a few will finally realize that simply tweaking the COVID message would likely be no more effective in saving lives than adjusting the signs on the sinking Titanic, says Banzhaf.
They should realize that when it's important for make major changes in conduct harmful to others - including smoking in public places, driving while drunk, beating a spouse, etc. - American has never relied primarily, much less solely, on guidelines and other messages, no matter how clear, nor even on trusted spokespersons.
Instead, in these and in many other similar situations, we have not hesitated to take effective action, and this is what in required now before there are even more needless preventable deaths, argues Banzhaf.