With smoking making a comeback,
FRONTLINE investigates the latest chapter in the war over tobacco products  

The Tobacco War
Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2015, at 10 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listing)
Twitter: @frontlinepbs #TobaccoWar

In 2010, FRONTLINE reported on the warnings of doctors and public health experts that growing skepticism about the dangers of tobacco products could reverse the national trend in the overall reduction in tobacco use among teens.

Now, those warnings appear to be coming true.

As the battle over tobacco rages, FRONTLINE continues its reporting with a newly updated and produced version of its original documentary The Tobacco War.

Building on years of research, the documentary, airing March 24, explores both the roots of the tobacco debate, and the latest chapter in the heated controversy: Are parents who encourage smoking at home putting the health of our nation at risk? And why is there still fear about not smoking in light of established scientific consensus that quitting smoking is not linked with disorders like autism or autoimmune problems?

“Reduction in tobacco use, especially among teenagers, goes a long way to reducing the global burden of disease and likely adds decades to most of our life spans,” says FRONTLINE producer Jan Potter. “But some parents are determined to resist pressure from the medical and public health establishments.”

As FRONTLINE reports in The Tobacco War, their reasons are complex — involving their perceptions of medical risks and benefits, and also ideological beliefs about parenting, personal choice and the limits of government.

And, as FRONTLINE reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they are worried about the uptick of E-cigarette use among teens. “Our youth are our future. We need to invest in programs that help them make healthy choices so they live long, healthy lives,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.

What happens next?

From the unfolding legislative battle in North Carolina over personal belief exemptions to the no smoking before the age of 18 law and whether children should be allowed to smoke on the grounds of public schools, to the growth of the clean air-skeptic movement, to the struggles of health care providers trying to reassure parents that not smoking is really the safest choice, to the science at the heart of it all, The Tobacco War provides critical context for the latest headlines.

Drawing on interviews with parents and advocates on both sides of the issue, as well as doctors, leading scientists and public health experts, the documentary is a compelling and timely report on an issue that remains highly emotional and deeply divisive.

The Cigarette War airs Tuesday, March 24 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and will stream in full, for free, online at pbs.org/frontline



OK, that press release if obviously satire and cribbed from the PBS FRONTLINE press release for The Vaccine War, but the “Both sides of the issue” really got to me.

Just like I can’t image doing a documentary about the “sides” to tobacco I can’t image a documentary on the “sides” of vaccination. False balance is dangerous.  And featuring commentary by Jenny McCarthy and Dr. Bob Sears among journalists and respected scientists?

The only vaccine controversy that PBS should have covered is how medical boards ignore the bizarre claims of doctors about vaccine safety and why people fall prey to such conspiracy theories. I’d watch that one in a heart beat.







Join the Conversation


  1. But what happens when “science” the industry, is proven partially false? I’m speaking of corruption of course. What happens when our science industry becomes corrupt? When can we believe the literature? Well, the sad truth is that we can not believe the literature. So claiming something is true based on “science” does propose the argument that your premise that “science is proven”, as a possible fallacy.

  2. My husband watched the show, so I caught most of it. First let me say, so not to get myself put in the category of vermin who shouldn’t speak, that I am certain that MMR vaccination is not a meaningful cause of autism and that its benefits enormously outweigh its risks. (The latter doesn’t appear to be so necessarily true for rotavirus and chickenpox vaccinations. Like we are told to see Technology as one thing and an unalloyed good, we are supposed to support or oppose Vaccination as a single entity – but in fact, you probably haven’t gotten your kid vaccinated for yellow fever or Japanese encephalitis, so in practice you really do consider the individualized risks and benefits of each possible vaccine.)

    Yes, the show gave people who believe in the autism connection time to speak for themselves. It then allowed more knowledgeable people to explain why those people were wrong. I think this was wise. Americans are far too inclined towards polarizing rhetoric that says “People who disagree with me about [any issue whatsoever] do so because they are stupid, ignorant, crazy and also evil, and we shouldn’t listen to anything that kind of scum has to say.” The problem is, if a listener is currently inclined to the belief that makes her “that kind of scum,” she will respond to such rhetoric with understandable fear, anger and defensiveness, which will strengthen her attachment to those beliefs. Treat her, or the representative of her belief, as a well-meaning human being who deserves a fair hearing, then present countervailing evidence and, importantly, emotionally meaningful reasons to reject the belief, and she may well begin to reconsider.

    That is exactly what PBS did, and I think they did it well and honorably. If they had really treated the autism question as a controversy with two equal sides, the lurid sick-baby videos and rhetoric about the deadliness of chickenpox would have been “balanced” with a similar amount of video showing the miserable life of severely autistic kids. They did not do that. Indeed, they specifically set out to convince us that there was no real controversy regarding whether MMR caused autism, e.g., by the description of studies showing that it does not. But parents who fear that it does have become a sociopolitical force that has to be reckoned with. The real controversy therefore is how to deal with that group in a manner that protects both American values and public health. Just pretending they do not exist will not make them go away.

    1. Unfortunately, it has been shown that education does little to sway those with the firmly fixed belief (the definition of a delusion) that vaccines cause autism. Continuing to give publicity to anyone who espouses those beliefs is unwise and just serves to perpetuate the illusion that there is a scientific controversy when there is not.

      By the way, the benefits of both rotavirus and chickenpox vaccines outweigh the risks. If they did not, neither vaccine would exist. Rotavirus and chickenpox are endemic in the US; yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis are not. That is why vaccines for the latter two are recommended for travelers to certain areas but are not part of the routine childhood vaccine schedule in the US. Rotavirus and chickenpox both have the potential for mortality (and chickenpox the potential to cause shingles). That is why we vaccinate for them. The doctors who take care of the babies in those “lurid” videos know quite well that the deadliness of chickenpox is not “rhetoric”. It is very real, just ignored by the anti-vaccinationists who say, “I had chickenpox and I am fine.”

      At this point, pediatricians need to stop catering to parents who think they know more than the vaccine experts and just tell them that not vaccinating is poor medicine and that they cannot allow patients in their practices who are unvaccinated. Sears and others like him who undermine the use of vaccines should be censured.The rest of the country needs to follow Mississippi and West Virginia and not allow any school vaccine exemptions for any reason other than a medical contraindication. I feel sorry for the (mostly educated) people who are victims of the Dunning Kruger effect, but I am unwilling to let them put the entire country at risk due to their inability to understand that they do not truly understand vaccines.

      1. Suzanne – Do you understand the Dunning Kreuger effect?

        wikipedia – a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Conversely, highly skilled individuals tend to underestimate their relative competence, erroneously assuming that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.[1]

        It is not the educated who overestimate their ability, but the unskilled. The educated underestimate their ability, because they have had a glimpse of how much knowledge is attainable.

        I am guessing from your post that you have little more than a high school education and you have made a very good point for the uneducated not to overestimate their ability to understand the depth of this issue.

  3. I don’t see how the vaccine issue can be approached in an emotionally meaningful way. It’s science. If we can’t understand the science ourselves, then it’s about trust. I am not a scientist or a medical professional, so I have to trust that my doctors make good recommendations when it comes to vaccines. And I follow my doctors’ recommendations because I’ve researched their credentials and established a relationship with them. I’m OK with my doctor knowing more about vaccines than I do.

  4. OK – you’re right all vaccines are VERY good and should be used by EVERYONE as directed.

    All new approved vaccines should be added to the already established arsenal of vaccines given to infants. We know what they do and how they work and are damn sure that they are safe. There should be no choice. Vaccinate your child or become an outcast. Anyone thinking otherwise should be labeled delusional and also treated as an outcast.

    Prices for these vaccines should be left to the pharmaceutical company that distributes them. Profit should be maximized for the investor. Side effects should only be reported by the manufacturer and all positions at the FDA should be filled by administrators, chemists and lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry as long as pay is commensurate with upward mobility.

    Have you ever heard a scientist or researcher or expert for that matter say “We used to think…, but now we know”.

    Is coffee good for me or bad for me? Are cigarettes good for me or bad for me? Doctors used to think they caused no harm, but now they know they do cause harm. I am sure that we can find some expert or scientist who can still find something redeeming about cigarettes… I don’t know what that is, but I still wont smoke them. Why, because I have a brain, can think for myself and can choose my own health care. So can you!!

    Oh yeah, where do I sign up to stop thinking and follow the sheep in front of me… by the way, if we know what does not cause Autism, then what does cause it? I am moving to West Virginia for its high standard of living and vaccination requirement.

    Suzzanne- if you read this, I have a comment for your comment – “By the way, the benefits of both rotavirus and chickenpox vaccines outweigh the risks. If they did not, neither vaccine would exist.” Spoken like a true scientist, I will be interested in reading the research that supports your position and looking at the funding source for said research. WE used to think cigarettes did no harm ( I remember the day when physicians smoked!) but now we know. I hope you know there is a lot of junk science out there that lines the pockets of the greedy, (sometimes at the expense of the uninitiated )

  5. Very simplistic assertions backed with zero evidence. The “Vaccine Sides” don’t necessarily mean black/white, good or bad. EVERY MD knows there are certain people who should not get certain vaccines because of their age or immune status. The question that is unresolved centers around what other people might suffer adverse effects because of genetic polymorphisms, vulnerability to or actually autoimmunity (a triggered immune system is the whole goal of vaccines, how do you think an immune system that thinks it’s fighting off 3+ major diseases at the same time misfires when It’s already beginning to attack itself through autoimmunity. There are few studies on this and the ones that exist point to a link

    1. @ KARLBABA:

      It would be great if there were some way to identify those who will have one of the extremely rare complications of a vaccine. There is none at this time. As to “fighting off 3+ major diseases at the same time”, your immune system does that every day.

      People with immune system disorders are vaccinated. take HIV, for example:

      Click to access recommended_immunizations_fs_en.pdf

      Live virus vaccines may be contraindicated.

      People with immune deficiencies precluding vaccination get the benefit oof herd immunity.

      1. There isn’t a way to indentify those who will have an adverse effect because science is deliberately not looking for one. Genetics could be an good place to start. I predict that within 30 years every baby will have their genetic snps tested at birth and treated accordingly. We don’t even know how rare complications to vaccine are since autoimmune conditions secondary to vaccinations (ASIA in the literature) are not studied properly.

        On this subject, Former National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Bernadine Healy broke ranks with her Institute of Medicine colleagues in 2008 in saying that public health officials have intentionally avoided researching whether subsets of children are “susceptible” to vaccine side effects because they are afraid that the answer will scare the public.

        “What we’re seeing in the bulk of the population: vaccines are safe,” said Healy. “But there may be this susceptible group. The fact that there is concern, that you don’t want to know that susceptible group is a real disappointment to me. If you know that susceptible group, you can save those children. If you turn your back on the notion that there is a susceptible group… what can I say?”

        “There is a completely expressed concern that they don’t want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people. “First of all,” Healy said, “I think the public’s smarter than that. The public values vaccines. But more importantly, I don’t think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you’re afraid of what it might show.”

        from http://sharylattkisson.com/cdc-responds-to-allegation-it-omitted-vaccine-autism-study-link/

        We are talking about a Former National Institutes of Health Director making that statement, not a fringe character but the very top of public health officialdom!

  6. @ KARLBABA:

    First you have to have the tools to do the research, and in all honesty those are just becoming available at a cost that makes it practical. It is now possible to be tested for the genes that control the metabolism of certain drugs. That means that the choice of drug and dose can be individualized. However, what those genes are and what their products do is known.

    There certainly may be genes that control the susceptibility to complications from vaccines.

    It is not true that no one is trying to identify those genes. I found this one easily, written in 2008. Was Healey not aware of it?


    The William Thompson thing is another manufactured controversy without merit. Thompson thought that more weight should have been given to a finding that autism was more likely in an extremely small subgroup of African American boys who were vaccinated early. The truth is they were vaccinated early in order to participate in programs for autism. In other words, they were known to be autistic before they were vaccinated. In addition, the study did not show any increased risk of autism in other subgroups: African American females or white males or females. Do you believe vaccines only cause autism in black males? From the point of view of statistical analysis alone, the finding was probably spurious. Drawing conclusions from small subgroups inside a larger study is problematic.

    1. I didn’t say “No One” had studied this. When you thing that virtually every child in the US gets boatloads of vaccines in their youth and there are so few studies on figuring the adverse effect risk population in advance, it’s remarkable. Even more remarkable is that the study you linked very positively shows a link between adverse effects and the MTHFR polymorphism which affects a substantial part of the population and would probably be implicated in adverse effects in adverse effects in other vaccines as well. If anything, this calls for more aggressive study.
      Science can’t have it both ways. The Thompson thing is scandalous because they changed the study design halfway through to skew the evidence based on their assumptions. If you review the way the original study linking autism to vaccines was debunked, it was with similar criticisms.

      You ask “Do you believe vaccines only cause autism in black males?”

      The thing is to look at what the data shows without bias! What if somebody were to say “Do you believe that Black people get sickle cell anemia because they are black? Maybe it’s because their lower economic status subjects them to worse health care and diet so let’s change our study design to discount a racial/genetic factor”

  7. I want simple, clear, knock-out rebuttals to the arguments that keep coming up against vaccination (and well, science generally), sometimes from otherwise smart, reasonable people:

    – Well, they lied to us about (smoking) for years — therefore, they could be lying about (vaccines).

    – They were wrong about (thalidomide, hrt, etc.) — therefore, they could be wrong about (vaccines).

    There seems to be a basic communications breakdown — a lot of people don’t seem to understand, for example, how it’s really known that there is no link between vaccines and autism (instead of: they just haven’t found the link yet). I’m not trying to get philosophical (how do we know anything?).
    Is there a way to address those concerns without eye-rolling or saying “trust us, we’re professionals — we know what we’re talking about” — to people who haven’t studied medicine and/or don’t understand research and clinical trials?

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