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Targets and abuse: the price public health campaigners pay

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Public health advocates are subjected to increasing levels of abuse, some of which may be orchestrated

With 40 books and some 800 publications, Professor Martin McKee is the United Kingdom’s foremost public health academic. Professor Stanton Glantz of the University of California, custodian of millions of tobacco industry documents, has been a leading researcher and campaigner for decades. Professor Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney and I have been prominent tobacco control campaigners nationally and overseas since the early 1970s. Yet a prominent blogger who disagrees with us about e-cigarettes tweeted that we are the “world’s top cigarette salesmen”.1

That is mild compared with some attacks on public health advocates that go far beyond robust debate. Personal abuse and four-letter invective in blogs, tweets and emails are commonplace. Among the gentler comments, tobacco control leaders are liars, frauds, imbeciles, stupid, hate-filled, unethical, dishonest, hysterical, contemptible, insanely wicked, evil, sick, lunatics and paid tools of the pharmaceutical industry. McKee is “one of the most primordial bottom-feeders in all social media”; Chapman is a “scrotum-faced head-banger”; Glantz is compared with Hitler; I am a “c… coat”.2 Within a day of the Charlie Hebdo murders…