Survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., joined the chorus of Americans denouncing the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) influence on elected officials over the gun control issue. But will this moment lead to substantive change in the nation’s gun laws, or will it be subsumed into Washington’s larger gridlock — forgotten until the next school shooting, as has happened repeatedly in the past?
There may be a clue in the history of the regulation of another dangerous product, cigarettes. Gun-control groups say the firearms industry is using some of the same tactics the tobacco lobby used to forestall regulations for most of the 20th century, including the suppression of potentially damaging research and casting the issue in terms of “rights” and “freedom.” But the record shows that over the course of several decades, and over the well-funded opposition of a powerful industry, public-health advocates (mostly) prevailed in the battle against smoking.
“The tobacco industry is built on profiting from a product that kills and causes disease for hundreds of thousands of Americans. Unfortunately, the same is true for the gun industry. While there are legitimate uses for firearms — for example in the military — for the most part firearms, particularly assault weapons, are marketed to civilians in a way which increases and continues a legacy of death and injury,” Mark Pertschuk, former president of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights and former legislative director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said to Yahoo News.
A study published in
The analogy isn’t only to the tobacco industry. Trade groups have clear missions to support the interests of their industries they represent. But public health advocates take issue when misinformation is knowingly propagated and, from their perspective, profits are privileged over people. For instance,
Barron Lerner, a professor of medicine and public health at NYU Langone Health, said the tobacco industry’s mission for many years was to obfuscate the data that shows cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. Although the tobacco industry lobbied in Washington, he said, its greatest accomplishment wasn’t buying the cooperation of members of Congress or finding advocates from tobacco-growing states so much as it was complicating the issue — creating enough doubt in the public to delay the implementation of antismoking measures.
“There are historical moments where things get so bad, the carnage is so much and the rhetoric is so absurd that there’s finally movement,” Lerner told Yahoo News. “I think we’re ready for some type of a similar movement in the world of guns.”
In the mid-20th century, nearly half of all adult Americans smoked cigarettes, which were considered cool and glamorous.
A major turning point for cigarettes came in January 1964, when
.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” type=”text” content=”Cliff Dou