In the early 1950’s it was becoming increasingly clear to the scientific community (and the general public) that tobacco was causing cancer. To protect its profits, the tobacco industry knew it had to do something.

So Big Tobacco companies created and began experimenting with different kinds of public messaging in an effort to neutralize the growing scientific consensus. More than any other message, there was one in particular that resonated with many in the general public for years—denying that any valid evidence existed…at all.

First in television ads, and then in industry press releases, there was complete denial that any evidence whatsoever had implicated tobacco as a contributor to cancer. Given that people would expect such talk from direct marketing efforts, however, they took it one step further, establishing in 1953 a “Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC).” The committee began generating white papers, reports and consensus papers that related the same essential message—there was “no proof” of any harm associated with cigarettes. For instance, one report noted:

“It is an obligation of the TIRC at this time to remind the public of these essential points: There is no conclusive scientific proof of a link between smoking and cancer … every scientific means will be used to get all the facts as soon as possible” (see Allan Brandt, The Cigarette Century, 2007, p. 173).

What was most remarkable about this marketing effort, though, is it worked. As the tobacco industry repeated this message over and over (through various channels, including researchers) for the next 40 years, many in the public came to believe that a legitimate scientific controversy was happening.

Sound familiar?

This is the exact strategy employed by the pornography industry and others defending porn: deny the evidence and blame others who are raising concerns. So far it’s working pretty well—just like it did for Big Tobacco.

Porn is the New Tobacco

For those who educate themselves about the research on pornography’s effects, the facts are clearer all the time. There are now over 35 neuroscience-based studies using a variety of brain imaging technologies (MRI, fMRI, EEG, etc.) that provide solid support for the reality of internet porn addiction. These studies have been done at leading research institutions such as Cambridge, Yale, and the Max Planck Institute in Germany. In the last few years, there have been more than a dozen literature reviews by some of the top neuroscientists in the world, supporting the reality of behavioral addictions—including addiction to pornography.

In addition to showing the addictive effects of porn, a growing number of studies are showing other very real ways that porn harms people and relationships. For example, there are over two dozen studies linking porn use and sexual addiction to sexual problems and lower arousal to sexual cues. There are over 50 studies that link porn use to less sexual satisfaction and lower relationship quality. There are over 40 studies that link compulsive porn use to depression, anxiety and poorer mental health functioning in general. The list goes on, and it’s growing every day.

It’s Time to Tell the Truth

Much like the tobacco industry was able to convince people for so many years that smoking had no harmful effects, the porn industry and their supporters are capitalizing on the fact that pornography has been normalized by our society to the point that it doesn’t seem harmful. In fact, some supporters of porn are even starting to claim that porn has positive and beneficial effects. But, with all these claims these defenders of porn never specifically address the studies we’ve just listed. They follow the tobacco-playbook of deny and distract, claiming that there is no evidence at all.

And when you really think about it, why wouldn’t they do this? The porn industry will do everything they can to reinforce the false idea that porn is harmless, because the last thing they need is for mass numbers of people to start to think seriously about what porn is actually doing to them.

Footnotes & Citations

[1]The television entertainer Arthur Godfrey promoted one brand of cigarettes (Chesterfields) by claiming that studies had disproven any connection with cancer. In early 1953 Godfrey announced during his weekly variety show, “I smoke two or three packs of these things every day. I feel pretty good. I don’t know, I never did believe they did any harm, and now, we’ve got the proof.” Godfrey even went on to detail the research program that had presumably exonerated cigarettes: “This doctor and specialist and some of his assistants, have been conducting experiments for 8 months, and they—people had been smoking Chesterfields for 10 years, some of ’em, and they smoked Chesterfields and nothing but Chesterfields for the last 8 months – it’s a little more than that now, and they have discovered that to date, he can’t find any adverse effects in the nose, the sinus, the ears or throat, or wherever else you smoke ’em.” As Brandt, 2007 goes on to point out, cigarette apologist Arthur Godfrey died of emphysema in 1983, after surviving removal of the cancerous part of a lung in 1959.
In another advertising campaign for Camels, it was touted that physicians had concluded after scientific investigation that there was “not one single case of throat irritation” from smoking Camel cigarettes. “Noted throat specialists” had conducted “weekly examinations” of patients in making this determination(see Brandt, 2007, pp. 161-162).
[2]That same year, American Tobacco President Paul Hahn issued a press release in which he asserted “with all the research being conducted in the field, no one has yet proved that lung cancer in any human being is directly traceable to tobacco or to its products in any form.” He explained: Believing as we do that cigarette smoking is not injurious to health, I feel that a statement of reassurance to the public should be made. What the public wants to know about is whether it is true that smoking has been proved to contribute to the incidence of lung cancer. The fact, of course, is that it has not been so proved” (see Brandt, 2007, p. 164).
[3]If by “worked” or “success” you mean increasing revenues for the industry (rather than silly things like saving and prolonging life, increasing its quality, etc.)
[4]This all comes as news to the literally hundreds of thousands of people who have struggled for years to find freedom. The idea that pornography addiction doesn’t “exist” feels a bit like telling someone facing depression that “it’s all in their head.”
[5]For instance, these headlines announced the “breakthrough” findings of Joshua Grubb’s study on “perceived addiction” (credit to Your Brain on Porn):  
• Watching Porn Is OK. Believing In Porn Addiction Is Not
• Perceived Addiction To Porn Is More Harmful Than Porn Use Itself
• Believing You Have Porn Addiction Is the Cause of Your Porn Problem, Study Finds
[6]Less attention has gone, of course, to other interests with an enormous financial stake in people not taking the addictive potential of pornography too seriously.

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