The title of the documentary A Billion Lives offers a clue to how it plays fast and loose with the truth. A billion, filmmaker Aaron Biebert says, is the number of people the World Health Organization projects will die from smoking this century. That could be mitigated, he argues, by replacing cigarettes with “harm-free” vaping.
But the WHO hasn’t touted that statistic for years, thanks to the very anti-smoking tactics that Biebert and his experts (including physicians and tobacco-cessation advocates) slam as merely propping up what they say are self-interested nonprofits, drug companies, and public health agencies. In reality, the organization now says that only a billion people worldwide smoke at all. It pegs the annual number of deaths at 6 million, crediting cigarette taxes, advertising campaigns, and scientific research for the decline.
Demonstrating an egregious contempt for science, Biebert and his subjects attack the call for research into the effects of electronic cigarettes as nothing more than shilling for tax collectors and Big Pharma. Sure, governments lose by winning when they levy taxes to discourage use of commodities like tobacco — revenues fall as use declines — but that’s a conundrum that policymakers are well aware of.
Biebert levels the intriguing charge that drug companies and medical societies could be conducting anti-tobacco research and programs for their own perverse reasons, but he doesn’t back that up. Yet he presents the purveyors of vaping paraphernalia and liquids as white knights rather than capitalists themselves who, like the tobacco industry before them, aim to obstruct science in order to push their products.
A Billion Lives
Written and directed by Aaron Biebert
Attention Era Media
Opens October 28, Cinepolis Chelsea