One thing that’s always puzzled me about Tobacco Control is this: How did they manage to completely persuade so many governments, all around the world, to fully support them in their War on Tobacco?
And today I thought that it was probably in very large part because they’d captured the moral high ground. They had become an invincible moral force.
It must have been very difficult for governments to resist the overwhelming rightness of the antismoking cause. Smoking caused millions of deaths, and secondhand smoke caused millions more. It was clearly the right thing to do to launch a global war on smoking, and eradicate what amount to a five century long epidemic. It was just like taking on malaria or polio or leprosy. And when the war was won, everyone would be so much healthier. And furthermore, most smokers – 70% of them at least – actually wanted to give up smoking. They just needed a little government assistance to conquer their terrible addiction.
And as scientist after scientist testified before them on the terrible dangers of smoking revealed by countless epidemiological studies, and senior doctors all around the world called for complete smoking bans, it must have been next to impossible for MPs and congressmen and ministers to question these authoritative assertions without seeming to be, well,… in the pay of Big Tobacco.
And furthermore, there was no downside. None at all. Once the smoke-filled bars had been emptied of smoke, they’d fill up with a new clientele of grateful non-smokers. There would be no loss of trade. In fact, business would never be better. And everybody would be much healthier, with a new spring in their step, and a smile on their face.
The only losers would be the evil tobacco companies, that peddled their toxic product to their addict clients.
Who could say no to that? What politician would have had the nerve to raise objections to a social programme that was so transparently noble and beneficial?
And hardly any did. In the UK, the strength of the Commons vote for the UK smoking ban indicated that, perhaps for the only time in their careers, many MPs felt they were doing something that was unambiguously good and right, no question about it. And indeed many MPs said more or less exactly that. It was as if they had voted for the emancipation of slaves.
Tobacco Control has been very successful in capturing and holding the moral high ground. Indeed, they have more or less presented themselves as so many saints who have come marching into the world to defeat the satanic forces of Big Tobacco. And I believe that most of the people working in Tobacco Control believe that they are doing something that is wonderfully good and noble. They wouldn’t do it otherwise, would they? Who would work diligently, year after year, for a cause that they thought was doing harm?
The coming years, I believe, will see the gradual disintegration of the prevailing certainty in the unambiguous goodness and rightness of Tobacco Control’s war on tobacco.
It was too good to be true anyway. Nothing is ever unambiguously good. There are down sides to every course of action. The sheer one-sidedness of Tobacco Control’s claims – that there were no costs, but only benefits – ought to have raised a few eyebrows.
I suspect that that over the coming years, the hidden costs of the war on tobacco are going to emerge. It is likely to be found that smoking bans have created considerable social division. And that they have estranged and demonised a quarter of the population, if not more. And that, far from boosting the hospitality industry, smoking bans have depressed all industries wherever they have been introduced. And that their much-vaunted health benefits have been negligible or non-existent. And that many of the claims made by Tobacco Control have been either exaggerations or outright lies. And so on.
Little by little, Tobacco Control’s halo will start to lose its shine, and gradually fall away.
And, even worse, as the halo falls away, a fine pair of horns will be revealed.
And far from being seen as unambiguously good, it will begin to seem unambiguously evil.
And, as the process unfolds, the politicians who once enthusiastically voted for smoking bans will start to back away from them. What once seemed a black-and-white issue will start to get as muddy and unclear as everything else always is. Perhaps some of the Tobacco Controllers will even admit that there were, after all, one or two things that they didn’t quite get right, one or two claims that were perhaps slightly exaggerated. And one or two of the people who work in Tobacco Control may begin to entertain one or two faint doubts about the undeniable virtue of their cause.
It’ll be a long slow slide from being seen as unambiguously good to being seen as unambiguously evil. They’re going to lose the moral high ground. It’ll be a kind of fall.
But then, that’s because I’ve never seen Tobacco Control as in the least bit good or noble. In my eyes, they’ve always seemed to be utter bastards, every single one of them.