The Faltering War on Smoking

National Post:

The tobacco endgame: Radical proposals part of strategy to win faltering war on smoking

I’m very glad to hear it’s faltering.

In the faltering war against cigarettes, the latest battle cries are eye openers: prohibit smoking for anyone born after the year 2000; require a licence to buy cigarettes; nationalize the tobacco industry.

Or just make selling cigarettes illegal.

All have been proposed as part of the “tobacco endgame,” a radical — and controversial — new approach to the smoking scourge that a select group of Canadian public-health experts will discuss later this year.

Endgame proponents note that a stubborn 20 per cent of the population continues to smoke — tens of thousands of them dying annually as a result — and argue the numbers are unlikely to decrease much under current anti-smoking policies.

So, they say, it’s time for innovative, out-of-the-box ideas that might just stamp out Western society’s biggest-single source of disease.

I don’t think that these people are actually capable of  formulating “innovative, out-of-the-box ideas”. The Tobacco Control mindset is rigid and dogmatic, and consists largely of one-dimensional stereotypes of smokers (as “addicts”, for example).

In such a circumstance, any sort of innovative thinking must necessarily call into question the prevailing dogmatic mindset, and that would be unconscionable heresy. So it can’t be allowed to happen.

And it doesn’t happen. There is no sign whatever of any innovative thinking. The only thing Tobacco Control ever does is to multiply the bans and restrictions on smoking, hike the taxes higher, and ratchet up the media scaremongering. It doesn’t work, but it’s the only thing they know how to do.

And oddly for an organisation whose purpose is directed at smokers, Tobacco Control is actually not very interested in smokers. They never try to get inside their heads, or step into their shoes. Perhaps that’s because, as behaviourists, they’re incapable of empathy. They only ever lecture smokers, and never listen to them. So they can have no real understanding of them outside their stereotype depictions. Thus, incapable of any real understanding of smokers, they are incapable of making any progress against the most stubborn of them.


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Stuff I Noticed Today


Russia warned of “a new world war” starting in Syria on Thursday after a dramatic day in which Gulf states threatened to send in ground forces.

Foreign and defence ministers of the leading international states backing different factions in the war-torn country met in separate meetings in Munich and Brussels following the collapse of the latest round of peace talks.

Pat Buchanan reckons a Michael Bloomberg presidential bid wouldn’t hurt Republicans:

Though he may be a pioneer in modern media and a man with a golden touch, Bloomberg is 74 years old this week, uncharismatic, and does not fill up a room the way the Donald does. He lacks a common touch and is a social liberal, pro-abortion and pro-same-sex marriage.

Moreover, he is a compulsive nanny-stater who outlawed smoking in New York bars, restaurants and public places, prohibited the sale of cigarettes to anyone under 21, forbade trans-fats in restaurants, sodas larger than 16 ounces, chain restaurant menus without calorie counts, cellphones in school, non-fuel-efficient cabs, greenhouse gas emissions, and non-hurricane-proof buildings in coastal areas.

While not well-known nationally, Bloomberg is a zealot about tougher gun control laws and his candidacy would produce a deluge of contributions to the National Rifle Association. This obsession, along with his social views, would sink him in Red State America.


“One of the most surprising findings of this study was that searches for where to buy e-cigarettes outpaced searches about health concerns or smoking cessation,” Williams said.

Only a health zealot would be surprised that people are searching online for where to buy e-cigarettes rather than about health concerns about them. Welcome to the real world.

And Harley has started his own blog. I’ll add a link to my blogroll.

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My EU Referendum Cynicism


Government assumed that British people would vote to remain in EU

DOWNING Street is panicking over the EU referendum because the government’s assumptions that voters would overwhelmingly back the remain side have been proven completely wrong, it has been revealed.

Tory MP Steve Baker, the joint chairman of Conservatives for Britain, told a Brexit conference that a senior minister told him this week that they had planned for having a 20 to 30 point lead in favour of staying in the EU at this stage.

Instead the government and pro-EU campaigners are behind in one poll by nine points and in the Daily Express’ online poll are facing 92 per cent in favour of a Brexit.

Mr Baker told the Daily Express: “I was having a drink with a senior minister last night and he told me that the expectation [in Downing Street] was that at this stage they [David Cameron’s pro-EU campaign] would be 20 to 30 points ahead.

I must say that I feel pretty damn cynical about this EU referendum. I’m not a bit surprised if more and more Britons want to leave the EU, given the ghastly mess it’s turned into, with armies of rapists on the loose. But I don’t think what Britons might think is of any interest to the governing British political class, who are almost all on board for the EU “project”. And they’ll get their way, whatever anyone else thinks. And if the referendum looks like it won’t go the way they want, they’ll either:

  1. Not have a referendum, despite having promised one.
  2. Defer any referendum for as long as possible.
  3. Fix the result of the referendum.
  4. Ignore the result if the ‘wrong’ answer is given.
  5. Make people vote again until they give the ‘right’ answer (the EU’s own approach).
  6. Delay and procrastinate about acting to leave the EU.
  7. Scare the living daylights out of people to ensure they vote to stay in.
  8. Start a war.

Anyway, my prediction is that in 5 years time, Britain will still be inside the EU, even if 95% of Britons want to leave it, because what ordinary Britons might want doesn’t matter a toss to the European political class and its British members.

After all, it’s not as if we’re living in a parliamentary democracy, is it?

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Substance Users

H/T Audrey Silk for this NYT piece on the hospital treatment of “substance users”:

We are their doctors and nurses, their parents, their arresting officers, parole officers, judge and jury. Needless to say, we are not trained for the last five roles, nor are we particularly good at them.

A single principle guides us: You cannot use your drug of choice on our premises, no matter how much you may need it and prefer it to our proffered alternatives. Around that immutable core swirl large clouds of negotiation, compromise, duplicity, manipulation and general misery for all involved.

It’s a complete alternative society, in which new people step into the shoes of parents, police, and courts. No doubt they also have interrogators, torturers, and executioners as well. It’s a new society in which all the old rules have been swept away and replaced with new ones.

A bit like Sharia law or something.

It’s a society which starts inside hospitals, and then extends to the hospital grounds, and then out into the surrounding streets, and finally into the police stations and courts and councils and parliaments, bringing general misery to everyone.

And all guided by a single principle: You can’t use your substance of choice here. That’s the complete new Constitution and Bill of Rights.

One patient is tying his shoes as we make our rounds in the morning, and tells us cheerfully that he is going out for a smoke. He’ll be right back. We inform him, not without sympathy, that in our hospital smoking breaks are not allowed. If he leaves for even half an hour he will officially be considered discharged. His bed will be given to someone else, and to resume his medical care, he will have to go back to the emergency room and start the cycle all over again.

I couldn’t help imagining another patient also tying his shoes, and saying cheerfully:

“Just nipping round the corner for tea and biscuits. I’ll be back in two ticks.”

The burly guards nurses looked at each other, thunderstruck.

“What sort of biscuits?”

“Oh, I dunno, whatever they’ve got. Hobnobs would be fine…”

There was an audible intake of breath.

“No tea. No biscuits.” one of them eventually said, shaking his head slowly but firmly. “They’re restricted substances. Tea kills. And tea and biscuits kill even quicker. Hobnobs kill in minutes.”

The patient began to protest, but was silenced by one of the guards who’d stepped forward.

“I lost my daughter to tea and Hobnobs.” he said, his voice cracking. “She was a happy girl until she started drinking tea and eating Hobnobs. I tried to stop her, but she locked herself away in her room. She even refused to come downstairs for her lentil soup. She said she hated it, and she wanted to be free. When I finally broke down the door, she was lying on the floor surrounded by tea paraphernalia – teapots, tea strainers, spoons, floral cups and saucers –  and lots and lots of empty Hobnob packets. It’s a terrible thing for a parent to find his precious daughter lying on the floor with semi-liquid Hobnob fluid dripping from her mouth after her final binge…”

Tea. Biscuits. These also are substances of choice. And just as addictive as, say, chocolate or iced doughnuts. But what about…

“Just going down to the pond. I’ll be back in a bit.”

“What are you going to do there?”

“Oh, sit in the sun and watch the ducks or something.”

“Pond? Sit? Ducks?”

Meaningful looks exchanged.

“The pond is very deep. And the ducks attack on sight. We don’t want to be finding your sun-blackened body floating face down in the pond being savaged by feral ducks.”

“We can’t allow it.”

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“Vlogging” is a new word I’ve been encountering recently, and so today I went and found out a bit more about it. Vlogging is video blogging, where people post up videos. Here’s one.

I don’t think it’s something I could do.

But then I didn’t think I could ever write a blog. I’d been reading blogs for years when I quite accidentally started my own. Here’s my first ever blog post, back in June 2009.

I thought it would be difficult to write a blog, but it hasn’t been, and for one simple reason: I’ve been writing a blog all my life. Well, not quite. What I’ve been doing all my life is to write about things that bother me. Somehow or other I find that writing about it is a good way to think about something. And I think that writing is helpful because you have to think slowly. You have to think at the same rate that you can write. And thinking slowly makes you notice things you don’t notice when you’re thinking fast – just like strolling slowly along a street you notice lots more things than when you’re hurrying along it. Anyway, I can fill sheets and sheets of paper with stuff I’m thinking about. Under my bedside table there is heap about a foot thick, all written in my now-indecipherable handwriting.

And the one thing that I think about a lot these days are smoking bans. In fact, I wake up most mornings thinking about them. Because for me the UK smoking ban has been like someone standing on my foot – or maybe my throat – for the past 8 years. It’s a constant dull pain. I can remember waking up like that thinking about lost girlfriends, but it never lasted long – not as long as 8 years, leastways.

Anyway, what I write now in my blog is a sort of public personal journal, centred on smoking bans, but wandering off into science, medicine, politics, the EU, global warming, asteroids, and my 40-year engagement in Idle Theory. But smoking bans are what I wake up thinking about pretty much every morning.

And it’s become a sort of place – an online pub, as some describe it – in which smokers are welcome, and smoking is permitted.

Which reminds me that regular commenter Harley mentioned today that if you type “smoking” into Google, blogs like mine don’t show up. So I tried it. And he was dead right. It was wall-to-wall antismoking stuff, for page after page. It was only on the 7th page that I found a single mention of Forest: Voice and friend of the smoker. And then no more for the next 20 or so pages. The antis really have Google sewn up. And I wonder how. Because I doubt that many of these antismoking websites get even 10 views a day.

Perhaps I should look into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) .

It also reminded me that I have no idea how any of my readers came across my blog. I’d guess that it’s probably mostly because smoker-friendly blogs and websites tend to link to each other. My early blog quickly got links from Legiron and Dick Puddlecote. My blogroll is full of such links. But if smoker-friendly blogs and websites form a sort of online community, how does anyone ever find any of them when a mention of “smoking” on Google will offer you about 2 million antismoking websites?

Incidentally, in my wanderings today I came across a poll asking whether the UK smoking ban has been a good thing. 75% said it was. The poll, in the Shropshire Star, was only started yesterday.

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Action and Reaction

I suppose that one of the puzzles for me in recent years has been: Where did all these antismokers came from?

After all, 60 years ago there weren’t any, as far as I could see. Smoking was completely unremarkable.

The first antismoker I ever came across, in 1965, was the dismal Dr W, a man who seemed not only incapable of enjoying anything at all, but incapable of laughing or smiling as well. I guessed that in his childhood there was some traumatic event from which he had never recovered. And he absolutely detested smoking – particularly smoking by his teenage eldest son.

I thought (and still think) he was a bit of a nutter. But I now believe that he was a force to be reckoned with inside the BMA. The last time I ever saw him was speaking on TV on behalf of the BMA. And he was one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of antismoking doctors who’d come to infest the BMA, the RCP, and the WHO, and who eventually took control of all of them.

I suppose that many of them were true believers in Doll and Hill’s 1950 claim that smoking caused lung cancer.

But I wonder whether theirs was also a visceral response to living in what was probably the smokiest half century in human history, thanks to the invention of the cigarettes that were readily adopted by soldiers on both sides in WW1 and WW2, and then by many women as well. And they smoked everywhere. They smoked at home. They smoked in pubs. They smoked in restaurants. They smoked in trains.  They smoked in cinemas. It was probably impossible to get away from cigarette smoke. But the few antismokers found kindred spirits here and there.  How wonderful it must have been to learn in 1950 that smoking caused lung cancer. How readily and gladly must they have accepted those findings. And from then on the numbers of antismokers gradually but steadily multiplied, and their influence grew. The first UK partial smoking bans in trains came in about 1970. And other bans soon followed. Tobacco advertising bans started around 1990 in the UK. And then of course the big one – the ban on smoking in all enclosed public spaces – in 2007. From a few isolated individual cranks they’d risen to hold the whip hand. Smoker were now on the run.

But how many people can remember the smoky world that existed 50 or 60 years ago? How many people have a visceral response to that experience still driving them? It must be fewer and fewer. Dr W died 15 years ago. And I imagine that many of his antismoking cohort have followed him. Anyone who has grown up in the increasingly smoke-free world of the past 20 or 30 years can’t share that experience. The driving motive force of the antismoking movement must be seeping out of it, to be replaced by greed and avarice.

And if smoking was a curse 60 or more years ago, antismoking has now become an equal and opposite curse. Tobacco Control has become a monster straddling the globe, driving smokers out of everywhere, shattering communities, bankrupting pubs, depressing economies. And now the increasingly corrupt and destructive global antismoking movement has created a few individuals here and there who are sick, not of smoking, but of antismoking. And they’re finding kindred spirits here and there. And they will be delighted when they learn that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer. And their numbers will multiply, and their influence will grow. And then they’ll start repealing all the smoking bans, one by one.

The pendulum has swung one way. And now it’s starting to swing back. And the peak-to-opposite-peak swing period is about 70 years. Action brings reaction, and reaction in turn brings action.

In another 70 years the world will probably be as smoky as it was 70 years ago.

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Manby, Hillary, and Plimsoll

Purely out of slight interest while eating this evening, I was watching the BBC’s Shipwrecks: Britain’s Sunken History on BBC iplayer. It recounted the story of how, during the 19th century, all sorts of ways for saving the lives of shipwrecked ships’ passengers and crews were gradually introduced in Britain, ranging from mortars firing ropes to sinking ships, shore-based lifeboats, lifebelts, weather forecasts, and more.

And many lives were indeed saved. In one year alone there were two thousand ships lost in the North Sea alone, with 20,000 sailors and passengers perishing.

As the programme was ending, and I was feeling glad that so many lives had been saved, it occurred to me that antismoking activists almost certainly see themselves in the same light as the Victorian innovators and philanthropists and campaigners I’d just been hearing about: they were saving lives too!

But, at the same time the thought occurred, it also struck me that it was very different now than it was in the 19th century. But in what ways?

I suppose the most obvious way that it was different was that the shipwreck deaths were real deaths of actual people with names and addresses and grieving wives and children, while the modern “death tolls” ascribed to smoking are the product of statistical analyses that generate projected “numbers of deaths”. The shipwreck death tolls were real, but the smoking death tolls are imaginary. If the statistical analyses employ different methods, they produce different projected “numbers of deaths”. And there are no actual dead bodies with grieving wives and children beside their graves.

It would be different if Smoking Kills, like it says on more or less every cigarette packet today, because then any time you came across someone lying dead with a cigarette or pipe between their lips, you might deduce that this was what had killed them, as surely as arsenic. But smoking doesn’t kill anybody. What kills them is cancer or heart or lung disease which antismoking zealots claim has been caused by smoking. It’s the disease that kills them, not the smoking.

But there are other differences. In the 19th century, a retired sea captain, George Manby, witnessed the shipwreck and drowning of an entire ship’s passengers and crew just 60 yards from the shore where he stood watching helplessly, listening to their screams and shouts. So he went away and invented the Manby Mortar which fired a cannon ball with a grappling hook and line attached. These came into use in many places, and were used to save the lives of many people who would otherwise have perished.

Or take Sir William Hillary, who himself helped save many sailors by rowing out in boats to wrecks, and who went on to found what is now the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Or Samuel Plimsoll, who campaigned in parliament for overladen ships to be prevented from sailing from British ports. This was because at that time, when old wooden ships were sold to be broken up, they were quite often renamed and given a new coat of paint, and sent back to sea as what sailors called “coffin ships”, which would sink in the slightest breeze. Eventually, despite considerable government and shipowner resistance,  popular pressure forced the end of these practices. Plimsoll even sold his country house to pay for his campaign’s debts.

These were all men who voluntarily set out to help shipwrecked sailors, using their own funding and resources, and attracting considerable public support in the process. Some of them, like Sir William Hillary, even placed their own lives at risk.

But today’s antismoking campaigners are almost all highly-paid professionals with government or pharma or foundation funding (as mentioned yesterday). It’s a job, and much of their time is spent trying to win more funding for themselves. None of them would ever dream of actually helping any smoker, never mind placing their lives at risk to save one. And they have precious little public support (not enough to fund them).

And whereas in the 19th century, there was government resistance to popular support for the Manbys and Hillarys and Plimsolls of the time, the modern antismoking and healthist professionals always start out with government support in the face of popular indifference. There was no popular call for smoking bans in Britain in 2006. The call came from astroturfed antismoking professionals. Manby, Hillary, and Plimsoll fought against government using genuine popular grassroot movements. But the new antismoking and healthist professionals were united with government from the outset in imposing widely unpopular laws on the people.

No, the modern professional ‘public health’ campaigners are not the descendants of Manby, Hillary, Plimsoll, and many others. They bear no relation to them at all.

If anything, the true descendants of those admirable men are the people who now voluntarily campaign, using their own small resources and skills and wits, against the highly socially and economically and politically damaging smoking bans imposed by governments at the behest of a few professional lobbyists.

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