Via Smoking Lamp a few days back:
Six years ago, more than a dozen men with AK-47s shot their way into Akinbode Oluwafemi’s home in Lagos, Nigeria. They killed his house guard and his brother-in-law, and briefly held a muzzle to the head of one of his year-old twins.
“I do not know why I was not killed that day,” said Mr. Oluwafemi, who as deputy director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria has been one of his country’s leading antismoking activists.
He was one of several tobacco control advocates at last week’s 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Cape Town who in telephone conversations described violence or threats they faced as they fought the expansion of smoking in their countries.
No arrests were made in any case, and none of the victims could prove that the men assaulting or threatening them worked for the industry. But the pattern was consistent.
They were first quietly warned that they were upsetting cigarette companies, tobacco farmers or government officials connected to the industry. If the activists persisted, threats or violence escalated suddenly and unpredictably.
In 2012, Tara Singh Bam, deputy regional director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, discovered “wanted” posters with his face and those of nine other antismoking advocates — including Indonesia’s national health minister — pictured under the headline “Ten Enemies of Tobacco Farmers.”
A year later, he said, an intruder pushed into the lobby of his Jakarta apartment just as he was taking his children to school.
“He grabbed my hand and said ‘You must leave my country as soon as possible,’” said Dr. Bam, who is from Nepal. “Then he blew smoke in my face. My children started crying — and he left.”
And just two years ago, he said, he received a Facebook message warning: “Do not interfere in our tobacco affairs.” It ended with “Your coming made the atmosphere not good.”
When he looked up the sender’s name, Dr. Bam said, he found an official of the Indonesia Tobacco Growers Association.
Mr. Oluwafemi said he could not prove that his attackers were linked to the tobacco industry in his country, but he strongly suspected it. They were far better dressed and better armed than typical robbers in Nigeria, he said, and his modest home was an unpromising target in a neighborhood of mansions with Mercedes-Benzes.
Also, he added, they started firing even before they cleared the outside wall. He may have survived, he said, partly because of the chaos caused by all the shooting — the police later counted 75 empty shells.
I’m not in the least bit surprised. If anything, what’s surprising is that this sort of thing hasn’t been happening already. And been happening for a long time.
But I’m a tobacco smoker, not a tobacco producer or distributor. I spend most of my time thinking about smokers and what’s been happening to them. I hardly think about tobacco producers at all. I just buy their product. Apart from that I have nothing to do with them. Just like, apart from buying their products, I have nothing to do with dairy farmers.
And tobacco producers and distributors have been far more demonised by Tobacco Control, and for far longer, than smokers have been. Big Tobacco has been demonised for the past 50 years, if not longer. Smokers have only been feeling the heat for the past 10 or 20 years.
And people who are in the tobacco trade are people who earn their living growing and packaging and distributing tobacco products. It’s a very old business. It’s been going on for 500 years, pretty well. And now they’re probably being portrayed as being as bad as slave traders. Maybe even worse. What happens when you tell people that you’re an executive in some tobacco company these days? I bet a lot of people blanch and refuse to shake your hand. Maybe they even tell you that you should be ashamed of yourself for killing 400,000 people a year.
If you’re in the tobacco business, Tobacco Control isn’t just excluding you and demonising you: it’s also doing you out of your living, doing you out of your job. And not offering you any compensation, most likely.
If you’re a smoker, you’re merely being robbed by punitive taxation, insulted by warnings on your tobacco packs, and exiled to the outdoors. They’re small injuries, even if they slowly add up to a very large injury.
But if you’re in the tobacco business, you face losing your livelihood, and quite likely your home and everything you possess. You stand to lose everything.
And maybe in places like Nigeria or Indonesia, they don’t have well-established legal means of seeking redress when they’re injured in some way. And so you just send some boys round, armed with AK-47s, and get your redress that way.
I doubt if Philip Morris or R J Reynolds or BAT do things that way. They’ll be fighting back with lawyers through the courts. That’s the way things are done in civilised countries, much like they hold elections rather than have revolutions.
But there’s essentially a war going on. It’s a war between Tobacco Control and the tobacco business, and now a war between Tobacco Control and the world’s 1.5 billion smokers. Maybe it’s just a war between Big Pharma and Big Tobacco over who gets to sell nicotine products. Maybe Big Pharma simply wants to medicalise nicotine, and sell it as a prescription drug. Maybe Big Pharma would like to do the same with alcohol and sugar and salt as well.
But it’s a war either way, and in wars people die. I’ve already got a graveyard full of smokers who have died in this war. And the people in Tobacco Control should realise that, if they’re going to fight this war, they’re going to suffer casualties too. Some of them are going to die as well.
It’s a low level civil war. And it’s a low level civil war that’s slowly getting hotter. And it’s a civil war that is pitting Englishmen against Englishmen (most of my worst enemies are English people working in Tobacco Control), Frenchmen against Frenchmen, Spaniards against Spaniards, Americans against Americans, Russians against Russians. It’s the same everywhere, including Nigeria and Indonesia. It’s just that it’s in places like Nigeria and Indonesia that the shooting has started.
I’m hoping that governments will one day wake up to this gradually mounting civil war. Does the British government really want Englishmen killing Englishmen? Does the French government want French people killing French people? I don’t think any government anywhere wants that to happen. And so I think they’ll have to intervene to stop the war before it gets much worse.
There’s little sign of anything like that happening. Because none of these governments see this as a civil war. They see it as a Public Health campaign. And they’re on the side of Public Health. What government isn’t on the side of Public Health? Because Tobacco Control has sold them this war on tobacco (and on tobacco companies and tobacco smokers) as a Public Health initiative. They don’t know, most of them, that the Holocaust was also a Public Health initiative.
Perhaps I should start a new graveyard. A graveyard for antismokers. Antismokers who were shot dead or strangled. Or who died prematurely under suspicious circumstances. I can’t think of anyone who needs to be interred there. Sure, George Godber is dead, but he died aged 100. So is Richard Doll, but he died aged 92. And C Everett Koop too, but he died aged 96. But I’m sure the body bags will start arriving soon.