There ought to be a name for the global War on Smoking that has been unleashed in recent years, bringing in smoking bans all around the world. There was a war on smoking underway throughout the latter half of the 20th century of course, but it never had the force of the present war, which is driving smokers from pubs and bars and restaurants, and seeing them refused employment and healthcare, and subjected to a campaign of ‘denormalisation’ and outright vilification. "If you smoke, you stink," ran one of the recent TV attack ads in the UK. This would have been unthinkable only a decade or so ago. Now it is normal. But it marks a profound and shocking change.
The shift has been from one of offering information and advice to smokers to one of the outright coercion of smokers. "We’ve told you over and over again that you shouldn’t smoke," the medical authorities are saying, "But you’ve paid no attention. So now we’re going to force you to give up smoking. We’re going to make life so hard for you that you won’t have any choice at all about the matter. The gloves are off. It’s total war now."
Smokers who had declined or refused to take the medical advice they were proffered were deemed to have foregone the right to make their own choices about their lifestyle. They had ceased to be respected as autonomous individuals, and had become a species of dumb animal to be fenced into more and more restricted smoking areas, and bludgeoned into compliance with threats and fines and sackings.
The real crime of the smokers was to disregard authority. The medical profession had concluded that the habit of smoking constituted a grave health risk both to smokers and non-smokers alike, and it was consequently the job of smokers to accept this advice, and stop smoking – in exactly the same way that any population might be asked to take precautionary measures in the face of a pandemic of ‘flu or plague.
If, in the face of a plague such as the Black Death, people were asked to stay at home, and not to meet with friends or family, so as to prevent the risk of contagion, the authorities would be expected to punish people who ignored this advice, and broke the curfew. Such penalties might start with fines, but could be strengthened to allow jail terms. In the extreme, curfew-breakers might even be shot on sight. And what applied to a pandemic of plague also applied to a pandemic of smoking, did it not?
But the Black Death was a very real pandemic that marched across Europe from town to town in the 14th century, with droves of people falling sick upon its arrival and dying within a matter of days, their corpses stacked high on the carts that took them to their mass graves. But the modern ‘pandemic’ of smoking is an illusory plague. There are no mass graves. No bodies stacked on carts. No doorways daubed with warnings in red paint. No characteristic symptoms of the onset of disease. No stream of refugees from stricken towns.
There are in fact no bodies at all. There is no single person who can be stated to have died from passive smoking. Nor is there even a single person who can be demonstrably shown to have died from active smoking either. The modern pandemic of smoking is entirely a statistical construct, conjured out of mortality figures, from death certificates, autopsies and biopsies. It has been discovered, from this mass of data, that proportionally more smokers than non-smokers die of diseases like lung cancer or heart disease, and once this proportions have been established, it has been concluded that tens or hundreds of thousands of smokers and non-smokers have been killed by smoking. Precise figures are given. 440,000 deaths. Such mortality figures are a mathematical construct. They constitute an imaginary death toll, rather than a real count of bodies as they are tossed one after the other into a mass grave. They should not be allowed to be set beside real numbers of deaths, such as those in traffic accidents or by drowning. But this done so again and and again, like listing Sherlock Holmes beside Winston Churchill as one of the greatest Englishmen of the 20th century. He wasn’t any such thing. He was an imaginary figure. A construct. Shelock Holmes never existed. But Winston Churchill did.
The medical authorities are demanding drastic action to counter a pandemic that nobody else can see but them. And this puts people in a quandary. Are they to believe their own eyes, or are they to believe the authoritative consensus opinion of the medical profession?
What is an authority? An authority is really simply somebody who knows more about something than most people do. They are very often people who have spent their entire lives studying their particular speciality. They generally do know a great deal about what they are talking about.
But do they know everything? And are their opinions to be accepted unquestioningly? Well, no, they don’t know everything. In fact, it is inherent in the nature of authoritative specialists that the more they know about their speciality, the less they know about anything outside it, simply because they have devoted themselves to the study of the one, and not the other. And of course their opinions should not be accepted unquestioningly. They should be weighed and measured by people with wider non-specialist knowledge and experience. For authorities are not always right. In fact they are very often wrong. The history of medicine – and indeed of all sciences – has been a long litany of mistakes. If there has been any progress at all, it has been one in which the most egregious mistakes and errors have been gradually weeded out. In the face of this long litany of errors, we ought to be sceptical of any authoritative claims of special knowledge, and we should never accept such claims unquestioningly.
Nor is it that any authority on any subject belongs to some sort of exclusive club to which membership comes by invitation alone. An authority is simply somebody who has been delegated to perform an investigation on behalf of the wider society to which he belongs, much like a chef is someone who has been delegated to prepare meals for the rest of society. And just as it is always open to anybody to cook their own food if they so wish, it is also open to anybody to become their own authority upon any matter, by studying it themselves. For if at some restaurant a chef were to begin to browbeat his customers, and tell them what they should eat, and in what quantities, whether they liked it or not, it would not be too surprising if they withdrew their custom, and set up their own restaurants in which the customers were the kings, and not the chefs.
And this is the situation that now prevails with the medical profession. They have become petty tyrants, abusing their positions of authority. We may know this by the mere fact of their resort to coercion, by their refusal to parlay or to consider dissenting opinions. The time has come for their authority to be brought into the most severe question at every point and in every detail.
The medical profession needs root-and-branch reform. Doctors need to be told, in no uncertain terms, that they are performing a service on behalf of wider society not different from that performed by chefs or plumbers or bakers or greengrocers. They need to be told that they work for us, and that we do not work for them. That they are our servants, and not our masters. There must be an an end to an ancient and customary deference to doctors. There must be no more talk of ‘doctor’s orders’. If necessary the most authoritarian of them should be expelled from the profession. e.g. Sir Liam Donaldson, the current Government Health Officer, and medical scaremonger-general-in-chief (c.v. includes avian ‘flu, passive smoking, swine ‘flu). And in order to strip them of their authoritative pretensions, it may be necessary to stop applying to them the honorific title of ‘doctor’, and replace it by something like ‘medical assistant’ or ‘internal plumber’. And their remuneration should reflect their demotion. We have long since knocked bishops and schoolteachers off their high horses: now it’s high time we did the same to a tyrannical and abusive medical profession.