I can’t help but think that Tobacco Control has made a disastrous mistake by launching a total war on smokers.
Consider. Things were going so well for them. Using the softly-softly approach, they’d managed to convince everyone that smoking caused lung cancer. They’d even managed to convince quite a few people that smoking caused lung cancer in non-smokers who’d just breathed a bit of secondhand smoke. Over 50 years or so, they’d managed to drive the numbers of smokers down from 80% of the UK population in 1950 to about 25% in 2000. By that time, smoking had become distinctly uncool, and the smart people had long since stopped smoking. Non-smoking venues were opening up, where decent upright people could go without enduring the toxic fug of cretinous smokers. The bad guys were mendacious and grasping Big Tobacco, and the good guys were the patient, level-headed medical epidemiologists who had managed to tie the bad guys up and stick socks in their mouths. Smokers were gradually ruefully admitting that the game was up, and they were a dying breed, and the future was going to be smokefree, like the bridge of the Enterprise in Star Trek.
It was going so well!
And then they went and blew it all.
With victory in their grasp, they abandoned their long and highly successful campaign of gentle persuasion, and launched an all-out war on the remaining smokers, evicting them from polite society, banning them from restaurants and bars, firing them from their jobs, refusing them medical treatment, and otherwise insulting and degrading and abusing them. Why?
Perhaps they did it because they’d just become impatient. Smoker numbers were falling, but they were falling slowly. A recalcitrant band of dead-end smokers resolutely continued to ignore their good advice, and something had to be done about it. Perhaps Tobacco Control concluded that it had to change its strategy to deal with this straggling rearguard: there could be no more Mr Nice Guy, and it had to get tough with them, and provide some new incentives – like those of fines and social exclusion and job loss – to convert more smokers into ex-smokers. And perhaps they felt that, with three-quarters of the population now non-smoking, the new tough line would meet with majority indifference if not approval.
Or maybe it was simply that once Tobacco Control got successful, it also got rich and corrupt and sloppy. Money flowed in from governments, pharmaceutical companies, and even – via the Master Settlement Agreement – from smokers themselves. Perhaps when Tobacco Control had become a lucrative business, the original idealistic antismokers who’d dreamed of a smokefree and lung-cancer-free utopia got elbowed aside by a upcoming breed of antismoking entrepreneurs for whom the business model was one of extorting more and more money from smokers by claiming ever greater dangers from smoking.
But the message of history has always been that when, for whatever reason, you start persecuting people and kicking them around, you create fierce resistance and you make implacable enemies. It’s a testimony to the success of the campaign of gentle persuasion that preceded the War on Smokers that Tobacco Control had so few enemies, and were regarded as the Good Guys. But once the outright exclusion and coercion and demonisation of smokers began, they instantly ceased to be the Good Guys, and became the Bad Guys. To those smokers who’d seen the mask slip, leastways. Overnight, Tobacco Control simply burned the entire moral capital they had patiently built up over 50 or more years, and lost the battle for hearts and minds that they had been winning.
And with the moral high ground abandoned, with it went their credibility. For while nobody was questioning their good intentions, nobody questioned their epidemiological studies or their data or their methodology. But once they revealed themselves to be bullies and tyrants, and trust had gone, everything they said came into question as never before. An army of amateur sleuths and epidemiologists began to call into question their authority, their bona fides, and the truth of every charge they had laid at the door of tobacco.
And this sudden new resistance movement, conjured out of nowhere, was a global resistance. For the global war on smoking, launched more or less simultaneously all around thew orld, guaranteed that there would be simultaneous resistance everywhere.
And this resistance was made up of very powerfully motivated individuals. It was made up of people who had personally experienced exclusion and persecution and demonisation and isolation, and who were in no hurry to forgive and forget. They were the few enraged wasps who began to rouse their drowsy fellows, one by one, into a whirling, angry swarm.
All around the world, smokers are beginning to reach out towards each other with hesitant hands, and to piece together a grassroot resistance movement – an army – to confront the tyrannical forces of Tobacco Control. And it’s not just smokers who make up this growing army. It’s going to be made up of everyone who recognises exclusion and demonisation when they see it, and not just when it happens to them. We are in the process of the ignition of a growing explosion of rage, in a chain reaction in which one small incandescence sets alight another, in a widening sphere of flame. It will become a firestorm one day, consuming everything before it.
In the marble halls of Tobacco Control, where the well-lunched delegates to the latest conference have gathered to ratify the next obscene measure to further denormalise and degrade smokers, and to learn about the latest garbage antismoking research, the sound of that growing explosion is a faint whisper in the distance, the distant thunder of some unforeseen far-off storm.
They have not seen yet the great storm coming.