Lost Victories

It occasionally crosses my mind that life would be much simpler for me if I simply quit smoking. Because then I would cease to be a member of an outcast minority, and rejoin polite society. I would be able to feel at ease in any pub or club I cared to visit. There would also be many opportunities to smugly tell all and sundry that I had "given up", "kicked the habit" perhaps through the exercise of "iron determination". I could sneer at smokers as they scuttled outside for their fix. I might even, as seems customary these days, to tell smokers in online comments that they "stink", and that they are anyway going to "die of lung cancer". And I wouldn’t be angry all the time. And it would be cheaper.

There is a powerful allure to it, I must admit. I suppose it was the same sort of temptation that regularly presented itself to Protestants in Catholic countries,  or royalists in Communist states, or climate sceptics in an AGW era. Why kick against the pricks? Why not go with the flow? Life would be so much easier if you got baptised into the One True Church, or joined the Party, or repeated the global warming slogans.  It wouldn’t really change you at all to sign on the dotted line. Not fundamentally, anyway. You don’t have to really believe all the claptrap. All you have to do is say you do. And then doors would open for you. The world would be your oyster.

A couple of months ago, I was quite seriously considering the possibility. I had a hacking cough that lasted for weeks and weeks, until I began to wonder whether it wasn’t just due to a cold or swine flu or whatever, but was the consequence of 40 years of smoking, which had at last caught up with me.

In fact, the cough went away of its own accord, and any idea of giving up smoking went with it. 

The smoking ban has made it highly improbable that I will ever give up smoking. The real purpose of the ban has not been to protect non-smokers, but to ‘encourage’ smokers to give up smoking by making it illegal to smoke more or less anywhere. And this isn’t ‘encouragement’ at all: it’s naked coercion. Anyone who gave up smoking prior to the smoking ban did so of their own volition. But anyone who gave up after the smoking ban did so because they were forced to. Or they could never be entirely sure whether they were doing what they wanted to do, or what a coercive healthist state was forcing them to do. I am no longer sure that I can freely choose to give up smoking. And as a result I’m not sure that I could be quite as smug about my "iron self-control" in giving up smoking, or sneer quite so readily at the addicts looking for their "fix" outside, if I couldn’t be sure that it was really my own free choice to quit smoking. 

Prior to the smoking ban, smokers were sad nicotine addicts. But once smoking had been banned, they became noble freedom fighters, holding aloft their little glowing candles of resistance. After the smoking ban, it was resolute smokers who showed defiance to authority, and non-smokers who demonstrated meek and subservient compliance. The smoking ban made heroic rebels of smokers. It’s a spectacular own goal by the antismokers, to have thus reversed the polarity of the debate. Is it any wonder that smoking rates increase in the aftermath of smoking bans? Who wants to demonstrate themselves to be willing serfs? It seems to me that the current wave of global smoking bans, which would appear to signify the triumph of the forces of antismoking, actually signify their imminent defeat. And that, years from now, they’ll be writing their own versions of General-FieldMarshal Erich von Manstein’s Lost Victories how defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory.

But then also there’s another thing, once I’ve given up smoking, and have proudly joined the ranks of the righteous. And it is that I’ll never be able to forget what it’s been like to be a smoker in these times. And I’ll never be able to forget what a profound division this ban has created in our society. That will never go away. Ever. It will remain as a deep scar. And this is something that all non-smokers and most ex-smokers simply have no experience of. They haven’t been going through what smokers are going through these days. They have no idea whatsoever what it’s like. And so, if I were to give up smoking now, it would be quite impossible for me to become a standard righteous ex-smoking antismoker. I know too much to become so smug and sanctimonious.

It goes deeper still. Before the ban, I used to believe that the medical establishment were being honest when they laid the blame for the lung cancer epidemic at the door of tobacco. Why on earth would they lie about it? But once I realised that they were lying about second-hand smoke, I simply had to wonder if they were lying about first-hand inhaled smoke too. And now I think they were. I’ve already torn up (to my own satisfaction) the very first British paper – the 1950 London Hospitals study  -, and I’m well advanced in tearing up the second 1954  British Doctors study. The more I look at them, the worse they seem to be as examples of good research. And the result is that I no longer think that smoking causes lung cancer. My current favourite cause for it is HPV – Human Papilloma Virus – which is being found in 25% – 80% of lung cancers.

And then there’s the simple matter that, in my own personal experience, smoking has caused me zero health penalties personally. I am in perfect health. I take no medications whatsoever. And, furthermore, I don’t know anybody who is a smoker who isn’t in perfect health either. The only two people I know who died of lung cancer were both non-smokers. And personal experience matters. If you know someone who smoked and who subsequently died of lung cancer, it’s a powerful incentive to believe that the one causes the other. When my MP asked me rhetorically, ‘Guess what killed him?’ of her smoker father, she’d made that snap personal connection. But in an age when most people smoked (98% of them in the 1950 London Hospitals study, and 87% in the 1954 British Doctors study) most people who die of anything whatsoever are 98% or 87% likely to have been smokers. They were probably 98% or 87% likely to have been tea drinkers who ate toast and marmalade for breakfast as well.  

And then there’s the sheer vindictive animosity of the antismokers. If they really cared about smokers, and were really honestly looking to wean them off the filthy weed, wouldn’t they be as concerned and caring of them as if they were suffering from typhoid or cholera? But antismokers have no care or consideration for poor addicted smokers at all. Quite the opposite. They are filled with hatred and contempt for them. What kind of doctor is it who is filled with hatred and contempt for his patients? Is such kind of hatred and loathing any part of any genuine medical calling at all?

And I can’t help but think, when I read what many antismokers write, that they’re all simply dying to smoke another cigarette again. If they weren’t, why are they so obsessed about it? I gave up playing with cuddly teddy bears when I was 10 years old, but I haven’t been talking about them ever since. I’m beginning to believe that, rather than 70% of smokers wanting to give up smoking, 70% of ex-smokers would like to start smoking again.

I could go on. But maybe you understand why the idea of giving up smoking is something that, while superficially appealing, doesn’t bear much deeper scrutiny, for me at least. And anyway, I’ve still got (thanks entirely to StevenL’s good advice) a whole lot more Romeo y Julietas and Cohibas and Ducados to smoke my way through yet. And a whole bottle of Glenlivet too…

About Frank Davis

smoker
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8 Responses to Lost Victories

  1. Anonymous says:

    A few comments, and then a question.
    My daughter is an ex smoker (not an anti smoker). She said she was glad she had given up, not because of her health and wealth, but because it is so difficult to be a smoker now.
    My son tried to stop smoking a year ago. Why? in his own words, “Dad, the government have won” – but they havn’t, because he still smokes.
    I have gum and a nicotine inhaler. What for? Airoplanes, airports, theatres etc.
    My question is this. Why are the majority of those who get lung cancer smokers or ex smokers? I know that most are over 60, I know that only 0.3% of smokers are diagnosed with it every year, but why are they mostly smokers or ex smokers?

  2. Frank Davis says:

    Why are the majority of those who get lung cancer smokers or ex smokers?
    Because until relatively recently, most people were smokers or ex-smokers. In the two studies I cited from 1950 and 1954, 98% and 87% of the sample were smokers. 87% of British doctors were smokers in 1950! And that is after some doctors (e.g. Sir Richard Doll) had quit smoking – which would have meant that an even higher percentage of doctors were smokers prior to 1950.
    What people don’t seem to get is that if 95% of people do something (smoke cigarettes, drink tea, eat doughnuts, are British, whatever), and it has no effect whatsoever on their likelihood of contracting any disease, then 95% of them will die of whatever diseases that usually kill most people.
    Pretty much everybody I know is a smoker or ex-smoker, and so whatever any of them eventually dies of, they’ll all fall into the smoking/ex-smoking category. Is that what killed them? Almost certainly not. It was just a convenient scapegoat. Something to pin the blame on.
    Lots of people who died of lung cancer smoked cigarettes. That didn’t mean that the one caused the other. Lots of people who died of lung cancer were Americans. That didn’t mean that being American caused lung cancer.
    This is just my opinion. I make no claim to be any sort of authority.

  3. Anonymous says:

    There are other biases at play as well.
    First, lung cancer is a very dangerous form of cancer, that is likely to kill a person faster than other forms of cancer. So, if you are a smoker, it’s likely that your lungs will be checked for cancer before other areas are checked. Meanwhile, cancer could have spread to the lung from another organ, but if cancer is later found in, say, your kidney, you’re likely to be told that the cancer spread to your kidney when it’s quite possible that the opposite occurred.
    Second, anti-smoking activists have been successful in muddling the specific information you seek. People who smoke only a few cigarettes a day are told that their risk is the same as someone who smokes many more cigarettes a day. Lower tar cigarettes are equally dangerous to higher tar cigarettes when it conforms to the views of anti-smoking activists, but will suddenly be less dangerous if that conforms to their agenda at the time.
    Third, no one knows if cigarette additives play a role. And, again, anti-tobacco activists will decry additives when it suits them, but declare that there’s no difference when that suits them. No consumer knows how, and if, the risk associated with particular brands, nicotine yields, or tar contents compare to risks with differing cigarettes.
    In short, because anti-smoking has been so blindly vehement in its all-or-none approach, smokers are given no proper way to assess their comparative risks. Former smokers also have no way to properly assess their risks.
    Instead, we are all treated like stupid sheep, and handed bumper sticker slogans like “every cigarette takes seven minutes off your life”, “smokers die 7 years earlier”, and “Ten years after quitting, your risks become the same as a non-smokers”.
    If one takes if for granted that smoking is a health risk, the least they are entitled to is accurate information by which they can assess their risk. It is anti-smoking activism that has buried all possible answers to those kind of inquiries. And they’ve done that because they really can’t provide them anyway. Anti-smoking is based on faulty statistical analysis, rather than hard cause-and-effect science. So, even if 85 percent of lung cancers are found in smokers or former smokers, the attraction of that statistic still fails to account for the lack of serious scientific rigor regarding the causes of lung cancer.

  4. Frank Davis says:

    In short, because anti-smoking has been so blindly vehement in its all-or-none approach, smokers are given no proper way to assess their comparative risks.
    At the outset, 60 years ago, it was only cigarettes which were suspected as causes of the growing epidemic of lung cancer. They were a relatively new innovation, only becoming popular during WWI. If the antismokers had said that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer back then, nobody would have believed them. Saying that Smoking Cigarettes Causes Lung Cancer was much more plausible. But gradually, over time, this distinction has been lost. Smoking in all its various forms has been lumped together into a uniformly dangerous practice. And this is another example of how the goalposts have been moved.
    Furthermore, if smoking cigarettes was shown to cause lung cancer, was there any attempt to discover whether particular brands or types of tobacco were more or less responsible for it? Or methods or techniques of smoking? Sir Ronald Fisher was able to demonstrate, using the 1950 London Hospitals study figures, that inhaling tobacco smoke had a protective effect. One might also have asked what people used to light their cigarettes, because they would also be inhaling the combustion products of matches or petrol or gas lighters. There is also the question of tobacco additives that you mention. How much research was done in these directions?
    Antismokers never try to pin down the dangers to anything particular. Quite the opposite. They are always trying to make smoking in general appear more dangerous. The passive smoking fraud is another example of this, in that it vastly magnifies the perceived threat. In this respect, the attempt by antismokers to blur the issue rather than focus it is antiscientific. It is an attempt to obscure the matter rather than examine it closely.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Doll’s Doctors Study
    (Apologies for long post here)
    You mentioned Doll’s 1954 report on his ‘British Doctors Study’. I’m sure you and your readers know that the doctors were followed from 1951 until 2004 with periodic published updates. Having looked into these I have many questions. Perhaps the most important is:
    Are lung cancers triggered by stopping smoking?
    This Indian research paper is suggestive:

    Click to access lc_triggered_stop_smoking.pdf


    On the face of it, Doll’s Studies show that quitters are less likely to get lung cancer.
    But there is a problem:
    From his 1994 paper:

    “Deaths that occurred in the year that a repeat questionnaire was sent out were related to the reply to the previous questionnaire. (This helps limit the effects of disease on smoking.) Otherwise non-smokers and continuing smokers were analysed in the category in which they last described themselves. The same is true for former smokers, except that they were classed as having stopped smoking for progressively longer periods as each year passed.”

    From his final 2004 paper:

    “The 1951 study has now continued for much longer than
    originally anticipated, as the doctors did indeed prove easy to
    follow, and they provided further information about any changes
    in their smoking habits along the way (in 1957, 1966, 1971, 1978,
    and 1991). A final questionnaire was sent out in 2001.”

    What this means is that if someone sent off the questionnaire and promptly quit, they would have to live long enough to fill out the next questionnaire which could be between 5 and 13 years later. Only then would their subsequent death be recorded as an ex-smoker death. I other words they could (at worst) have been categorised as a current smoker at death even if they had given up 13 years earlier.
    Receiving the original 1951 questionnaire would have been a very strong incentive to quit. And my impression is that the quit rate was very high in the early years. Intriguingly though, the lung cancer death rate amongst his doctors rose from 15 per annum (1951-1954) to 24 per annum (1954-1956 – Doll’s second follow up paper). Though I should point out that there were few doctors over 80 who responded to the 1951 questionnaire. Which means that some increase was to be expected due to the aging study population.
    One day I will attempt to write this up properly. And on a personal note, the only person I have known to die of lung cancer was diagnosed 2 years after giving up (no earlier symptoms) and died a year later (he was 68).
    Tony

  6. Frank Davis says:

    Re: Doll’s Doctors Study
    I too have a lot of questions about the Doll and Hill studies.
    One of the shortcomings of the British Doctors study, and one that was acknowledged by Doll, was that it provided a single single snapshot in time of the doctors in question. This was rectified to some extent by sending out further questionnaires. But if these were at 10+ year intervals, they provide only several more snapshots.
    The result, as you say, is that a smoker who gave up smoking shortly after completing a questionnaire, and died a few years later before completing the next questionnaire, would continue to be classified as a smoker, even though they were in fact an ex-smoker. The same would be true of an ex-smoker who took up smoking again. One also has to wonder whether some doctors ever bothered to fill in subsequent questionnaires, in which case presumably the smoking status would have remained unchanged, even though it was in fact unknown.
    And there can be no doubt that receiving the 1951 questionnaire was an incentive to give up smoking. About 6 months ago I read a short article in the BMJ in which a doctor said that he’d been so impressed that Doll and Hill “cared” so much about him that he gave up smoking that instant. Which raises the question of how he described himself in the questionnaire: smoker or ex-smoker?
    I’ve not seen either the original questionnaire for the British Doctors study, but have read what it is said to have asked, and it seems to me that it is easily open to misinterpretation (which Doll also conceded). I’d also like to see the original questionnaire for the London Hospitals study, which was 3 pages long, and had what seems to have been a whole pageful of questions about smoking. What were the other questions? And why did Doll and Hill never publish any paper about their findings from the other questions?
    I occasionally wonder if it’s possible to make an FOI request for the raw data (questionnaire responses + death certificates) from both studies. There can’t be huge amounts of it. Or not huge in computing terms. But I suspect, that rather like the UEA Climate Research data, it will not be available, or will have been ‘lost’.
    Over the past day or two I’ve been thinking quite a lot about these two mysterious studies, and about antismoking research in general, and have been piecing together ideas for a post about it.
    Happy New Year

  7. Frank Davis says:

    Re: Doll’s Doctors Study
    P.S. I’ve heard about the Indian study, but hadn’t seen the actual paper until you provided the link. There was also a study from Iceland (or its environs) about how smokers developed a thick mucous layer in their lungs which the author believed was protective against carcinogens of one sort or other. If ex-smokers lose this mucous layer, then perhaps they become open to attack by carcinogens. Particularly so if the mucous layer had resulted in other defence mechanisms being wound down. This would also seem to square with Sir Ronald Fisher’s finding from the London Hospitals study that inhaling had a protective effect.

  8. Anonymous says:

    joker
    New Research may indicate that smokers are 50x more likely to find breeding partners than nonsmokers. In a desperate move to protect their gene lines, wealthy American activists attempted to acquire bars. It was once believed that the natural selection of smokers as better genetic match was a misguided evolution brought on by the intoxication of alcohol. Non Smokers in America were desperate to get women drunk for their own purposes. The bans seem to have discouraged nonsmoking females as much as it did smoking males. Due to the latest innovation in pheromone study it is believed that females can tell alot about a potential partners immune system and defenses subliminally based only on hidden variations in smell. A well adapted smoker preceded by several generations of smokers will have immunity and tolerance to more harmful substances than scientists can even list; therefore, anyone carrying these traits are further along the evolutionary trail and a more desirable partner. The trend of people who are carry the nicotine tolerant gene has increased from 3% in the early 1900’s to nearly 30% today. The slow rate of increase is believed to be attributed to a common occurrence when 2 nonsmokers cannot find any smoker that wants to breed with them.

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