Smokers and their supporters spend quite a lot of time looking closely at antismoking science over the past century, and picking it apart. The two books I advertise in the right margin – Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, and Smokescreens – are both books of this sort, although with slightly different emphases.
I’ve performed similar investigations myself, reading and criticising the 1950 Doll and Hill London Hospitals study, and the subsequent Doll and Hill British Doctors study. I focused on these two because they were the first British studies, and arguably the most influential ones. The London Hospitals study seems to have persuaded both Richard Doll and George Godber that smoking caused lung cancer.
My own criticism of the London Hospitals study essentially boils down to pointing out that, while over 99% of lung cancer patients in the London Hospitals were smokers, 96% of the non-lung cancer control group were smokers too, and so in the entire study 98% of all patients were smokers. My argument (which is essentially the same as that used by Richard White in Smokescreens) was that, given this overwhelming preponderance of smokers in the study, it was only to be expected that 98% of patients with any disease at all would be smokers. Quite possibly 98% would have been Londoners as well. As I saw it, the London Hospitals study didn’t prove that smoking caused lung cancer at all. If anything it might even have been said to have shown that smoking didn’t cause lung cancer. Either that, or it suggested that smoking caused all diseases, from lung cancer to heart disease to more or less everything else.
I levelled a similar criticism at the subsequent British Doctors study, in which 87% of the doctors were smokers. Was it terribly surprising if 90% of the doctors who developed lung cancer were smokers? No, not really. Nor was it terribly surprising that 90% of doctors who contracted any disease at all also turned out to be smokers as well.
The other criticism that I levelled at the British Doctors study was that it wasn’t actually designed to find whether smoking, as opposed to something else, caused lung cancer. The doctors were only asked one question: did they smoke? So in the British Doctors study, there was only ever one candidate cause of lung cancer: smoking. But the study was also more of a fishing expedition to see what other diseases smoking might cause, like heart disease. The study really only made sense if its authors had already decided that smoking caused lung cancer, and wanted to see what else it might cause. The British Doctors study built upon the London Hospitals study. And this meant that, of the two studies, the London Hospitals study was the more important.
There are a variety of other criticisms that can be made of both these studies. Both rely on questionnaires to reveal how much the patients and doctors smoked. But none of them had actually measured and recorded how much they smoked. So essentially the numbers – 10 cigarettes per day, 20 cigarettes per day, etc – were guesses. It’s a bit like asking Londoners to say how long they think Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road are, instead of actually measuring them, and then using these guesses to construct a map of London. In comparison to sciences like physics where attempts are made to measure length and mass and duration to very high degrees of accuracy, antismoking science doesn’t even have any remotely accurate raw data. As such it barely amounts to any sort of science at all.
Most of the subsequent studies of smoking over the next few decades have been of the same questionnaire-driven nature. Meanwhile, laboratory studies of smoking animals resolutely failed to demonstrate a causal connection between smoking and lung cancer, as Sir Richard Doll was to admit in 2003, not long before he died.
With secondhand or passive smoking, the situation gets even worse. At least with active smoking, smokers have a vague recollection of how many cigarettes they’ve smoked. With secondhand smoke, there are no measurements at all. And while the studies of active smoking generally showed smokers to be 10 or 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer (and any number of other diseases), the passive smoking studies usually showed that passive smokers were about one quarter more likely to get lung cancer than passive non-smokers. And these results are indistinguishable from noise.
Whatever all this might be, it’s not science. To get to the root of it all, it’s necessary to go back to before the 1950s studies, and to Nazi Germany, which was in the 1930s the world leader in antismoking science, with a number of different researchers (Lickint, Muller, etc) pursuing the idea that smoking caused lung cancer. This earlier history of antismoking research has been largely concealed, so that most people know nothing about it. One of the principal historians of this era, Robert Proctor, has argued that Nazi antismoking science was an example of ‘good’ Nazi science, more akin to the Nazi rocket science that produced the V2 than to the Nazi racial science which begot the Holocaust. But this is relatively easy to disprove. Rocket science in Nazi Germany continued largely despite the Nazis, not because of their active support. But antismoking science was personally funded by Adolf Hitler to the tune of 100,000 Reichsmarks.
Rocket science is, anyway, primarily a matter of physics and engineering, at which the Nazis did not excel (although German scientists did). The Nazi war on smoking has far more similarities with the Nazi war on Jews and other supposedly racially ‘inferior’ peoples. Both were seen as poisons that were corrupting the body of the German people. And alongside Nazi antismoking science there was also a body of Nazi racial science, which attempted to show how Aryan Germans were of a superior racial origin than parasitic Jews and Gypsies. Both smokers and Jews were filthy, smelly, disease-ridden and dangerous. Both posed a public health menace. Both the war on smoking and the war on Jews were part of a public health campaign designed to improve German health and genetic purity. While the Nazis were busy persecuting and deporting Jews, they were also busy exhorting the German people to give up smoking and drinking and indulging in ‘unhealthy’ lifestyles, and to improve their physical fitness through exercise.
Antismoking and antisemitism share the same eugenic roots. They are different branches of the same twisted tree. Both were ancient prejudices that had been given a veneer of scientific respectability. And this added an extra virulence to both. Jews who had been hated for centuries as Christ-killers and usurers could now also be hated for belonging to a poisonous inferior race. Smokers who had been loathed for almost equally as long as malodorous and lazy could now also be hated as cancerous spreaders of disease. In this manner ancient prejudices acquired a new ferocity, and metamorphosed from being ugly religious campaigns led by bible-waving clerics into noble public health campaigns led by doctors brandishing the latest scientific studies.
It may also be that modern anti-industrial climate science is a third branch of the same corrupt tree. A nostalgia for an agrarian pre-industrial lifestyle was also a feature of Nazi ideology. Modern climate science sets out to show that poisonous industrial society is ‘killing the planet’ by polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. Once again prejudice is dressed up as science. The malefactors in this case are greedy consumers buying cars and taking foreign holidays and leaving heaps of refuse. The health of the planet will only be restored if industrial society is closed down. That this will necessitate the extinction of much of humanity does not deter the new Green Nazis any more than it deterred their precursors.
Antisemitism of the Nazi variety became largely extinct (or at least submerged) in the post-war era. One does not encounter prominent doctors describing Jews as a ‘racial poison’. Even the historically antisemitic Christian churches have retreated almost entirely from their former antisemitism. But if the distinctly antisemitic and racial branch of Nazi ideology is either defunct or dormant, the antismoking and healthist branch of it has been growing and prospering for over 60 years. It has given us the lifestyle healthism that now entirely dominates Western medicine, and which regards smoking, drinking, and eating too much fat/salt/sugar, and not getting enough exercise as the cause of almost all diseases, from cancer and heart disease to emphysema and toenail fungus.
And just like Nazi racial science targeted Jews and Gypsies and Slavs, this new lifestyle healthism targets smokers and drinkers and fat people. For it shares with Nazi racial science a propensity to identify particular kinds of persons as poisonous and dangerous. It’s no longer race or religion which is used to demarcate the impure from the pure, but their personal habits and customs. Antismoking has replaced antisemitism in the drive for purity and health. And smokers are increasingly being driven, much like the Jews before them, to emigrate to countries where they can hope to continue to live their customary lives. Those who remain are increasingly excluded from civilised society, refused jobs, and denied medical treatment, just like their Jewish predecessors.
A new variant of Nazism is now resurgent in the world, particularly in the Western world. The medical profession is at the forefront, just as it was in the Nazi era. The new Nazis don’t wear jackboots and swastikas, and so they are not immediately identified, but their ideology is essentially the same as their precursors, varying only in a few details.