Bonfire of the Vanities

Yesterday I was reminded in Freedom-to-Choose about something in the Guardian a few months back by antismoking zealot Duncan Bannantyne:

In my view smokers who currently stand outside a pub or restaurant having a fag should have to stand at least several yards away from the front door, to save the 79% of us who don’t smoke from breathing in their smoke when we go in or out. We should curtail the rights of the 21% and increase their responsibilities towards the 79%. In other words, we should stop them killing us and our children.

Studies estimate that about 11,000 people a year die because of passive smoking. This isn’t nanny statism, Big Brother, or wrongful interference in people’s personal freedoms – it’s the right thing to do to protect the health of the vast majority of us who don’t smoke from the declining minority who do.

Well, perhaps it is the right thing to do if 11,000 people really are being killed by passive smoking every year. But I don’t believe that anybody at all is dying because of passive smoking. Show me the bodies. And I’m constantly astonished that anyone else can bring themselves to believe this sort of drivel. If people are ready to believe that, then they will believe absolutely anything.

And the worst of it is that people do believe absolutely anything. Particularly anything from any self-styled expert. Lots of people believe that human carbon dioxide emissions are slowly cooking the planet. The numbers of these people seems to be in decline since the Climategate emails revealed that climate scientists making this claim were playing fast and loose with their data, and their credibility plunged.

Bannatyne’s call for smokers, having been evicted from inside their pubs, to be moved several yards away from the front door (how many? 5 yards? 10 yards? 50 yards?) reminded me of the hope expressed by Bill Godshall a few years back in the comments of Michael Siegel’s blog that one day you’d only ever see smokers fixing up in alleyways. Both wish to see smokers reduced to the status of heroin junkies, shooting up with dirty needles, and dying like flies. And smokers are well on the way to becoming exactly this. A significant fraction of the population have been reduced from being respectable members of the community to being social outcasts. It was something that was done to the heroin and opium and cocaine users many years before them. You take otherwise useful and productive members of society, and you degrade them.

We once had a society where we were trying to lift people up and give them new dignity. Black people. Homosexuals. Women. The idea was to lift ancient prejudices against these social groups, and restore them to their rightful place as equals among others. Now, with smokers, we’re doing the exact opposite. We’re taking formerly perfectly respectable people (Winston Churchill was a smoker. Clement Attlee was a smoker. Etc, etc.) and reducing them to despised outcasts fixing up in alleyways.

And nobody says a word about it. No politician mentions it. No bishop speaks from the pulpit about it. No prince addresses his concerns to his people.

In a comment today, somebody wrote:

I pleaded with Dave Cameron, William Hague, George Osborne and Eric Pickles that smokers would vote for them if they promised a favourable review of the SB towards designated indoor smoking rooms and not one of them would give any support, why, becaused they were scared!!!.

Scared of what? I asked. But presumably he meant public opinion, as it has been whipped up against smokers in the last few years. Any hint of any relaxation and any number of Amanda Sandfords and Deborah Arnotts and Duncan Bannantynes will start hissing and screeching and howling. Giving any leeway to smokers would be like sanctifying paedophilia (which is of course the subject of yet another modern panic, much like global warming).

No doubt it was much the same in the heyday of Girolamo Savonarola, except that his language would have been about hellfire and damnation rather than that of Relative Risk and Premature Death employed by his modern descendants

In 1497, he and his followers carried out the Bonfire of the Vanities. They sent boys from door to door collecting items associated with moral laxity: mirrors, cosmetics, lewd pictures, pagan books, immoral sculptures (which he wanted to be transformed into statues of the saints and modest depictions of biblical scenes), gaming tables, chess pieces, lutes and other musical instruments, fine dresses, women’s hats, and the works of immoral and ancient poets, and burnt them all in a large pile in the Piazza della Signoria of Florence

These panics seem to pass quite rapidly. Fickle public sentiment, which once supported these righteous reformers, soon turned against them. Savonarola’s fall came only a year later, when he was burned above an ‘enormous bonfire’ in the very same place that he had burned the vanities the previous year.

I hope that my correspondent is right, and that Cameron and Hague and Osborne and Pickles actually are scared. For that is much better than them actually being antismoking zealots like Duncan Bannantyne, which I’ve been wondering they might be.

I read yesterday, again in the Freedom-to-Choose blog, that the UK National Smoking Cessation Conference is to be held in Glasgow on 14-15 June. I further learned that there were going to be 479 delegates attending, each forking out £375 for a registration fee.

479 of them? How many anti-smoking professionals does one country need? 479 is not far off the number of MPs we’ve just elected to parliament. I took a look through the names and organisations represented. Something like 70% were from local authorities and universities and the NHS and the Department of Health. And that didn’t include various delegates from ASH, whose Deborah Arnott was not attending. Other names were absent too. So there are plenty more of them out there, snooping and informing and bullying and busybodying away. No wonder Hague and Cameron and co are frightened. There’s a whole parliament of these people out there, shrieking their demands for the further exclusion and demonisation of smokers.

I heard yesterday that the government had begun to announce a programme of cuts in public spending. Hundreds of millions of pounds were going to be slashed from a whole range of departments. And pundits asserted that it was just the beginning, and amounted to less than 10% of the cuts needed.

I don’t have much hope of any relaxation of the smoking ban. But I do have high hopes that swingeing public spending cuts will remove a good many of the professional antismoking busybodies. Next year, when the next UK National Smoking Cessation Conference fires up in some benighted city in this country, I hope that there will not be 479 delegates, but that there will be just 3 of them. Because in the meantime all the rest of them will have been summarily fired from their useless and destructive jobs. If this doesn’t happen, it will either be because the cuts required aren’t as deep as I expect them to be, or because antismoking organisations have sufficient clout within government to save themselves from the worst of them.

Anyway I hope that the three remaining delegates will be Deborah Arnott and Amanda Sandford and Duncan Bannantyne. And that, dressed in rags and chains, all three of them will be suspended above an enormous bonfire of tobacco packets and cigarette butts and No Smoking signs, and there incinerated. I’ll bring some burgers. We could have us a party.

About Frank Davis

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7 Responses to Bonfire of the Vanities

  1. Anonymous says:

    From Junican.
    Just one little thing.
    I agree with everything you say. Few people see things more clearly. But there seems to be something that we tend to forget.
    The whole justification for the smoking ban in ‘public’ places was the protection of the health of workers in those places. That is all. ASH, Bannatyne, etc can huff and puff as they wish, but the protection of workers is THE ONLY JUSTIFICATION for the ban. Smells and asthmatics are irrelevant.
    We note, of course, the wish of these people to extend the ban to THE PROTECTION OF THE HEALTH OF CHILDREN. One can almost hear their minds ticking over. One can almost hear them saying, “Let’s start with banning smoking in cars with children present”. In fact, we have heard them saying it. But they have a big, serious problem, and that is the point at which people say, “Up with this I will not put. MY home, MY car, MY children.” That is, not the people that the Social Services target, but the vast majority of decent, ordinary people.
    At the end of the day, as we all observe, the whole smoking ban and anti-smoking industry is based upon lies. It is really important that these lies should be identified and promulgate. I think that there are many ‘scientists’ who are beginning to raise their heads a little over the parapet, but slowly. It will take time before these scares are seen for what they are, but one cannot help but feel that it will happen.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Excellent blog as always Frank. Despite the cheering imagery of your last few lines I hope the anti-smoking, anti-drinking, anti-fatty food etc crowd continue to be funded. I hope they continue to make ever more insane demands and intrude ever more openly into the private concerns of the populace. Why? Because their madness will become ever more apparent, against a background of cuts the largesse showered on these maniacs by dithering, ignorant government will stand out strongly enough for even the bovine British public to notice.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The vultures are gathering
    An update on those figures of attendees at the conference in June Frank.
    From 479 attendees to 513 so far and going by last years conference there could be a few hundred more:
    Last updated: 25th June 2009
    Total number of delegates registered: 846
    Is there any one group that have been so vilified for using a legal product than the smoker? Why are there so many people so hateful of a group that do something that they dont? I just don’t understand this vicious vilification.

  4. Frank Davis says:

    The whole justification for the smoking ban in ‘public’ places was the protection of the health of workers in those places.
    True. But they change their justifications at will. The justifications are merely a means to an end. And the end which they desire is for smoking to be made as illegal as opium, cocaine, etc. And this is what Bannantyne calls for in the last line of his piece. They want a ‘smoke-free’ Britain, not just in the sense of no smoking permitted in public places, but no smoking permitted anywhere, and no tobacco on sale anywhere either.
    That is quite clearly their goal, although they always deny it. And once they have made tobacco an illegal drug, they will set out to make alcohol an illegal drug too. And chocoloate. And coffee. And tea. And anbsolutely anything else they have a mind to make illegal. All using the same junk science, and the same set of ever-changing justifications.
    In their minds, they know what’s good for everybody else. And they’re pushing and pushing and pushing to get their way. And they have the full resources of the state at their disposal.
    And, by the way, those are not your children. They are their children. And they will take them away from you if you don’t raise them in the state-approved way.
    And it isn’t your car. Or your house. Or your life.

  5. Frank Davis says:

    Well, as I say, I’m expecting to see some savage cuts, and I will be very interested to see whether ‘public health’ gets cut to the bone. No doubt behind the scenes right now the healthists are screaming, “You can’t cut our funding. It’s for the chiiiildren!!! How dare you!”

  6. Anonymous says:

    “We once had a society where we were trying to lift people up and give them new dignity. Black people. Homosexuals. Women. The idea was to lift ancient prejudices against these social groups,…”
    Every society needs its scapegoat and we smokers are today’s in our life-is-not-a-dress-rehearsal society.

  7. Anonymous says:

    What crap,the health of workers in pubs and clubs.Total pack of lies and deception.
    If that is the case why cant I smoke in a bike
    shed 20 yards at the bottom of my locals backyard.
    Disused caravan 30 metre from back of country pub
    Health of the workers ,BULLSHIT
    Control freakery , full stop
    As for PASSIVE SMOKING try a ferrous foundry
    when they are casting,thats what I call real
    KILLER Fumes. Quite legal ,of course.
    Sick of all the Bullcrap
    Time to slap some arses.

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