Continuing with Dr Fay Wilson, and her remark that
It reminded me of what somebody once wrote to me:
I sometimes think that the health profession lives in a separate reality from ordinary people. Because I’m not “constantly aware” of the impact of smoking on adults or children or babies. In fact, I don’t think there’s any “impact” at all.
I think that what happens is that people start out with the preconception that smoking is ‘unhealthy’, and then proceed to find confirmations of this prejudice everywhere. They find people who are poor, and who smoke, and jump to the conclusion that smoking is what made them poor. Or they find people who are ugly, and they conclude that smoking is what made them ugly. And just to make doubly sure, they’ll go away and do a survey which shows that smokers are statistically significantly more likely to be poor or ugly or sick. And this confirms them in their certainty that smoking is the cause of more or less all the evil in the world.
I guess I see it the other way round. For me, smoking is something that people do when they’re stressed, when they’re living in a less-than-perfect world. It helps them to relax a bit. I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve had somebody come to me and tell me of something awful that’s happened to them, and cadge a few cigarettes off me. I completely understood Joan Bakewell when she described taking up smoking again while going through a divorce. It’s what people do. When they’re in trouble they look for help, even if it’s from a little cylinder of tobacco.
And I particularly understand why soldiers in sitting in trenches want cigarettes more than anybody. A year or so back I saw some footage of soldiers in WW1 sitting waiting to launch an attack. They were sitting with their guns and equipment at the edge of a wood, waiting for the order. And little puffs of smoke were rising up all along the line. In fact, they weren’t little puffs of smoke, but great clouds of smoke. The sort of clouds of smoke that are produced by taking long, deep drags on a cigarette. These guys were probably smoking cigarettes at the rate of one a minute.
And why not? In the next hour or so, many of them would be dead, riddled with machine gun bullets. Because, after all, almost all the military offensives of WW1 ended in failure.
As I see the world, those soldiers were smoking because they were in an extremely stressful situation, and smoking a bit of tobacco helped them a bit. But the likes of Dr Fay Wilson would say that it was smoking tobacco is what caused them to be sitting in a ditch waiting to be ordered over the top. I think that being in a difficult situation is what caused those soldiers to smoke. And she thinks it’s the other way round, and that it was smoking that got them into all that trouble. And made them sick and poor and ugly. In the eyes of our modern health professionals, almost all the casualties of WW1 were smoking-related deaths. Yes, it’s true he was hit by 16 machine gun bullets, but he had a packet of Capstan in his breast pocket, and that was his real cause of death.
As I see the world, it’s a place of immense suffering in thousands of different ways, and I cannot bring myself to forbid anyone the solace of a cigarette before they go to their death before the machine guns of the Somme. Nor can I bring myself to forbid anyone the solace of a pinch of cannabis or opium as they face some personal disaster in their lives. But Dr Fay Wilson would have no problem marching up that line of soldiers and telling them to stub out their cigarettes.
My world is an imperfect, fallen world filled with imperfect, fallen people. People wearing bandages, people on crutches, people who are blind in one eye, people who are blind in both eyes. People for whom I can only feel compassion, because it’s not their fault.
But the Dr Fay Wilsons of the world don’t see it that way. They think that we’re living in an imperfect, fallen world because it’s filled with imperfect, fallen people. And if you could just make those people perfect, the world would cease to be such an ugly place. And if you could just get people to stop smoking, and to stop drinking, and to stop eating, this would be a wonderful world. And all that it needs is a bit of will-power and determination to make it so. She doesn’t feel any compassion at all for all those blind, half-blind, limping, bandaged casualties. She wants them to throw away their crutches and their spectacles and bandages and pills, and demonstrate that where there’s a will there’s a way. If this isn’t a wonderful world, it’s your fault.
I’m using the term “fallen” here in a biblical sense. The fallen world into which Adam and Eve emerged after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden was one in which Adam had to work “by the sweat of his brow”. It was an objectively difficult world. It wouldn’t have helped Adam in the least bit if he had given up smoking. That would not have made the dry land any easier to plough. Nor would it have helped if he’d sworn off the booze either. Doing that didn’t make the wheat grow stronger. It wasn’t that Adam’s smoking and drinking had made the soil barren, but that the barren soil had driven Adam to smoking and drinking.
My dispute with the antismokers is over cause and effect. It’s exactly like with global warming, where the alarmists say that it’s the increase in CO2 that’s causing all the warming, and the deniers (quite often) say that it’s the warming that’s causing the CO2 to be released from the warming oceans and soils.
I dunno. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe when the last smoker has been gassed or shot, there’ll be an outbreak of joy all over the world, and everybody will be sublimely happy, and there will never be any more disease or suffering or poverty or ugliness, because smoking really was what caused all that.