I was listening earlier today to Deborah Arnott and Chris Snowdon being interviewed on the Today programme about plain packaging proposals. Chris Snowdon had been asked a question about a report by the Adam Smith Institute, and Deborah Arnott was then asked to reply.
Deborah Arnott: Well [giggle], the Adam Smith Institute is well known for taking money from the tobacco industry, so you do have to question how independent this report is. It’s a classic tobacco industry argument to say that regulation doesn’t work. It’s used to argue against the ban on smoking in public places, the advertising ban, all sorts of other measures, all of which have been very successful. And on the evidence, well, peer-reviewed studies from around the world consistently show that plain packs are less appealing particularly to young people, strengthen the impact of health warnings, and reduce the ability of packaging to mislead consumers about the harms of smoking. We have to remember that over 100,000 smokers die each year, and this is an addiction of childhood, with two thirds of smokers starting before they’re sixteen.
Today Presenter: Christopher Snowdon, first of all on that question, do the Adam Smith Institute take money from the tobacco industry?
Chris Snowdon: I understand that there is less than three percent of their turnover from tobacco companies…
So, the very first thing that Arnott did was to say that the Adam Smith Institute was being funded by Big Tobacco (and so, unstated, of course they were going to come out against plain packaging). And although Arnott then went on to say a lot more (and to me it sounded like she was reading it all out), it was the Big Tobacco funding that the presenter picked up and threw at Chris Snowdon, doubling its impact by repeating it. And Chris Snowdon responded defensively by playing down the amount of money received.
I’ve heard exchanges of this sort dozens of times now, and it’s always like this. But wouldn’t it be refreshing if somebody were to instead respond like this :
Somebody: Yeah, it’s really great that the tobacco companies are providing a bit of funding. Thanks for pointing it out. They’re wonderful people. I wish they’d provide a lot more. We’ve got a helluva fight on our hands, and we can do with all the help we can get.
But I’ve never heard anybody ever say anything like that. And yet more and more I feel that something like this needs to be said. Because, for me, tobacco companies just don’t seem to be in the least bit evil or satanic in the way that Deborah Arnott clearly sees them. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the pharma companies that these days fill the role once played by Big Bad Tobacco.
There are several reasons that I’ve begun to think this way. And the first reason is that, while it was only the tobacco companies that were being publicly demonised over the past half century, their customers are now being demonised too. So we’re all in the same boat together. We’re all demonised now. And so we ought to unite. It’s not just demonised smokers that should unite with other demonised smokers all around the world, but that demonised smokers should unite with demonised tobacco companies.
The second reason is that, over the past 7 or 8 years that my attention has turned to the issue of smoking, I’ve been gradually forming the opinion that all tobacco research is complete tripe. The whole lot of it – from its Nazi origins all the way up to the present day. And my reasoning – which I’ve been gradually developing – is that none of it is worthy of the name of science, because in real science very great care is taken to accurately measure quantities like mass and length and time using carefully defined units like kilograms and metres and seconds, yet in tobacco research nothing is measured accurately and all the units are ill-defined. And if you’re not measuring things accurately, you’re not doing science. Tobacco research isn’t any sort of science: it’s a form of numerology or astrology, just like the Nazi racial science which it grew up alongside. And the only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that all the charges (e.g. smoking causes lung cancer) laid against the tobacco companies by antismoking researchers are false charges, or unproven charges, and that the tobacco companies are most likely innocent on all counts. And accordingly it is the duty of everyone (and not just smokers) to go to their aid.
And the third reason is that, regardless of what the claims against tobacco might be, they constitute a full scale assault upon a whole way of life, upon a cultural tradition, and upon the personal identities of many millions of people. A cultural war is now being waged not just against tobacco, but also alcohol, and on the foods that people eat. It’s a cultural war against the whole of western consumer society, and it’s getting ever more all-encompassing and aggressive and abusive. An attempt is being made to suppress an entire culture, and to defame and exclude countless millions of people because they smoke or drink or are ‘too fat’. And this must be fought tooth and nail. We are faced with a monstrous enemy, and the enemies of this enemy are our friends. And the tobacco companies are perhaps the greatest enemies of our terrible enemy. And so the tobacco companies are our friends.
Each of these reasons, on its own, is sufficient to justify making common cause with tobacco companies. And it should be pointed out in no uncertain terms that when people like Deborah Arnott defame tobacco companies, they are now also defaming millions upon millions of smokers.
We should be proud smokers, and proud of the companies that supply us our tobacco.
After all, what sort of person is it who will say, “Here, have a nice piece of rump steak, but for heaven’s sake don’t tell anyone I bought it from Jones the butcher”? What they should be saying is: “Here, have a nice piece of rump steak. I got it from that wonderful butcher, Mr Jones. He really does do the finest cuts.”
As an Englishman, part of my identity is bound up in brand names. Names like Marmite and Bovril and Hovis and Guinness and Ovaltine and Rolls Royce and Sainsburys and Tetleys and Wedgwood and hundreds more. They are all evocative of a time and a place. They are as meaningful as names like Shakespeare and Newton and Wordsworth and Churchill. Or London or Manchester or Liverpool. I’m sure that everyone reading this, wherever in the world they live, has a similar collection of names and places and people with whom they identify.
Organisations like ASH and WHO are shitting on our culture. Yes, shitting. They are shitting on everything. They have set out to dirty and defame everything. They want to make people ashamed of themselves. They want to make people ashamed that they smoke, ashamed that they drink, ashamed that they eat meat, ashamed that they drive cars, ashamed that they go on holiday, ashamed of everything.
They want me to be ashamed of being English.
Well, I’m fucking well not in the least bit ashamed.
And I never will be. And nobody else should be either, whoever they are and wherever they live.