I was thinking today how much had changed over the past 5 years since the UK smoking ban came into force. Back then I wasn’t in contact with any other smokers, and while I’d heard of F2c, it took me months to find my way into its discussion forums. And when I did, I got the feeling that maybe 100 people in Britain were angry about the ban, and none of them had any clue what the hell to do about it.
How things have moved on since then. I’m now writing my own blog (something I didn’t think I was capable of doing, five years ago), and getting around 1000 hits per day. And my blog is only one of a mounting number of smokers’ blogs. And these days, it seems to me that there are thousands of smokers from all over the world who making contact with each other, comparing notes, making suggestions, talking.
This year, we’ve even begun to start to do things. The ISIS social impact survey of smokers is a co-operative effort that seems to be bearing fruit. And hot on its heels there’s been the co-operative effort in producing the TobaccoControlTactics website. And Wiel Maessen has just completed an anti-smoking-ban tour of Belgium in his houseboat (if that’s what it is), in the company of friends, which seems to have been a great success. Such things were inconceivable five years ago. For me at least.
So I was wondering today what the future would bring. And it seemed to me that the nascent global smokers’ network would just carry on growing, and growing exponentially. So if this year it feels like there are thousands of people in it, next year it’ll seem like there are tens of thousands. And the year after that hundreds of thousands. And instead of being largely restricted to Europe and America, it will include South America and Asia and India. All of which was inconceivable 5 years ago.
In 10 years time, I thought, it was going to be huge. There’d be millions of us. In a swarm.
Right now, smokers still have almost zero political clout. And so they’re completely ignored. But over the next 10 years, this is going to change, as smokers emerge as a surprise new global political entity. The politicians and the media who have been so studiously ignoring them are going to find it necessary to court them. And at the same time the Tobacco Control Industry will find itself losing influence, and losing money.
One might say that this swarm of angry smokers will have been the creation of Tobacco Control. Because it has been draconian smoking bans, and the exclusion and demonisation of smokers, that has brought this movement into existence. And every new imposition – plain packs, car smoking bans, etc. – only creates fresh impulse for smokers to fight back. The more draconian measures that Tobacco Control advocates – and, let’s face it, Tobacco Control only ever does Draconian with a capital D – the larger the swarm will grow.
I don’t think this movement is ever going to be organised. Not in the sense of having membership cards and committees and a president and treasurer. It will instead grow and evolve of its own accord, exactly like it’s doing right now. And it’ll probably develop in some very surprising ways. After all, what’s happening right now has been surprising enough already. So I’m sure that there will be plenty more surprises in store.
What we’re seeing is the emergence of a new political entity, with a set of shared values that centre around the simple pleasure of smoking tobacco. Because one of the strangest things that I’ve noticed over these past five years is that I now think of myself primarily as a smoker, and now judge people according to whether they’re smokers or antismokers. It’s become the only thing that really matters. This would have been inconceivable 5 years ago too. But now, whenever I see a smoker, I see One Of Us.
This is something that’s been manifested over the past month with my interest in California’s Proposition 29 (currently having a partial recount, I believe), and more recently with Santa Monica town council. As an Englishman living in England, I shouldn’t be interested. But I am. Because Californian smokers are my people, and California (or rather NorCal) is the worst place to live in the world if you’re a smoker. I can raise no enthusiasm for the US Presidential election later this year, and I can raise no enthusiasm for UK national politics either, but I can get really enraged about local politics in both places (e.g. Stony Stratford last year). My perspectives have become international, and yet also local. And I think that, as activist smokers become more numerous, it’s something that will be seen more and more (and in many senses, Wiel Maessen’s foray from Holland into Belgium over the past couple of weeks has been another great example of ‘international localism’).
Another thing that I expect to see more of is a deepening social division. The smoker-antismoker divide is becoming more and more unbridgeable. You’ll either be on one side, or you’ll be on the other. And as it all gets more and more polarised, the middle will be harder and harder to occupy. And since there have always been far more smokers than antismokers (with the antismokers’ numerical deficit being offset by huge tax and pharma funding), this social division will tend to favour smokers – particularly as more and more non-smokers seem to be lining up with the smokers rather than the antismokers.
There has never been any meeting of smokers and antismokers. There has never been a debate. Antismokers always act to cut smokers out of any consideration. And so accordingly they’ll never get any consideration from smokers. The two sides are at war with each other, and there can never be any armistice or peaceful co-existence in this existential struggle. Either the antismokers eradicate all the smokers, or the smokers eradicate all the antismokers. It’s one or the other. There is no middle way.
But as the numbers of activist smokers exponentially multiplies, the former possibility will become increasingly remote. As Tobacco Control starts to get de-funded (and California’s Prop 29 has $735 million of funding for antismoking organisations riding on it), its influence will wane. But smokers must press on to completely close down Tobacco Control (and probably the WHO in the process) and all its sources of funding (e.g. the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the pharma companies, and so on.) And smokers must ensure that all the antismoking medics get driven out of the medical profession as well, complete with the US Surgeon General. It has to be a clean sweep. And the broom is going to have to reach into the narrowest nooks and crannies. 70 years ago, Nazi Germany was defeated, but the Nazi eugenicist virus continued to flourish and prosper in America and Britain. This time the job must be completed, and completed thoroughly and methodically and painstakingly.
In the process, I can well imagine smokers becoming allied with other social groups. Drinkers and fat people are obvious candidates, because both are under attack also. But yesterday I was considering Christians as well. They’re also being ‘denormalised’, after all.
Today I was thinking that Jews – or at least Israelis – are also natural allies. They know, after all, better than anybody what these Nazis are capable of. As a smoker getting persecuted by antismoking Nazis, I’ve found myself becoming far more sympathetic to Israel than I ever used to be. Because the world hasn’t really changed. It’s no more safe for Jews (and other ‘undesirables’ like smokers) than it was 100 years ago. The Nazis are still around. They just all wear suits these days, and they speak English, and they live in NorCal, and so nobody thinks they’re Nazis. So Jews can’t let their guard down. But, thus far, Jews don’t seem to have noticed that other social groups can be (and are being) subjected to exactly the same sort of demonisation as they were. So while I can see a natural ally in them, they can’t see one in me. And in fact Israel even has its own smoking ban! Which I find amusing.
I’m sure there are other potential allies. Global warming sceptics (or ‘deniers’) are another set of potential allies. And Richard North of EUreferendum, just back from some conference in Harrogate, has been saying that this week he’s going to invite new people into his discussions, so I’ve been wondering whether to apply, just to add a smoker’s perspective on the EU.
There are artists and musicians too. Because, in keeping with what I’ve just said, what I really like about Lana Del Rey is not the fact that she’s real pretty, or that I really like her music (Blue Jeans mostly), but the fact that she’s also a brazen smoker. She’s even taken to smoking on stage. Who else does that? But the war with the antismoking Nazis has to be fought just as much with art and music and literature as with anything else. Lana Del Rey is political. Yes she is. And the antismokers hate her.
So it could get very interesting over the decade ahead, as the world becomes everywhere divided into Nazi antismokers versus anti-Nazi smokers. It’s going to be an asymmetric war, with money versus numbers.
And we’re going to win.