I’ve continued reading essays in the Tobacco Endgame today, and reflecting upon what I’ve read.
I think it’s a bit optimistic, even grandiose, of them to think in terms of ‘endgame’. It rather suggests that they think the game is more or less over, and they’ve as good as won, and it’s just a matter of rounding up the few remaining smokers before inaugurating their Fabled Smoke-free World. In reality, chess endgames are as frequently lost as they are won.
But they are confident in the vastly inflated opinion they have of themselves. Kenneth Warner of the University of Michigan refers at one point to “some of the world’s most brilliant tobacco control scholars,” and also even “visionaries” and “visionary organisations.” Not to be outdone, Mitch Zeller mentions “ a group of global thought leaders” who gathered to ponder over the endgame. You’d almost think that Tobacco Control was a sort of glittering Royal Society of towering intellects, with Stan Glantz, American Legacy Foundation Distinguished Professor of Tobacco Control at the University of California, as its Isaac Newton, and Robbie Proctor of Stanford University as its Robert Hooke and Debbie Arnott of ASH as its Marie Curie – brilliant visionary members of a scholarly organisation leading global thought, brilliantly.
But it gradually emerges from these essays that these brilliant and visionary scholars are a bit stuck. And the trouble basically is that after 50 years of brilliant and visionary success in fighting tobacco, they haven’t a clue what to do next. As Elizabeth A Smith of the University of California, San Francisco, puts it in the opening essay:
The need for an endgame comes from the recognition that we do not have to accept the industrial marketing of tobacco, and that current policies—successful as they have often been—will likely not make the tobacco problem disappear. Those policies were never intended to eliminate the tobacco industry; the best case scenario they offer involves endless skirmishes with the industry’s ongoing attempts to expand its markets and thwart regulation. Discussion of an endgame can inspire new visions of the possible.
These new visions will come with new challenges…
And that’s what these essays are all about: the search for new visions. The visionaries are looking for new visions. You’d have thought that one or two of these numerous scholarly visionaries would have at least a couple of visions they could rub together. Isn’t that how visionaries are?
There are a number of suggestions, including Robert Proctor’s advocacy of tobacco prohibition. There’s also the idea of gradually removing nicotine from tobacco. Introducing gradually decreasing quota restrictions on tobacco supplies. Precluding the sale and supply of tobacco to individuals born after a certain year. And so on. I was a bit surprised that nobody was suggesting simply gassing all the smokers. Or perhaps they’re waiting for one of their many global thought leaders to suggest it.
There’s also a sense of growing discord in the Tobacco Control community – visionary scholars falling out with global thought leaders, so to speak – . As Lynn T Kozlowski of the University at Buffalo puts it:
…many experts hold different views on addiction as a target of intervention. Some consider tobacco-caused addiction as a tobacco-caused disease to be eliminated alongside the other diseases. Some consider tobacco-caused addiction as a much lower priority disease to be eliminated, and a subset of this group is prepared to employ addiction to tobacco (nicotine) as a tool to reduce other tobacco-caused disease. These varying attitudes towards ending, controlling or employing tobacco addiction to reduce damage from tobacco use constitute quite different approaches to tobacco control and cause conflict among those in tobacco control.
Not at all the right set of circumstances, or the right frame of mind, to be entering a tricky chess endgame.
It’s as if their army has lost its glittering field-marshals – the Dolls and Godbers – and the general staff were now squabbling among themselves like Alexander’s generals after his death.
Looking on from the opposing side, it’s my opinion that we are nowhere near any sort of endgame at all, and that the real battle has hardly begun. In fact, I might even evoke the spirit of John Paul Jones, when asked to surrender his ship:
“I have not yet begun to fight!”
Tobacco Control continues to think that its singular enemy is “the industry”, by which they mean the tobacco companies. They have failed to notice that in recent years they have made a great many more enemies – to wit, the 1.5 billion smokers in the world that they have now set out to exclude, exile, demonise, and insult along with the tobacco companies.
There is no sign at all, in any of these essays, of any of these visionary scholars and global thought leaders actually considering what smokers might be thinking or planning or doing. In this respect, they are victims of their own prejudiced view of smokers as being less than fully human, and more or less dumb animals addicted to cigarettes, and incapable of independent thought or action.
But it’s my view that it will be these slowly gathering legions of angry smokers which will prove decisive in the coming years. And they have indeed not yet begun to fight. But Tobacco Control nevertheless remains fixated upon “the industry”, and locked into an obsolete paradigm.
Success has gone to their heads. And they have come to regard themselves as invincible. As a result, they have rashly over-extended themselves, and made far too many new enemies. And now, they’re looking for the secret weapon which will deliver the ‘knock-out punch’ that will bring ‘final victory’ and ‘the end of the endgame’.
I doubt they’ll ever find it. And I suspect that it’s going to be downhill all the way for them now.