I expected to wake up today with a full head cold. Instead, when I woke up, my cold had gone. Completely gone. I was astonished. But it seems to be what ‘colds’ are for me these days. One day my nose is streaming; next day it’s stopped.
And so today I’ve been thinking with a clear head – about governments.
I sometimes wonder whether it’s governments that initiate smoking bans, and get pressure groups like ASH to provide the ‘independent’ advice that they want. But for the most part almost all the evidence suggests that it’s pressure groups like ASH that push smoking bans, and governments are driven by Tobacco Control pressure groups that include ASH, WHO, BMA, RCP, and all sorts of other NGOs.
And I also wonder how these pressure groups manage to get governments to introduce smoking bans. And the answer, it would seem, is that they tell governments that there will be tremendous benefits and zero costs from such bans.
It’s not very hard to guess what governments are told. First they’re told that smoking is the cause of more or less every disease known to humanity, and that if they can just get people to quit smoking, they’ll all live another 10 or 20 years longer. And then governments are told that most smokers – 70% of them – really want to quit smoking, and the slight extra incentive of a smoking ban will be just the ticket to achieve that. And then, when governments express concerns about whether smoking bans might damage hospitality businesses, they’d be told that, on the contrary, the departing smokers will be replaced by all the non-smokers who’ve hitherto been staying away from smoke-filled pubs and cafes (plus all the smokers who are now joyfully quitting smoking). Far from emptying, pubs and cafes will be busier than ever. And, in addition, governments would be told that worker productivity would rise as worker health improved and people stopped taking smoking breaks. It was win-win all the way. There was no downside. None at all. And every promise would have been supported by academic studies with graphs and tables and confidence intervals, all nicely printed in colour on glossy paper – the kind of thick glossy paper you instantly believe in.
And if government had any doubts about it all, absolutely everybody they consulted – ASH, WHO, BHF, BMA, RCP, RWJF, etc – would tell them exactly the same thing. And if somebody didn’t, it was simply because they were paid liars for Big Tobacco.
So governments went ahead with smoking bans – particularly since more or less all other governments were doing so, and politicians are herd animals.
But absolutely every single one of Tobacco Control’s promises were false. Smoking probably isn’t the cause of any disease at all, never mind all diseases. Most smokers don’t want to quit smoking. There weren’t any eager new non-smoking customers to replace them in pubs and cafes. And so on.
But Tobacco Control wasn’t in the least bit interested in the truth. Tobacco Control was offering governments a once-in-a-lifetime, sure-fire investment opportunity. But to achieve the promised miraculous results, they obviously needed a lot of government money to set up outreach programmes, fund media campaigns, educate the public, and so on. And the bigger the end pay-off, the more money was needed up front. And as Tobacco Control talked up the benefits, and discounted the costs, it began pocketing huge amounts of money.
Because Tobacco Control is simply a gigantic scam. It’s the South Sea Bubble multiplied by the Dutch Tulip Craze plus Bernie Madoff squared. And it’s suckered more or less every single government in the world. It’s taken them all for a ride. And when the promised miraculous returns don’t appear, Tobacco Control is just going to walk away from it all, a few hundred billion dollars the richer.
Because none of the promised benefits are emerging. Smokers aren’t quitting smoking, and public health isn’t improving, and worker productivity isn’t rising. Instead, as smokers stay home and stop spending, the economy is stagnating, and the hospitality trade is suffering. And the bans have also caused considerable social fragmentation. And angry smokers are switching their votes to smoker-friendly parties (such as UKIP). And public trust and confidence in governments and ‘experts’ is plummeting. What was sold to governments as a sure-fire win-win bet has actually turned out to be lose-lose.
And I suspect that some governments are beginning to recognise that the smoking bans that they so eagerly rushed to implement are actually proving to be complete and utter disasters.
But because politicians are herd animals, none of them will dare admit it’s a disaster until other governments admit it too. So they’ll keep their mouths shut until some government somewhere overturns their own smoking ban, and starts the
ball rolling sheep moving in a new direction.
For a while it looked like Bulgaria might be the first to do this, but the Bulgarian parliament voted down a proposed amendment to their smoking ban earlier this month. All the same, most likely it’ll be some eastern European country which will be the first to repeal their ban, because with far higher smoking prevalence than in the UK or USA, the economic and social damage caused by smoking bans is bound to be proportionally higher. The Russian smoking ban that’s currently being phased in is likely to be even more disastrous than most, given 60% male smoking prevalence. The Turkish full smoking ban, introduced in 2009, may also partly underlie the rising unpopularity of the Erdogan government.
(Meander, the book I’m currently reading, is set in modern Turkey, and was published earlier this year, and was probably written in 2012, and frequently mentions smoking and ashtrays in Turkish restaurants and tea houses – which suggests that Turks have been widely flouting their 4-year-old smoking ban.)
Sooner or later, the breaking point will be reached. It’s just that no government wants to be the first to admit the failure that more and more of them are staring in the face. They’re probably all looking for a way out of the mess which allows them to save face (always of prime importance for politicians). But once one sheep has made a run for it, the rest will likely follow close behind.
People seem to be noticing these government failures: