A bit sleepy this evening. I’ve spent all day back looking at asteroid 2012 DA14 and the Chelyabinsk meteor of 15 Feb 2013, which I got interested in a year back.
But in the background I’ve been thinking about antismokers. What makes someone an antismoker?
In my experience there were hardly any of them 40 years ago. Since then they’ve been gradually multiplying in numbers. I watched friends of mine first stop smoking, and then start banning anyone smoking in their homes. It was a gradual process. And it was largely driven by what was low-key but relentless antismoking indoctrination over decades. People were gradually being programmed to become antismoking. The ‘health threat’ of environmental tobacco smoke simply cranked up the intensity of the antismoking assault, and made scared people even more scared.
If I didn’t go the same way, it was probably partly because I’ve always taken all health scare stories with a large pinch of salt. But mostly it was because I’d met Dr W.
I had the pleasure of living in the family home of Dr W and his wife and children, because at the time my own parents were living in Brazil. I was aged about 17, and hadn’t started smoking. But Dr W’s 16-year-old eldest son had started smoking. And one day it seems that he caught his son smoking, because he started shouting at him at the top of his voice, his son having fled upstairs. Trying to escape from the unfolding drama, I came across Dr W standing completely alone in the hall of the house, bellowing “Filthy! Filthy! Filthy!” at the top of his voice.
It was one of those formative experiences. I realised that Dr W utterly hated cigarettes. And at the same time I recognised that his hatred was entirely irrational – because if had had rational reasons for disliking smoking, he would have quietly explained them to his son, who might have taken heed. Instead, he had erupted in an astonishing and unseemly tirade. I decided then and there that Dr W was a tad bonkers (at least in respect of tobacco), and always gave him a wide berth. The rest of the family were all perfectly normal.
Dr W was a very strange man. He seemed to take no pleasure in anything. As soon as he got home from work, he’d head off out to work in his garden where he kept chickens and grew fruit and vegetables. I never saw him watch TV. Or read a newspaper. Or even read a book. And he was strangely incapable of smiling. His method, when he deemed a smile to be appropriate to the occasion, was to simply hitch up the corners of his mouth in the semblance of a smile. I used to wonder what event had taken place in his life that had left him so damaged, and so emotionally frozen.
At the time, I concluded that he was a harmless crank, who was also hyperactive at the BMA. The last time I ever saw him was on BBC Newsnight, being interviewed outside the BMA about some medical matter. I realised then that he must have had a pretty senior position in the BMA. And maybe also in the WHO.
In retrospect, I don’t think he was harmless crank at all. I think he was a virulent nutjob antismoker (who almost certainly personally knew both George Godber and Richard Doll) with considerable influence in the medical profession. And if we now have a smoking ban in the UK, it’s probably in large part because Dr W worked tirelessly all his life for one – although he never actually lived to see it.
And yet he was bonkers.
And probably George Godber was bonkers too.
Because Dr W’s hatred of smoking clearly wasn’t something that grew out of dispassionate medical research. It must have come from somewhere else. He must have been taught, most likely in his childhood, that smoking was a filthy habit. And so ‘filthy’ was the word that he shouted over and over again when he caught his son smoking.
Dr W was most likely the child of an antismoking father and mother who would regularly beat their errant children with a belt or stick, shouting ‘filthy’ at whatever misdemeanour they had committed. Dr W’s antismoking zealotry had been beaten into him. And it had left him a disturbed and damaged man.
And I think that antismokers like Dr W were quite different from those friends of mine who quit smoking and started worrying about ETS. My friends were being rational. They were responding to medical advice. It just happened to be medical advice which was being provided by nutjobs like Dr W.
And when I started smoking, a couple of years after encountering Dr W, it was in large part because I felt that if a nutter like Dr W hated smoking, then there probably wasn’t any harm in it at all.
And the degree to which I am in favour of smoking has the same intensity as Dr W’s loathing of it. I’m an anti-Dr-W. I was permanently inoculated against antismoking zealots by Dr W himself. And for me he will always remain the archetypal antismoker: a strange, twisted, crippled man.
But I’ve begun to suspect that there are probably quite a few antismokers of the Dr W variety. They’re not people who have been persuaded by science or reason that smoking is a dangerous habit that can kill people. They’re people who have been traumatised into hating smoking, most likely in their childhoods. And this is why they have now set out to traumatise the whole world. It’s the way they were shaped, and so it’s the the way they set out to shape everyone else – with hideous images on tobacco packages, and exaggerated claims that smoking causes all diseases, and so on.
And the antismoking creed is probably one that runs in families, passed on from antismoking father to antismoking son. And occasionally, like some bacillus, it bursts out into the wider world, and causes an antismoking epidemic.
And they’re all deeply sick people. And they should be confined in mental institutions. Certainly they should never be allowed to appear on Newsnight outside the BMA wearing pinstripe suits, or help shape government policy.
Alas, this is exactly what has happened.