Antismokers often speak of smoking as an “epidemic”. But it seems to me that if we have an epidemic at all, it’s an epidemic of antismoking.
I’ve drawn up an outline graph (right) showing estimated UK smoking and antismoking prevalence over the past 100 years. In 1948, the London Hospitals study had 98% smoking prevalence, and the 1950 British Doctors study had 87% smoking prevalence. So I’ve set prevalence at a conservative 80% in 1945, which has since gradually decayed to the current 20% prevalence. And I’ve guessed that in 1900, smoking prevalence was about what it is now – 20% – and that this doubled in WW1, fell back between the wars, and then rose to 80% in WW2. I’m supposing that smoking prevalence was driven by WW1 stress on military personnel, and that in WW2 by stress on blitzed civilians as well.
Whatever the exact shape of the smoking prevalence graph, it seems clear that there was very steep spike in smoking between 1915 and 1945.
The UK antismoking prevalence graph is very different. There seems to have been relatively little up until the London Hospitals study and the the British Doctors study around 1950. Antismoking sentiment thereafter keeps on gradually rising. Circa 1990 tobacco advertising was banned, and in 2007 indoor smoking was banned in public places, and the antismoking epidemic was in full flood.
My question is: why is it that antismoking prevalence has peaked 70 years after peak smoking prevalence? For if there ever was a “smoking epidemic”, it reached its peak 70 or more years ago.
My proposed explanation for this is that the Doll/Wynder/Godber/Brundtland class of antismokers were born during the 1915-1945 smoking “epidemic”, and it was the formative experience of their lives, and made them committed antismokers. They all worked assiduously for the rest of their lives to advance the antismoking cause, and they were all successful relatively late in their lives associating smoking with lung cancer (Richard Doll b. 1912, Ernst Wynder b. 1922), magnifying the dangers of passive smoking (George Godber b. 1908), and introducing the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (Gro Harlem Brundtland b. 1939).
They also succeeded in spawning a second generation of antismokers, largely by exaggerating the dangers of smoking. The new post-war generation of antismokers had not experienced peak smoking prevalence, but they had been subjected to decades of antismoking propaganda from the first-generation antismokers, which they had completely absorbed.
Most of the first generation of antismokers are now dead. And so the original driving forces are now gone. But the antismoking epidemic they started has now reached levels undreamt by Richard Doll or Ernst Wynder (both of whom disassociated themselves from the passive smoking scare). It has become a predatory, socially divisive, and economically destructive monster. If it is not suppressed soon, it will suppress all human life and civilisation.
And the current antismoking epidemic is therefore likely to prove to be a formative experience for a nascent new generation of anti-antismokers. Many of the readers of this blog will fall into that category. And if history repeats itself, they will spend the next 50 years tirelessly working to undo all the work done by Doll, Wynder, Godber, and Brundtland (as well as Glantz, Banzhaf, Repace, et al). These antismokers will all have been thoroughly discredited and demonised by about 2050, and we (those of us who are still alive) will witness the Final Solution to the Antismoker Problem.
Unless of course anti-antismoking itself becomes as predatory and destructive as antismoking hysteria has now become.