I’m always interested in trying to figure out how antismokers think. And today I came across a Canadian study of antismoking professionals, a number of whom had been interviewed, and their attitudes noted.
One passage describes the ideal “self-managing” individual:
Lupton (1995) argues that public health
discourses both constitute and regulate such phenomena as normality, risk and health. She then notes (in her collaboration with Peterson) that, as a political practice, neoliberalism emphasises approaches to health that are increasingly individualised and focused on ‘the self who is expected to live life in a prudent, calculating way and to be ever-vigilant of risks, self-regulating and productive’…. Lupton further emphasises how health promotion in neoliberal times operates as moral regulation, encouraging people to modify their bodily activities in the pursuit of good health. Of particular concern is how people are enjoined to identify and manage a host of risk factors as part of what Monica Greco (1993) has called the ‘duty to be well’. We orient to tobacco control as an expertise that promotes self-governing, ‘healthy’ subjects by exhorting them to conduct themselves in accordance with expert advice about the health risks of smoking.
For Tobacco Control, it seems that the ideal individual is one who lives life in a prudent, calculating way and is ever-vigilant of risks, self-regulating and productive – and in accordance with expert advice.
The “self-managing” or “self-governing” or “self-regulating” individual is one who exercises iron self-control. He resists the temptation to take up smoking. Or indeed anything else. He doesn’t take risks.
Smokers, by contrast, exhibit lack of self-control. They don’t regulate or govern or manage themselves properly. Worse still, their propensity to engage in risky behaviours like smoking extends elsewhere, as one of the health professionals explains:
“[I]t’s a higher risk population that takes the chance, yeah. I have this one sheet that
shows that smoking can be correlated to skipping, lateness, all kinds of high-risk
behaviours, a whole page of them, early sexual activity, so all of those factors,
although tobacco is also correlated to a lot of other things, like family issues.”
It seems that smokers may have a “biological propensity” for smoking that is linked to poverty:
While the so-called low-hanging fruit were responsive to tobacco control in a rational, self-regulatory and responsible fashion, low class youth, believed to have a biological propensity for smoking linked to poverty, are non-compliant and therefore require specific forms of pharmacological intervention to stop them from smoking.
I must say that, reading all this, Tobacco Control’s ideal “normal” individual, who conducts himself in a “rational, self-regulatory and responsible fashion”, struck me as dreadfully dull. Taking no risks, he wouldn’t smoke or drink, but he also probably wouldn’t gamble, ride motorbikes, surf waves, climb mountains, sky-dive, or do anything that had the slightest degree of risk attached to it. And if he ever was tempted to do so, his iron self-control would immediately cut in, and steer him away.
I also thought that most of the people that I’ve liked in my life have neither been completely averse to any risk, nor exercised iron self-control over themselves. They rode motorbikes, and smoked and drank, and gambled. And they were very often did things spontaneously, without careful planning in advance. And they laughed and smiled and joked in spontaneous ways.
Why should I wish to model myself on the kind of cold, calculating person that I’ve spent most of my life avoiding? Why are such people morally superior to the kind of people that I usually like to surround myself with?
And who really is “self-regulating”? For we have learned in reading this little treatise that the ideal “rational, self-regulatory and responsible” individual is someone who listens to “expert advice”. If he is doing this, then he is not actually regulating himself, but is being regulated by experts or authorities of one sort or other.
Seen this way, the real “self-regulating” individuals are those people who make their own choices for themselves, very often in the teeth of antismoking experts or other moral authorities.
After all, everybody engages in self-regulation of one kind or other. Nobody ever does exactly what they like the whole time.
The real crime of the self-regulating smoker is to disregard experts and other authorities, and be an autonomous individual. And once he has disregarded authority in respect of smoking, it’s quite likely he’ll disregard it in respect of pretty well everything else as well.
Tobacco Control’s ideal individual is one who believes what he’s told, and who does what he’s told, by authorities of one sort or other.
One might say that Tobacco Control is primarily about top-down moral regulation. This used once to be the concern of religions of one sort or other. But with the decline of religious observance, Tobacco Control (or Public Health) has stepped in to fill the moral vacuum. The virtues and vices of the old religions have been adopted wholesale, but renamed. The bishops and priests have been replaced by “experts” and “researchers”, and the old theology by “reason” and “science”. Good conduct has been replaced by “healthy living”, and failure to conduct one’s life in accordance with its tenets results in “premature death”. The “true believers” in this new pseudo-religion believe everything they’re told, and live in fear of a variety of new hobgoblins in the form of tobacco, alcohol, sugar, salt, fat, and carbon dioxide, which they live as much in fear of as the Devil himself. Much like with the religions that preceded them, it doesn’t really matter if none of these hobgoblins pose any real threat at all – all that matters is that people believe they do. And if the zealots advancing this new religion are filled with self-righteous fervour, it is because they regard themselves as new missionaries come to convert the heathens, and teach them the ways of healthiness.
The new churches of the religion of Public Health are the gyms. Attendance at these is not compulsory yet, but probably soon will be. And gym-goers will also be required to
confess list any sins non-compliance (e.g. a bar of chocolate), and be awarded suitable penances penalties (e.g. 30 press-ups)….
But I’m not sure that this is the lesson that the authors of this treatise wanted me to draw. They instead were making the smaller point that “the tobacco control discourse on youth smoking in Canada appears to be producing and constituting socially marginalised smokers.”
But I already knew that.