One of the delights of the internet is that it makes it possible to keep alive texts which would have otherwise faded into obscurity and oblivion. Australian doctor Dr William Whitby self-published in 1978 Smoking Is Good For You, and about 10 years later he also published The Smoking Scare Debunked. In pre-internet times, both books would have probably been lost by now, with hardly any copies extant. But in fact both are now available online, free to read or download. Most likely both books now enjoy a wider readership than they ever did as hardbacks or paperbacks.
To give a flavour of the book, here’s Whitby on the pleasures of smoking:
Much of the book is given over to not only debunking the belief that smoking causes lung cancer (or anything else), and the passive smoking scare, but also declaring that smoking is an effective treatment of many chest complaints, including bronchitis and asthma.
He believes that the war on smoking was mounted to conceal the far greater danger to human health from radioactive fallout.
He regards antismokers as “mentally deranged.” Which is probably true, given that my experience of life in the house of Dr W – the first antismoking doctor I ever encountered – left me with the lasting conviction that the man was seriously mentally disordered, if only for his inability to produce a genuine smile.
Even though it was written 40 years ago, Whitby’s arguments are startlingly contemporary. He had even come to see the puritanical antismoking lobby as an “antismoking industry” employing thousands of fanatics. Here he is on the Black Lung Lie:
That said, the book is very dated when it comes to describing the circumstance of smokers. It has all got much, much worse since 1978, with smoking now banned in indoor public spaces all over the world, and increasingly in outdoor areas as well, and even in people’s own homes.
His advice to smokers also seems a tad optimistic:
Unfortunately, it makes no difference if smokers declare: “This nonsense has gone too far.” Many of them do make such declarations. Their protests are simply ignored, or not reported, and the next raft of restrictions is then prepared. Smokers are not living in any ‘free country’ anywhere any more. Nor have they any representation either, and so democracy is dead too.
His predictions for the future, furthermore, now look horribly over-optimistic:
I don’t think that there will ever be a volte-face by the medical profession. If anything, they are now entirely under the control of the antismoking zealots in ways they were not 40 years ago. What’s now needed is for governments to intervene strongly in the affairs of the medical profession, to dismantle it completely, completely purging all antismokers (and indeed all healthists), before re-assembling it under tight political control. The medical profession needs to be suppressed in the same way that Margaret Thatcher suppressed UK unions in the 1980s.
However there is no sign whatsoever of any willingness or readiness on the part of governments to grasp this monstrous nettle, and tear it out. This will probably only be done when the social and economic and political disintegration resulting from this insane war on tobacco has become manifestly obvious to everyone. There will probably also have to be (and almost certainly will be) a public health catastrophe, most likely in the form of a global Ebola-style pandemic, which will reveal the tobacco-obsessed medical profession as being no longer fit for purpose.
Nevertheless, Whitby remains a voice of sanity in an increasingly insane world. And he remained influential enough for Tobacco Control to devote an article to him in 2003, probably as a result of his re-emergence on the internet. Whitby had predicted that sceptics like himself would be dismissed as ‘eccentrics’. And sure enough, Tobacco Control described him (twice) as being “as nutty as a fruitcake.”
May there be many more such fruitcakes.