Fisking Tobacco Control

H/T Rose for this Robert Fisk piece:

The UN has failed to protect Syrians from war and hunger. Now it’s telling them to stop smoking

Your home may be in flames, your family enslaved, your torturers itching to pull out your fingernails – but above all you’ve got to ignore the ciggy packet in your pocket

Bizarre, weird, unprecedented. It’s rarely you can call the UN all three. But I did get the April Fool’s Day feeling when I read about the World Health Organisation’s latest warning to Syrians: they must stop smoking. Not just cigarettes but even the nargileh, the shisha pipe, upon which generations of Arabs have puffed away in war and peace.

But now – and it is June, not 1 April – the poor and desperate Syrian people have been told by the UN health agency that they really must take better care of their lungs.

Has the UN no sense of shame?…

No, they don’t. He goes on:

The nargileh, Syrians are told – the hookah or hubble-bubble pipe has been around since the Mogul empire in the 16th century – is 20 times as bad for their health as cigarette smoking. And the Syrian bureaucracy should take care to ensure that cigarettes are plain-packaged to reduce their “attractiveness and glamour”.

I can see the problem. While fleeing from air strikes, mass graves and ethnic cleansing, Syrians have just got to resist the temptation of a quick gasper to calm their nerves. Your home may be in flames, your family enslaved, your torturers itching to pull out your fingernails – but above all you’ve got to ignore the pretty ciggy packet in your pocket.

Try not to join the other 280,000 victims of the Syrian war – but above all ignore the temptations of those who urge you to puff away on “menthol fresh” cigarettes…


But far more assiduous in supporting the WHO report will surely be the lads from Isis, who are currently the most vigorous anti-smoking campaigners in the history of the world. Caught with a fag in your mouth in Mosul or Raqqa, or even a packet of cigarettes in your pocket, and you’ll be slapped with a $20 (£14) fine or, more likely, given 20 lashes with steel wire or the casing of a car tyre.

It’s refreshing to find an illustrious reporter (one who has even lent his name to a new verb: “to fisk” – which means to debunk something point by point) who at last sees clearly the monomaniacal madness of Tobacco Control, even if he disappoints by adding: “There was a time, and will be again in a future peace, for such serious warnings to be issued.”

Clearly Fisk believes (he says as much) that smoking causes lung cancer. Most people do. They’ve been told it for so long that it’s become lodged in their minds as an unquestionable fact of life. Not even an investigative reporter of Fisk’s calibre can bring himself to question it.

But I no longer believe anything that’s ever been said or written about tobacco. I reject the entirety of it, all the way back to James I. I think that antismoking is a mental illness: that particular madness that elevates the placid pastime of smoking to the greatest health threat the world has ever known. Because for Tobacco Control smoking really is a greater threat to Syrians than any amount of arson, enslavement, torture, rape, and murder. And they’re not ashamed to say so.

It’s the same madness that is now arrived in UK prisons, about which I wrote to my Westminster MP recently. Decency, compassion, care: all go out the window when the Tobacco Control witchfinders arrive with their singular, burning obsession.

I look forward to the day when these poor, sick, twisted people are expelled en masse from the medical and associated professions they infest. And all their various associations are de-funded and closed down. And their ubiquitous red circular logos torn from every wall. And all their publications burned. And they themselves are stripped of all rank and honour, and expelled from society, in the same way that they stripped and expelled so many others.

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21 Responses to Fisking Tobacco Control

  1. Peter Whittaker says:

    beautiful. Well, the Australian Tobacco Control Witchfinders found Australia first, it seems. Long now have smokers been pushed into the category of ‘untouchables’.

  2. jaxthefirst says:

    What’s most worrying is that several of the commenters under this article just can’t see how inappropriate this message is at this particular point in time in Syria. I think that’s one of the most concerning aspects of the whole anti-smoking movement – it isn’t just that the main “movers and shakers” are pathologically disturbed people, consumed by a vindictive, all-consuming hatred which underpins their very existence, who have been awarded the power to inflict that hatred on those whom they happen to dislike, but there are countless minions with the same, hitherto-concealed mental illness who now feel that their quasi-religious dislike of a bit of burning leaf is not just acceptable, but genuinely reasonable. And that’s truly scary.

    Then again, this is the Indie. Many other commenters have completely ignored the main point of the article in order to rant about their own favourite bugbear “It’s all the West’s fault … blah, blah.” Sort of par for the course for anyone who reads the Indie, I guess.

  3. Smoking Lamp says:

    This confirms that the tobacco control cult is out of touch with reality and has no understanding of the human condition or compassion for those outside their divisive cult.

    Syria is in the midst of extreme war punctuated by atrocity. Children are enslaved and brutalized, non-combatants used as human shields, and hospitals and medical personnel attacked. The combatants use atrocity as a means of control and commit war crimes with reckless abandon. Add to that torture, genocide, and suicide bombings and the use of chemical weapons on civilians, attacking food supplies, siege operations and mass graves. All of that brutality and horror and these public health tyrants at the WHO prioritizes smoking!

    Focussing on smoking given the intense atrocities committed in Syria and spreading to neighboring states makes these WHO operatives individually complicit in these war crimes–all the more so since the risk of passive smoking is virtually nil and evidence of that situation is routinely suppressed by these antismoker fanatics.

  4. waltc says:

    Samuel Johnson is said to have said, ” It’s not that the dog plays the piano well but that the dog plays at all.” It’s not that the WHO is issuing this warning about a possible cancer in 40-some years to people who may not make it through the day, but that they’re doing it at all. You really have to admire their dogged persistence.

  5. Cecily Collingridge says:

    I also think it is a shame Fisk doesn’t question the underlying premise itself but at least he’s written something rather powerful.

    Unfortunately, he doesn’t give a link to the actual WHO report he quotes from and I haven’t been able to find it. Has anyone else found it? I’d like to read the whole thing. I’m considering firing off a complaint direct to the WHO.

    • Rose says:

      Cecily, I don’t think it’s a report so much as a speech that was given to mark World No Tobacco day.

      June 9th
      “LONDON (AP) – The World Health Organization has identified another grave risk to the health of Syrians in their war-torn country: tobacco.

      In a statement last week, the U.N. health agency warned that “notwithstanding the current crisis in the country,” Syrian officials should collaborate with the U.N. health agency to control the use of tobacco and water pipes among its people, especially young adults, women and teenagers.”

      WHO Representative urges stronger tobacco control in Syria

      1 June 2016 – Notwithstanding the current crisis in the country, Ms Elizabeth Hoff, WHO Representative to Syria, has stressed the urgency for controlling tobacco and shisha consumption among the population – especially among youths, women and teenage school children.

      Speaking at the World No Tobacco Day 2016 event, Hoff said that tobacco and shisha consumption endangers the health and future life of smokers and people around them. “Many youths, women and school-age children in Syria have taken to shisha smoking believing that it is fashionable and less harmful than cigarettes,” said Hoff. “The truth is that shisha smoking is 20 times more dangerous than cigarette smoking, and shisha users are at risk for some of the same diseases as cigarette smokers such as oral cancer, lung and stomach cancer, cancer of the throat and impaired reproductive capacities.”

      Hoff urged the Syrian health authorities at all levels to collaborate with WHO and implement the “plain packaging approach” being canvassed in order to reduce attractiveness and glamour, as is appropriate for a product that kills almost 6 million people annually.

      The Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Ahmad Khlefawy, stated that Syria was one of the first countries to sign the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and endorse a ban on public smoking in an effort to control consumption.

      The Deputy Minister emphasized that, the current crisis notwithstanding, the Syrian health authorities will continue to discourage tobacco consumption – including shisha. He added that the current crisis cannot be an excuse for Syrians to endanger their lives. He appreciated WHO for its humanitarian support to the Syrian people across the country since the beginning of the crisis.

      The event featured presentation of poems, essays, and cartoon drawing by youths and school children to reflect the harmful effect of tobacco consumption.”

      • prog says:

        LC rate in Syria about third less than ‘shining light’ Sweden and oral, throat and stomach cancer among the lowest.

        Granted, Syrian life expectancy is traditionally slightly lower (currently probably much lower) but otherwise higher oral, stomach and throat cancer rates tend to occur in countries with lower than average life expectancy.

        • nisakiman says:

          Thanks for those tables, Prog. Very interesting to note in the three ‘smoking related’ diseases (LC, Oral and Oesophagus) the differences between the UK and Greece, given that Greece has the highest per capita consumption of cigarettes in the world, four times that of the UK (about 3000 cigs p.a. against about 750).

          Lung cancer
          UK – 31.4 per 100,000
          Greece – 29.71 per 100,000

          Oral cancer
          UK – 2.73 per 100,000
          Greece – 1.5 per 100,000

          Oesophagus cancer
          UK – 7.64 per 100,000
          Greece – 0.96 per 100,000

          So logically, if what we are told is true, the Greeks should have ‘smoking related’ cancer rates roughly four times as high as the UK.

          How do TC explain those little anomalies, I wonder? The short answer, of course, is they don’t. They just ignore them and hope nobody notices.

        • prog says:

          Perhaps I should have referenced WHO’s own database, which might tell a different story.

          However, without giving the benefit of doubt, it seems to be yet another default scaremongering generalised pronouncement. Hoff, for example, may have no idea what specific statistics are and has simply regurgitated tired inaccurate cliched propaganda. And the 20 times increased risk of shisha smoking has to be complete and utter bullshit. The Middle Easterns have been smoking shisha pipes for 100’s of years.

          Not dissimilar to the kinds of guff we’re hearing from the EU Remain (especially) campaign. Indeed, the arguments for and against EU membership has done little more than highlight the ignorance and arrogance of politicians and so-called experts.

        • Frank Davis says:

          I’ve never used one, but I believe that in shisha pipes the tobacco is heated, not burned. That means that there won’t be any combustion products like carbon, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide. In short, if there is any danger from smoking tobacco by burning it (e.g. in pipes, cigars, or cigarettes), there’ll be more like 20 times less danger from shisha pipes.

        • prog says:

          Dug up this (WHO stats)


          Trachea,bronchus,lung cancers – 1.3% of all deaths (not just smokers of course)

          Conflict – a truly appalling 43.7% of all deaths

        • jltrader says:

          Shisha is more like an ultralight cigarette – saying it’s 20 times more dangerous than cigarettes really makes one look like an imbecile or a paid liar.

        • nisakiman says:

          Yes, shisha is a very mild smoke. Absolutely delightful, in fact. Twenty times more dangerous? Well, I suppose that could be the case if like me you don’t think smoking is dangerous anyway. After all, twenty times zero is zero.

    • Rose says:

      Syrian Arab Republic
      WHO Representative Elizabeth Hoff

      “Ms Elizabeth Hoff (Norway) Ms Hoff has occupied the post of WHO Representative in Syria since 23 July 2012. Prior to this assignment, Ms Hoff was Team Leader, Emergency Risk Management and Humanitarian Response, at WHO headquarters, Geneva.

      Ms Hoff has a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Trondheim, Norway (1988), a Master’s Degree in Science in Community Health, with a focus on maternal and child health, from the University of California, San Francisco, USA (1991), and a Degree in International Relations/Conflict Resolution from Harvard Law School, USA (1996).”

      She also has very poor timing.

  6. garyk30 says:

    TC are like rapists.
    They may realize what they do is wrong; but, they can not resist the feeling of power they get from doing the deed.

  7. prog says:

    ‘Present reality is that science is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That’s the not-so-tongue-in-cheek message in Science on the Verge, a new book by European scientist Andrea Saltelli and seven other contributors. Science on the Verge is a 200-page indictment of what to the lay reader appears to be a monumental deterioration across all fields, from climate science to health research to economics. The mere idea that “most published research results are false” should be cause for alarm. But it is worse than that.

    Just about everything we take for granted in modern science, from the use of big data to computer models of major parts of our social, economic and natural environment and on to the often absurd uses of statistical methods to fish for predetermined conclusions.

    – Terence Corcoran’


  8. scot says:

    I worked with Muslim bloke who actually did the whole hand-waving and theatrical coughing routine when we were at a work social at a table outside a pub, I was sitting upwind of him whilst I enjoyed my fag and pint!

    Later on I found out he liked to frequent shisha parlours…

    Takes all sorts eh?

  9. Pingback: Surreal Battle of the Thames | Frank Davis

  10. Manfred says:

    As many here may know, the earthquakes that wrecked parts of the city and the lives of many of the people of Christchurch NZ were a stressful beginning of a long and difficult period of rebuilding and recovery that continues to this day, hampered as ever by bureaucrats, insurance companies and money grabbing building charlatans. As many here may also know, NZ (a UN sycophant with all that this implies) is over-governed at every level, meaning it is over-populated by politicians, bureaucrats, regulators, administrators and do-gooders.

    In NZ, the anti-smoking zealots, like their German antecedents are striving to make NZ ‘smoke free’ by 2025. These little and inadequate people who exercise the small amount of power they are given to its fullest extent with demonic zeal will more than have their work cut out for them. Given that NZ (aptly known as the Shaky Isles) is one long earthquake fault, the occurrence of major earthquakes are not unlike war zones in their effects. As we have seen, the Syrians appear inclined to repair to the odd fag in their otherwise apocalyptic lives.

    Unsurprisingly therefore, It was reported in the NZ press and in the medical literature that smoking rates climbed in Christchurch, post-earthquake –
    In June 2014, the Canterbury District Health Authority (CDHB) published a ‘Mental Wellbeing’ monograph.
    In this they barely stopped just short of suggesting that smokers were mentally ill:
    “Mental wellbeing can positively affect most dimensions of people’s lives: family and friendships,
    employment, education, physical health and life expectancy.”
    “People who are mentally well are more productive in the workforce, do better in education and are
    able to function better cognitively. They are also more likely to live longer, are less likely to engage
    in adverse behaviours like smoking, hazardous drinking, drug use and risky sexual behaviour, and
    they are less likely to be obese.” Clearly this bunch of healthist eco-lefties haven’t read a single history book. Their politically correct ‘common core’ education will have expunged smoking like the digital remastering of old James Bond films or the deletion of the Medieval Warm Period.

    Here’s the grand irony.

    Buried way down at the end of this monograph was the following observation that our mission focused bureaucrats from the Ministry of Truth were unable to explain and which brought forth a broad, wry smile. Under the title, “Dispensing of pharmaceuticals for mental health” the following:
    “This is measured by the number of anti-depressants and anxiety medication units dispensed.
    Anti-depressants are used to treat a range of mental health issues.”
    “The number of anti-depressants dispensed in the CDHB region declined to 1,874,562 units in the three months to the end of March 2011, the period of the most devastating earthquakes. This represents a decrease of 7 per cent compared to the three months to the end of December 2010.
    It is not possible to determine whether this drop in units demonstrates a decline in need or usage, whether prescriptions were filled in other parts of New Zealand [Nonsense. All Rx medication is accounted for], or if people were too busy with other concerns to get to a GP [Nonsense. All GP visits are recorded]. The number of antidepressants then plateaued from May 2011 to December 2011 before dipping in the first quarter of 2012 and again in early 2013. In the second half of 2013, it appears that rates of dispensing, while still increasing, were growing on average at a slower rate compared with the rate before the earthquakes.”

    The evidence suggests a few things, for example an association between a reduced need for anti-depressants and an increase in smoking. It also suggests that when regulators turn their attention away from the minutiae of peoples personal lives to the more pressing problems of a functional sewage system or running water, people appear to thrive. People also appear to thrive when they are provided with meaningful purpose, in this instance, a compelling imperative to reassemble their lives from the post earthquake chaos, with no meddlesome bureaucrat to be found anywhere nearby.

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