I often think that I’m much more optimistic than many of my readers and commenters. And I’ve been wondering why that’s so. And I think it’s because I tend to take a long term view of things.
The late Captain Ranty once wrote that, if the UK smoking ban was still in place after one year, smokers would have lost the war. And I think there were probably quite a few people who thought that if the smoking ban was still in place after one day, smokers would have lost the war. And in fact they believed that they had already lost the war.
But I’ve always taken a longer term view. I never thought that the smoking ban would be overturned after either one day or one year. From the outset I thought in terms of a decade or more. After all, the war on smoking has been going on for 500 years. Over the past few decades, smokers may have suffered a pretty catastrophic defeat, but the war remains very far from over.
So what’s likely to happen over the next 100 years?
If the antismokers have gained ascendancy over the past 100 years, they’ve done so a) by using statistics to establish a causal connection between smoking and lung cancer, and b) by using the mainstream media to advertise the statistically-derived causal connection. Smokers have been defeated by mathematics and mainstream media. Firstly scientists authoritatively declared that they had found the cause of lung cancer, and secondly the mainstream media broadcast this as an established fact for the next 50 years and more. The result is that Everybody Knows that smoking causes lung cancer. They’ve been told as much about 500 times. They’ve been thoroughly propagandised.
But I expect that the next 100 years will see the unraveling of this propaganda victory. For if anything is pretty painfully obvious these days, it’s that scientists don’t understand cancer, and don’t know what causes it, and don’t know how to cure it. And the result is that we have a global cancer epidemic on a scale that rivals the Plague or the Black Death. Cancer is our modern plague. And even though smoking prevalence has dropped sharply over the past 50 years, the plague only tightens its grip.
And so the cigarette hypothesis of cancer causation (which has expanded to become the tobacco hypothesis) is a dying hypothesis. People have started to look around for new causes. And there are lots of them: Diesel exhaust fumes. HPV. Radioactive fallout. Genetic mutation.
And so it seems entirely plausible that over the next 100 years, scientists will gain a real understanding of cancer. They’ll find out what really causes it. And they’ll find out how to cure it as well. And almost certainly they’ll find that it isn’t smoking or tobacco that causes cancer, but something else. And the true causes of cancer will be discovered by honest, clear-sighted researchers who really want to find the causes, and don’t want to merely conform to the prevailing antismoking ideology.
So I think that over the next 100 years we’ll be seeing the cigarette/tobacco hypothesis of cancer causation in headlong retreat, as new hypotheses emerge and slowly dominate.
But also I think we’re going to see the disappearance of the old-style mainstream media, which largely took the form of a centralised one-way megaphones controlled by either the state (e.g. the BBC) or by a handful of media moguls (e.g. Rupert Murdoch), and which could be used to thoroughly propagandise entire populations. And so not only will the cigarette/tobacco hypothesis be in retreat, but it will also become increasingly difficult to thoroughly propagandise entire populations with a single message, repeated endlessly.
Instead, I expect that the new internet-based media will be decentralised, dispersed, and two-way conversational rather than one-way harangue. Instead of one message, there will be lots of competing messages. The new media will probably be rather confusing. People won’t know who or what to believe.
I also think that the internet allows the creation of new kinds of communities of people, scattered all over the world, rather than located in one town or country or region. And I think that one of these new global communities will be comprised of smokers.
And I think that the process of decentralisation and dispersion will also apply to the political realm. If the 20th century saw the rise of large power blocs like the USSR and USA and EU, the 21st century will likely see their disintegration. It started with the USSR, but is already happening to the EU, and is likely to happen to the USA, and also China and India. Instead of a few big fish, there’ll be lots of little fish.
And after a century of bad science – the cigarette/tobacco hypothesis and the global warming panic being two prime examples – there will be a reformation of science, with the new scientists being lone mavericks fighting established institutional orthodoxies, rather as lone protestant reformers once fought the Roman Catholic Church.
And there will be any number of other developments as well, many of them completely inconceivable.
I may be wrong, of course, about all these various predictions. Most of them are just the forward projection of current trends. But what can most certainly be predicted is that the next 100 years won’t be like the previous 100 years. It’ll be different. It always is different.
So if I’m optimistic, it’s because I think the war on smoking and smokers is very far from over, and that there remains everything to play for. Yes, we’ve been defeated. That’s what happens in wars. You win some and you lose some. Get over it, and march towards the next battlefield.
And I think that, in the long term, our currently-victorious (and over-confident) enemy is going to find that both his credibility and his ability to broadcast his message are going to diminish. In some ways, the only way that he can now influence smokers is by printing his dogmas on the tobacco packets they buy, now that his message is getting lost in the swirl of the internet. His No Smoking signs may also still adorn many walls throughout the world, but they’re likely to be slowly buried under any number of other signs and posters and graffiti. In this manner Tobacco Control will gradually be silenced.