I’m a student of military history. I would hasten to add that I don’t regard myself as a particularly good student of military history. I’ve just always been fascinated by it. In my childhood, my brother built elaborate model railways, and I built armies and fortresses. And I spent my little pocket money saving up to buy huge pieces of artillery with which to demolish wood block fortresses and slaughter the little plastic defenders lining their ramparts.
And military historians look dispassionately at wars and battles, discussing why one side won, and not the other, and how it could so easily have been different.
And I suppose that I see the conflict between the smokers and the antismokers in Tobacco Control as a war not really essentially different to a real war. It’s one bunch of people against another. And one side is going to win, or the other will.
Last week I was thinking about what smokers needed to do to build a Smokers’ Army that could defeat Tobacco Control. Getting the name right seemed to be important. And it stimulated a lot of discussion over several posts.
Today I’d like to think about Tobacco Control. What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses?
Who are Tobacco Control? As I use the term, I mean all the people who are engaged in trying to stamp out smoking. They work in government. They work in medicine. They work in universities. They work in the media. They work in the UN and the WHO. And they regularly meet up and have conferences.
They sometimes get called an “industry”, but I prefer not to call them that, for the simple reason that they don’t actually make anything. Tobacco Control has no product. It is in fact an anti-industry that has set out to destroy an industry: the tobacco industry. Tobacco Control is actually just one wing of an environmental movement that is anti-industry of every kind. But I’m not going to address this wider movement. Nor am I going to conflate Tobacco Control with Government (in ways that Fredrik Eich was suggesting yesterday). Certainly TC has close links with government, but I don’t think that it actually is the government. TC also has close links with the medical profession, but I don’t think it actually is the medical profession either.
And as an anti-industry, Tobacco Control is an elite formation. They’ve won some astonishing victories. So when you hear that “X is the new tobacco”, it’s somebody who wants to borrow from the highly successful TC playbook. In fact, it’s my view that the highly-successful AGW scare has been doing exactly that, and has just replaced one gas with another – tobacco smoke with colourless, odourless carbon dioxide.
Tobacco Control is a small, highly-organised group of just a few thousand people (I don’t know exactly how many). It’s a disciplined, highly trained, professional army a bit like the British Expeditionary Force in WW1. And it’s managed to completely rout the world’s 1.5 billion smokers, who are at present thoroughly beaten and demoralised, and surrendering in their thousands, throwing away their cigarettes.
And here one of the strengths of TC – that they’re all very well paid (£160,000 a year for Deborah Arnott, according to Guido Fawkes) – is something of an Achilles’ heel: it’s also a weakness. Because one always has to wonder whether anyone who is being paid to perform some task is truly ideologically committed to it, or is only in it for the money. And my own personal experience of being paid to perform any task has been that I’ve never been ideologically committed to that task: I was only in it for the money. My attitude always was: Sure, I’ll do whatever stupid task you want me to do, and do it to the best of my ability, but please don’t ever think that I have any belief in your crazy schemes – I’ve got my own crazy ideas, thank you very much.
So I think it’s an open question whether someone like Deborah Arnott actually is an antismoking ideologue, or is just a diligent employee who deserves every penny she gets (because she actually does a great job).
By contrast someone like me has no such conflicts of interest. I’m a pro-smoking ideologue. And nobody pays me a penny to write this blog or do anything else I do. And in fact I actually fork out £10 a month to keep the Smoky Drinky Bar in business.
If Deborah Arnott stopped being paid £160,000 a year as director of ASH, would she carry on doing the job unpaid? I don’t know, to be quite honest. But the impression I get is that she’s much more an employee than an ideologue. And if ASH is ever closed down, she’ll just take her much-sought-after abilities somewhere else, and get paid just as much.
So I think we have an asymmetric war going on here. It’s a war like the Vietnam war in which the professional US army was up against the rag-tag, guerrilla army of North Vietnam. We smokers are the Viet Cong, and Deborah Arnott is the 101st Airborne, bombing the shit out of us.
And in Vietnam, despite being an elite, professional army, the US army’s soldiers on the ground were not ideologically committed to the war. They were just doing what they were told. And so were the generals who commanded them. And when the war started to go badly, they became demoralised. And the demoralisation even filtered back into US civilian life.
And so if the war starts going badly for TC, it’s very likely that a similar sort of demoralisation will likely set in among its ranks.
And I think the war is beginning to go badly for TC. For there remains an intractable residue of smokers still holding out, deep in the forests, rather like the Viet Cong. But also TC has been finding new enemies springing up in front of them. The appearance of e-cigarettes has been an event comparable to the appearance of the Soviet T34 tank in WW2 before the victorious, advancing German army. TC has been quite thrown by this unexpected development, and has been scrambling to find an answer to it. And there are many signs of deep division within TC about the appropriate response to this unforeseen event.
So TC may be highly professional, but that means that its soldiers are mostly mercenaries, rather than true believers: they’re only in it for the money. TC is a small, highly-trained army, but that also means that they’re actually vastly outnumbered by their enemies. TC is highly organised and disciplined, but that also means that are a slow-moving bureaucracy that can’t respond rapidly to unforeseen events (like the appearance of e-cigarettes). And TC is an anti-industry, which has no product. It can only tear things down, demolish them. Anyone who is working in a productive industry of any kind, can point to something and say “I made that”: but TC can only point at a pile of rubble, and say “I broke that.”
But there are other strengths of TC which also turn out to be weaknesses. For example, TC has a complete stranglehold on the mainstream media. They completely control the message broadcast by the BBC and CNN and nearly every other established media organisation. But these days, with the rise of the internet and alternative shoe-string media platforms, the MSM are losing their monopoly on the message sent to the masses. Fewer and fewer people are buying newspapers and watching TV. And it’s getting harder and harder to top down control what people think. The old propaganda weapons are no longer working. And so far TC has shown little sign of being able to adapt to the new, interactive, fast-moving internet environment. They’re simply too used to exercising top down control.
Another apparent strength of TC is the way they always demonise their opposition. It’s a highly effective tactic. And they’ve used it to silence and exclude not just the demonic Tobacco Industry (“Merchants of death”), but also now all the world’s smokers, who are all now pathetic addicts, enslaved by Big Tobacco. But this also is a weakness, because it opens up the possibility of TC being demonised itself in turn. After all, if they so readily demonise their opponents, they can’t really complain if they themselves are demonised. What’s sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.
And another apparent strength of TC is that they are “science-based”. They are always citing studies or papers that show this or that or the other. But this also is a weakness, because on close scrutiny, most of the “science” proves to be nonsense.
So it would seem that all of TC’s strengths are also its weaknesses. And I probably haven’t succeeded, in this short essay, in enumerating all of TC’s strengths (and therefore weaknesses). All I would like to suggest is that TC is far, far weaker than it presents itself as being, or as is commonly regarded as being. And they face the possibility of catastrophe on multiple different ways.
It might be the subject of several more essays to explore some of the weaknesses of TC in greater depth, to see how these might be exploited.