One of the oddities about the global war on smoking is that it only really got under way in the early years of the 20th century, four centuries after the introduction of tobacco to the Old World after its discovery in the New World.
Why did it take so long? Why did a plant that had been in cultivation and use for four centuries (and far, far longer in the Americas before that) suddenly become demonised?
There had always been virulent antismokers – like James I of England – but such people were always in a minority. So why did they start growing into a majority during the 20th century?
Most people would probably say that the rise of antismoking during the 20th century was the result of advances in medicine, and in particular advances in epidemiology. It had been shown in Germany in the 1930s that smoking was the cause of the growing epidemic of lung cancer, and the German studies were reproduced in Britain and the USA in the 1950s. By about 1960, more or less everybody knew that smoking caused lung cancer, in much the same way that everyone now knows that carbon dioxide causes global warming. And since about 1990, everybody has also learned the smoking causes more or less every other malady known to man. Antismoking hysteria started in the early 20th century, and kept mounting higher an higher as the century progressed.
I’d like to suggest an alternative non-medical explanation for this strange phenomenon. If nothing else, the epidemiological arguments used to demonise tobacco entail mathematical (statistical) sleight of hand: there have never been good scientific reasons for believing that tobacco causes lung cancer (or any other disease).
What else happened during the 20th century that might have led to the war on tobacco?
My suggestion is that the 20th century saw the rise of America from being a political backwater in 1900 to become the pre-eminent world power by 2000, and that antismoking is primarily a reaction to this event, largely in the formerly pre-eminent world powers in Europe: Antismoking is antiAmerican. It’s roots lie not so much in medicine as in politics, and in the demise of Europe as the dominant power in the world. A comparable event might be the rise of Rome during the second and third centuries BC to become the pre-eminent power in Europe and the Mediterranean, crushing all the rest. And America has achieved far more, far faster than Rome ever did. Inside the space of a century, it has established an empire that controls pretty much the whole world. It’s an empire far larger than the British empire ever was. And so America is hated in the same way that the British were hated, and the Romans too. Most of it is envy. And this envy and hatred of America extended to everything American. And what was more quintessentially American than tobacco?
For America was built on tobacco. America first made its fortune selling tobacco to the world. And the cigarette is also an uniquely American product. Put a cigarette in your mouth, and light it with a Zippo lighter, and you’re more or less telling the world that you’re an American. Just like you’re telling the world you’re an American if you drive a Cadillac or ride a Harley-Davidson, or play a Fender electric guitar, or drink Budweiser or eat Big Macs.
Tobacco is to America is what coal is to Newcastle. And tobacco is far more authentically and originally American than anything made by Ford or Chrysler or General Motors.
And I’d like to suggest that Hitler’s antismoking grew out of Hitler’s antiAmericanism. And Hitler had lots of reasons to be antiAmerican. But for the Americans, Germany would have won WW1. It was the arrival of general Pershing and the US army in Europe in 1917 that swung the war decisively against Germany. But for that, Hitler would have marched proudly down the Champs Elysees as a victor in Paris in 1919. Instead, the defeated and angry and embittered Hitler stopped smoking in 1919. And he stopped smoking in 1919 in protest against America (and the humiliating Versailles treaty): he no longer wanted to be seen to buy and consume such an emblematically American product as tobacco.
Hitler’s antisemitism probably arose from the same source. It wasn’t just that the Rothschilds were Jewish bankers that he hated them, but far more because they were American bankers who had funded the American and British war machines.
Hitler is of importance in the war on smoking because it was German research, some of it personally funded by Hitler, which first established the link between smoking and cancer. For it had always been the whole purpose of that research to find something wrong with tobacco.
Antismoking makes sense as antiAmericanism not only as an explanation for Hitler, but also for the mounting post-WW2 war on tobacco. For as American power grew throughout the second half of the 20th century, the war on tobacco intensified. And with the demise of the Soviet Union circa 1990, and the end of the Cold War, and the emergence of the USA as the sole global hyperpower, the war on tobacco reached its current, hysterical, shrieking climax.
To wish to rid the world of tobacco is to wish to rid the world of America. Tobacco is a proxy for America. And it also remains one of America’s principal exports.
The oddest thing is that a great many Americans now hate tobacco, and so by extension also hate America. Hillary Clinton, who almost won the US presidential election in 2016, is both antismoking and antiAmerican. The current bitter political division in America is between antismoking antiAmericans and pro-smoking pro-Americans (not that many Americans dare speak in favour of tobacco).
It’s not just antismoking that is antiAmerican. There is currently a cultural war being waged against everything else that is typically or classically American: there’s a war being waged on Christianity, on heterosexuality, on the family, on the nation state, on the flag, on patriotism, on the English language, on ‘junk’ fast food (hamburgers and hot dogs), on soda (Coca Cola and Pepsi). It’s a non-stop smear of everything American, and very often it is conducted by Americans. For antiAmericans like Hillary Clinton, most Americans are the “deplorables” – because she deplores America and everything it stands for.
It was a great shame that a couple of days ago Alex Jones and Steve Pieczenik of Infowars joined in the tobacco-bashing. These people count themselves as American patriots (and I think they are), but if they really love America they’d better start loving tobacco as well. Because as long as they join in trampling on tobacco, they may as well join in trampling on the Stars and Stripes.
And maybe it takes non-Americans to tell Americans a few of the home truths about themselves that they can’t see. It was, after all, an Englishman – Tom Paine – who wrote one of the defining texts of the American revolution: Common Sense. And it was a Frenchman – Alexis de Toqueville – who provided some of the most penetrating insights into American culture.
When people abandon and betray their cultural origins and history, it can’t be long before they will lose everything they ever had. And tobacco is an integral part of American history. And American patriots should be proud of that history, and every part of that history – even slavery and civil war (Rome had both of those as well). There’s nothing to be ashamed of. The only shame lies in shame itself.
And I think that true Americans – Americans who love America – are going to realise pretty soon that if they’re going to stand up for America, they’re going to have to include standing up for tobacco as well. And standing up for everything else that made America great, and which can make it great again. Alex Jones is going to have to start smoking again: it’s the most patriotic thing an American can do.
And when Americans finally realise that antismoking is antiAmerican, that’ll be the end of antismoking, and the end of Tobacco Control, not just in America, but everywhere else as well.