They all seem to be such nasty people in Tobacco Control.
Everything they do is nasty. Smoking bans are nasty things: exiling people to the outdoors is a very nasty thing to do to anybody. And the No Smoking signs that come with smoking bans are nasty, bossy, bullying things. Banning smoking outdoors is an even nastier thing to do: it’s nastiness piled on top of nastiness. So-called “plain packaging” is nasty: it boils down to writing insults all over the products smokers buy.
Is there anything these people do that is ever nice? Does Deborah Arnott look after lost puppies? Does Stanton Glantz play Santa Claus at Christmas? I can’t think of a single nice thing that any of them have ever done.
In fact, I can’t even imagine them being nice to each other. I can only suppose that at their numerous conferences they’re always slyly and cleverly insulting each other almost as much as they’re insulting and demeaning smokers.
What causes such nastiness? One explanation is that they’re all so absolutely certain about what they believe. They never seem to have any doubt. They know that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, and they know it with complete and perfect certainty. And because they’re so certain, they can’t even begin to entertain the idea that they might be wrong, and that other people might be right, or even that other people might have a point of view that’s worth listening to. No. They’re right, and everyone else is wrong. And everyone else needs to be educated by them, in a one-way megaphone flow of knowledge.
“Smoking Kills”, it says on my tobacco packet. It’s a statement of complete and perfect certainty. They could have written “Smoking Might Kill”, which would allow that smoking sometimes might not kill you. But no, they can’t have that, and so they come up with the the absolute cast iron certainty of “Smoking Kills”, No question about it. Not a shadow of a doubt.
I’m never that certain about anything. Everything I think is hypothetical. In fact it seems to me that all thought is necessarily hypothetical. What if this? What if that? I’m never quite sure of anything. And I think that for as long as I go on thinking about anything, I’ll never be certain about anything.
Over the past couple of days I’ve been setting out some of the ideas I’ve been having about ice ages: That hill forts were islands that emerged from slowly melting ice sheets. That megalithic structures like standing stones and barrows and dolmens held up overlying ice sheets. Both those ideas are hypotheses. It could be that the ice sheets were just heaps of slush that no stone could ever hold up. In fact it’s likely that slush is exactly what the ice sheets ended up as. And so neither of these two hypotheses has any sort of certainty attached to them. They’re could-be, maybe sorts of ideas. They’re dunno, not-sure sorts of ideas.
A year or so back, while I was buying some tobacco in a shop somewhere, I remarked to the shop assistant that all the warnings on cigarette packs were a bit over the top. And she replied saying that the warnings were perfectly right, and smoking did kill. And as she said it she gazed at me with steady, big, blue, perfectly certain eyes. She had no doubt about it whatsoever. None. And I wondered how she could be so perfectly certain. Had she been initiated into some secret knowledge that had been kept from poor, sad, sorry, uncertain people like me? Is certainty communicated with an assured level gaze? When people are unsure, their eyes shift around. When they’re sure, their eyes remain fixed. For certainty is fixity. Perhaps this is how fixed certainty is transmitted from one person to another: what is being said to them is said with such certainty and conviction that the certainty and conviction is transmitted from the speaker to the listener, and the listener becomes convinced as well. The listener becomes spellbound. And somebody had told that shop assistant one day that smoking killed, and had said it with such complete conviction that she had believed them, and had believed it ever since.
The odd thing about these antismokers with their perfect certainties is that the reasoning on which their beliefs have been erected is of a probabilistic, statistical character. And in probability theory there is no such thing as perfect certainty. There is only extreme improbability. Or, as one famous scientist once said, it’s possible that a kettle could boil of its own accord, without a gas flame being lit under it, but it’s very highly improbable. But perhaps some of these statistical thinkers start to think that, when something becomes very likely, it becomes absolutely certain. On one of my growing collection of tobacco health warnings, it’s written: Smoking causes 9 out of 10 lung cancers. And I suspect that whoever put that on the packet thought that it was as good as saying that smoking causes all lung cancers. And that’s where they get their certainty from: rounding up 9 to 10.
But once they’ve achieved perfect certainty, they can then be as nasty as they like. They know they’re right. They know that “the debate is over” (another expression of certitude). And that’s why they see their job as one of communicating their certainty to poor, dumb smokers. And that’s why they have such boundless contempt for them. As they see it, smokers need to be told, and told over and over again, until they finally get the message. And if it’s necessary to drive them outdoors to help ram home the message, then that’s just what needs to be done. The last thing they’ll ever do is listen to any smoker, because listening supposes that someone may have something to say that is worth hearing, and the convinced antismoker already knows everything he needs to know.
Perhaps this seeming strength of antismokers – their certainty – is their greatest weakness. Perhaps their perfect certainty is eggshell thin.