I’ve been thinking this morning that the UK smoking ban of 1 July 2007 was the culmination of a very long slow process, and not any sort of new and surprising revolution. For the war on smoking has been going on for a very long time. It has in fact been going on for my entire life.
For I was recollecting that, when they began living in Brazil in about 1957, when I was only 8 or 9 years old, my parents regularly bought copies of Reader’s Digest and Time magazine and the Brazil Herald. The last was an English language weekly newspaper, but the first two were US publications. And I used to occasionally read them, when I wasn’t reading Superman and Batman comics and Mad magazine (also US publications).
And Reader’s Digest would regularly carry articles about the dangers of smoking, usually written by doctors. They were mostly rather matter-of-fact, and hardly scare-mongering but they always strongly advised smokers to at least “cut down” on their smoking, if maybe not yet completely quit. By the time that I left Brazil for the last time in 1965, these articles were appearing in nearly every issue, and becoming steadily more insistent. I asked my father, who smoked a brand called Continental, about the warnings that were appearing in newspapers and magazines with increasing frequency, and he became rather defensive about it, saying that he was “trying to cut down”.
Back then in Brazil in 1957, we had no TV, although I think we had a radio, so almost all news was reaching us through the printed press (this was true of Britain as well). TV only arrived a few years before 1965, and I used to watch Brazilian football matches, which mostly consisted of the players standing around on the pitch idly kicking the ball between themselves (unlike English football, which entailed non-stop running for 90 minutes).
In retrospect, I can see that smokers were already in headlong retreat by about 1960, and were in retreat before an army of doctors who were penning weekly or monthly articles in newspapers and magazines advising smokers to cut down if not quit smoking. And I don’t remember reading any counter-articles in favour of smoking written by smokers or tobacco company executives. It was all relentlessly one-sided. Nobody seemed to have an answer to the army of doctors.
Is it very surprising if, after 50 years of this slow, insistent, one-sided, and increasingly shrill media campaign, the UK ( and many other countries) introduced a public smoking ban in 2007? The first UK smoking ban that I can remember was on public transport, circa 1970, and even then there were smoking carriages on trains, although these dwindled in number, and finally completely vanished. And in 1990, when I flew to Egypt, it was still possible to smoke on the plane, and inside the hotels in Egypt.
The truth of the matter is that smokers were already a defeated rabble by 1960, slowly retreating before the advancing army of doctors. In retrospect it’s surprising that antismokers weren’t more numerous back then (there were none), and that the bans didn’t come quicker.
And it would seem that this comprehensive defeat was inflicted on smokers in 1950, with the almost simultaneous publication of the UK Doll and Hill London Hospitals Study and by the parallel but smaller US Wynder and Graham smoking study, and another smaller US study as well. It was triple whammy, and was widely debated in UK (and no doubt US) newspapers in the early 1950s. And it was around this time that the belief that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer became, almost overnight, an unquestionable fact of life.
Back then there actually was a spirited public debate. And it seems to have been one that pitched the medical profession against various others. On one side there were the massed ranks of the medical profession, and on the other side there were a few sceptical scientists and statisticians, most notable Sir Ronald Fisher, who was the most eminent statistician of the day.
The medical profession won the debate that took place in the early 1950s. But how did they manage to do it? How did Doll and Hill, neither of whom were statisticians, manage to defeat the likes of Sir Ronald Fisher (who retreated to Australia and died there a decade later)? The whole episode looks very like the global warming scare that took place 50 years later, and saw climate scientists battling other scientists – usually retired physicists like Richard Lindzen -, and winning the public debate once again, so that now everybody knows that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming just as surely as they learned that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer half a century beforehand.
One possible answer is that the medical profession was not converted to the belief that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer in 1950 by the 3 papers that appeared that year. They had actually been converted 20 or 30 years earlier, by the work of Nazi era German scientists like Fritz Lickint and Franz Mueller. For medical science, like all science, is global in character, and developments in medical science are rapidly disseminated around the world. So of course British and American medical researchers would have been aware of the Nazi era research. But in the post-war era, the Nazi origins of much of this research was something of an embarrassment, and so the Nazi research had to be duplicated by Doll and Hill, and Wynder and Graham and others, before it could be published. It needed to be laundered to conceal its origins, because if Britons and Americans had been presented with raw Nazi research, they might not have so readily accepted it.
And also the Nazi research did not employ any statistics. And so there was no need to counter the sophisticated statistical arguments of the likes of Sir Ronald Fisher.
Robert Proctor, in the Nazi War on Cancer, compared Nazi tobacco science to Nazi rocket science. But Nazi rocket science was not part of Nazi ideology. Rocket scientists like Wernher von Braun were not avid Nazis, and did much of their work despite the Nazis than because of them. In fact Nazi tobacco science was as ideological in character as Nazi racial science: tobacco was as great a danger to public health as Jews and Gypsies. And also Nazi tobacco science received personal funding from Hitler for the Institute for Tobacco Hazards in Jena.
Nazi racial science has vanished completely (I can’t find any online), and the Nazi era in Germany ended 75 years ago, but Nazi tobacco science has flourished and prospered over the past 75 years, and is perhaps the sole remaining remnant of Nazi ideology in the world. Tobacco Control is essentially a Nazi construct, minus only the swastikas. And it must be destroyed just like the Nazi state and Nazi racial science.