The Dialectics of Smoking

I’ve always supposed that the prevalence of smoking increased in 1914 in response to the outbreak of war, and the increased anxiety that must always be attendant in wartime. Soldiers must necessarily experience considerable anxiety, but so also to a lesser extent the civilian population must experience this too.

And I’ve also rather supposed that the rise in antismoking was a response to the rise in smoking. Because the rise in the prevalence of smoking created its own new set of problems, as smokers appeared everywhere. And indeed almost as soon as soldiers started smoking new-fangled cigarettes in 1914 there were numerous warnings about their dangers.

After the end of WW1 and WW2, and the accompanying peak smoking prevalence, it was natural that smoking prevalence would decline during the long peace that followed, in the western world at least. And it seems that as smoking declined, and fewer and fewer people smoked, antismoking prevalence gradually increased, and antismoking measures became more and more intensive.

I think now we’re at the point where it’s no longer smoking that is having the greatest social impact (given that smokers have been largely expelled from public life), but instead antismoking, and the increasingly draconian smoking bans, and loud health warnings, that have attended its rise.

Once it was smoking that was the pressing problem. But now it’s antismoking that has become the bigger problem. For the smokers who once made up the oppressive majority have now themselves become an oppressed minority. And since smokers and antismokers can’t co-exist in the same environment, deep divisions have appeared in society, that never existed before. People who were once good friends fall out with each other, because one smokes, and the other does not. And these social divisions in turn have other effects that ripple outwards, as people stop voting for one political party, or stop attending some club, or stop reading some newspaper.

Antismoking is now causing far more social damage than smoking ever did. And so the war on smoking will be replaced by a war on antismoking. And this war on antismoking will in turn have consequences which will only become obvious later on.

Each cause has some subsequent effect. And this effect itself becomes a new cause. And the new cause has new effects. And so on, in a sort of Hegelian dialectical process, whereby the solution to one problem simply breeds a new set of problems, and the solution to the new problems creates yet another set of problems, and so on ad infinitum.

Antismoking measures create new sets of social problems. Initially, all the supposed benefits of the antismoking measures are loudly promoted, and the costs of these measure downplayed. But as the benefits decrease, the costs mount, it gradually becomes impossible to ignore the downside.

For example, one consequence of the war on smoking, which has largely been driven by the medical profession, is that smokers lose confidence and trust in the medical profession, and become disinclined to visit doctors. And because this will result in some diseases remaining undiagnosed, and doctors advice ignored, some doctors will become concerned about such a new development, and look for ways to encourage renewed trust among smokers. These doctors will be in a minority at first, much like antismoking doctors were in a minority 70 years ago. They will point out the multiple forms of damage that smoking bans cause. They will question whether Health – physical health – is the only thing that matters, and start to highlight the importance of community, of trust, of honesty, etc, etc. Over time their numbers will grow, and their voices become louder, until eventually they will become a majority like the antismoking doctors became a majority 40 years earlier.


About Frank Davis

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6 Responses to The Dialectics of Smoking

  1. garyk30 says:

    Life Expectancy in the USA has been dropping as the number of smoking bans have been increasing.
    A spike in suicides and drug overdoses and it’s easy to see why life expectancy has dropped now for three consecutive years. Efforts to reverse the disturbing trend in deaths of despair are critically important. But that alone will not allow us to reclaim progress in life expectancy.

    Fewer places to socialize does lead to ‘lives of despair’.

  2. smokingscot says:


    Seems the socialist elite in Spain have a serious problem on their hands. A come from nothing upstart party now controls 12 seats, or a tsd over 10% and may become kingmaker in their net parliament.

    There’s a certain satisfaction watching these populists wrong foot the entrenched establishment!

    • jaxthefirst says:

      “ … support came from those disgruntled and neglected in Andalusia who wanted to hear a party speak about “issues that they felt and no other party represented.”

      Hmm. That all sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? You do wonder whether all those mainstream parties in Europe, sticking as they do rigidly and determinedly – blindly, even – to their existing “party scripts” have ever stopped for a minute and taken a look at any other countries in the EU (hint: UKIP in the UK) and thought “Oh dear. Better not make the same mistakes as their mainstream parties made …..”

      Apparently not. Good!

  3. waltc says:

    The all-out war on smoking /smokers began at a time when the US smoking rate was 42% (already down from its peak). If a near plurality of the population, with its then economic and social clout, couldn’t stop or turn around the onslaught, what can the (alleged) mere 17% do now? Especially since the quitters need to justify their quitting and prove their superiority by aligning against the smokers, and the never-smokers– an increasing number as the Smoking Kills generations –grow up and help set the cultural standards. Unfortunately, the weight of numbers is against us. Even when it comes to our money or our votes, we are easily sacrificed to majority preference.

  4. Lepercolonist says:

    The last time I went to the emergency room was on the advice of my dentist. I had a growing lump under my chin from an abscessed tooth. My dentist told me to get a antibiotic drip at the ER. The
    doctor ordered a CAT scan to see what was causing the lump. I told him it was an abscessed tooth which he doubted. I had seen the dental x-rays showing the abscess and told him my dentist’s recommendation. Nope. Can’t tell the almighty doctor anything.
    After viewing the CAT scan the radiologist and the doctor on call said that the lump could be one of 12 different problems.
    I insisted on the antibiotic drip and was released 4 hours later. My dentist was in disbelief that they needed a CAT scan. My insurance company refused to pay the $1,400 USD for the cat scan.
    They said it was dental and not an emergency. The doctor notes stated it may be tobacco related ?
    It took me 6 months of appeals with the cooperation of my dentist to make them pay for the scan.

    Another reason why you should never tell a doctor that you smoke. Fuck ’em.

  5. margo says:

    Personally, Frank, I date the rise in anti-smoking as more-or-less coinciding with the rise in sealed buildings from double glazing, central heating, the loss of coal fires, etc. Once you seal a building, smoking in a closed room becomes less tolerable for some people. Anti-smoking has always existed – even in the war.
    Another thing – my mother, who was a young woman with two small children living in London when the second world war started, told me many stories about her life then. The ‘blitz spirit’, she said, was largely a “myth” invented by newspapers and politicians. In fact, civilians suffered huge anxiety, as much as the soldiers but of a different kind. Many things were often unobtainable or hard to find, including (sometimes) cigarettes. The men were mostly away, enduring their own hell, and housing got scarce.
    The blitz was appalling – my mother was forever afterwards unable to bear loud noises or fireworks. We were in London all through the war, were bombed out once and moved from one awful flat to another, for various reasons, nine times.

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