About 6½ minutes into her interview of Dmitry Kosyrev, Emily W asked him if he thought that scaremongering about tobacco was a Western idea. And Dmitry agreed that this “ugly example” was “a Western disease.”
He’s quite right, of course. Antismoking is a Western disease. It’s a Western epidemic disease. In fact it’s now a pandemic. And it’s a pandemic disease that is spread by doctors.
Over my lifetime I’ve witnessed this disease gradually taking hold of society, little by little. As I have remarked many times, the first antismoker I ever encountered was Dr W, in whose household I lived for several months in 1965. But within a year I had come across a case of a fellow university student who was a vocal antismoker. And of course around that time the medical profession, and most notably the US Surgeon General, were incessantly warning about smoking and lung cancer. There was a steady drumbeat of warnings. And smokers that I knew were cutting down or giving up smoking, one by one. My own brother was one of these.
Back in the 1960s, when I started smoking, smokers were already in gradual slow retreat before the medical onslaught against smoking. It was quite common for smokers to tell their friends that they were “cutting down”, or for them to politely refuse a cigarette by saying “Thank you, but I’m trying hard to cut back on smoking.” Everyone was terrified of getting lung cancer. Who wouldn’t be? And it was a frequent occurrence to hear people proudly announce that they’d finally “kicked the habit” (although very often you’d find them back smoking a few weeks later). And also, back in the 1960s and 70s and 80s, nobody was in the least bit bothered by other people’s smoke. This new phase of the disease (akin to the appearance of buboes in the armpits) came later.
The disease of antismoking spread slowly through British society. It didn’t come in a rush, overnight, like pot smoking. It spread very gradually. And the usual symptoms were firstly an expressed wish to stop smoking, followed by several (usually failed) attempts to “cut down” or “quit”. Eventually the attempts to quit would be successful, and smokers would become ex-smokers. But they were usually tolerant ex-smokers who did not object to anyone else smoking. It was only later, when the disease of antismoking had taken a deeper hold that people started worrying about other people’s smoke, and banning smoking everywhere.
The disease of antismoking is driven by fear. It’s a fear that was inculcated into the population by a slow, steady drip of antismoking propaganda. Even though they were perfectly healthy, smokers started worrying about their health.
And the anxieties would gnaw away at them slowly, like cancer. The disease of antismoking is a slowly growing fear, firstly of lung cancer, and then of cancer in general, and finally of all disease. And this mounting terror is itself a kind of cancer, a kind of disease. Antismokers are people who have become paralysed with fear. And this terror gradually extends to smokers on the other side of a pub or restaurant, and then to smokers who live in the same apartment block or street. It is also a form of demonic possession.
If this slowly-mounting anxiety, this gradually-growing terror, did not afflict me, it was because Dr W inadvertently inoculated me against it. For when Dr W stood shouting at the top of his voice in the hallway of his house against the “filthy, filthy, filthy” habit of smoking, he taught me that his intense dislike of tobacco did not grow out of sober and rational medical considerations, but originated in moral and aesthetic judgments. After all, if he’d been worried about health, he would have called it a “poisonous, dangerous, destructive” habit. And he would have gently explained the dangers to the son he was shouting at. A “filthy” habit is a “dirty” habit, like reading “dirty” books or looking at “dirty” pictures. And, recognising that this very senior doctor’s (he appeared on TV to speak for the BMA) objections to smoking were moral rather than medical, at the age of 17 I realised that the doctor-driven campaign against smoking was a moral crusade rather than a medical crusade. It was exactly the same sort of moral crusade as those conducted against alcohol or drugs or pornography or prostitution. And that was when my fear of tobacco left me. But for Dr W, I would probably now be as frightened of tobacco as anyone else. And I should count him a benefactor.
The disease of antismoking is a disabling disease. It stops people being able to smoke. It stops people from being able to enjoy life. For, quite aside from his intense hatred of smoking, Dr W was also unable to laugh or smile. He was a profoundly afflicted man. His was a terminal condition of the antismoking disease
Antismoking ought to be recognised as a real disease, and as a transmissible disease. It’s various symptoms ought to be described. And treatments or therapies ought to be devised. What begins as a slight anxiety gradually develops, over many years, into a full-blown phobia in which tobacco smoke is imagined to be more and more dangerous, and capable of going through walls and along telephone cables. It’s a form of madness.
However, because the disease of antismoking seems to principally affect doctors, and has become endemic in the medical profession, it must be for people outside the medical profession to recognise it as a disease, and campaign for its eradication.