From time to time I try to understand the antismokers, but I never succeed. I suppose that antismokers must try to understand smokers, but they never succeed either. They can never understand why anyone should want to put a cigarette or a cigar or a pipe in their mouths, and set them alight. Isn’t that such a crazy thing to do? Nobody could possibly want to do that. So they hunt around for other explanations. Smokers can’t want to smoke, so they must have become enslaved by tobacco, addicted to tobacco. Deborah Arnott:
…being a smoker is not a matter of free choice; they’re gripped by an addiction fuelled by the tobacco industry and they need support to give up.
By this sort of reasoning, being an opera buff is not a matter of free choice; they’re gripped by an addiction fuelled by the music industry and they need support to give up going to opera houses and sitting for hours listening to stuff like Carmen or Tosca or La Traviata, when they could instead be doing something useful like repairing their cars or mowing their lawns.
This idea of addiction is simply the way that antismokers explain smoking to themselves. It’s the only explanation they’ve got for why some people do something that they don’t like doing. Needless to say, it’s an explanation that makes no sense to smokers, who know perfectly well that they make free choices about smoking just like they make free choices about eating or drinking or listening to opera music.
One obvious difference between smokers and antismokers is that while smokers love tobacco, antismokers hate it.
Are love and hate symmetrical? Can they exchange places without anything happening?
Another way of putting it is that smoke-lovers are attracted by smoke, and smoke-haters are repelled by it. And that means that smokers are drawn together by their shared love of smoking, in exactly the same way that people are drawn together by a shared love of cars or flowers or cats or anything else. Expelled from their pubs, smokers now gather together outside.
Does the same thing happen with smoke-haters? Does their shared hatred of smoke serve to unite them in the same way? Or if there are flower shows for flower-lovers, are there anti-flower shows for flower-haters? Or do flower-haters just gather together in “flower-free” places? Does anyone actually hate flowers? I suppose some people must. But “flower-free”, like “smoke-free”, is a condition of being empty of something, not full of something. Does anyone ever say that they went for a lovely walk, and describe all the things that were absent along the way (“flower-free” and “butterfly-free” and “tree-free”)? No, they describe what they saw, not what they did not see.
It seems generally to be the case that there are more people united by a shared love of things than there are people united by a shared hatred of things. There are a lot more music-lovers than there are music-haters. There are a lot more book-lovers than there are book-haters. The sight of books being burned is not something that frequently happens. It hardly ever happens at all.
Love – love of flowers, music, books, country – unites people. And hate divides them.
So it’s unlikely that Tobacco Control is held together by hatred, because hatred isn’t a unifying force.
I once had a friend who worked in Tobacco Control – but she didn’t hate tobacco or smoking. If she had hated it, she would have hated being in my company, and we would never have become friends. So why did she work in Tobacco Control if she didn’t hate tobacco? For the same reason that anyone does any job: she got paid.
It’s the same reason why soldiers fight in armies: they get paid to do so. Most soldiers don’t hate their enemies: they only fight them because it’s their job to fight them, and they do what they’re paid to do. Left to themselves, they soon make friends with enemies that they never really hated in the first place.
And someone like Deborah Arnott probably doesn’t hate smoking any more than my erstwhile friend hated smoking. She does the job of running ASH because she’s paid to, and paid very handsomely indeed (£160,000/year?). She’s doing her job just like soldiers and firemen and plumbers do their jobs. They do what they’re paid to do. And if they weren’t being paid, they wouldn’t do it.
The war on smoking will end when people like Deborah Arnott (and my old friend) stop being paid to fight as soldiers in that war.
When will the war end? It will probably end the way that most wars end: when one side or other realises that they can’t win. Or that the benefits of winning are outweighed by the costs.
The war on smoking in some ways resembles the Vietnam war, in which a well-paid, well-equipped, professional US army fought against an ill-paid, under-equipped, volunteer Viet Cong army – and lost. It’s an asymmetrical war. Tobacco Control is a small, well-paid, well-organised, professional army. And smokers are a vast throng of unpaid, disorganised volunteers. At some point, the decision will be made by Tobacco Control to stop fighting what has become an unwinnable war, or a war in which the benefits are being more than offset by the costs. The money that was being spent fighting smoking will instead be switched to fighting something else: soda, alcohol, global warming.