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Slow Burn Review

Tobacco Frenzy

Enoch Ludlow

Slow Burn: The Great American Antismoking Scam
(And Why It Will Fail)
by Don Oakley (Eyrie Press, 600 pp., $15.95)

At one point while reading Slow Burn, an image of a towering ant hill sprang to mind. Swarms of frenetic insects appeared, inexorably pursuing incomprehensible tasks, seemingly darting to and fro at random, bent on movement without thought, activity without purpose, completely bewildering the eye of the human beholder.

I had to lay the book down and rub my eyes to expel the chaotic vision from my mind. The book's author, Don Oakley, had been reciting a list of anti-smoking studies that accused tobacco smoking of an endless list of human ailments from balding heads to halitosis. On and on the list went and with it went all aspects of reality. It really was too much but after a minute or two and several drags from my cigarette, I eagerly resumed my reading.

Since becoming aware of the anti-smoking movement five years ago, I have resisted reading books that analyze and critique the phenomenon. Books exposing the greed and lies of the non-profit health charities or pointing out the dictatorial nature of today's public health establishment, have so disturbed my equilibrium that each new book fills me with dread since to read it will surely enrage. I'm happy to report that Slow Burn proved to be an exception to that rule and, happily, after completing it last weekend, I find myself optimistic that anti-smoking shall pass as have other social pathologies.

Don Oakley, a former newspaper editorial writer, has written a book that is encyclopedic in scope and is also thoroughly entertaining and accessible to readers ranging from those who know the anti-smoking movement well to those who only now are recognizing the dangers presented by a campaign of deception and fraud. Throughout, he casts a journalistic eye upon the statistical manipulation from which anti-tobacco arose and reduces the scientific mumbo jumbo to language any layman can comprehend without the eye-glazing denseness that so often accompanies technical subjects.

Oakley begins his book on a historical note by examining the the U.S. Surgeon General's 1964 Smoking and Health, the sacred scroll of the anti-smoking movement. To his surprise, he discovered how difficult it is to obtain what should be, considering its explosive impact on society, a report enshrined on tablets of gold. It's lack of availability, Oakley makes clear, is understandable since a careful reading of Smoking and Health reveals that the report was much ado about almost nothing. It's legacy, however, is profound in that it established the pattern of subsequent anti-smoking reports and studies that begin with anti-tobacco conclusions then contort the research to conform to the desired outcome.

Each chapter progresses from that genesis to subsequent false orthodoxies such as the 400,000 deaths-per-year fraud, the convoluted redefining of addiction, the illogical notion of tobacco advertising as the cause of underage smoking and, of course, the colossal scientific scandal of the secondhand smoke studies. He examines the social and financial costs to our liberal society when social engineering replaces individualism and personal responsibility with an ideology of conformity and control. Interspersed throughout the horror of special interest deceit run amok, are Oakley's humorous and commonsensical observations of how reality tends to intrude on the unreality the anti-smokers have worked so hard to maintain. How, after all, does the tobacco settlement help the Washington State's Attorney General's "82-year-old mother who has been smoking since age 13"?

From the hilarious logic-chopping tobacco studies, to cyber-sex smoking sites where forbidden fruit is tastiest, Oakley encapsulates 30 years of tobacco obsession into a highly enjoyable and personal voyage covering the golden era of smoking, when life was lived to the fullest, to the comical hypochondria that today reduces adults to quaking infants. On the way we laugh with him and come to share the optimism that anti-tobacco shall also pass. For five centuries Kings and Popes have futilely sought to dissuade their subjects from indulging in an innocuous pleasure that has enriched countless lives. What those potentates could not accomplish through capital punishment and excommunication, cannot not be accomplished by bogus statistics, nagging or dreary calls to self-denial.

That the anti-smoking movement will end, Don Oakley is assured and his contention is backed by a historical perspective that places the current zanyism where it belongs; on its way to the trash heap.

". . . it too will become one of those episodes in history people wonder about and say, 'How did they let such foolishness go so far?'"

That the foolishness has gone to far is a given, that books like Oakley's will hasten its end is assured.

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