Judith Hatton

Talking About Smoking

Re-reading Magna Carta the other day, I was struck again by how much of it involves stopping the ruler getting his hands on his subjects' money. This of course is the reason why it mostly seems to refer to the nobility, because they were the ones who had the money. But it affected the common people too, because the nobility had to raise the money from them. So the document shows the remarkable amount of political sophistication possessed by those medieval barons. They understood to well that the more money our rulers have the more of a nuisance they can make of themselves.Politics became a complicated game of topping rulers dipping too deeply into our pockets, and the rulers thinking up ever more right sounding ways of doing this.

Nowadays they can't use such once useful devices as raising money to go on a crusade (and then not going), marrying their eldest daughter, and such-like. They have to persuade us that the money is being spent on something that is going to do us all a lot of good, like our state education system. Or the National Health Service, that answer to every hypochondriac's and drug company's prayer. We are constantly told that it has had such a dramatic effect on our health, though countries without it seem to do just as well or better in making life more healthy. There have been murmurs that private enterprise has done much more, in real terms, by providing better housing, healthier food, easier means of washing oneself and one's clothes, and other conveniences of modern living, and that in fact all that the health services have done is prolong our lives by something like five years. Since those last five years are usually the most unpleasant time of our lives, this may not be such a great advantage.

Nevertheless, the health card is always a good one to play. The western world in general has never been so healthy, nor so concerned about its health. So you play that card. Interestingly, at the very start of the smoking debate King James the first did it, and so did Cardinal Richelieu, neither of them people you would accuse of troubling themselves much about the welfare of others. But James followed up his infamous attack on tobacco with a swinging tax on it, and later taking over the entire tobacco trade himself, and Cardinal Richelieu, 25 years later, spelt it out for us: he was taxing tobacco, he said, because it was bad for you.

These two pioneers opened the way for future governments. It is always appealing to certain people to attack the pleasures of others, especially if there is money in it, and if you can prove that these pleasures are actually harmful, it is a proof that you are good and nice, as well as richer than you were.

A leading anti-smoker, Stanton Glantz, a qualified mechanical engineer who used to run quitting smoking seminars for profit is now a professor of cardiology at a Californian university -- no one seems to know quite why -- put it neatly in an anti-smoker conference in Australia in 1990, when he said:

'The main thing the science has done on the issue of ETS (so-called passive smoking) in addition to help people like me to pay mortgages, is it has legitimized the concerns that people have that they don't like cigarette smoke. And that is a strong emotional force that need to be harnessed and used. We're on a roll, and the bastards are on the run.'

(I must point out that this is his grammar, not mine).

Of course he was referring to the comparatively new pseudo-scientific notion of the above-mentioned passive smoking, but the general feeling of his statement applies equally well to that of all the prominent anti-smokers in history.

And a distinguished lot they are, including King James, surely one of the most unattractive figures ever to rule a country, and Cardinal Richelieu, one of the most unpleasant (the kindest remark I've seen about him is in my German encyclopedia, which refers to his 'daemonische Ueberlegenheit', his demoniacal superiority). Then there was Sultan Murad IV, who at his death at the age of 28 had killed something like 100,000 of his own people in various horrible ways, many for the crime of smoking, and Adolf Hitler.

To do the last two justice, they don't seem to have done it for the money, just for fun. And Hitler, like James, had another motive; as James put it, in his way:

'...is it not the greatest sin of all, that you the people of all sorts of this kingdom, who are created and ordained by God to bestow both your person and your goods for the maintenence both of the honour and safety of your King and Commonwealth should disable yourselves in both?'

I'm sure that Hitler did not put it so picturesquely, but the sentiment was precisely his: good Germans existed for the good of the state, and it was up to them to preserve their health for that. We have seen something like this in recent pronouncements of our own beloved government: smokers are a nuisance to the state because they get diseases, which then cost the government money. Non-smoker do not, it seems.

At this point something should be said about statistics, but I won't say much. What I knew about statistics before I started work on this subject was what most of us know: that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics, whoever it was who said it first. After seven years hard work involving many statistics that's all I know now.

I'll give you just two examples:

In Denmark, storks are more likely to be nesting on the roofs of houses in which large families live. A statistician working for the stork lobby would have it made, you'd think. He needn't mention that large families are likely to be living in larger houses, with more roof space and more chimneys for the storks to nest by.

And a well-known British statistician, faced with the undoubted fact that the lung cancer rate in Japan is low in spite of the fact that Japanese are the second heaviest smoking nation in the world, declared that it was because the Japanese hadn't started smoking until 1948. The Japanese record their social history very carefully, and tobacco was introduced there in 1542. They took to cigarettes very readily when they were introduced from the west, and in 1906, the first year in which official figures were published, 47 million Japanese smoked 34 billion cigarettes. Since almost no women smoked, and there was a high birth-rate, so that many of the 47 million must have been too young to smoke, this points to a high smoking rate among the men. In 1920, indeed it was estimated that the are among the men was similar to that in the US. So much for 1948.

I could go on and on. There are innumerable examples of figures that don't fit, that have been maneuvered into fitting, that have simply been lied about. As the old statistical saying has it, if you torture the data long enough, they'll confess.

Take it from me that the more statistics are thrown at you, the more likely you are to hear a lot of nonsense. Someone said that in the world a smoker dies every 13 seconds. Poor man. But if you dig out the rest of the figures, you'll find that in every 1.7 seconds someone dies. Given that at least a quarter of the world population is probably smoking something, the odds are rather in our favour.

In this country we were told that 300 smokers die a day. Again digging out some figures, you'll find that more than 1,700 people die a day. Given that about a third of the population are smokers, you have to conclude that a substantial number of smokers aren't dying at all.

So why, apart from the constant need of governments to think of reasons for parting us from our money, has this anti-smoker movement taken off in the way it has?

Of course, as Professor Glantz so innocently put it, it does pay for a lot of people's mortgages. And in his case rather more than that, since he has had several million of dollars in grants to continue his work, besides his salary from the university. Scientists need money to live just as much as other people do, and they need grants to continue their work. Since most of these grants come from the government, there is obviously difficulty in producing results that don't fit in with current government policy. There has been plenty of discussion about this among scientists who can afford to be independent for one reason or another, or who are just naturally given to telling the truth. Thank heaven for them.

And there is the second reason given by Professor Glantz: the people who don't like cigarette smoke. Now I'm sure I speak for all when I say that there are a lot of things that we don't like. I don't like people who play loud music near me, who don't use deodorants, who do use powerful toilet waters, after-shave and hair lotions not of the highest quality, who drink a lot of beer or cheap wine, don't wash themselves or their clothes much, and eat garlic, sometimes all at once.

You can't say: 'Please put out your garlic' or 'kindly take your armpits into the garden'. We have to suffer in silence; let the others endure our smoke, which does at least mask some of the other horrors.

But there are always people who are looking for things to complain about. Their back pains, their children, their problems with their sex lives, aren't enough. For these, the wholly artificial and unjustified campaign about 'passive smoking' has been a godsend. You might like to know that the matter kicked off in Germany, where Hitler once had no difficulty in finding scientists to confirm his views on this, as on race. 'Passiver Zigarettenrauchbeatmung' is the term you might like to use.
My favourite victim of this was a lady on the Internet who stated that if she entered a room in which a cigarette was being smoked, she dropped dead in one minute. I wonder how exactly she timed it?

But there are worse people than these. Again Professor Glantz gives us a clue. 'We're on a roll...' what a cry of triumph. It is not as easy as it was to find someone to exercise power on. We have no serfs any more and women are more likely to be doing the bullying (some say they always were). The anti-smokers boast that they have turned smokers into social outcasts, pariahs, objects of hate. Only a few days ago, I and another peaceful smoker were accused of having a 'filthy habit' -- a very common term of abuse, and filthy was a favourite word of King James. Appropriate since he was famed for never washing. I looked at our two abusers, and one had a purple nose and a general air of being pickled in something nasty, and the other certainly weighed as much as us two smokers put together. But did we say what about your filthy habits? No, we lit up again and smiled.

It may be this general courteous and placid reaction of the smokers to this sort of offensiveness that leads the antis towards the ugliest manifestation of all: the appalling hatred that can be righteously displayed. 'Daemonische Ueberlegenheit' indeed.

In the tea-room attached to a much visited and very beautiful abbey church in Oxfordshire there was once displayed, and for all I know it still is, a notice saying:

'Smokers most unwelcome and evicted immediately'.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'evict' as 'expel (person); recover by legal means.' Is there a muscular curate on call in the back room who will charge out, wielding the bishop's crook borrowed for the purpose? Or have the good ladies, none in the first flush of youth, been learning karate? Is there a learned attorney as well as the curate in the back? It's easy to make fun of, but there is an uncomfortable feeling behind it: real hatred. It is meant to hurt, and no doubt has done so.

There are people who define themselves by their hatreds. 'I hate, therefore I am'. Hating may well be something these people can do better than thinking. They need a hate object.

The trouble nowadays in the west at least it isn't easy to find objects of hatred. We have to be so nice about everyone. Political correctness is very nice. Jolly little stories about an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman are forbidden (I have small illicit collection, and I am always grateful for additions to the anon). The only races you can safely even mention are white, Christian, educated American or English men, even then you have to be careful of lumping women in with them, or you'll get the feminists after you.

You must not be anything less than wildly enthusiastic about anyone's sexual preferences, even though the sort of free and frank discussion this involves may sometimes make you feel slightly sick.

You must be non-judgmental about crimes, which sometimes seems to come close to being enthusiastic about those too.

So we all short of objects to hate. We need our bastards, to, as Professor Glantz says, put them on the run.

Unfortunately this is getting beyond a joke for some people: the smokers refused medical treatment (one at least has died as a result), and those facing a heart operation who have been told by their surgeons that they won't get it unless they give up smoking. And this in face of evidence clearly showing that smokers do better than non-smokers in some heart conditions.

But even this cruelty fades beside that of the doctors who continued to blame mothers who smoked for the cot deaths of their babies, even after it had been proved that most of these had been caused by standard medical advice to put them to sleep on their stomachs.

And there are many other ways in which the people who like making others miserable can engage in their unpleasant hobby. The fact that these always involve some curtailment of the personal liberty of others seems to add spice to it.

And there is another basic instinct in some people that also comes into it: the resentment of other people's pleasure. I'm always amused, incidentally by those new puritans who insist that the little group of smokers now a feature of the doorways of so many office buildings are 'miserable'. They always seem to be in fits of laughter and look as if they are enjoying themselves like anything.

This was memorably described in the World Health Organization conference on smoking into which I managed to smuggle myself under my maiden name and with a politically correct expression on my face -- and that was miserable.

A speaker who said he didn't mind being called a health fascist and he was a health fascist and was looking for the Holy Grail, which seemed to show some ignorance about fascist aims, said that it was awful that people saw smokers as -- shock, horror -- enjoying themselves.

Could there be a better reason in the minds of some people to abuse others, to tax them to the point of actual suffering, to curtail their liberty?

_______________________

Published in The Individual, Magazine of the Society for Individual Freedom February 1999


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