Canadians have been polled about whether or not they would support a ban of smoking in movies and 52 per cent said they would not. What’s far more interesting than the poll results is what isn’t said in the story; what apparently never crosses the Globe and Mail reporter’s mind to ask.

Who, for example, paid for the Angus-Reid poll? Since this sort of research is routinely used not just to “sample” public opnion but to craft it – and thus to craft policy direction – it would be very much in the public interest for us to know just WHO thought that Canadians should be asked about movie smoking bans, right on the heels of the creation of new ratings rules for movie smoking in the U.S. Could it be, by any chance, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada? Their spokesperson Cynthia Callard seems to be calling for more discussion about the issue. Voila! A poll and and anti-smoker commenting on it in print – the issue has been created even if it didn’t exist before.

It is striking that poll respondents were asked about a smoking BAN in movies. Not about any more moderate measure, such as changes to ratings, but an outright ban. Why talk about moderation when you can cut to the chase and fashion the debate towards your preferred extreme position?

The news report goes on to drone on about the anti-smoking “research” conducted in the U.S. by special-interest anti-smoking groups which purports to demonstrate the proportion of kids who start smoking because they see it in films.

We want to go on record as being very strongly anti-censorship. At the same time, we can’t help but be appalled at how often and unrelentingly movies strive for primitive brain-stem function appeal in terms of violence, cruelty, and torture. Indeed, torture has become almost fashionable in films ever since 9/11, a trend that induces nausea in many of us (It can’t prove with a poll, but here we’ll substitute pure hope for any kind of evidence). Still, freedom of artistic expression is a fundamental freedom that has to be protected, sometimes even when it makes your skin crawl.

In any case, zealots have a long history of claiming that they can back up their crusades to ban and repress with science. That’s how gays were suppressed not long ago, as their orientation was determined by psychiatric pseudo-science to be an “illness” – and they were also made criminals, just for good measure.

No one can prove a link between pornography and sexual violence, although people who want to criminalize porn claim that one exists. Those on the so-called pro-sex side of the argument claim that porn is merely harmless recreational fantasy. No doubt there are cases where porn has been a pernicious influence, but its prevalence among men – and today, couples as well – certainly suggests that it can also entertain without turning everyone into malicious maniacs.The porn debate used to ignite white-hot passion and plenty of press commentary, but today it has been put on the back-burner because people are generally more sexually tolerant and less fearful about sexuality than they were in the past. It is also not – at least at the moment – on the agenda for the health fascists. But if they decide to pick it up, and start to fuel the debate with polls, and junk science studies about alleged links between porn and AIDS rates and whatever else they might dream up, the issue will promptly jump onto the front pages once again.

People who value freedom of expression should summarily denounce the moves by anti-smokers to ban smoking in film for the transparent authoritarian control-freak crusade that it is. The healthists are cherry-picking their alleged “dangers” and trying for “surgical precision” bombing attacks on specific targets in our culture. There’s even a name for this: they call it “denormalization”. If they are successful, they will multiply their targets and become increasingly brazen. So we will see not only more cultural pressure but more overtly regulatory moves to keep fat people out of TV in films, control how eating is depicted, censor song lyrics, try to mandate the inclusion of “health positive” messages in media, etc. It’s difficult to know what direction this will take, but at its extreme, it could even include bans or regulations governing what are regarded as negative depictions of physicians and police. A “health” argument could readily be made for all of this.

No one who has been observing the course of the smoking wars, and the related “health” wars that have come looming up behind it, should be in any doubt that we are on a slippery slope.



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