First off, I’d like to once again thank everyone for their encouraging and supportive comments on my first post. I was quite taken aback by how many people took the time to comment. I spent half the day yesterday releasing comments from moderation! Fortunately, I only have to do that once for each commenter, so that was a one off thing.
It made me realise just how much we have become a community, unhindered by geographical location but bound together by a common plight. As Frank has pointed out many times in his blog, all it needs is for a small group of people to coalesce into a unit with a single aim, and we have the beginnings of a force to be reckoned with.
We are still, however, a beleaguered minority, suffering the kind of discrimination that I can’t find any parallel for since the darker aspects of the 1930s. Yes, there has been discrimination directed at black people, gays and various other groups over the past century, but it has been more of a passive discrimination. That is to say, people may have had prejudices, and acted on those prejudices, but there was never any organised, government sanctioned drive to actively discomfit those minority groups and drive them out of society through ever more unpleasant and punitive measures. The only parallel I can think of is the persecution of the Jews, which of course went way beyond the sanctions that we as smokers suffer, but in principle, it remains the same approach: Stigmatise, marginalise, plunder, degrade, excommunicate, deride, scorn, denounce and accuse of all society’s ills. The only thing the anti-smokers haven’t got around to yet is convincing the politicians of the merits of Zyklon B as a permanent solution to the ‘smoking problem’.
But it is what it is, and we must deal with it as best we can. I do actually see a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a dim and flickering light as yet, but it’s there.
I’ve been a smoker most of my life. I liked it from the very first, and I still derive a great deal of both benefit and pleasure from tobacco. Which I suppose is obvious really, because if I’d stopped enjoying it, I would of course have stopped smoking.
Back in the day, when I was young, smoking was considered perfectly normal. Lots of people smoked, and it was never an issue. You never heard non-smokers complaining about the ‘stink’ of tobacco smoke. Both my parents were non-smokers, but there was always a carved wooden box full of cigarettes of various brands available for guests, and ashtrays would always be brought out when smoking guests visited. My mother, although a never-smoker, liked the smell of tobacco smoke, particularly pipe tobacco. I never knew my father’s opinion; he was an inscrutable man who rarely voiced his opinion publicly on anything; perhaps because he was a military man who was party to many state secrets, and so thought discretion the better part of valour, whatever the subject. He did, however, smoke a pipe for a few years in his youth. In an old photo of him sitting astride his BSA motorbike in his uniform, briar clenched between his teeth, he looked very dashing. So I guess he probably quite liked the smell of tobacco too.
So smoking was a mainstream, acceptable pastime. You could smoke anywhere. Buses, trains and planes; theatres, cinemas and libraries; doctors waiting rooms and hospitals; Pubs, clubs and concert halls. It wasn’t a problem. It was just one of the simple pleasures of life that many enjoyed.
Since those days, over the intervening years, there has been a gradual, salami slice progression towards making tobacco a prohibited product, engineered by a very small, but well-funded and influential clique of fanatics who, for some reason unknown to me, abhor tobacco from the very bottom of their souls. They’ve been playing the long game, so most people (certainly the non-smokers) just haven’t noticed the gradual ramping up of the anti-smoking rhetoric, so incremental has it been. So as the propaganda machine has been grinding away, non-smokers who thirty years ago wouldn’t have even noticed that you smoke, no longer permit anyone to smoke in their homes; suddenly they think that when they have been with smokers, they need to wash all their clothes and shower; they recoil from a wisp of tobacco smoke in the street. All things which would have been unthinkable three decades ago. The power of propaganda cannot be underestimated.
This transformation has been achieved through the use of more than one avenue of chicanery, as most of us are now aware.
First, the health aspect. A study by Doll and Hill in the fifties found a correlation between smoking and lung cancer. Despite the fact that in the first study, it was found that smokers who inhaled were less likely to get lung cancer than those that didn’t inhale, and despite the fact that the acknowledged finest statistician of the day poured scorn on the study for not being nearly rigorous enough, and therefore inconclusive, it was seized with both hands by the anti-tobacco lobby as a lifeline. Through relentless propaganda, they managed to convert the hypothesis into an undeniable fact in the public perception. This also despite (there are a lot of ‘despites’ in this situation) the fact that researchers were unable to ever replicate the mechanism of smoking causing lung cancer in the laboratory, which is of course the acid test of any hypothesis. Experiments or tests that can be replicated provide empirical proof. Correlation does not. And still, sixty years and God knows how many laboratory animals later, they still haven’t been able to demonstrate the mechanism whereby smoking causes lung cancer. However, the anti-smoking lobby aren’t concerned with facts. Public perception is everything.
Secondly has been the push to ‘de-normalise’ smoking as a social habit. The central plank of this offensive was to invent the concept of ‘second-hand smoke’ (SHS). Despite (here we go with the ‘despites’ again) the fact that there is yet to emerge any statistically significant evidence to back up the theory of SHS, the Tobacco Control Industry nevertheless state the ‘dangers’ of SHS as incontrovertible fact. When you have a multi-billion dollar annual budget and can saturate the global media with your message, facts are easily overridden. This was the Holy Grail they had been trying to create for years, the perfect storm they could now unleash on those they despised. So on the back of the unfounded (or more accurately, fraudulent) claim that SHS represents a danger to others, the denizens of Tobacco Control were at last able to formulate the route they would take to the endgame. So ensued banning of smoking in ever more places, which meant the gradual erosion of people’s right to make their own choices.
It was at this juncture – around 2007 – that I started to take notice of what was happening. Up until then, I’d just sort of accepted all the drip-drip of propaganda: smoking gives you lung cancer; smoking gives you heart attacks; smoking shrivels you up like an old walnut, you’re gonna die a horrible death when you’re really young etc etc. Yeah, yeah, but I enjoy it, so to hell with the consequences, and anyway, I’m young and immortal. I took it all with a pinch of salt, but because ‘Experts Had Said’, I kind of accepted it as basically true. It was just background noise.
When the smoking ban in UK pubs was being mooted (on the basis of the ‘danger’ of SHS), the subject came up on an internet forum I used to frequent, which made me actually think about it. And the more I thought about it, the more risible the concept appeared to me. I was one of only a couple of people on the forum who dismissed the SHS claims, and I found myself involved in fierce debate on the subject. All I had at my disposal was anecdotal evidence and common sense. I argued that I was of the so-called Baby-Boomer generation, who all grew up in a fug of tobacco smoke, and that as a generation we were the fittest, healthiest and longest-lived generation ever. How could SHS be dangerous if that was the case? But my words fell on stony ground, and the response was always in the “Experts have said” and “research has shown” meme. Despite (there it is again) the evidence before their very eyes pointing to the fact that ‘experts’ and ‘research’ notwithstanding, the theory was a crock of shit. It never ceases to amaze me how people can ignore the evidence before their eyes in favour of what they are told to believe by ‘experts’.
But I needed more information to back up my convictions, so I turned to the internet and started searching for that information.
It was at first rather dispiriting, as all I seemed to turn up were articles saying about how deadly SHS was. Reams and reams of them swamped the search engine results. I was unaware at that time that the deep pockets of Tobacco Control were able to hire the best IT guys; guys who knew how to manipulate search engines so only items agreeing with the narrative appeared on the first several pages. It is very difficult for an inexperienced seeker after truth (which I was at the time) to unearth the reality when powerful organisations seek to bury it.
But I persevered, and dug deeper and deeper to find the original research papers that resulted from the studies. And along the way, I also found a number of blogs by people who similarly shared my scepticism of the message which was being broadcast from every media outlet. And not only were those bloggers as sceptical as I was, they were also assiduous researchers (as were many of the people who commented on their blogs) who had discovered far more than I could ever have hoped to find myself. And the more I learned, the more I realised what a massive confidence trick was being played on society. I’d had no idea the depths of deception to which the anti-smoker organisations were prepared to descend in the pursuit of their ideology. The lies, the exaggeration, the skulduggery; it’s quite breathtaking in its sheer magnitude. It’s social engineering on a massive, global scale.
So my mild scepticism started to harden. And the more I discovered, the more cynical I became about the whole sorry show. Every fresh ‘revelation’ about the perils of smoking I viewed with an increasingly jaded eye, and with good cause, because when I delved deeper into the claims being made by these so-called ‘experts’, they were always found to be based on dodgy statistics, cherry-picked data, misleading information and hyperbole.
And so here I find myself – a militant smoker. I’ve never been militant about bloody anything in my life before, but I guess persecution based on lies and misinformation can do that to a man. Had I been living in the UK, I think I probably would have taken up arms by now!
Fortunately, here in Greece the anti-smoking propaganda machine is still mired in the Greek authorities’ reluctance to try to micro-manage people’s lives (probably because they know that Greeks aren’t very micro-manageable), so for me the battle is one I fight on foreign shores. But we are still, here in Greece, subject to the diktats from Brussels, like having to deface packs with medico-porn, and hiking taxes on tobacco products (some 50% in the past couple of years). However, although the Eurocrats can dictate what the packs look like, and how much they cost, what they as yet have no power over is the way the Greeks think. So we have, here, reached something of an impasse where Tobacco Control is concerned. And to be honest, I rather doubt that TC will be able to make any inroads of any consequence. We are the tiny nation holding out against the implacable forces of Tobacco Control, and I sincerely hope that our attitude here in Greece is a constant source of frustration and anger to the obsessive meddlers in the anti-smoking industry, and an example to other countries who are being coerced into passing heavy anti-smoking legislation.