Like Dick Puddlecote and Twigolet, I popped into the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on November 4th to find out if the 'war on tobacco' can be won. They have both written excellent accounts of the meeting so I won't repeat what they've said. Suffice to say that the graph below - created and displayed by one of the speakers - gives a fair indication of how from reality these people are operating.
Graphs are usually used to illustrate evidence. Not this one. Firstly, the relationship shown between moral and financial rewards is completely made up. There is no reason to assume that morally rewarding actions cannot be financially rewarding and vice versa. On the contrary, it is easy to think of actions that are both moral and profitable (eg. creating a job, inventing a life-saving product) and it is easy to think of actions that are immoral and financially unrewarding (eg. preaching hate on the streets, punching a stranger).
The basis of the graph is, then, nonsense to begin with, but it is taken into the realms of super-nonsense by placing 'public health' at the point at which financial rewards are zero and moral rewards are maximised. As Chris Oakley has shown, 'public health professionals' are fantastically well paid. If they are not in the 1%, they are certainly in the 2%. Even a relative minnow like ASH's Deborah Arnott is in the £80-90,000 pay bracket.
As I wrote in Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, the anti-smoking lobby's portrayal of themselves as a David fighting Goliath is a politically useful fiction that helps to divert attention from the fact that it is really a battle between powerful, state-funded agencies and ordinary people who don't have much of a voice but happen to enjoy smoking. It becomes less convincing with every passing year and every passing grant cheque.
What really struck me about the 'war on tobacco' event was that those involved in the public health racket really seem to believe their own propaganda. To say that they are preoccupied with the tobacco industry would understate the degree of obsession. They seem to genuinely believe that if it was not for the sneaky machinations of 'Big Tobacco', nobody would ever start smoking. The fact that people were smoking for centuries before Big Tobacco came into being (or, in the case of the Americas, for millennia before any industry came into being) does not seem to register.
One revealing exchange took place when an audience member brought up the issue of prohibition (yes, they are now discussing it openly) and one of the speakers expressed scepticism that it would work. To illustrate his point, he mentioned that the smoking age was raised from 16 to 18 some years ago and yet 'the tobacco industry still manages to get young people to start smoking'. I am paraphrasing here because I didn't take notes, but his point was not that young people can still access tobacco products, but that the industry somehow makes them do so.
How exactly does that work? For many years, public healthists portrayed advertising as the means by which the tobacco industry lured young people into the smoking habit, but that was banned fifteen years ago. At the moment, I suppose some anti-smoking campaigners would blame packaging, but - aside from this being laughable - even they do not claim that plain packaging will have a major impact on youth smoking rates. How, then, do they explain teen smoking in Australia (which seems to be on the rise)? Telepathy? Hypnotism? The evil eye?
This month, a bunch of state-funded pressure groups plus Cancer Research UK (whose CEO earns £210,000, incidentally) has launched a campaign encouraging young people to 'stick two fingers up to tobacco'. When they say 'tobacco', they mean the tobacco industry and when they say 'young', they don't mean the chiiiiiiiiildren. The age at which people start to smoke has been rising for years and so it is necessary for 'public health' to move the goalposts...
94% of smokers have started before the age of 25
25?! Most of the things people do, they started doing before the age of 25. To be frank, I'm surprised it's only 94%. So what?
Internationally, the tobacco industry makes around £30 billion in profit which is more than Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Microsoft combined
Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Microsoft are individual companies whereas the tobacco industry is an, er, industry, so the comparison doesn't hold, but it gives you an idea of the kind of people this campaign is hoping to attract. People like
Over the past few years, a lot of people my age (26) and younger have been active in opposing social injustices. We’ve stood up to the government on tuition fees. We’ve reserved our right to protest on the streets. We’ve helped expose the immoral practices of big businesses through groups like UK Uncut.
Power to the people of Tooting! Russell Brand for PM!
Our message is clear – we aren’t naïve and we aren’t about to be fooled. We’re the generation of Facebook, Twitter, iEverything – we’re connected and we’re ready to go live.
Next on the list of villainous, morally bankrupt trades, is the tobacco industry. CRUK wants to empower young people to stand up to them and say ‘no’!
How will this empowerment come about? Perhaps with a fun, motivational group? Not this time. This time, you take a selfie flicking the Vs and put it on Twitter with an obscure and little used hashtag. Viva la revolution!
“Fee-fi-fo-fum” growl the giants – they don’t want profits to drop and they’ll grind our bones to make their bread.
Yes folks, this is the standard of discourse that the plain packaging campaign - for that is what it is - has sunk to. "Fee-fi-fo-fum", bovine anti-capitalism and waving two fingers around (not unlike the soda tax campaigns in California). I dread to think how many sponsored marathons were run for CR-UK to waste money on this tripe.