How justified is all this cigarette hysteria? I have my doubts, but what does everyone think?
On the surface, many people would consider this a relatively minor topic and no longer controversial. Smoking is bad for you and everyone around you. Case closed. So, isn’t it amazing just how divisive and contentious this issue still remains? As you will see – with good reason.
The cigarette is commonly seen as not merely harmful to the user but also to his or her surrounding, and the war on smoking is now fought not only on the level of government-vs-smokers, but with an almost greater zeal, between the non-smokers and smokers! Rarely does a government-led initiative get so much popular support from quite so many people as this one. Or so it would appear.
But as you start researching this topic, you begin to uncover multiple layers and bones of contention. For example, you soon uncover scientific studies that contradict at least some of the most scary findings that everyone – even the smokers – have come to believe in. You will also soon discover that the degree of social rejection of smokers by non-smokers isn’t nearly as big as you may have been lead to believe by the media spin accompanying condemnatory anti-smoking stories. And you will also discover that there are layers upon layers of POLITICS behind the war on smoking.
In fact, well-argued cases have been made that the war on smoking has been and remains something of a test case for the totalitarians, or perhaps even a kind of a deliberate “psy-op” (psychological operation) conducted by “the powers that be”. Be that as it may, even in the most benign scenario, this “war” can be used as a psychological and sociological study, where each group involved in the cigarette war has its own distinct dynamic and agendas.
Let me say this up-front, just so you know where I’m coming from. I’m absolutely FOR your right to smoke, if you so choose – including in public.
This said, I have absolutely no doubts that smoking can have adverse effects on individual smokers’ health. I also don’t doubt that some people can be put off or even mildly irritated by “secondary smoke”. Marginal cases may even get sick right in front of you, if you so much as breathe smoke in their general direction, although in those cases I would argue that we’re looking at hysteria more than an actual physical reaction.
What I DO have objections to – and as my research shows, they’re definitely well-founded – is the nature of this war and the arguments put forth to fight it. Also, I’m outraged at how unquestioning most people are when it comes to the supposed “absolute truth” of the negative message about tobacco smoking. And there are most certainly many questions which need to be asked – because much more than a mere filthy habit is at stake.
Whether you’re a smoker or a non-smoker, you need to understand these counter-arguments.
- The degree to which the various compounds (over 7000 of them) found in tobacco, cigarette paper, smoke, etc, are harmful to the individual is VARIABLE. While there’s little argument from both sides that some of them are indeed quite harmful in sufficient doses, believe it or not, there is in fact quite a bit of disagreement as to just “how bad” they are, “how carcignogenic” (if at all) and what POSITIVE effects some of these may also have! Ultimately, virtually NO food source is completely devoid of “harmful” substances or harmful when used excessively. So, if you take the same statistical methods used on studying smoke-related illnesses and apply them to… just about ANYTHING else, you’ll – surprise, surprise – get similar results! NOTE: this is NOT to invalidate the assertions that some of these compounds are indeed harmful, only that they’re NOT unique to cigarettes and that the STATISTICAL results used as the primary argument against smoking REMAIN open to interpretation.
- Here’s an argument which has never been successfully refuted, but is, nevertheless, routinely “refuted” using an incomplete logical fallacy: The argument is: “if a smoker who ingests 20 or more cigarettes per day takes many years to either get ill or to die younger, how can a ‘passive smoker’ who ingests an infinitessimally smaller fraction of those compounds suffer nearly as much?”. The counter-arguments to this question run along very dogmatic lines and can be summarized as “it is so, because it is so.” I’m not really kidding, and all you need to do is study some of the references below this post. A side note at this point: smog, which is many times more complex, more carcinegenic to a much less controversial degree and infinitely more omni-present – doesn’t get even a fraction of the same health-motivated attacks! Anti-smokers accept smog as a fact of life and breathe it without batting an eye. But smoke, oh that’s a whole different matter! The BENEFITS of smoking are also hardly ever even considered by the mainstream smoke-bashers – and there are in fact quite a few. Starting with the positive psychological effects and on down to neurological ones. There are also valid scientific studies which, with great puzzlement, assert that smoking clearly lowers the risk of Parkinson’s disease, the risk of obesity, the risk of death after a heart attack, etc. Nicotine is also proven to be a powerful anti-inflamatory agent. And the list goes on!
- The statistical methods used to evaluate the benefits or dangers of smoking also need to be looked at and it’s important to realize how results – EITHER WAY – can be manipulated by politicians and activists alike. Statistical manipulation is routinely employed in smoking studies. For example, in a case of 1000 non-smokers studied, 5 develop lung cancer. In a second case of 1000 cases of smokers, 10 develop lung cancer. So, the statistical difference is 0.5% in favor of the nonsmoking group. However, the NUMBER of cases is 5 vs 10, i.e. a supposed 100% risk increase! Right here you have two VALID methods of interpreting statistical data. However, in a study of, say, garlic eaters vs non-garlic-eaters, the above numbers would be interpreted as “a mere 0.5% difference, not statistically relevant”, while in case of smokers it would be “double the risk of getting cancer”. And both of these statements are based on identical results! The POLITICS of anti-smoking are really the core issue. As a sociologist or a social psychologist, if someone asked you to devise a social experiment where a BAD LAW needs to be introduced in such a way so as to get ordinary people not merely to support it, but also to fight for it of their own initiative – the case of our anti-smoking campaigns would come to mind as a prime example of just how to do that.
Recently, Sweden has removed the worst scare-mongering warnings on their cigarettes, and toned them down quite a bit. This, after a little-publicized but successful lawsuit proved that these claims were simply false. If sufficiently motivated claimants were to sue the Surgeon General or any other medical authority in any other country – you’d find that your cigarette labels might also change from “smoking kills” or “smoking causes cancer” to “smoking may have negative effects on your health” – if they’re actually not dropped altogether because ANYTHING you ingest “may” cause negative effects after all! And labels like “passive smoking kills” would likely disappear entirely.
I DO understand the various NEGATIVE effects of heavy smoking, but, don’t forget that the anti-smoking movement – REGARDLESS of whether it’s based on “good science” or science in service of a political agenda – is as much about YOUR FREEDOM to choose as anything else. The government has NO RIGHT to impose bans or dispense medical advice. Embracing or rejecting smoking should be done on an invididual level. If you want to smoke in a “smoking bar”, go ahead and smoke. If someone objects to that, they don’t need to go to that bar. Simple as that.