The Anti-Tobacco Con
Let us start with one very simple truism: smoking is bad for us, very bad. There is no doubt about this. The problem that I have is that the rabid obsession to tobacco-bash is so evangelical that the self-righteous lobbyists believe that they are entitled to use any line available to them to push their fanatical cause. The fact that one particular ‘proof’ may be a load of bullshit does not worry them. They employ that grossly unsavoury philosophy so popular with the Nazis and the Americans alike, that “the ends justify the means”. If you are on the side of ‘right’, if you are ‘fighting the good fight’, truth itself is an expedient commodity.
The insane prosecution of ‘the cause’ is supported universally. Endless research is being done to convince us of what we already know. Billions of dollars are being flushed down the drain reinventing the wheel and preaching to the converted. We may appeal, “I would like to do some research on the mating habits of the rare Sierra Leonean mbobo monkey,” and get told, “We are sorry but we have no funding for such a project.” “I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear. I would like to do some research on the mating habits of the rare Sierra Leonean mbobo monkey insofar as they pertain to the smoking of tobacco.” “Well, why didn’t you say so? Here, have half a million bucks!” Drop the word ‘tobacco’ into a sentence, especially in a deprecatory sense, and you will be guaranteed of support.
But the level of fanaticism is only parallelled by the level of deception. One example of the ‘scientific’ deception relates to the incidence of lung infections. We were told that there is a 25 percent increase in the incidence of such infections among smokers. The incidence among smokers was 1:80,000, while that of the general populus is 1:100,000. To anybody with even a basic understanding of mathematics, this ‘scientific’ analysis has not one but two fundamental flaws. First is the assumption that the difference between 80,000 and 100,000 is 20,000, which is a quarter (or 25 percent) of the 80,000. But we know that ratios are the same as fractions, and if we are talking about an increase, we are moving from the 100,000 to the 80,000. And 20,000 is one fifth (or 20 percent) of the 100,000. But… that is if we are supposed to compare the denominator (the lower part of the fraction), and we are not: we must compare the numerator (the number on the top). To do this, we must find the lowest common denominator, which is 400,000. The ratio (or fraction) of 1:100,000 is the same as 4:400,000, and that of 1:80,000 is 5:400,000. So the real increase between 1:100,000 and 1:80,000 is not 25 percent, but a meagre 1:400,000, or 0.00025 percent, some one hundred thousandth the size of the original fallacy. A figure that small is generally written off as a statistical zero, since it may be influenced by as little as one person missing a bus and not being able to turn up to the research. Unfortunately, this false statistic is still used to this very day by both lobbyists and politicians alike as proof of the harm of tobacco.
For years now, the lobby group has advertised that tobacco contains “over 200 poisons”. When I contacted the Quit Group, the organisation responsible for the advertising, asking them for a list of these “over 200 poisons”, they would not supply them. They did, however, direct me to a couple of websites. But no luck there either! Such a list simply does not exist. A short while later, I noticed that the Ministry of Health warning on a cigarette packet referred to “over forty poisons”. While forty is still significant, it is a long way from two hundred. Again I wrote to the Ministry for a list of these forty poisons. Again there was no helpful reply. A few months later, a news reporter on television spoke of tobacco with “more than two thousand poisons”! I do not believe that tobacco has two thousand chemicals in it, let alone that many poisons! Despite my protestation to the television station, the item remained uncorrected.
Further advertising around this time had a young child in a car, and this cigarette smoke wafting around him with sinister words spelled in the smoke: ‘arsenic’, ‘cyanide’ and ‘naphthalene’. This is another enduring deception. Let us take arsenic as the prime example. Until the late 1940s in the United States, farmers used arsenical compounds, especially arsenic trisulphide, as an insecticide. In the mid-1950s, research was carried out on the residual nature of insecticides on plants and the soil. Tobacco was used to test this out, since the leaves were large and would therefore give better results. It was found that even six or seven years after arsenical spraying had stopped, arsenic residues were still found. We must note that this does not mean that tobacco in itself contained arsenic, only that that which had been applied was still there after some years. Indeed, in 1962, the world-famous microbiologist Rachel Carson stated in her equally famous book The Silent Spring, that in tobacco grown in the eastern Mediterranean, where no such sprays were ever used, no such arsenical increases were found. However, the 1960s anti-tobacco lobby used the 1950s’ research with its fraudulent application. The 1970s lobby used the 1960s’ claims; the 1980s lobby used the 1970s’ claims, and so on. Since the mid-1950s, there has never been any further independent research to support the claim that tobacco contains arsenic… or cyanide… or naphthalene.
There is also the argument that a chemical is not a poison until it is poisonous. Most people are not aware that until the late 1970s, one of the most popular chemicals for committing murder was selenium. In fact, even today we are warned against eating more than half a dozen Brazil nuts at any one time, or more than two dozen a day, because of their toxic levels of selenium. And yet virtually every multi-vitamin tablet on the market these days has selenium in it. Why? Because the dosage is so low. It is not a poison until it is poisonous! Even chocolate is lethal in certain dosages, as is caffeine, but we do not describe these as ‘poisons’. Likewise, the levels of arsenic, cyanide and naphthalene which may be present (though still not proven) are still not high enough to kill. Put another way, how many people who have died from smoking have been declared at autopsy to have been killed by arsenic poisoning? The answer is none! Not one, anywhere! Nor by cyanide poisoning, nor by naphthalene poisoning!
Even the highly popularised slogan, ‘Smoking causes cancer’, is not correct at a scientific level. When the slogan first came out, smoking was the only activity under scrutiny. Since then, we have discovered that many other products and behaviours also ‘cause’ cancer. But to use the word ‘cause’, we must also prove a cause-and-effect chain which includes a higher-than-usual incidence that if you smoke, you will get cancer, that if you do not smoke, you will not get cancer, that if you do get cancer, you are a smoker, and that if you do not get cancer, you are not a smoker. But today, we know that many products contribute to cancer: processed meats, fatty content to food, chemical additives. There are many environmental factors such as the ozone depletion or stress (so that the daily worry of paying one’s rent may contribute as much as smoking) or even electro-magnetic (EM) waves. While there has been some research recently into whether an individual cell-phone next to one’s ear causes cancer, with the scientists saying that it does and the telecommunications industry, naturally, saying that it does not, there has been absolutely no research whatsoever into the effects of the flooding of the immediate atmosphere with hundreds of thousands of EM waves every second of our lives. We live in a toxic soup of these waves. Rachel Carson again pointed out that while EM waves were everywhere, life learns to adapt. However, we adapt in terms of millions of years. But today there is no time. In one hundred years, the level of EM bombardment has increased a millionfold. And every time that there has been a major increase in some new form of EM technology (radio, TV, cell-phones), there has been a corresponding increase in the international level of cancer. The best (and truthful) thing that can be said is that smoking contributes to a pre-existing susceptibility to cancer. But no one is looking at what causes that “pre-existing susceptibility”, because no one wants to be the researchers who says that our entire Western lifestyle, especially the multi-billion-dollar technology sector, is killing us. And it is much easier to use tobacco as a scapegoat. If we doubt this, we note that despite the fact that for the last thirty years the rate of smoking has decreased internationally, the rate of cancer has still been on the rise! How can we possibly have a cause-and-effect assumption if that is the case?
The two major reasons why these cons predominate is that first, most people, both civilians and politicians alike, do not know how to scrutinise science. Politicians love to believe that they are making decisions on our behalf armed with the best and broadest information available. But if they do not know how to read reports, it is just so much words on paper, especially when the behind-the-scenes bureaucrats will filter exactly what gets to pass the politician’s desk. When I sent my concerns to the Associate Minister of Health, Tariana Turia, a rabid anti-tobacco proponent, she simply got her arrogant underling to brush me off with a one-liner, “Thank you for your comments. [Now piss off!]” Turia wilfully chose to remain ignorant, because she had an agenda to push! The second reason for the ubiquity of the con is that people like to feel that they are a part of the social amelioration process: we want to be seen as caring about what happens to people. So we will buy into whatever looks like it goes with the popular flow of social concern.
Again, it is important to repeat that this is not an endorsement of smoking. It remains bad for us; it remains distasteful. This purpose of this thesis is to remind people that there is already enough truth out there to serve the purposes of the lobbyists without having to rely on this ‘by-any-means’ default to the fraudulent. The importance is that every time that a deception is found out, it can have counteractive consequences. There are already so many obstacles to a person’s giving up smoking, and becoming aware that one has been fed a load of crap, even in the presence of a great deal of otherwise truth, is just one more obstacle.