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What Christopher Snowdon says about the anti-smoking lobby

Christopher Snowdon’s Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: a history of anti-smoking does not make comfortable reading for libertarians. Although there were anti-smoking movements in the past by the beginning of the recent part of the story (roughly 1950) two principles reigned supreme: freedom of speech and personal responsibility. By the end both lay in tatters.

Snowdon comes from the position that smoking cigarettes is dangerous. This is a refreshing approach given that some libertarians are wont to deny this. Take, for instance, my good friend, the late Judith Hatton. In Murder a Cigarette, co-written with Ralph Harris of IEA fame, she argued that smoking is perfectly safe. Many was the time I would go round to her place for a free meal and be plied with cigarettes (as well as some food). Snowdon, on the other hand, is having none of it. Smoking is dangerous. It produces a chemical, benzo[a]pyrene, which messes around with DNA and causes lung cancer. He also has little time for the tobacco companies whom he regards as little better than scoundrels.

However, accepting that smoking is dangerous and that tobacco companies have been less than honest is his last concession to the anti-smoking lobby. As he says “the dose is the poison”. Heavy smokers are in trouble but light smokers not so much. Of all smokers, 10% will get lung cancer.

If I have a quibble it’s here. While Snowdon has plenty to say about smoking and lung cancer he has little to say about smoking and heart disease although he appears to accept the link there too. Given that heart disease is another big killer of smokers that is a bit of a shame. But anyway, adults should be allowed to make their own decisions for better or worse.

Sadly such appeals to individual choice cut little ice with the anti-smoking lobby. Over the years, they have campaigned for every type of restriction they can think of from advertising bans, to warnings on packs, to smoking bans in pubs and restaurants. One of the ironies is the ineffectiveness of the government violence they so cherish. Although research is sketchy, most restrictions, such as the ban on smoking in bars have had no obvious effect on the rate of smoking and in many cases seem to have increased it – at least initially. Another example is the ban on television advertising where again, initially, sales rose. The unintended consequence was to set in stone the market makeup at the date of the ban. Hence, while beforehand brands rose and fell, ever since Marlboro has been on top. Although Snowdon doesn’t say this as such the implication seems to be that the decline in smoking over the last 50 years has had little to do with government.

Particularly revealing is the search for technological solutions. Over the years the tobacco industry has introduced filters and low tar cigarettes. Whether these make much of a difference is unclear partly because little research has been carried out. Another brand experimented with palladium (just as you might find in a catalytic converter). Unfortunately, the advertising ban made it difficult for them to get the word around.

There were other problems with safer cigarettes. If the tobacco company marketed a safer cigarette as a safer cigarette that would imply that all the other cigarettes they had been selling were dangerous. That would be the sort of admission that could lead to them winding up in court. The tobacco companies were reluctant to admit this not least because, up to then, they had never actually lost a court case.

More recently we have seen the rise of vaping which is vastly safer. This has provoked a split in the anti-smoking lobby with some of them coming to the conclusion that if it comes to a choice between regulations and public health they are in favour of public health. This has not, however, prevented the introduction of a bunch of EU regulations which will make vaping more difficult.

But that is the exception. Generally speaking, the anti-smoking lobby has opposed these developments. They don’t want technological solutions. They want people to change their behaviour. It matters little to them whether lives are saved.

I can shed some personal light on this. A long time ago I was a green. (I know, I know, I was young and foolish.) Back then I utterly hated the idea of technological solutions to environmental problems. Quite why this was I really don’t know but to my green mind the only correct solution was for people to consume less.

Having proved that smoking was dangerous, the anti-smoking lobby then set out to prove that passive smoking was also dangerous. You can kind of see their point. If benzo[a]pyrene is dangerous then it should be so to any consumer of the smoke in which it is present. Snowdon looks at the studies in great detail but, as he shows, again and again they don’t prove anything of the sort. If anything, passive smoking is good for you. One study even suggested that children brought up in smoking families were less likely to get lung cancer.

But the anti-smokers weren’t about to let the facts get in their way. Repeatedly confronted with research that found no link between passive smoking and lung cancer they simply claimed the precise opposite. They were not even above smearing anyone including scientists who dared to point out that the facts were telling a different story. Any similarity between this and any other science which has been perverted by political chicanery is entirely coincidental.

But the campaign rumbled on and continues to rumble on regardless of the facts. My pet theory is what did for smoking is that it went from being an air freshener to being an air unfreshener. A hundred years ago, people’s nostrils would have been exposed to the foul odours caused by horse manure, industrial pollution, filthy rivers and coal dust. In such an atmosphere, cigarette smoke was at worst insignificant and in many cases an improvement.

The anti-smoking lobby has been so successful that recently it has had to start branching out. Alcohol, gambling, meat and sugar are now all on its radar screen of puritanical ire.

36 comments to What Christopher Snowdon says about the anti-smoking lobby

  • tomo

    The anti-smoking lobby has been so successful that recently it has had to start branching out. Alcohol, gambling, meat and sugar are now all on its radar screen of puritanical ire.

    You actually missed out the important one CLIMATE CHANGE.. see HERE – prohibitionist control freak scum (sucking taxes all the way btw) – will use any weapon to hand – and make no mistake – it is a cudgel….

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    I keep having a desire to write a novel about a country where a comedian is jailed for making a joke about cats.
    Q. Why will the police never allow cats into police stations?
    A. They don’t want suspects to claim that they were furballed by the police! (fur-ball/verbal, get it?)
    Since some Somali men chew on leaves of a plant called khat, this could be criticism of the War on Drugs, so he might be immediately conscripted into that war, etc.

  • Eric

    The anti-smoking lobby has been so successful that recently it has had to start branching out. Alcohol, gambling, meat and sugar are now all on its radar screen of puritanical ire.

    Publicly funded health systems invite this kind of thing. The person who would have been laughed off for saying drinking should be illegal because it’s wrong can now say “Drinking should be illegal because it’s bankrupting the health system.”

  • Cristina

    “The anti-smoking lobby has been so successful that recently it has had to start branching out. Alcohol, gambling, meat and sugar are now all on its radar screen of puritanical ire.”
    Do not forget coffee, Patrick.

  • Martha

    Is it not important to point out that the link between smoking and cancer is statistical? This would not detract from the value of the insight while accurately describing our understanding of cancer whose cause is actually and factually unknown.

  • Thailover

    I’ve been fighting the Bogus Information brigade forever.

    “Fronts” of this battle include,

    1. Butter isn’t bad for you. People need fat, including saturated fat, in order to make necessary hormones among other necessary body chemicals.

    2. There’s nothing wrong with whole eggs and never has been anything wrong with it.

    3. Heart Plaque isn’t caused by excess blood cholesterol, and ones body alters how much it produces based on diet. So go ahead and eat those eggs and chicken livers. It’s not going to give you a heart attack. (But your cholesterol lowering medication just might).

    4. There’s nothing wrong with MSG. (Monosodium Glutamate). “Sensitive” people claim headaches, but think about it. China doesn’t have a billion people walking around with headaches everyday. Your body makes about 40gms of glutamate a day, it’s natural, and as far as sodium…

    5. There’s nothing wrong with salt in your diet unless you have high blood pressure and you’re 50 and above.

    6. To the consternation of Suzanne Somers, fructose (as in fruit) won’t make you fat, as fat storage is triggered by insulin, and fructose must be slowly converted into blood sugar in the liver before it’s slowly released into the blood stream or stored in the liver for later, ergo no blood sugar spike and no trigger for your body to store excess calories in the form of fat.

    7. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of caffeine.

    8. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of nicotine. It’s about like caffeine. It’s the other shit in smoke and other additives to cigarette smoke that’s highly addictive and cancer causing. Nicotine is MILDLY addictive in and of itself. Vaping harms nothing.

    9. The idea that veggies, grains, and a bit of cheese is good for you, but if you put it together in a shape of a pizza it’s suddenly “junk food”, is idiotic. Ditto for burgers.

    10. The idea that sugars are bad for you and complex carbs are healthy is a bit silly. Your gut immediately breaks complex carbs down into sugars. In fact, FAT in the food you eat will slow the abortion of sugars into your bloodstream and reduce any insulin spike, which otherwise would trigger your body to store excess calories as fat. Yes, a bit of fat in your diet can help you NOT get fat. (And zero fat frozen yogurt) can make you fatter than ice cream).

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    Yeah, Yeah, that’s TODAY’S scientific Facts! But you can’t guarantee that they won’t in 100 years time prove the opposite! So it’s better to take no chances. If you don’t eat anything, you won’t die of fatness (Unless you live in a fat-air zone. I’ve never heard of one, but people talk about ideas coming from thin air, so there must be an opposite condition.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thailover, I must ask you not to deny and disparage the tiny steak hidden under the tiny salad and the 1/4-oz of milk disguised as “cheese” in your junk-food hamburger. In the case of pizza, it will be pork meat (one hopes), with herbs and spices (very healthy) according to your taste. I mean, what are you, a vegetarian?

    As for butter and whole eggs, right on, my man!

    MSG. If I give you my address, could you please come and deliver a short, factual, pithy, irrefutable talk on the matter to the Young Miss?

    Nicotine. O my GAWD, nicotine! How perfectly frightful! It’s even more addictive than kibble! (Unless you’re a dog. Then the scale might go the other way.) You are right about the other, er, stuff. One thing you didn’t mention is that you’re feeding your bloodstream CO instead of nice nutritious O2, which isn’t really good for your hemoglobin count nor your brain cells either. This much is obvious even to someone who never took biochem. Whether it makes enough of a difference to make a difference I can’t say. Also, the filters on filtered cigarettes do consist of smallish fibers, and it at least used to be the case I believe that some of them used fiberglas. This you seriously don’t want in your lungs.

    But that’s no reason not to “smoke” tar-less, CO-less, fiberless cigarette-substitutes, if you like. I suppose it does depend on what is the carrier for the nicotine. If it’s really water vapor, there’s a legitimate question as to whether the doses of it drawn into the lungs is harmful. But that a question is legitimate does not mean that the answer to it is necessarily the one Dolores Umbrage would wish to hear.

    Anyhow, as usual Nicholas has got the right answer. Just don’t eat anything and you won’t eat anything bad for you, nor will you risk being *horrors!* Overweight. The same principle extends to breathing, since it’s hard to imagine air so nontoxic that it’s completely non-toxic. So just avoid breathing, whatever you do. After all, it’s an established scientific fact that everyone who breathes, dies.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Martha, at 1:50 a.m.: Yes indeed, it is important. A very good point.

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    Martha, saw a good spin on that in Doonesbury, years ago. A kid criticises a Marlsboro advertiser, but the ad-man points out that Marlsboro smokers are not average, so that the average doesn’t apply to them.

  • Tony

    I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet Judith Hatton but I can strongly recommend her book: “Murder a Cigarette”.

    I agree with her thesis and I suspect most people would if they researched it. I can’t provide full detail here but I can give clear pointers. Two words are key: “MRFIT” and “McTear”. Advanced students might want to research “MSA” too.

    The anti-smoking industry was the template for CAGW and much, much more.

  • Tony

    I should have suggested googling “the scientific scandal of anti smoking” as well.

  • Laird

    If anyone hasn’t seen “Thank You for Smoking” (based on the Christopher Buckley novel), it’s a pretty entertaining movie about dealing with the anti-smoking zealots.

  • I oppose smoking bans in principle, albeit I do like smoke free clubs and bars. But I think the ban was accepted by the British public partly because a lot of smokers behaved like complete fucking arseholes. I went to university when smoking was still popular and allowed in bars, clubs, restaurants, and university common rooms (but not public transport or offices). Two things used to piss me off, with young women being the worst offender: drunk people waving their cigarette about in crowded bars, burning people’s clothes; and the habit of sitting smoking a cigarette and holding it away from the body but right in the face of somebody else sitting or standing nearby. They might have been a minority, I don’t know, but the attitude of smokers in the face of somebody who had a reasonable objection to their smoke was one of “fuck you, I’ll do what I want”. I even had women blow smoke in my face when I complained (presumably thinking they wouldn’t be punched). Had they not held this attitude for so long and so consistently (and I’m not the only one who complained about it) they might have found more support among the public when they were being hounded into the streets.

  • Paul Marks

    Quite correct Patrick.

    If the law no longer stands for Freedom of Speech (which includes commercial speech) and personal responsibility – then it has lost its way, become debased and despotic.

    The basic principle of a libertarian is that humans beings are just that – beings. We are agents (we have agency), we can make real CHOICES (do other than we do).

    It is demented to say that state restrictions on our freedom are a bad thing if our freedom of choice does not exist in the first place.

    This does NOT mean that there is no such thing as addiction – on the contrary this (and many other horrible things) most certainly exist.

    But, in the end, “every drink is a choice” as they say in Ulster – even for a person addicted to it, they can make the choice to suffer the consequences (the pain and so on) of not picking up that glass of booze. It is harder for someone who is addicted, but they are still a person still an “I” not a predetermined flesh robot.

    And the same is true for smoking.

    As for technological assistance – such as “vapeing”.

    This is clearly a good thing for those who want the pleasure of the drug without the terrible damage to health.

    People who support making this alternative to smoking more difficult (via regulations) are clearly driven by the desire for power (for its own sake) NOT motivated by health concerns.

  • Stonyground

    Regarding eggs and cholesterol, I am a 57 years old and eat at least one egg per day. My cholesterol levels are very low presumably because I do lots of exercise. A sample of one I know.

    Regarding the lack of evidence for passive smoking. It is a favourite tactic of the climate change alarmists to compare the attitude of ‘deniers’ to those who deny the health risks of smoking. The fact is that, in both cases, those who like to tell us what to do are not above ignoring inconvenient evidence if it goes against their cause.

  • Mr Ed

    It really should be blindingly obvious that smoking is not a good idea if you wish to preserve your health. To inhale smoke containing the products of partial combustion of dried plant material and thereby reducing your oxygen intake, taking in CO and at the same time putting irritants into the lungs and bronchi etc. which have a complicated system for keeping your lungs clean and functioning is clearly putting into your lungs something that they are not really set up to handle. But they are your lungs. The argument that the state paying for your healthcare gives it the right to dictate how you use your body has two retorts. 1. Stop paying and let me opt out and 2. I am paying for the State.

    And moving on to the old Nazi theme of the Common Good before the Individual Good, here is a TED article that seems to be calling for compulsory vaccination

    A slender minority can threaten the majority

    on the basis of the Common Good, you must get vaccinated to protect others, from a doctor in Argentina who is presumably carrying on in Peronist style (unwittingly no doubt) where Perón, Benito and Adolf left off. Perhaps this is a call to one’s better side, or perhaps something more sinister.

  • James Hargrave

    A year or more ago, a ‘Pro Vice-Chancellor, Equity and Student Engagement’, presumably a minor member of the politburo at a well-known Australian university near Parkville, Vic, a man whose ‘accountabilities’(!) include all sorts of other nonsense, announced the tobacco-free (or is it smoke-free?) campus (note for the file: there are other substances which can be smoked, and other ways of consuming tobacco: they might just as well declare the place pneumonic plague free).

    Now, of course, having (not) roofed in the entire campus, provided air locks and sniffer dogs, and indulged in other fatuous whims ‘in keeping with the trend in the Australian tertiary education sector’ (consider what might have been ‘in keeping with the trend in the German tertiary education sector…’ ca 1933), they have a smoke-free campus (complete with smokers’ shelters). They have you sought to impose their fiat regarding no-smoking around the entrances to buildings – perhaps, like abortion ‘clinics’ in certain American states, they will be panting lines across the footpaths and into the middle of the carriageway (and tram tracks). A rabid former Vice-Chancellor in Durham wanted such a ban around his buildings, but had to accept that many debouched onto the street. Reality had intruded and when that great mind clashed with it, reality won. And, of course, don’t engage with the students when they actually might have an opinion and wish to express it – theirs was the only dissenting voice on whatever committee rubber-stamped this.

    I have never smoked anything. Since the money that I once misguidedly donated to a project that was administered to death by the collection of misfits from the Arts Faculty administration (keen to find a problem with every solution) derived from various family members who happily puffed away until, in one case, 98, I can do without the stench of wowserism emitted by the tidal waves of well-remunerated bureaucratic bacilli consuming donations (‘I am the very model of a modern major rent-seeker’). It is far more disgusting and dangerous than tobacco smoke. As one professorial fellows wrote recently: ‘The governance of universities is a complete crock and… additional revenue will simply be pissed up against the wall in terms of more highly paid administrators, including the VC.’

    Preening, self-satisfied fools – more tertiary syphilis than tertiary education. One hopes that they spontaneously combust, quite likely in view of all the hot air and inflated egos around. I would not BAT an eyelid.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Processed foods are now being treated as the next existential threat to Mankind. Amazing we are still alive, really.

  • It really should be blindingly obvious that smoking is not a good idea if you wish to preserve your health.

    I dunno. Smoking is a confirmed stress reliever, and I sometimes wonder if we’re going to see more people dying of stress related illness as smoking rates decline. A mate of mine who fought in Iraq became a chain smoker over there, said he’d not have coped otherwise.

  • Vinegar Joe

    Smoking is dangerous. Just ask Eric Garner.

  • pete

    It’d be wrong to use state money to ban or control smoking if people were willing to pay for their own treatment for smoking related diseases.

    But they aren’t. They want and expect everyone else to chip in.

    They love their own freedom to smoke but they hate the freedom of others to keep their own money.

  • JonT

    So the billions contributed to the exchequer by overtaxed smokers don’t count?

  • KrakowJosh

    I was for a long time under the impression (perhaps this has been debunked?) that smokers were a net benefit to the NHS due to the high levels of tax/duty paid on cigarettes and their reduced lifespan resulting in lower aggregate pension withdrawals.

  • Ellen

    Tobacco, sugar, flour, fat, eggs, climate – the details are multitudinous. But there is one fact to be distilled from it all: far too many of the anti- and pro- advocates are pains in the ass. I don’t like pains in the ass. They are bad for my mental health.

  • Douglas2

    KrakowJosh –
    I’ve seen that sort of analysis for the Czech republic, and for Canada (http://qed.econ.queensu.ca/pub/cpp/Sept1992/Raynauld.pdf), but not for the UK.

  • qet

    Does no one remember Eduard Bernstein? The goal is nothing, the movement is everything.

    Also, @Mr Ed
    “It really should be blindingly obvious that smoking is not a good idea if you wish to preserve your health.” Does that include mental, or psychic, health? Who can say whether the aggregate mental health benefits to smokers are outweighed by their aggregate physical diseases? All of the “health” authoritarianism lately is directed at bodily function. If in war the moral is to the material as 3 is to 1, then why not in all of life? Perhaps an entire field of this issue is being entirely overlooked.

  • Jordan

    It’d be wrong to use state money to ban or control smoking if people were willing to pay for their own treatment for smoking related diseases.

    By this logic, we also ought to ban skiing, rock climbing, sugar, alcohol and pretty much everything else under the sun.

  • pete


    I’m sure the government could encourage millions of people to smoke by allowing all sorts of tobacco adverts, so increasing its income from tobacco taxes.

    But it doesn’t.

    It deliberately decreases its income from tobacco by banning adverts for it, even on packets, and by handing out taxpayer funded nicotine patches.

    Smokers cost everyone else money.

    Their freedom to smoke needs to be balanced by our freedom to choose not to waste huge amounts of NHS cash treating their voluntary smoking related illnesses.

  • Jerry M

    Don’t these Smokers die early, saving the state billions in pension payments??

  • Tony

    If you believe the anti-smoking propaganda about health (which I don’t), then health costs for smokers over a lifetime are less than for non smokers. This is before even including the punitive taxation of around 800%, which brings in over £10 billion per annum in the UK.

    A quick Google search for “the true costs of treating smokers, the obese and the healthy ” will bring up an article with references (by Dave Atherton).

    There are also massive savings on government pensions.

    As an aside, John Stuart Mill noted that punitive taxation was equivalent to prohibition for the poorest people.

  • Trofim

    I’m astonished at how “smoking” has come to mean “cigarette smoking”. I smoke cigars and a pipe, without inhaling, and have an occasional puff, such that they last a week or two. That’s enough for me. And dont forget – it is not yet illegal to grow and smoke your own tobacco.

  • Trofim

    pete November 13, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    I’ve smoked all my adult life and never had a smoking-related ailment, to the best of my knowledge.

  • Phil B

    The smoking bans and all related other bans are a bit like Gun Control.

    It has nothing to do with guns but it IS all about control.

  • Lee Moore

    pete : Their freedom to smoke needs to be balanced by our freedom to choose not to waste huge amounts of NHS cash treating their voluntary smoking related illnesses.

    This is a complete lemon. The NHS can decline to spend money on anything it likes. if it doesn’t want to treat smokers, it doesn’t have to.

  • Eric

    Regarding smokers and cost: In the US smokers were found to save money when both medical and pension costs were considered. People who don’t smoke are still going to get sick, and the best thing for state pension and health care schemes is to have the beneficiaries pay in their entire career and then drop dead the day they retire.