By Vexen Crabtree 2014
“Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics.”
Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations
“It has been estimated that for every 1000 young smokers, one will be murdered, six will be killed in a road accident and 250 will die before their time because they smoke.”
Secretary of State for Health (1998)1
Smoking as a cause of death: In the UK smoking is one of the leading causes of death in people under 65 years old 2. In 1998 the UK's Health Education Authority estimated that smoking causes 111 000 deaths per year, amounting to 17 per cent of all deaths3. The same year, the Secretary of State for Health stated a slightly worse figure of 120 000 deaths per year4.
“Despites decades of work by health campaigners, more than one billion people still smoke today. Smoking kills up to half of those who fail to quit puffing, reducing their lives by an average of 12 to 15 years. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says more than 5m people a year die early from the effects (direct or indirect) of tobacco. That exceeds the toll of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.”
The cost to the NHS: All taxpayers pay for the health costs of those who smoke.
"Britain's Population: Demographic Issues in Contemporary Society"
Stephen Jackson (1998)3
Passive smoking: Others who live with smokers, who drive in cars with them, and who otherwise share airspace with them, suffer side-effects as a result of inhaling the smoke10. A non-smoker who lives with smokers has an increased risk of coronary heart disease9.
I wrote a heart-felt criticism of smoking, and the surrounding social psychology, in 2003:
“Smoking cigarettes for social reasons, to relieve stress or for enjoyment are all foolish and counterproductive. You feel stressed for a reason. Smoking fags does not relieve the cause, but causes increased stress on your body, albeit less consciously. Smoking (or drinking) to "relieve" nerves only has a long term detrimental effect on your nerves. If you bend to peer pressure and smoke in order to be sociable, you are weak, a sheep, and have nothing to contribute to society: So why even try to be social until you've learned to be yourself? Smoking for pleasure is counterproductive: abandoning cigarettes altogether results in an increase in overall happiness, not to mention cons that are avoided, such as:
- Stinking clothes
- Foul breath
- Kissing that tastes like ash
- Smelly ash trays
- Smelly house furniture
- Unhealthy lungs
- Unhealthy veins and arteries, reduced blood flow to the brain
- Less healthy mind as a result of chemicals & oxygen restriction
- Loss of control of urge to smoke, loss, therefore, of free will
If you smoke, you are irresponsible to yourself, the environment, others around you, those who care for you, those who rely on you, and you are being uncaring also to those who will know you in the future and have to put up with the negative legacies and symptoms of a post-smoker.”
Vexen Crabtree (2003)
The younger people start to smoke, the more they cost themselves and society. One of the key preventative measures according to a Public Health organisation in the UK is to encourage healthy behaviours in children, which in turns makes it more likely that as adults they also live healthily - "we need to focus much more on prevention and early intervention, helping people to help themselves and their communities to be as healthy as they can be and for as long as possible. [...] We all need to take responsibility for our own health and wellbeing, but for many it is more difficult than it should be. For example, healthy behaviours in childhood and the teenage years set patterns for later life yet we know that not all children have a realistic opportunity of a good start in life" (PHE 2013 12). Such effects are such a part of common sense that it is tempting to think that parents who smoke are engaging in a form of long-term child abuse. In other words: a prerequisite for responsible parenting is to give up smoking.
Advice to stop smoking is often given by doctors to pregnant women from the onset of pregnancy because there are biological risks to the foetus when a mother smokes. Avoiding smoking, and avoiding passive smoking, both help mother's protect their unborn babies and gives them the best chance at a healthy birth13.
“Smoking during pregnancy is associated with more miscarriages, vaginal bleeding, premature births and low birth-weight babies. [...] Even if you have smoked for many years, if you stop before you conceive your baby has the same chance of good health as a non-smoker's baby. [...] If you quit before month 4 of pregnancy you protect your baby from the worst effects of smoking. [...] Even quitting in month 9 [may help].”
The British Medical Journal in 2005 reported14 that:
If a mother smokes 20 or more cigarettes a day during late pregnancy, their child will have reduced IQ by an average of 6.2 points.
Smoking's "adverse effect on the central nervous system and brain may be a factor" which "may explain why smoking during pregnancy has also been linked to behavioural problems and increased risk of criminality in offspring"
The effect of smoking takes place across all income classes. It affects the children of professionals as much as the children of the unemployed: Money cannot make up for the loss accrued from smoke (and passive smoking) during pregnancy. It so happens that smoking is also correlated with low IQ, hence, having parents who smoke cause a double whammy of issues.
England has followed the example of Eire and other countries, and banned smoking in public enclosed spaces. It is now illegal to smoke indoors in any public place including pubs, places of work and work vehicles. The government cannot rightly ban smoking because it is not up to the government to force people to adopt good practices, merely to punish people for stepping on others' toes.
Some trashy tabloids ran keen campaigns against the bans, and some smokers have complained of being 'oppressed'. They are wrong. Passive smoking is dangerous and real. People are free to smoke, but, they are not free to force other people to smoke. Therefore banning smoking in public places enforces freedom, preventing smokers from infringing the rights of others not to smoke.
There has long been a bone of contention between smokers, who take frequent breaks outside, and non-smokers, who are more inclined to feel guilty (however misguided) over such breaks. This small-scale conflict highlights a greater debate over human free will. For those who take frequent smoke breaks do so in addition to any standardized workplace breaks, to which most non- smokers tend to stick. The latter view the former's extra breaks as frivolous, whereas smokers view them as normal. The view of the militant anti-smoker is that smokers have chosen to smoke, and therefore are skiving work. The view of smokers is that they 'have' to smoke. It seems those who have chosen the less responsible lifestyle choice are being rewarded with extra time off, therefore encouraging ill-health.
“France followed a European trend by making it illegal to smoke in offices. [...] To the outrage of some, several companies have decided to clock out staff as they leave the building for a smoke, and deduct the time from working hours.”
The measures that some French companies have taken - clocking people's smoking time against their wages - has the potential to officially take into account the time-management practices of smokers and non-smokers. If computer -game addicts were often seen sneaking off to the rest room for a quick game, then, that time too should be deducted. Such methods can be taken too far, but, if in the case of smoking we can discourage a public health issue through time-monitoring, it is probably a good idea, and it will also appease activist non-smokers.
Tobacco companies have received bad publicity recently after a series of exposés, resulting from their manipulation of scientific studies into the ill-effects of smoking. Some studies were paid for by the companies to reach doctored conclusions, and others were suppressed. Not only this, but they have resisted attempts to regulate advertising aimed at children, and have continued to use bad practices abroad even when they are outlawed or regulated at home. In other words, they have been evading the law, intentionally leading people into the habit, and failing to inform users of the risks of their product. The World Health Organisation says that most users do not understand the risks. Multinational firms frequently evade the law in such ways, but the growing strength of political unions such as the EU help curb their behaviour [Crabtree 2006]. Many companies have been forced out of business for less, but the addictive nature of smoking means that this will not happen with tobacco firms.
“The numbers of smokers in China, India and other developing countries is continuing to grow, as addiction spreads faster than information. Hence the determination of almost everybody involved in global public health to escalate the war on smoking. Over 150 countries have already ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires countries to take a range of anti-smoking measures. Last July negotiators agreed on international norms for banning smoking in public places.”
Modern journalists work at breakneck speed to process stories as fast as possible. Much of this news comes from trusted wire agencies, but these also rely on public relations (PR) material, as do the news outlets themselves. Most news services rely heavily on PR material in order to rapidly produce a stream of news. Because of these pressures, public relations firms and commercial companies are having a heyday and find it easy to insert material into news media. News outlets get cheap, professional-looking news at no cost. In general, over half of all news stories are mostly PR or contain substantial PR-sourced material17. Journalists themselves do not check the facts or figures of such inputs, nor admit in the articles themselves that PR material is the true source of the information, so the news often appears unbiased17. For example in 1991, CBS Evening News, USA, aired a video source from the Institute for Injury Reduction showing that cars' safety belts are actually unsafe and cause more damage than they prevent - an idea which managed to catch the attention of the public. Did the journalists of that news station check the source of this video to see who it was that was passing them the information? No. They didn't. And it turned out that the Institute for Injury Reduction is actually a lobby group supported by lawyers who make money from clients who were suing automobile companies for crash-related injuries18. Too many journalists are engaged in an unthinking, uncritical conveyor-belt of news, and old journalistic practices such as fact-checking and critical thinking have proven to get in the way of corporate efficiency. Powerful commercial lobbies use this weakness to pervert public opinion.
“Vice President Dick Cheney complained in an interview with conservative media commentator Armstrong Williams about bias in the press. Cheney was absolutely right about bias in the press. The Bush administration had paid Williams $240,000 to promote the No Child Left Behind Act in broadcasts and in print. Williams lost his job with Tribune Media Services when it was revealed that he was a hired propagandist producing covert puff pieces for the Bush administration. [...] Many bloggers and websites that appear to be independent are actually fronts.”
"Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed!" by Robert Todd Carroll (2011)19
In the 1950s the smoking lobby created a range of innocent-sounding and scientific-sounding groups in order to discredit government information about the dangers of smoking. Oil and petrol lobbies have spent fortunes on the same PR tricks, as have food industry lobbies. They produce scientific reports engineered by their own scientists, which serve to boost their own industries by deceiving the public. The Global Climate Coalition was founded in the around 1990, and funded "scientists and writers who would provide disinformation regarding climate change to anybody who would listen. For more than ten years they supported research that would cast doubt on scientific reports" about the dangers of burning fossil fuels19. Basically, their reports were distorted lies, pretending to be science. Who funded this maverick outfit, which received a lot of media coverage each time it produced a report? "Exxon, Ford, Texaco, General Motors, British Petroleum, and DaimlerChrysler"19 yet there was no indication in the mass media that these "scientific" reports were funded by the oil lobby - it was all presented as unbiased research, and has damaged the USA's population knowledge of climate change in the long-term.
In short, don't trust the news media directly even when they are reporting on scientific-sounding research groups. Always check facts with long-standing scientific bodies such as the Royal Society. Rich and activist commercialist lobby groups have a set of well-practised and efficient methods for manipulating the news and public opinion. The scientists and welfare groups who wish to get real scientific worries about certain industries out into the open are not funded or equipped to run public relations campaigns. Only multinational information campaigns, legal agreements and inter-national political bodies such as the EU have the oomph to be able to fight back against such powerful industries.”
This disinformation campaign has spanned many decades. The vested commercial interests of the smoking industry provide an incentive to manipulate the public's understanding of the risks in order to keep people smoking.
“As a result of paperwork disclosed in US court cases, we now know that when the tobacco companies in the 1950s found themselves under pressure from the discovery of the link between smoking and cancer, they hired PR companies to create a network of pseudo-groups to massage public thinking on their behalf. Hill & Knowlton, who were then the biggest PR agency in America, duly created the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute as apparently independent organisations to produce research to defend their sales. [...]
A second PR agency, Burson-Marsteller, created the National Smokers Alliance as an AstroTurf group, to hold public meetings and hassle politicians, changing the tobacco story from a threat to health to a threat to freedom.”
Smoking is intrinsically linked with the untermensch, the lesser-educated, higher-crime rate classes of the population.
“Today only 15% of men in the highest professional classes smoke, but 42% of unskilled workers do. Despite punitive taxation - 20 cigarettes cost around £5.00, three-quarters of which is tax - 55% of single mothers on benefits smoke. The figure for homeless men is even higher; for hard drug users it is practically 100%. [...] The lower down they are on practically any pecking order - job prestige, income, education, background - the more likely are people to be fat and unfit, and to drink too much.”
The psychologists Davison & Neale pointed out in 1997 that smoking is more common amongst unskilled and manual workers, prevails among "less educated" individuals22, and is associated with poverty. Steven Jackson reported almost the same percentages as The Economist, in 1998:
“Approximately 15 per cent of professionals smoke in comparison to over 40 per cent of unskilled manual workers.”
"Britain's Population: Demographic Issues in Contemporary Society" by Stephen Jackson (1998)23
In the Armed Forces, 34% of Army regulars smoke in the medical corps, who represent the lowest rate in the Army24. One Army medical corps senior officer estimated that the smoking rate in the Army is about twice that of civilians, therefore being at 84%. Although the value is dropping, there remains an institutional acceptance and promotion of smoking within Army social life - it is also the UK's biggest employer.
Smoking is intertwined deeply with trash culture. If you smoke, you are more likely to drink. If you smoke or drink, you are also more likely to do drugs. Such was the conclusion of the 1999 publication from the Office for National Statistics entitled "Smoking, drinking and drug use among young teenagers in 1998". A key factor of trash culture is that it is self-promoting. Once trash habits become accepted, they spread themselves. This entire culture is itself a harmful disease.
Amongst young teenagers, "the likelihood of having ever used drugs is strongly related to smoking experience: 63% of regular smokers had used drugs, compared with only 1% of those who had never smoked". With drinking the statistics are also similar and cyclic: 44% of young teenagers who drink also get involved in drugs, compared with only 1% of children who don't drink. And importantly, in case it is doubted that all these factors propagate one another, "virtually no children who had never smoked or drunk had ever used drugs".
If you smoke, you are more likely to drink. If you smoke or drink, you are also more likely to do drugs. Smoking is statistically intertwined deeply with trash culture. Only 15% of men in the highest professional classes smoke, but 42% of unskilled workers do21. Smoking is higher amongst those who are already in trouble: single mothers smoke at 55%, most homeless do and practically 100% of drug addicts do. Smoking during late pregnancy reduces the IQ of babies by an average of 6.2 points14 and causes increased antisocial behaviour. Aside from the costs to all taxpayers, the costs to the nation in terms of NHS costs, indirect costs such as increase sick days from work and increased chance of disease, mean that national smoking rates have an effect on the economy as well as on national health.
The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper..
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..
British Heart Foundation
(2012) Women and Heart Disease. Leaflet. Published by the British Heart Foundation, London, UK. There is no year of publication stated in the booklet, but its copyright notice states 2012.
Carroll, Robert Todd. (1945-2016). Taught philosophy at Sacramento City College from 1977 until retirement in 2007. Created The Skeptic's Dictionary in 1994.
(2011) Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed!. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by the James Randi Educational Foundation.
(2006) "Multinational Corporations Versus Democracy: The Fight Between Commercialism and Nation States" (2006). Accessed 2017 Mar 09.
(2009) "The Worst of the Modern Mass Media" (2009). Accessed 2017 Mar 09.
Davison & Neale
(1997) Abnormal Psychology. Hardback book. 7th edition. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Amazon link points to a newer edition than the one I've used here.
(1998) Britain's Population: Demographic Issues in Contemporary Society. Published by Routledge.
Peters, Michael Dr
(2011) Family Doctor Home Advisor. Hardback book. 4th edition. Published by Dorling Kindersley Limited, London, UK. Published for the British Medical Association.
Public Health England (PHE)
(2013) Our priorities for 2013/14. Booklet published in 2013 April. PHE are the government body responsible for national health and wellbeing. PHE publication gateway number 2013007. www.gov.uk/phe.
Secretary of State for Health
(1998) Our Healthier Nation: A Contract for Health. Government consultation paper presented to Parliament (CM3852).
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