How smoking became as cool and subversive as 1960s ad men always said it was

In a bit of news that should be much more outrageous than the Darren Wilson decision, a grand jury has declined to indict the cops who put Eric Garner in a chokehold, during which he died.

This story is less useful to the media and Democratic Party than the one in Ferguson, so it’s likely the protests, if there are any, will be fewer between and less well-covered. There is also the inconvenient fact that Garner was purveying a substance only bad people smoke, tobacco, at the time of his death. Since only bad people smoke, politicians are fine with driving up the price on these largely poor individuals. This regressive tax then creates black markets, which are usually filled by lower-class people like Garner, who are then preyed upon by authorities. The chain of causation here is far too clear to make a vague point about institutional oppression, and focusing on this story risks people reaching the dangerous conclusion that supporters of higher tobacco taxes want to see more Staten Island loosie hucksters strangled to death.

The highest-level authority currently pushing tobacco taxes is the World Health Organization. It met in Moscow this October to confront what it calls an “epidemic” of smoking and hammer out the details for a global tobacco tax, but conducted the meeting in secret, banning the public, then reporters, actions they blamed on “mounting pressure from [the] tobacco industry.”

If a global tobacco tax sounds like a great idea to you, consider that more than 50 percent of cigarettes sold in major Northeastern cities are bootleg. They just don’t raise the money authorities think they will, and a global cigarette tax would obviously exacerbate that problem. What the World Health Organization is really saying is they’d like to see Eric Garners planetwide. To the WHO, smoking must be ended, and that is a small price to pay for a smoke-free world. You know what they say about breaking a few eggs.

This is also an instructive lie from the WHO brought up during the proceedings:

Another milestone in tobacco control was adoption of the decision on electronic nicotine (and non-nicotine) delivery systems, also known as electronic cigarettes. This rather novel product was first launched by independent companies, but many of them are now being controlled by multinational tobacco companies. The decision acknowledges the need for regulations along the lines of policies concerning other tobacco products, including banning or restricting promotion, advertising and sponsorship of ENDS.

We’re supposed to find it reassuring that global health authorities are just as wary of “multinationals” as Adbusters Magazine. But by most estimates, that isn’t true at all. The U.S. market for e-cigarettes is 70 percent small independent manufacturers.

Even if it were the case, regulations and taxes of this kind usually work in favor of big tobacco. For example, Altria boasts on its website that it was alone in supporting Barack Obama’s ban on flavored cigarettes: “Altria Group and its tobacco companies stood alone within the tobacco industry in support of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.” Isn’t that interesting?

The other, the smoker

To put a number on the Bill Hicks joke, around 149,000 non-smokers die every day. Taking the extremely generous WHO number of 5 million a year dying from “smoking-related illness,” around 14,000 smokers die every day.

We have, as they say, an other. Something from outside the zone of health and safety in James Poulos’s pink police state. Poulos contends that the pink police state is not totalizing, in that it knows it can’t bring that unruly realm of filth and fecundity under its control. We differ in that it seems quite clear to me that it’s going to try. (Though for actuarial reasons that will be addressed later in this post, perhaps they know in this specific case it’s better not to.) Smoking is what the bad guys do, statistically speaking, and bad guys must be vanquished.

It’s remarkable then that not even villains are smoking on television anymore, and the real-life villains are as opposed to it as Dick Durbin. In fact, today’s villain du jour has flipped the script on us. A recent issue of ISIS’s magazine mocked the Free Syrian Army for having no ideology but “theft and tobacco.” In that, at least, the FSA and Barack Obama are simpatico; maybe that’s why he still wants to give them guns.

The last great smoker villain on television was from X-Files. No disagreement will be permitted on this point. This is a nice little speech that, but honestly for our purposes it would work better if the other guy were the smoker:

CIGARETTE-SMOKING MAN: You presume to dictate duty to me? Have you any idea what the cost of your action is? What their affect might be? Who are you to give them hope?

SMITH: What do you give them?

CIGARETTE-SMOKING MAN: We give them happiness, and they give us authority.

SMITH: The authority to take away their freedom in the guise of democracy.

CIGARETTE-SMOKING MAN: Men can never be free, because they’re weak, corrupt, worthless and restless. The people believe in authority, they’ve grown tired of waiting for miracle or mystery. Science is their religion, no greater explanation exists for them. They must never believe any differently if the project is to go forward.

Or maybe not, considering that Altria seems to like tobacco control and the Cigarette Smoking Man is, in fact, a fraud. William B. Davis, the actor and skeptic, was at one time a two pack-a-day smoker, but those are herbal cigarettes you see on the show. He’s also campaigned against tobacco use.

I hasten to add that the Nazis were also not fans of smoking, and who wants to side with Nazis?

Anti-smoking jacobins

Well, the Truth campaign, that’s who. They have called for naming and shaming celebrities who smoke as “unpaid tobacco spokesman.” Overall, one can note a shift in tone from a well-funded but otherwise pretty ordinary ad campaign to one that supports full-on tobacco abolitionism. Elsewhere there are groups with names like Raze:

Isn’t that a fascinating ad? We’ve covered the ideological tug-of-war over hipsters previously, but that they’re dupes of big tobacco is new to me. It came from somewhere:

The purpose of this paper is to explore why and how one tobacco company, RJ Reynolds (RJR), sought to understand and expropriate the hipster aesthetic to promote cigarettes. … Hipsters are undeterred by the physical risk of death that smoking poses. This nihilistic attitude leads researchers to conclude that physical threats do not motivate behaviour, but social threats do. Social disapproval countermarketing effectively conveys risk to young adults. Social acceptability functions as a replacement for fear of death among young adults.

Hipsters: so worried about what other people think of them that they don’t fear death.

There’s also those guys in the hoodies and masks, surrounded by smoke, evoking street violence, presumably against a government that’s unjustly failed to outlaw smoking. The profile picture generator that goes along with the campaign is like something out of the same-sex marriage movement or #Bringbackourgirls. We should probably take them at face value about their goal; to “finish it,” meaning to end smoking totally. At the very least, if this is the future of the anti-smoking movement — equal parts PETA, Pitchfork, Save Darfur, and Occupy — we should not expect the tide of sanctimony to recede any time soon.

This, despite the fact that the smoking rate has been declining since the 50s.

The public health establishment takes on residues

Allow me to introduce you to Jonathan Winickoff, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, who discovered a new type of invisible tobacco “toxin” — the residues that remain on furniture, walls, and clothing, and named them third-hand smoke. (You didn’t think Harvard stopped churning out Puritan fanatics, did you?) At this very moment, there are serious scientists who are trying to estimate the cancer risk of these residues, and politicians who are preparing to take action against them.

Astute readers may note that this is what one might call the quack singularity; the point at which respected public health authorities have the same risk assessment as your homeopathic friend who rails about “free radicals” and gluten. Look at this:

The host repeats the totally bogus statistic that 50,000 people die a year from secondhand smoke, which has been debunked. Since second-hand smoke is bullshit, you can bet third-hand smoke is really bullshit.

The logical public policy response to the conclusion that third-hand smoke is dangerous is to criminalize smoking in private homes; that is the groundwork Winickoff is laying with his research. This has already begun; San Rafael has banned smoking in one’s home, and some hospital employees have been banned from smoking anywhere in their private lives. He and other doctors are fairly explicit about that being the goal:

Indoor environments that frequently change ownership or occupancy present the highest risk of involuntary exposure to THS pollution for occupants. Such environments include rental apartments, condominiums and houses, hotel rooms, and rental and used cars. The increased risk of THS exposure in these environments is the result of two factors. First, these environments are often private spaces in which public smoking bans do not apply or private smoking bans are poorly implemented or monitored. Second, because smoking prevalence among adults is 10–25% in the United States (9.8% in Utah and 25.6% in Kentucky and West Virginia) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010), the probability that one or more smokers occupied and smoked in these environments is high. …

Although much THS appears to be stored in dust and on surfaces in a polluted environment, THS is not constrained to the physical space in which tobacco was smoked. Recognizable as stale tobacco smoke, THS is trapped on the clothes of smokers and nonsmokers who were exposed to SHS. …

Our review suggests that concerns associated with THS shape behaviors and attitudes of individuals, local policies, and marketing strategies targeting consumers. We know little currently about how concerns related to THS emerge and evolve, how they shape behaviors of smokers and nonsmokers, and how they can be leveraged to reduce smoking and SHS and THS exposure. The following topics seem particularly worthwhile: …

  • Research on the relationship between THS awareness, attitudes, norms, and their expression in consumer preferences and behavior.
  • Intervention trials on how best to conduct health education and promotion campaigns to influence norms and expectations, adopt stricter bans, and reduce smoking behavior.
  • Focused THS education campaigns and interventions to affect the valuation of smoke-free environments (real estate; cars; child home care).

What’s remarkable about Winickoff’s research is that it focuses at least as much upon public reception to these ideas as studying the actual health impacts of third-hand smoke itself. The paper above admits that it’s “premature” to say there are no health effects of third-hand smoke, which presumably also means it’s premature to say there are. And yet, some of his other research amounts to an academic bitch-moan, they just won’t believe me! Especially not the smokers themselves, which surely just shows how deviant and wrong they are!

The real purpose of delving ever-deeper into the molecular residues of tobacco smoke is to furnish the well-funded anti-smoking lobby with junk science with which to justify greater government intervention and an unending pressure campaign against smokers. The war on smoking is great for increasing government power and prolonging the careers of public health busybodies. It’s much worse for the working-class smoker they attempt to punish into quitting via taxation. You can get published in a major journal and get written up in Time for counting the cigarettes in the iTunes app store, and have it called science!

Light up, Amerika, the homeland needs you!

However, there’s a lot of evidence to contradict the notion that smokers cost healthcare systems more, the main reason being that someone dying of lung cancer at 65 is not notably more expensive than a person who’s kept alive through their 80s:

Same goes for obesity, by the way.

What this means is that if bourgeois progressives were really as self-sacrificial as they would have you believe, you’d be able to catch them outside Golden Corral chain-smoking unfiltered Pall Malls and learning from the natives, putting their lungs and waistlines where their bleeding hearts are to make Obamacare’s terrible math add up. Progress made wheezing and clutching your chest is progress nonetheless. Forward, comrades.

This goes for you boomers especially, who may only be a year or two from collecting entitlement benefits.

Savvy Millennials would do well to take note as well; tobacco amounts to a potential counterattack against your elders that have run up a massive debt and entitlement liability at your expense. What little money you may be able to divert from your student loan payments to charitable endeavors would surely best be spent sending cartons of bargain-basement smokes to nursing homes, bridge games, and coin collecting conventions — call it Lung Darts for Old Farts, or Fags for Hags if you’re feeling mean-spirited.

We must inundate Florida with cigarettes immediately, there is no time to waste. We have Medicare rolls to clear. Laws must be passed to allow once again cigarette ads on television, but only during Maury or Days of Our Lives. Obviously actuarial soundness is not the first thing in the minds of our betters at Harvard Medical School and the Department of Health and Human Services when they’re plotting to “disincentivize” tobacco use.

Bad people smoke, good people kill themselves

Smokers are bad people, but Brittany Mayard is a good person for having offed herself. We know this because the media told us so. Read this gross column in the Daily Beast defending her decision to commit suicide. The author is Gene Robinson, the twice-divorced Center for American Progress fellow and occasional gay bishop. (Remember, the Episcopal Church is the clerical wing of the Democratic Party — I’ll keep saying it because it’s true.)

There are Democratic pollsters now saying “death with dignity” is a winning issue. The president of Compassion & Choices, a right-to-die group, has called Mayard an “incredible force,” and the CPO of Compassion & Choices gave $1000 to ActBlue in September. If you can stomach it, watch “Doing it with Betty,” which is thankfully banned from YouTube. And then go pray, or something. You’ll want to. It’s got that same sterility with which, say, a Salon writer discusses her abortion.

I wonder how many years until death, as pregnancy has, becomes so divested of meaning that it inspires public campaigns for euthanasia along the lines of the Truth campaign or NARAL. Or how long until public health authorities coming around to it being a “choice” or the way to die with “dignity,” or whatever other sophistry needs to be cooked up to get the message across to some geriatric she’s lingered too long at the Medicare trough. Especially if we can’t give people Vioxx anymore.

If you like grandma, you can keep her.

For now, what do you call a person who does an activity that’s banned in New York City, reviled by Californians, can get you sent to reeducation classes at public universities, and the government tells you not to do?

That’s right, a badass. So light up and spread that third-hand residue around, boys and girls, cuz ISIS, Barack Obama, Harvard Medical School, and the United Nations all don’t want you to. And try to buy bootleg, for Eric Garner.

(Image source)

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