Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Anti-smoker bigotry

I stood at the open window in the front lobby, my back to the ‘No Smoking’ sign, using an empty soft drink can as an ashtray. I watched the cab pull up to the curb, saw the driver get out and walk up the steps and into the lobby.

I heard him announce his presence to his fare over the intercom and heard her respond that she would be “right down”. I turned in his direction as he spread his arms, his hands palms up, in a questioning gesture.

I smiled, in my best imitation of a Cheshire cat. Then I closed my right hand into a fist, extended my middle finger and pumped my arm slowly up and down. I didn’t want him mistaking the gesture as a friendly greeting.

It’s amazing how a few years can mellow a man. Ten years ago the air would have been blue with my verbal response. Twenty years ago, that cabbie would have been left thinking he had been struck by the hammer of Thor.

The cabbie left the building, muttering to himself.

I dropped my butt into the empty can and stepped outside the sheltered lobby into the rain. After dropping the soft drink can into the garbage I returned to my unit, wondering just how in the hell this anti-smoker nonsense had gotten this far.

A letter dated November 1, 2004 was sent to Ujjal Dosanjh, M.P. and Minister of Health for the Conservative government in Ottawa at the time. The letter was from an organization called the Campaign for Tobacco Industry Denormalization. The full contents can be viewed on the NSRA (Non-Smokers Rights Association) web site.

The group was soliciting the Minister’s support for an anti-smoking strategy called TID (Tobacco Industry Denormalization). The strategy had been developed some time around 1999. Here’s part of what the Minister was told:

“Epidemics normally trigger extraordinarily aggressive responses from governments. Unfortunately, and tragically, the tobacco industry has been protected from such responses by a belief by some within government and by the general public that the tobacco industry is a normal, legal industry selling a normal, legal product, an industry entitled to be accepted within the mainstream of normal business”.

“TID is a strategy that transfers the responsibility for the epidemic from individual behaviour (teen misjudgment) to corporate misbehaviour where such responsibility properly belongs. It involves nothing more than telling the truth about tobacco industry behaviour. And, it should be stressed, there are no legal blocks to governments speaking the truth”.

But, in fact, the tobacco industry was not the intended target of the TID campaign. And, speaking the truth was the last thing on the minds of the anti-smoker activists.

The anti-smoker fanatics had secured millions of dollars in funding, with hundreds of millions allocated to a massive anti-smoking media campaign and further government resources committed to supporting the anti-smoking agenda. Shortly after that letter, the real target became apparent: smokers!

The objective of the denormalization campaign was to radically alter the public perception of smoking as an unhealthy activity which harmed no one but the consumer of tobacco products, if indeed it harmed anyone at all. Smoking had to be transformed into a deviant behaviour, practiced only by nicotine addicted, abnormal people not fit to be part of civilized society.

Using corrupt science and dubious statistics, they managed to convince the public, the politicians and the press that smokers were a menace, not only to themselves, but to family, co-workers and their children; especially the children.

A well organized, well financed propaganda machine was turned loose on an unsuspecting population. Suspect scientific studies gave way to outright lies. Public health became an instrument of social control.

Secondhand smoke was touted as a serious health hazard, an object of irrational fear rather than a mere nuisance. And the smokers who spewed the allegedly deadly toxins as a by-product of their addiction were forced into social isolation as smoking bans limited where they could engage in what was, and still is, a perfectly legal activity.

Smoking became a social disease and smokers became objects of fear and loathing. The anti-smoker brigade even convinced some smokers, awash in a sea of guilt, that they were somehow an abomination to mankind.

The anti-smoker fanatics constantly churned out propaganda: ‘Secondhand smoke kills’, ‘There’s no safe level of exposure’, ‘Smokers really want to quit, the poor addicted fools just need a little encouragement’, ‘Smokers are child abusers’.

No claim was too outrageous in the fanatic’s efforts to stigmatize smokers; no lie too egregious.

Only by stripping smokers of their pride and self-esteem could the anti-smoker brigade hope to force them into giving up their despicable habit. Only by depriving smokers of their dignity could the fanatics eradicate their undesirable, antisocial behaviour.

Blatant discrimination which would not be tolerated against any other minority became the order of the day.

Now, employers openly advertise that “Smokers need not apply”. Employees are fired for smoking in the privacy of their own home. Others are forced to submit to gross violations of privacy such as providing blood or urine samples to prove that they aren’t smoking on or off the job. Some have gone so far as to insist that the wives of employees must be non-smokers.

Smokers have been denied rental accommodation in multi-unit housing and denied proper medical treatment. Smoking has been cited as a reason to prevent people from fostering or adopting children and used in child custody cases to deny parents custodial rights.

In the end, denormalization is really about the dehumanization of smokers; a morally bankrupt experiment in behavioural control. Submit to our will or be punished. And yet five million Canadians continue to smoke. Such experiments have met with resistance from the dawn of time.

I started this ramble with a simple incident that happened six months ago, wondering how we had gotten to this point.

After a little research, I think I know how. But, I must confess that I still don’t understand why.

How can any free society tolerate, let alone condone, the bigotry and intolerance exhibited by the hate mongers masquerading as protectors of public health?

And, how do we stop it?


Michael said...

Rambler wrote, "And, how do we stop it?"

Excellent post, and excellent question. Rambler, for one thing, you should spread your writings a bit beyond your blog. There are a lot of folks out there who SHOULD see your thinking but who never do.

- Michael

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

snowbird said...

I post websites all over the world
That is the only way to get our info and message out to the public.