Thursday, January 21, 2010

Quebec doctor's defense of smokers criticized

January is turning out to be a bad month for the anti-smoker brigade. It seems that some people are questioning the increasingly aggressive tactics being used to force smokers to quit.

First, there was a study by Kirsten Bell and her colleagues at UBC (University of British Columbia). Dr. Bell and her team suggested: “There is an "urgent" need for governments to revisit their anti-smoking policies, that the stigma around smoking could lead to patients hiding their tobacco use from doctors, and feeling desperate about ever kicking the habit.“

Gar Mahood of the Non-Smokers Rights Association berated the study, saying "These people [Dr. Bell and her team] have simply bought into the tobacco industry's mischief."

But, although Mahood claims the tobacco-control movement has not tried to stigmatize individual smokers, the evidence tells a different story. Denormalization, a concept Mahood endorsed as a tactic to disparage tobacco companies, has evolved into a strategy to humiliate and de-humanize smokers. Mahood proudly points to the falling rate of tobacco use as clear evidence the anti-smoker program of denormalization has succeeded.

Now, a new book by a Quebec psychiatrist claims that “the current anti-smoking climate is putting too much pressure on those who can't kick the habit while keeping from them the psychological and health benefits of smoking.”

In his book, “ Écrasons la cigarette, pas les fumeurs (Crush cigarettes not smokers)”, Dr. Jean-Jacques Bourque, a former president of the province's Association of Psychiatrists, defends smokers and points out some of the beneficial effects of smoking. He notes that, among other things, that smoking can be helpful for those suffering from deep depression and that people smoke to relieve stress.

According to an article by Marianne White on, Bourque takes aim at what he describes as propaganda from Health Canada, the provincial government and anti-smoking activists. He says they have resorted to fear to convince smokers to quit and overblown the effects of second-hand smoke."The idea that is promoted by the Quebec government, that second-hand smoke is more dangerous than the smoke inhaled by someone who is smoking, is completely off the rails," Bourque said in an interview with Radio Canada.

And he's right. The second-hand smoke scare may be the biggest hoax of the twentieth century. The anti-smoker cult, including Health Canada, has promoted the hoax despite a clear lack of evidence demonstrating that SHS causes cancer, heart disease or any other form of chronic disease. The alleged hazards of second-hand smoke have been used to create a climate of fear in the non-smoking population, to encourage them to accept, without question, mean-spirited anti-smoker initiatives meant to force smokers to quit.

Angry anti-smoker zealots have attacked the book as irresponsible.

The Montreal Gazette opines that Bourque's book “goes way too far when it actually extolls the psychological and health benefits of smoking.” Like the anti-smoker zealots, the Gazette was offended by suggestions in his book that smoking may have some beneficial effects, noting that smokers are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

But, even the rabidly anti-smoking Gazette admits that, “the good doctor has a point about the current state of the decades-long fight against smoking. Perhaps the time has indeed come to ease up a little on the scare tactics and the apartheid-like strategy of casting smokers into the frigid outer darkness to indulge their addiction.”

But, Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, makes it clear that the anti-smoker cult is not about to ease up on smokers. "We shouldn't be rolling back measures to protect people's health just to make smokers feel better about themselves."

Flory Doucas, of the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control, attacked the timing of the book's release, noting that the new year was a time when people are often trying to change their lifestyle for the better. Said Doucas: "It is very hard to quit smoking and often smokers will procrastinate. This kind of book kind of consoles them and gives them the false assurance that they don’t need to quit right away.”

But, what I think has really got anti-smoker knickers in a knot is that both the study by Dr. Bell and her colleagues, and Dr. Bourque's book, have gotten some attention in the Canadian press.

The anti-smoker cult has been able to successfully promote their campaign of smoker denormalization because the main stream media has, by and large, ignored their obligation to inform the public. News coverage has been a one-sided affair, with only one point of view, that of the anti-smoker cult, presented in the media.

For example, the public has been led to believe that the science showing that second-hand smoke is a health hazard is clear and unequivocal. But, the facts are that only a fraction of the studies conducted demonstrate a link between second-hand smoke and lung cancer. And for every study claiming a link, there are six which show no statistically significant association.

But, when prominent physicians and researchers suggest that anti-smoker efforts to stigmatize smokers may have gone too far, both the public and the politicians may start to question some of the extreme measures currently used to force smokers to quit. And, if the anti-smokers lose their stranglehold on the media, their propaganda efforts and their denormalization campaign could meet with considerable resistance.

Of course, that may be just wishful thinking on my part. But, Borque's book and the study from UBC have gotten some attention in the national media. And, that opens the door a tiny crack. Remember, the flood begins with a single raindrop.

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