Monday, January 11, 2010

Shaming smokers into submission

According to a National Post article by Tom Blackwell, a new study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) claims “years of anti-smoking laws and campaigns have amounted to a public shaming of smokers that could make it harder for them to quit.”

Blackwell's article quotes Dr. Kirsten Bell, a medical anthropologist at UBC and lead author of the study: "People are made to feel really, really bad about their smoking and are treated quite badly, but feel quite helpless in quitting."

According to the Post, the researchers at UBC looked at a range of anti-smoking measures they contend have "de-normalized" smoking and smokers themselves. This would include, of course, smoking bans, punitive tobacco taxation, mass media campaigns which vilify smoking and smokers, graphic warnings on cigarette packages, etc.

But, there are additional, even more draconian measures currently being used to coerce smokers into quitting. And the affects are doing a damn sight more harm to smokers than making it difficult for them to quit.

These include efforts to ban smoking in apartment buildings and condos which would effectively deny smokers the right to smoke in their own home; to deny smokers the opportunity to foster or adopt children; to deny smokers access to some medical procedures; to fire or refuse to hire smokers whether they smoke on or off the job; and a host of other initiatives designed to denigrate and demean smokers.

The Post article notes that: “Katherine Frohlich, a public-health expert at the University of Montreal, said studies by her research group found that poorer smokers feel the policies have discriminated against them by, for instance, restricting their social interaction and isolating them at home.”

Ms. Frohlich is quoted as saying that: "We shouldn't dismiss the fact these interventions have been incredibly successful. [But] we have to take into consideration the fact that there are some pretty serious unintended consequences."

But, social isolation is not an unintended consequence of anti-smoker policies. Rather it is the deliberately planned outcome of those policies. Anti-smoker policies were meant to foster the notion that smoking is a dirty, anti-social practice not to be tolerated by the non-smoker in ordinary social intercourse.

Of course, this has been the chosen strategy of anti-smoker zealots for decades. Smokers had to be punished; shamed into quitting, by any and all means available.

The poor, meaning those dependent on fixed incomes, pensioners and low income wage earners suffer the consequences of this discrimination to a greater degree than most. And, that too was intentional.

Punitive tobacco taxation is regressive, striking at the poor disproportionately. And, it's no coincidence that anti-smoker efforts to have smoking banned in apartment buildings have been concentrating on social housing, which is meant to provide decent housing for low income families. Dependent on government subsidy, these individuals have no real means of fighting back.

Gar Mahood of the Non-Smokers Rights Association, claims in the article that “the tobacco-control movement has not tried to stigmatize individual smokers”.

Bullshit and bafflegab. Mahood was one of the driving forces behind the Campaign for Tobacco Industry Denormalization (TID). In 2004, the campaign solicited the cooperation of then Health Minister, Ujjal Dosanjh, to implement the TID strategy to fight the “tobacco epidemic”.

It was noted that the public perception was 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.” Signatories to the letter included Mahood, Cynthia Callard of Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada, and a host of other NGOs and government agencies dedicated to the elimination of smoking and the stigmatization of smokers.

And, although TID was supposed to denormalize the tobacco industry, the only way to accomplish that goal was through a series of interventions intended to disparage, denigrate and demean smokers as a group. Smoking had to be transformed into a deviant behaviour, practiced only by nicotine addicted misfits unworthy of either compassion or common courtesy.

And, it's no surprise that the anti-smoker zealots immediately chose to attack and discredit the study, claiming the researchers' work was "shoddy", and merely parroted the views of the tobacco industry. Said Gar Mahood of the Non-Smokers Rights Association: "What they've done with this paper is mischievous and careless and ill-informed. These people have simply bought into the tobacco industry's mischief."

This is a common anti-smoker strategy for dealing with legitimate researchers whose conclusions contradict the established wisdom of the anti-smoker cartel; paint them as ill-informed dupes, or worse, willing stooges, of the evil tobacco industry.

The Post article notes that Dr. Bell and her team claim: “There is an "urgent" need for governments to revisit their anti-smoking policies, suggesting that the stigma around smoking could lead to patients hiding their tobacco use from doctors, and feeling desperate about ever kicking the habit.“

I'll buy that. Not because it makes it harder for smokers to quit, but because current policies are discriminatory and just plain wrong.

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