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New Year 2014: Where is the empathy for smokers who don't want to quit?

I was going to begin 2014 with a bright 'n' breezy "Happy New Year!".

But then I read this post by Clive Bates: Where is the humility? Where is the empathy?.

Clive's New Year message begins:

With the approach of 2014 and New Year resolutions under negotiation, my thoughts and good wishes turn to all those smokers out there who would like to stop smoking – as in stop inhaling burning particles of organic matter and hot toxic gases deep into the lungs. I hope they give vaping a try.

An e-cig is working well for my brother and I’m really glad about that – he’s smoked for about 30 years and has never intended to stop, but this has all but ended his smoking over the last nine months. Not good enough for MHRA, Brussels, WHO and CR-UK of course, but he’s pleased, and so am I. It reminds me that there are great stories about e-cigs, about personal triumphs, lives transformed and people getting back in control.

But there is a striking contrast between the often moving, thrilling and visceral human stories told by vapers and the attitude and language of the bossy bureaucrats and fake experts in public health who claim to know better. I ask where is the humility? Where is the empathy?

He then highlights some personal testimonies from vapers who have quit (or are trying to quit) smoking. "I love these stories," he writes.

"If you work in public health," he adds, "and you are working against e-cigarettes, I hope you feel ashamed and will reflect on how you could do a better job in 2014."

Powerful stuff, and Clive is correct to berate public health workers for their lack of "humanity" and "understanding" of e-cigarettes and those who want to quit smoking tobacco.

But what about smokers who don't want to quit, or those whose lives have been changed, sometimes ruthlessly and often for the worse, by smoking bans and other anti-tobacco measures designed to "denormalise" their habit and stigmatise them personally.

Don't they deserve empathy too?

In common with many e-cig campaigners, Clive loves the testimonies of vapers who quit smoking, but where is the "humility" to accept that a great many people enjoy smoking, have no wish to quit, and should be allowed to smoke in comfort, without harassment, in some enclosed public places?

Here are some of their testimonies:

”I'm 43 and perform in a semi-pro pub-duo, singing and playing Irish standards etc. As such, I am someone who is ‘protected’ by the smoking ban. Well, it's certainly protecting me against earning a living from music and it has utterly RUINED the pub-going experience, not just in the winter but, for landlocked city pubs, at any time. No smoking inside, no drinking outside. Result: near-empty, atmosphere-free pubs. Personally, I feel pretty unwelcome in any public space, so I go out much less. I don't travel by train any more. Booking hotel rooms has also become fraught, as I refuse to stay anywhere that won't accommodate my preference.”

”I am a housewife. I used to go into town for a coffee with friends once a week. I no longer do that since the ban was introduced. I used to play bingo once a week but I refuse to have to go outside to have a cigarette, so I don’t go any more.”

“As a mental health sufferer this ban has been devastating. One of the most important things for people like me is getting out and not stagnating at home, however, with this vicious ban there is nowhere for us to go out to and relax. Ergo, we don't go! By not going out we are not meeting new people, who possibly have the same or similar problems and with whom discussion can be very beneficial to both sides. Effectively we feel isolated, have an increased feeling of unworthiness, and an even blacker outlook on the future."

“I am currently practising as a mental health social worker. Before that I was a social scientist and a professional musician. The ban has hit the most vulnerable in society the hardest – those in rural areas with few pubs losing what venues they could socialise in: landlocked locals, estate pubs, working men’s clubs, bingo halls, shisha bars. All these venues supplied a crucial social and cultural function. They created and sustained communities where people from all backgrounds met and socialised."

“I am 67 years old and have been allowed to smoke in a pub or club for nearly fifty years. Since retirement a pub and club has been the centre of my social life and now I only go to a pub once a week, just to stay in contact with friends. I feel that my social life has been taken away from me and feel that the smoking ban is discrimination against the elderly, because they have been stopped from doing something that they have legally been allowed to do for nearly all their lives.”

You can read more testimonies here: Social Impact of Smoking Ban. Most were posted on this blog.

Clive talks of "bossy bureaucrats and fake experts in public health" oblivious, it seems, to the fact that it was the same "bossy bureaucrats" and "fake experts" who campaigned for the smoking ban by spreading unwarranted fears about the impact of 'passive smoking' on people's health.

Unfortunately public health campaigners succeeded with their scaremongering about 'secondhand smoke' so it's hardly surprising that some are adopting the same intolerant, risk averse approach to e-cigarettes.

Don't get me wrong. I like Clive, always have, even when he was director of ASH. When he left we sent him flowers as a genuine, albeit light-hearted, mark of respect.

However his failure to acknowledge the rights of those who don't want to quit smoking is typical of Tobacco Control.

The only politician/public health campaigner I have heard express genuine empathy for all smokers in the last decade is former Labour health secretary John Reid.

Reid was a former 60-a-day man who represented one of the poorest constituencies in the country.

According to him, a cigarette was one of the few pleasures a young, single mother living on a sink estate could look forward to.

The public health lobby went berserk, even though it was probably true.

Reid also disputed the claim that 70 per cent of smokers want to quit. In his estimation, I once heard him say, it was probably around 30 per cent.

Even if the 70 per cent figure is true, it still leaves 30 per cent (approximately three million people in the UK) who don't want to quit.

Do they not deserve our support, our understanding? Tobacco is a legal product, after all.

I have said this before and I'll say it again. Forest supports consumer choice. We therefore welcome and embrace all nicotine delivery systems including e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products such as snus.

What we don't accept is the lack of empathy for those who don't want to quit, or the bullying and discriminatory nature of many of today's anti-tobacco policies.

Over the past decade we have witnessed a disturbing trend - the deliberate denormalisation of a legal product and the systematic vilification of its users.

Clive Bates, for all his good intentions with regard to e-cigarettes, seems happy to endorse that policy. (I've never heard him criticise it.)

A few weeks ago, at the Global Tobacco Network Forum in Cape Town, I asked him a question while we were having a drink.

(I'm sorry if I'm betraying a confidence but I assume he stands by his answer and won't object to it being made public.)

"Clive," I said, "if you had still been director of ASH in 2004, would you have campaigned for a comprehensive smoking ban?"

To his credit he didn't duck the question.

"Yes," he replied.

The irony is, while Clive rightly condemns the hyper-regulation of e-cigarettes, he ignores the fact that it's a direct consequence of the excessive anti-tobacco policies he supports.

After all, having banned smoking in all enclosed public places, it's not difficult to extend that ban to e-cigarettes, however absurd that policy may be.

Reap what you sow and all that.

Support for a comprehensive smoking ban demonstrates not only a disturbing lack of empathy for those who enjoy smoking tobacco, it also makes a mockery of market forces which e-cig campaigners - including Clive - often cite as a reason the state should butt out from over-regulating e-cigs.

(How often have we heard that excessive regulation will kill invention and the natural development of this fledging industry?)

Ultimately, and for all his talents, Clive is no different to most public health campaigners. He may have empathy (eloquently expressed) for smokers who want to quit but what about those who enjoy smoking and don't want to stop?

Hopefully he will prove me wrong in 2014 and demonstrate the sort of understanding and, dare I say it, humility he accuses other public health campaigners of lacking.

PS. This morning via Twitter Clive called for a "credible science review of [the] EU position on e-cigs".

He has my full support.

But will he support a "credible review" of the UK government position on smoking in public places (including the evidence on secondhand smoke)?

I don't think that's unreasonable.

Update: BBC News is reporting 'MP Sarah Wollaston in e-cigs row with health team'.

In response Forest has tweeted:

@drwollastonmp Welcome your position on ecigs. Would also welcome some empathy for smokers who don't want to quit [followed by a link to this post]

If you are on Twitter and following @Forest_Smoking please retweet.

Sarah Wollaston, for those who don't know, is an outspoken advocate of tobacco control including plain packaging.

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Reader Comments (10)

The Editor
Letters page
The Publican

By fax: 0181 565 4465

Action on Smoking
and Health

7th June 1999

Dear Editor

Re: smoking in pubs

It is true that the Health and Safety Executive is developing a new Approved Code ofPractice to deal with passive smoking in the workplace (Pubs face new smoking bans, Codeis a blow, 7th June 1999). All the ACOP will do is provide meaningfulguidance on how the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) should be applied to tobaccosmoke in the workplace. This law already exists and has no exemptions for the hospitalityindustry. The ACOP will clarify the law and help publicans comply with it.

A new ACOP would not mean that all smoking must be banned in pubs. The heart ofthe law is that employers have an obligation to do what is reasonably practicableto reduce their employees' exposure. That could include segregation,ventilation, baning smoking at the bar or other measures. It also means the 'donothing and ignore it' approach is not an option. The best approach for any pub is towholeheartedly embrace the Charter agreed by the Government and trade bodies such as ALMRand BII and to do what is reasonable and practical to protect their employees. That isgood professional business, and it should not be a cause for alarm, despair or resistence.

Yours sincerely,

Clive Bates

Thursday, January 2, 2014 at 13:33 | Unregistered CommenterFredrik Eich

A question: why do you keep using our enemies' language, by referring to pubs etc as 'enclosed public places', instead of pointing out at every opportunity that they are in fact PRIVATE places? They are neither government property nor public property, not being funded by taxation. Smoking bans trample on property rights and represent an inappropriate intrusion of government into an area where it doesn't belong. Or am I the only one who sees this as a strong argument, or at any rate stronger than pleading for 'empathy for smokers'?!

Thursday, January 2, 2014 at 15:34 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Jackson

A good post, Simon, abd one which echoed my thoughts when I was reading his piece, particularly "the bossy bureaucrats and fake experts in public health" bit.

I do however agree with what Joe writes above, that the property rights issue is one that is not given enough prominence, as to my mind it is one of the basic rights we have, and for the state to be able to tell us what we can and cannot do on our own property with a completely legal product is nothing short of scandalous.

Thursday, January 2, 2014 at 16:32 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

Points noted but I wrote this in response to a post on Clive Bates' blog, the theme of which was empathy, humility and personal testimonies, not property rights.

Thursday, January 2, 2014 at 17:26 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

"stop inhaling burning particles of organic matter and hot toxic gases deep into the lungs."
Good advice indeed! Mr Bates may be interested to know that the key to smoking is to only light one end of the cigarette, cigar or pipe and then draw the smoke from the unlit end.
It's a pity no one has pointed this out to him before. I hope that with this helpful health tip he will go on to enjoy smoking and put his bad experiences behind him.

Thursday, January 2, 2014 at 18:05 | Unregistered CommenterTony

In addition to Joe's point, nor should we forget that SHS danger is a myth, and tobacco control know it.
I have been looking into the history of the Enstrom and Kabat study which was published in the BMJ in 2003. Here is what happened:

The American Cancer Society collected data from around 1960 to 1990.

Enstrom applied for funding in 1990 for his study, but was refused by the American Cancer Society.

Enstrom then conducted further follow up of the data collection between 1990 and 1997, funded by the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (with Prop 99 cash) via the University of California. In 1997, that research program refused further funds. But note that there seems to have been collaboration between “the tobacco related disease’ org and “the centre for indoor air research” - a tobacco company funded org.

In 1997, Enstrom and Kabat got funding from the Center for Indoor Air Research (with tobacco company cash) to continue follow up until 1999 and to conduct their analysis.

The report from E & K was published in the BMJ in 2003.
Enstrom and Kabak were viciously attacked immediately after the study appeared in the BMJ, and before anyone could possibly have had time to study the details. The attacks were coordinated. Enstrom put up a strenuous defence which can be read here:

He was accused of using tobacco company money to fund the study. Here is what he said about that:

Quote: “After adjusting for inflation, about 90% of the total funding came from the ACS [American Cancer Society], about 5% came from the UC [University of California] Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, and about 5% came from a tobacco industry source (Center for Indoor Air Research).”

He only applied to the CIAR after being refused further funding to complete the study.

Readers will be aware that the study found NO EFFECT from SHS generally among spouses of smokers, and only a small, statistically insignificant effect after 30 years of living with a smoker. Another big study found the same result as E & K. Both these studies were ignored by the Surgeon General. of the USA.

I'm sure that most readers will be aware that a very recent study has also had the same result.
So it is very clear that the 'raison d'etre' for the smoking bans has been a pack of lies from the beginning.

Thursday, January 2, 2014 at 18:24 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

Good advice indeed! Mr Bates may be interested to know that the key to smoking is to only light one end of the cigarette, cigar or pipe and then draw the smoke from the unlit end.

Bugger me Tony, so that's where I've been going wrong all these years! That's it then. No more burning particles of organic matter and hot toxic gases for me!

Blimey, this is going to save me a fortune in Germolene and Lipsil for my burnt lips...

Thursday, January 2, 2014 at 19:47 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

An article that says so much as to how we ended up giving up our personal liberties and allowed hate compaigns to go un-checked until now the 11th hour. Still, like a good football game a lot can happen in the last few minutes of any game. Smokers are not being treated as humans with rights, and if they cure themselves with electronic cigarettes it isn't going to make any difference to the forces of ANTZ. I agree that vaping is 99% less of what smoking is. I do not agree with policies based on lies about secondhand smoke that have alienated people that choose to smoke. It's mind controlling a systematic attack since the 1970's, to blame, shame and tax smokers a form of torture forcing them into saying they really wish they didn't smoke by some percentage figure. My own life is a good proving ground for humility, acceptance and tolerance. I am staying with my EX Husband, no romantic involvement. He suffers from COPD and Emphysemia and still chooses to smoke in his bedroom. When I began vaping in 2010, one of the first things that changed was having a sense of smell again. I found the smell of real cigarettes, ashtrays repugnant to my senses. I can hardly stand it. It's not a psychological effect it's physical. When he opens his bedroom door after a cigarette I am revulsed again. I find the sound of his gurgling bronchitis to be cringing to my ears. I can spend over 40 hours a week involved in activism to promote the accessibility of E-Cigarettes and defend the rights to use them, while this makes not a slip of difference to him and his right to choose to continue smoking. It's a delicate balance of live and let (die) live I mean. I could allow anger and self importance to dominate my mind and destroy a relationship with someone I've known for over 45 years, but no, I won't and it does take some humility and respect for each persons individual rights.

Thursday, January 2, 2014 at 22:29 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Belle

Joe Jackson makes an important point. I often describe the ban as a ban on smoking in "all non residential buildings and secure mental hospitals." This is accurate because it is how the law was written. It was almost impossible to start listing all the places where smoking was banned. There would always be a loophole. The way to draft such a law, and the way it was done, is to ban smoking everywhere indoors and then list any exemptions. Initially, private homes, hotels, prisons and secure mental hospitals were exempted. More recently, secure mental hospitals were included in the ban. Hence my description. It has the added advantage of pointing out that the Anti Tobacco Industry considers it OK to treat mental patients like **** because they tend not to cause a fuss.

Friday, January 3, 2014 at 17:16 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

It has the added advantage of pointing out that the Anti Tobacco Industry considers it OK to treat mental patients like **** because they tend not to cause a fuss.

Oh, I expect they caused a fuss, before they were chemically coshed. It's just that it was never reported. They're only a bunch of loonies, after all.

I personally think that the ban in mental hospitals epitomises the appallingly selfish and callous mindset of the Tobacco Control Industry. What they have enforced there is just so cruel I can barely find the words to articulate my anger and contempt for these poor excuses for human beings. That they should seek to impose their warped ideology on people who are not only extremely vulnerable, but have no way to voice opposition to the arbitrary whims of their tormentors speaks volumes about the modus operandi of Tobacco Control.

These 'Public Health' fascists are a cancer that really needs to be excised from the body of society before the disease spreads to a point beyond which there is no hope for humanity. (And I use the word 'humanity' in both its senses.) They are totally oblivious to the misery they leave in their wake. The end justifies the means.

And they wonder why people liken them to Nazis...

Saturday, January 4, 2014 at 9:27 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

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