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The canonisation of Clive Bates

"Clive Bates has just published another brilliant post. It's a pity smokers have no Clive Bates!" writes Vapingpoint Liz.

The gist of her post, published yesterday, is that Clive is expertly picking apart the junk science surrounding e-cigarettes and smokers need someone like that on their side too.

Says Liz:

I wish someone would question the dodgy science about second hand smoke too - in defence of smokers and the warped fracturing of society that THAT dodgy science has caused. The anti smoking ideology, and the massive worldwide industry it has now become, needs to be unpicked piece by piece on the basis of the faulty science it has promoted.

Clive is a shrewd, sincere and intelligent campaigner. I have a lot of respect for him but I must point out – not for the first time – that the idolatry (#ImWithClive) that greets his every word is ironic because in my opinion he must take some share of the blame for the culture of intolerance that has swept the nation with regard to smoking and, by association, nicotine.

As director of ASH Clive was no stranger to fear mongering about passive smoking. Few of the allegations made much sense and during his time in charge the threat of second hand smoke was repeatedly debunked.

In April 2002, for example, following an exhaustive six-month investigation during which written and oral evidence was put forward by ASH, Cancer Research and Forest, among others, the Greater London Assembly Investigative Committee on Smoking in Public Places declined to recommend any further restrictions on smoking in public places.

According to Angie Bray, a joint author of the report:

The assembly spent six months investigating whether a smoking ban should be imposed in public places in London. After taking evidence from all sides, including health experts, it was decided that the evidence gathered did not justify a total smoking ban.

For Liz to suggest smokers need a Clive Bates ignores the fact that for several years there were people fighting the junk science on passive smoking. Sadly Clive wasn't one of them.

Those genuine freedom fighters included Ralph Harris who was chairman of Forest from 1987 until his death in 2006; Gian Turci; and Joe Jackson.

In 2005 Ralph (aka Lord Harris of High Cross) wrote a booklet published by Forest called 'Smoking Out The Truth: A Challenge to the Chief Medical Officer'. It began:

Hardly a week is allowed to pass without some new scare story about the perils of 'passive smoking'. One of the latest, based on an experiment in an Italian garage, is that tobacco smoke is more lethal than car exhaust fumes. Another was that 'passive smoking' is even more dangerous that direct smoking ...

As a lifelong pipe man I have increasingly come to mistrust the dogmatic vehemence with which the stop smoking (SS) brigade recycle their denunciations of 'passive smoking'. Certainly, smoke may be irritating or even upsetting to sensitive bystanders, as are popcorn, perfume and garlic on crowded tube trains. But lethal?

Despite a barrage of media publicity most non-smokers in my experience remained unmoved by dire warnings that tobacco smoke – massively diluted in the atmosphere – could actually kill them. It is this common sense implausibility that has goaded the tight network of anti-smoking lobbyists – ever more shrilly – to demonise ETS and brandish mounting estimates of its death toll.

I also have in front of me a report commissioned and published in 2005 by Forest. Entitled 'Prejudice and Propaganda: The Truth About Passive Smoking', it was researched and written by Gian Turci who loved nothing more than debunking junk science.

'Prejudice and Propaganda' began with some questions and answers about environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). For example:

Q: Why is the passive smoking argument so important to non-smokers?

A: Before the anti-smoking movement created what Dr Ken Denson of the Thame Thrombosis and Haemostasis Research Foundation called "the myth of passive smoking" smokers were largely tolerated by non-smokers. The general attitude was "They're only harming themselves." Anti-smokers therefore decided to argue that smokers were harming others around them which of course makes smoking "socially unacceptable".

It's a clever tactic and it's working. By constantly giving the impression (without ever proving) that ETS is a serious cause of ill health among non-smokers the anti-smoking lobby has been able to increase people's intolerance of smoking and deprive smokers of the important argument of free choice. In short: the anti-smoking movement has found passive smoking to be such an effective propaganda tool that objective science cannot be allowed to get in the way.

Clive was of course an active member of that anti-smoking movement.

Gian Turci's report featured a systematic examination of the evidence on the effects of passive smoking. In particular it listed all the studies available to 2004 that looked at the risk of lung cancer from ETS.

Having demonstrated the weakness of the antis' argument, Gian concluded:

The risk of getting lung cancer from passive smoking is minute in comparison to the risk of getting breast cancer from wearing a bra or leukaemia from eating twelve or more hot dogs each month or, more seriously, prostate cancer from drinking red wine.

He added:

Where does it all end? Should we forbid, control and regulate everything?

Sadly Gian is no longer around to answer his own question but the desire to "forbid, control and regulate" e-cigarettes was clearly inspired by the war on tobacco.

Another person fighting the good fight a decade ago was Joe Jackson. Joe may be a musician but I would argue he was as knowledgeable about the risks of smoking and second hand smoke as Clive is about the risks of vaping and e-cigarettes.

'The Smoking Issue' was published (but not commissioned) by Forest in 2004. An updated version, Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State, appeared in 2007.

Joe prefers the revised version. I like the original best. It was succinct, brilliantly written and made a powerful case. It began:

A couple of years ago I considered giving up my own moderate enjoyment of tobacco because of the constant barrage of horrific statistics. But anti-smoking propaganda in the USA (I was living mostly in New York) seemed so overblown, so hysterical, that I became sceptical.

So instead of giving up smoking, I started doing research. At first my mind was pretty open; I half expected to find that smoking was even worse than I thought and I decided that, since I wasn't a hardcore nicotine junkie, I could live without it.

Instead I've been astonished, again and again, by how flimsy much of the anti-smoking evidence really is. By now I'm absolutely convinced that the dangers of smoking (and 'secondhand smoke' in particular) are being greatly exaggerated for a number of reasons, many of which have less to do with health than with politics, money and fashion.

Copies of all three publications were delivered to MPs and the then Health Secretary John Reid. I know Reid shared our scepticism about the effects of passive smoking because Ralph Harris and I were in a private meeting with him when his chief advisor also questioned the evidence and Reid nodded his head in agreement.

Prior to writing 'The Smoking Issue' Joe had written articles for the New York Times and Daily Telegraph that attracted huge attention. He appeared on the Today programme and was invited to share a platform with John Reid at the 2004 Labour conference in Brighton, so you could say he was "a Clive Bates for smokers".

Unfortunately we were fighting opponents who were more than happy to use junk science to further their goal of a smoke free society. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter didn't exist so it was also very difficult to develop a groundswell of support among smokers or the general public who were largely apathetic.

More recently of course Chris Snowdon has done a great job highlighting the junk science that surrounds smoking and vaping. I'm thinking specifically of the smoking ban/heart attack "miracle" but I could list many more examples.

The great thing about Chris is that he exposes junk science wherever he finds it; he's not selective.

For avoidance of doubt I'm not questionng Clive's sincerity or his commitment to harm reduction, which is a perfectly honourable cause. I appreciate too that unlike many tobacco control campaigners he's not driven by a visceral hatred of the tobacco industry.

My point, quite simply, is this: Clive's canonisation by the vaping community ignores two important issues:

One, he helped create today's nicotine-intolerant society. Two, he supported questionable science when it suited him but when it doesn't he cries "foul".

Today he's doing a valuable job for vapers and it would be wrong not to acknowledge that or offer the vaping community our full support.

It's a pity though that our support for vapers isn't reciprocated by the likes of Clive Bates who rails against excessive regulation for smokeless tobacco yet supports both the smoking ban and plain packaging (for which there is still no evidence that it will reduce smoking rates).

I don't expect the level of support we happily offer vapers, merely a recognition that millions of adults choose to smoke tobacco knowing the health risks and they don't deserve to be bullied or stigmatised into quitting.

Is that too much to ask?

See also: Where is the empathy for smokers who don't want to quit?.

I also recommend this interview with Joe Jackson in the Telegraph in 2008 that refers to 'Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State' which the interviewer describes as "thoroughly researched and passionately argued".

A Clive Bates for smokers? We had one. Sadly most people weren't listening.

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Reader Comments (13)

Well thanks, but I can't take so much credit. I got a lot of info and a lot of inspiration from a lot of people - like the late Gian Turci in Italy, Wiel Maessen in Holland, or Jacob Sullum and Michael McFadden in the US. For that matter, I met Tom Utley at the Forest party recently, and I well remember his Telegraph article about the Enstrom/Kabat study, and how no one with half a brain reading it, could think 'secondhand smoke' was anything other than a complete fraud. But very few people were listening then and very few are listening now. I've come to the conclusion that PEOPLE BELIEVE WHAT THEY WANT TO BELIEVE. It used to puzzle me that they would want to believe something bad - like a bit of massively diluted cigarette smoke in the air is killing them. But in fact, people love to believe things like that. They like feeling part of a righteous crusade (stamp out the deadly epidemic of whatever!) they like having 'evil forces' to be mad at (Big Tobacco, boo!) and they like having a minority group of 'scumbags' they can feel superior to (you know who).

Also people want to believe in some kind of authority, and just about the only authority anyone respects these days is Doctors. They don't even have to be real doctors, they can be cynical, highly-paid lobbyists lying through their teeth - but if they use magical words of 'medical science', they are Not To Be Questioned, and people can get very annoyed if you try to do so.

That's why I've stopped doing interviews . . . I got fed up with obviously being used in a half-hearted attempt to show 'balance', while any time I tried to point out flaws in the holy 'medical science', the interviewers would stick their fingers in their ears and go 'la la la', or the plug would be pulled, and then a 'public health' person would be brought in to 'win' the 'argument'. I haven't given up - I'm just wondering what the hell anyone can do in such a situation as we now find ourselves in. It's like the McCarthy era in the US. My best hopes are that there are people with brains and hearts somewhere in the 'Health' racket who will at some point 'grow a pair of balls' (to use one of Gian Turci's pet phrases) and start talking sense - or that the whole thing will start to collapse under the weight of its own hubris. I'm not holding my breath, though.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 10:25 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Jackson

FYI the link to the Joe Jackson piece is faulty. I found the piece by google and will sit back and enjoy it later, but you might want to fix it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 10:46 | Unregistered CommenterThe Thought Gang

Fixed, thanks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 13:20 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

The vaping blog and forum world is divided. There are those, many of them too young to remember the run up to the smoking ban, generally welcome it even, and/or think of smoking as something they have been tricked into doing by the Tobacco Industry and which they are desperate to rid themselves of; and the other group (in which I include myself), who regard the looming ecig regulations/effective ban as just another restriction on liberty by puritan health nazis masquerading as Public Health; and who disagree with the smoking ban, believing it to be founded on scientific and statistical fraud.

Clive may or may not have genuinely believed normal amounts of passive smoking cause heart attacks (I'd guess that now, he probably doesn't), but whatever his views, wasn't it the case that he only ever used these claims to argue for compulsory non smoking areas in pubs, and never a total ban? He ceased to be Head of ASH in 2003 and it only just prior to the law being passed in 2005 that the Anti Smoking Industry thought it had a chance of getting a total ban.

Is this wrong Simon, and Clive just as bad as the modern Anti Smoking Industry?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 14:29 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

From Joe Jackson - I haven't given up - I'm just wondering what the hell anyone can do in such a situation as we now find ourselves in. It's like the McCarthy era in the US. My best hopes are that there are people with brains and hearts somewhere in the 'Health' racket who will at some point 'grow a pair of balls'.

Personally, I think we are entering a new phase of "control" that really only began with anti smoking. It will be forced life-style in every way - every way. In the beginning, people will simply allow. Younger people than me, think they are "free". But, they are in chains to me. In the vast expanse of time, it too will pass - but I won't be here to see that. There is no "movement" favouring smokers. But the vapers are pretty intense about what they do.The ill will against us by smokers is a pity. Together we would be stronger. We both enjoy nicotine as a pleasure. It's like Beer drinkers slagging off Wine drinkers.

I have spent a lot of time trying to stop vapers slagging off smokers and I do think it has improved. This post by Simon was not conducive to peace. And he cherry picked a tiny part of it.

Many vapers are aware they are in bed with the enemy -in fact somewhere I have posted exactly that! It is ironic that I have been critical of Clive Bates and I am the one connected with the lurid title. Cannonisation indeed. I am not a little miffed!

If smokers like Joe don't know what to do anymore, smokers who vape, like me, don't either. But I know this - we are stronger TOGETHER.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 14:54 | Unregistered Commentervapingpoint

Well said, and needed saying. One of your best articles. Great to read Joe Jackson's response as well.
I'm a smoker and actually have terminal lung cancer, and am receiving brilliant treatment from the NHS. My oncologist told me early on that my type of lung cancer was not from smoking but was genetic - and bad luck.
She also told me there was no need for me to give up smoking as it wouldn't make any difference and "you have enough stress already". I think I'm in love with her...
In February she's including me in an international research project into the latest cutting-edge treatments: epigenetic modification. Wish me and all those like me luck!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 17:01 | Unregistered CommenterLysistrata

"But in fact, people love to believe things like that. They like feeling part of a righteous crusade (stamp out the deadly epidemic of whatever!) they like having 'evil forces' to be mad at (Big Tobacco, boo!) and they like having a minority group of 'scumbags' they can feel superior to (you know who)."

Yes, I think you've summed up very well the reasons that Tobacco Control have found it so easy to create the myths they have. I do wonder, though, why it has been particularly pronounced in the USA and (perhaps even more so) in the UK.

Where I live, the anti-smokers have made almost no impact whatsoever. The government, at the behest of the Tobacco Controllers in Brussels, have introduced, and re-introduced the smoking ban here about five times, but without any success. It is still ignored by the majority, and the local authorities have no enthusiasm for enforcing it. It is rare for me to go into a bar and not find ashtrays on the tables. In most offices dealing with the public (including govt. offices) the scent of tobacco smoke will be on the air, and many of the desks will have a pack of ciggys and an ashtray on them. Nothing clandestine about it. There is absolutely no social stigma attached to smoking here, and I don't think any but the most gullible lend any credence to the SHS baloney.

So what is so different here? Why do the people not respond in the same way as the Brits? It's an interesting question.

On topic, I agree with just about all you've written re Clive Bates, Simon. It's good that he is at least supporting 'THR' in the guise of e-cigs, but he has a lot to answer for in the whole sorry and sordid story of the persecution of smokers and his willingness to deploy very obviously dodgy data to further his cause.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 17:19 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

Has it occurred to you that the fight for vaping is also playing strongly into your hands by openly and highly visibly showcasing the extent to which tobacco control and public health are willing to twist and torture evidence?

It is plain to anyone who cares to do a jot of research that vaping is about as close to harmless as you're likely to get in any voluntary adult pursuit, and that the arguments against it amount to little short of outright lies.

Should we win this argument, which is far from a certainty even though we are making strong in-roads, we will have done so by persuading many thousands or even millions of people of the truth of that argument - and by extension the fallacious nature of the arguments put forward by authorities.

Once this seed it set, it will blossom, as it has done with virtually all vapers, into an overall suspicion of public health's entire message. What else have we been lied to about? Obesity? Booze? Cigarettes? Not cigarettes, surely?

Played wisely, smokers rights advocates can use this as their greatest opportunity in a generation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 18:07 | Unregistered CommenterNeil Robinson

Jonathan, I don't want to turn this into a bash Clive Bates thread. Unlike many tobacco control campaigners he's a pragmatist not an ideologue and I welcome that.

However, to answer your question, although the smoking ban didn't happen on Clive's watch, I know for a fact (because he's told me) that he supports the comprehensive ban and would have campaigned for it had he still been director of ASH in 2004 and beyond.

He also supports plain packaging which is designed to further stigmatise smokers and denormalise smoking. Draw your own conclusions.

Liz, you wrote some effusive comments about Clive and his latest article and posted a link on the Friends of Forest Facebook page. Given that Clive is not and never has been a friend of Forest (his choice) I think I'm entitled to respond!

I appreciate your efforts to unite smokers and vapers. Unfortunately some very well-meaning people seem to think harm reduction trumps freedom of choice. It doesn't. If an adult chooses to smoke in full knowledge of the health risks they have every right to do so without being bullied and coerced to quit. If banging the drum for freedom of choice is not "conducive to peace" it's a sad world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 18:50 | Registered CommenterSimon Clark

@Lysistrata Sad and bad luck for you. I'm sure we all wish you well in your scary new adventure. It's one we are all going to have to undertake sooner or later...epigenetic modification? I shall research some. So glad you can smoke.

@Neil Robinson "Played wisely, smokers rights advocates can use this as their greatest opportunity in a generation."

I agree on this - but there is nothing on the Forest website (was I on the right site?) that exposes the lies and the manipulation of science by Tobacco Control about vaping at all. This could be extrapolated to expose smoking nonsense. Clive Bates is not the only one exposing gobbledegook. Every bit of it, undermines the prohibitionists. Even the recent press flutter against fake charities listed on my blog post is GOOD! The more eyes that get opened, the better!

So I repeat! "I wish someone would question the dodgy science about second hand smoke too - in defence of smokers and the warped fracturing of society that THAT dodgy science has caused. The anti smoking ideology, and the massive worldwide industry it has now become, needs to be unpicked piece by piece on the basis of the faulty science it has promoted."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 19:23 | Unregistered Commentervapingpoint

What Vapers must never forget, and defend at all cost, is that they hold 'the high moral ground'. They have done what the Zealots have demanded that they do. They have stopped SMOKING tobacco.
The Zealots, in a panic, have tried to move the goalposts to nicotine rather than smoking. To Vapers, that is devilish. It is an attempt to force them to stop vaping and return to smoking.

I use the word 'devilish' with the precise meaning of 'evil', and I mean it.

Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 3:40 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

There is a sense of disarray, divisiveness and confusion. Most appear to believe that a reduction in smoking rates is a 'good' thing, something even Forest/Simon seems to agree with (presumably by buying into much of TC propaganda). The conflicts merely arise over how this is achieved. It's one thing questioning CB's continuing belief in the harm of SHS, another to more or less accept the overall misinformation that has been promulgated for decades.

Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 10:05 | Unregistered Commenterdavid

Thanks for answering my question, Simon..

Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 12:56 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

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