Thursday, 12 August 2010

Slow Burn: The Great American Antismoking Scam (And Why It Will Fail) - Don Oakley

Slow Burn: The Great American Antismoking Scam (And Why It Will Fail)
-Don Oakley

In which a noted pro-smoker misses the point.

Hey, kids, a curious thing happened to me the day after I finished reading this book! I got on a bus! Twenty minutes into the journey, I was assailed by the smell of…you’ve guessed it, fag smoke! (That’s British slang for cigarettes, for US readers.) I looked up! I saw…a fairly well dressed young man! He had no cigarette in his mouth! He carried none in his hands! And yet…phew blimey, the sink! I dunno if Oakley is in fact correct about us having been conditioned to smell cigarette smoke when there is the faintest hint of one in the vicinity, but damn! That’s some good conditioning!

All right, I’ll be serious now.

Slow Burn is nothing less than an assault on the antismoking lobby, which causes such distress to smokers and great annoyance to many non-smokers, giving us decent non-smokers a bad reputation. Oakley’s attack is centred on hysteria surrounding smoking, including exaggerated reports of just how deadly cigarette smoking is, and how the antismoking lobby has a major effect on people’s lives. It is interesting to read some of the reviews on Amazon of Slow Burn; of 22 reviews, all, but one of them were 1star or 5star – the single 3star review was written in such a way as to cause me to suspect that the book was not, in fact, read by the reviewer.

But never mind that. Oakley has gathered a vast amount of evidence to suggest that the antismokers are engaged in a vast assault on civil liberties. Based on flimsy evidence, the antismokers have attempted to drive smokers away from themselves, including forcing them to face discrimination, such as a suggestion that fag smoke is harmful to wherever they work. I’m sorry to break this to Mr Oakley, but in some cases that is actually true; I work in a library and some of the rare books there would be damaged by such smoke, along with many other hazards that could be shrugged off by a modern-day edition of whatever book it actually was. In other places I have worked, smoking would have posed a very real danger to people…and the smokers, many of whom were inconsiderate, had to lurk outside. Smoke responsibly, Mr Oakley?

And there is a second point. Why should people make allowances for smokers? If smoking is indeed an addiction, why should they be coddled. Why should a business, which is often operating close to the margins, make room for smokers?

Have I been conditioned? I should admit that I grew up in a non-smoking home and the people I met until I was 16 who smoked were also b******s in my view. The first positive role model I met who smoked came when I was sixteen; he, at least, had the decency to only smoke in his own home. Was that an issue for me? I didn’t have to go to his home, did I? Many smokers I have met since then, I must add, were hardly the souls of decency; one, who moved into a non-smoking dorm with his fags, admitted that he had deliberately chosen to move into a non-smoking flat, despite smoking at least ten a day. With only a handful of exceptions, the smokers I met were very – very – inconsiderate of non-smokers.

The health hazards caused by smoking, either directly or second-hand, have been overstated, according to Oakley. I am no medical professional (neither, apparently, were some people giving evidence for one side or the other), but I see little good in breathing in such smoke. I do not suffer from asthma or hay fever, but if I did, I would have problems breathing in smoke. Perhaps Oakley was lucky enough to have all of the smokers in his family live long and happy lives, or maybe not; that is not licence for him to stink out my room. Yes, there are other smells in the air besides fag smoke, but smoking does not actually have to happen. Just because someone lives next to a polluting gas station is no excuse for someone to light up and add to the smells.

And now, he misses the point. There are plenty of people, like myself, who would be quite prepared to allow – allow? I can hear him saying now – smokers to light up as much as they like in privacy. Maybe his claims about how smoking helps people to socialise are accurate and many people will find their soul mates over a cig. But we do not like breathing in such smoke ourselves, we do not like finding butts scattered everywhere and we do not like the way the smell lingers around clothes and rooms. Most of us consider smokers to be inconsiderate and would be delighted if smoking was banned, even though, as Oakley concedes, it would be a godsend to criminal organisations. We are not Mrs Grundy-type people who consider other peoples’ business to be our own, peering into houses and windows in hopes of catching people doing something wrong, but people who have had enough of smokers. If Oakley – and indeed many of the pro-smokers – realised that point and insisted that smokers behave responsibly, much of the support for anti-smoking measures would vanish.

He writes with a wry sense of humour, and sometimes with his tongue firmly in cheek, but he misses that point. Conditioned or not, we find the smell to be disgusting…and consider smokers to be responsible. It’s not enough to be against something, Mr Oakley, but you have to be for something better, something that everyone can compromise with and accept. If not, the antismoking lobby will hold sway, because its better than the alternative.

Three out of five.

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