Sunday, August 28, 2011

Have the anti smoking lobby lost the plot?

I suspect that this post is going to draw strong criticism from various quarters but I humbly request that you forget which camp you belong to and read it objectively before calling me a "tar-lover", "lobbyist" or "baby killer". To start there are two things that should be borne in mind. I am not calling into question the  ill health effects of smoking, neither am I arguing that the current level of regulation is too stringent and should be relaxed. Secondly, this entire post began at my frustration at not being able to complete my model Mclaren MP4/4 authentically i.e. all Marlboro stickers (the main sponsor) were left out. Since it is the most superficial, I will discuss the latter first.

I recently completed my model Mclaren Honda MP4/4 and loved the experience and the outcome save for one detail, there is no logo on the rear wing and all the original Marlboro decals were either removed or replaced. Had this been the 1992 McLaren MP4/6, that would have been understandable since tobacco advertising regulation was beginning to make an impact in Formula 1 and the Marlboro sticker was replaced with the strobe barcode design on that car in some races. This is what my car looked like...
My Model Mclaren Honda MP4/4

And this is what it looked like in real life...

Ayrton Senna's MP4/4

 What many people fail to often realise is that the entire car was meant to resemble a pack of Marlboro's, and why should it not. It was after all the Marlboro Mclaren Honda Team!

See what I mean? No! Look at the front nose of the car
I am not here to debate whether it is right or wrong but it was not illegal at the time and I would have just liked to have completed my car, authentically. I understand that this is very much a "first world" problem but I just think it is silly to apply the ban on cigarette advertising to my model car. In fact, I would have been totally OK, if my Tamiya box had come with a warning sign that read " Smoking can harm those around you", which brings me to the second part of this post.

As stated in my disclaimer in the first paragraph, I am not here to question or refute claims about the ill effects of smoking (however I do have an opinion on the new theory regarding the health risk posed by tertiary smoking) but just believe that  the current state of "warnings" has reached saturation and that saturation was reached  before this new move to include graphic pictures on cigarette packs that cover 60% of the packet. If it is that unhealthy and the proof is that indisputable, then why not just ban cigarettes!

In the interest of time, I will make the following points regarding my issues with the anti smoking lobby.
  • Putting graphic images on cigarette boxes is not going to stop kids from smoking. Unless things have changed drastically since I was young, kids could never afford a pack of cigarettes (they buy them 'loose' so they are not being exposed to these warning labels/ images. 
  • It may be argued that all these warning labels have merely desensitised the issue. We have become so accustomed to seeing them, that nobody bothers reading them anymore, yet alone taking in the image.
  • I know that their are studies that show how effective the campaign is, but having done research duirng my postgrad, I know how easy it is to get a study to tell you what it wants to. The facts are that although the numbers indicate that fewer and fewer people are smoking, cigarette companies remain profitable, even whilst not being allowed to advertise.
  • Why is everybody fixated on the ill effects of smoking! I am still watching adverts on TV that make drinking look glamourous. FFS the drinking lobby have the power to bring back Vanilla Ice! What about the direct advertising of Happy Meals and Chicky Fun Meals to children and it's influece on the increasing obesity rate in the world.
  • Smoking is perceived by the youth to be cool. A lot of concerned older folk telling them that it is bad for them, makes it more so. I am not making the rules, jut stating the obvious.
The best way to control smoking amongst the youth is the way my granny used to do it. She used to turn my pockets inside out, looking for loose particles of tobacco that may have been dislodged. People who know me from school would know that I was probably the least likely to be smoking but that did not stop my granny from making sure. I also recall when I was in my third year of University, I needed to have an emergency appendectomy in the middle of my exam period (some people will go all the way to ensure they get a supp ;)). So there I was, in the emergency room, getting ready to be wheeled into theatre when the Anesthetist asks me if I am a smoker. I had to quickly weigh the options of revealing to my mother, who was at my bedside, that I did smoke occasionally or waking up prematurely during the operation. I must have though about this for longer than I realised because my train of thought was broken when I head my mother tell the doctor that I smoke 'every now and again'. I did not even live with my mother and used to smoke only during exams. Not even, my girlfriend knew!

I would like to conclude with this. Every smoker knows that what they are doing is detrimental to their health and that if they answer smoking questionnaires honestly, it could also be detrimental to their insurance premium. Warning labels and initiatives to prevent children from smoking (like banning the sale of cigarettes to minors) is good and should be encouraged but using bad science can never be justified, even in the pursuit of a noble cause. Some anti smoking lobbyists are becoming more and more inventive, some suggesting that passive smoking causes diseases not normally even linked to active smoking, like breast cancer. The new concept being promoted is 'third hand smoke' -  the theory that toxic residues in the form of particulates can be transmitted from a victim of passive smoking to a third party. Science has always had a secondary role in the anti smoking lobby. History would show that anti smoking laws, (with particular reference to passive smoking) took off in the 1970's and that this preceded the first studies which claimed to show it's ill effects. The danger with quoting flawed studies and making illogical assumptions is that your message, which is a good one, becomes tainted.

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