I’m always amazed to discover there are actually people who believe the world is flat, or that dinosaurs co-mingled with Christians a mere 5,000 years ago (what fun!), or that women should vow to obey men when they marry.
Seriously, there are people who believe this stuff.
What I didn’t quite grasp until recently is that there are actually people out there who say they don’t believe that smoking poses serious health hazards.
A couple of times in recent days I’ve heard people casually pooh-pooh the risks, including Canadian music icon Stompin’ Tom Connors, interviewed on “Q” recently by CBC Radio’s Jian Ghomeshi.
Stompin’ Tom was lamenting the fact that he can’t smoke on the tour bus and he has trouble finding places to smoke in motels and bars.
Ghomeshi suggested that perhaps he should ditch the smokes, given how damaging they are, health-wise.
Stompin’ Tom — clearly not impressed with that suggestion — said he didn’t believe any of that stuff.
Perhaps Tom could take Simon Critchley’s “The Book of Dead Philosophers” on the tour bus with him, and read all about how hardcore smoker Sigmund Freud met his demise.
Critchley writes that from 1923 until his death in 1939, Freud suffered from cancer of the mouth, jaw and palate and required more than 20 operations.
“The cause was his prolific cigar smoking, up to 20 a day, without which he was unable to think and write and which he never gave up.”
The father of psychoanalysis lived in constant pain and developed a growth on his cheek that was so malodorous, his favourite dog would no longer go near him. Eventually, the cancer ate through his cheek and he wasted away.
Even Freud — who was fond of blaming a person’s childhood as the source of their ills — recognized that his own was caused by smoking.
In Freud’s case, it was the strength of addiction and habit that prevented him from tossing the cigars in the trash.
Perhaps that’s the case with Stompin’ Tom, as well.
Whatever the reason, anyone who does not recognize the link between smoking and ill health has never smoked a pack of cigarettes and then hoofed it up Prescott Street after a night at The Ship.
Even now, three and a half years since I smoked my last cigarette, I still feel like I have reduced lung capacity when I hike a steep hill or go for a run — though it is getting better.
A common argument — or bromide, perhaps — from the pro-smoking lobby is that lots of non-smokers die of lung cancer. True enough. And there are smokers who will never die of lung cancer.
But that does not negate the causal relationship between the two. Not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos will develop asbestosis, but few people will dispute that one causes the other.
The difference is, I don’t know of anyone addicted to asbestos, nor do I know anyone who is proclaiming their right to be exposed to it.
And therein lies the rub.
Do a little research on the organized pro-smoking lobby and you will quickly discern a common, libertarian theme: smokers have a right to smoke and the government has no right telling them not to.
So it’s not necessarily always a matter of someone not believing the health warnings. Instead, it might be a matter of them asserting their right to ignore them.
The most popular tactic in this battle will be familiar to anyone following the climate change debate: disparage the scientific evidence.
An international smokers’ rights organization calling themselves Forces, which has its Canadian headquarters in British Columbia, has a website that sums up the message:
We are part of an international organization determined to fight irrational smoking bans, and misinformation about primary, and second hand smoke.
For many years now, our government has targeted smokers as the object of psychological persecution, moral lynching and public apartheid. This affects over a quarter of Canada’s population, and it has no precedent in the history of this country.
The anti-smoking industry claims to be based on scientific evidence. We are here to prove that this evidence is largely flawed and manipulated. We believe that the real reason for this persecution stems from the wider and much more dangerous tendency of the state to control the personal choice of citizens, just by deeming some choices “unhealthy.”
Smoking prohibition is just one goal of a much broader policy of state interference in our lives, and it must be stopped.
The use of the word “apartheid” in this context is offensive, particularly for anyone who suffered through that racist regime in South Africa.
But at least the website sets out the organization’s manifesto, warts and all.
The argument that the government would go through the effort of concocting false research and selling it to a nation in order to frighten people away from smoking makes little sense, given how much governments rake in from taxes on tobacco products.
For the record, I absolutely agree that people have the right to buy and smoke a legal product — though not anywhere they please.
But there’s no conspiracy, folks.
The percentage of Canadians who smoke is just about the same as the percentage of Canadians who die each year from smoking-attributable diseases.
Coincidence? I think not.
Now, put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She welcomes comments by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org