Nothing Much Changed in Thousands of Years
German industrial cigarette machine – makes 10,000 cigarettes a minute
There are some individuals and organisations that have found a way to deal with awkward questions: ignore them!
Recently I cast my critical eye at the website of the venerable cigarette manufacturing company, Japan Tobacco International (JTI). In their ‘About tobacco’ section we find the amazing fact that ‘Smoking has a tradition that dates back thousands of years.’ So that’s all right then. Slavery, genital mutilation of children and dog-fighting also date back thousands of years. And another thing they say in the same section is that ‘The way a cigarette is prepared has not changed much.’ I suppose it all depends on what they mean by ‘much’ and from when they are considering change. Up to the late 1800s cigarettes were hand rolled but modern machine rolling can produce up to 20,000 cigarettes a minute. Seems like a pretty big change to me – to say nothing of all the sophisticated additives that can be found in cigarettes these days. So I hope JTI will forgive me for imagining that their site may not be quite straightforward – it’s rather smoke and mirrors, particularly smoke.
Now let’s come to my main concern. If you read the JTI website carefully you can see how they try to justify continuing to be in the tobacco business – although they make a point of adding, rather obviously, that ‘If you want to avoid the risks of smoking, you should not smoke.’ So that lets them off the hook.
What they don’t acknowledge is how cigarettes themselves have created the problem, that is, nicotine addiction, whereby smokers find it difficult to stop.
This is what JTI says about addiction:
Many smokers report difficulty quitting smoking. The reasons they offer vary. Some say they miss the pleasure they derive from smoking. Others complain of feeling irritable or anxious. Others speak simply of the difficulty of breaking a well-ingrained habit. Given the way in which many people – including smokers – use the term ‘addiction’, smoking is addictive.
It is interesting to see how these comments, while seeming responsible and sensible, are merely self-serving.
‘Many smokers report difficulty quitting smoking.’ This is not true. All smokers (whether they report it or not) have difficulty quitting – that’s why they smoke! Or at least one can infer as much.
But do smokers spontaneously report that they have difficulty quitting or is this elicited by the questioner? And what are the circumstances under which this question was asked? What was the question anyway? Did they approach a random sample of smokers and say, ‘Excuse me, do you have difficulty quitting smoking?’ It’s a loaded, not to say insulting question. Or did they say to someone smoking a cigarette, ‘Excuse me, if you have difficulty quitting smoking would you please tell me why.’ Same situation. Or perhaps they asked a sample of smokers attending a smoking cessation clinic who had agreed to take part in such a survey. If this was the case, they would obviously be a self-selected group and therefore couldn’t be taken as representative of ‘many’ smokers.
So I used the contact section on the JTI website to ask them whence these comments came from. Are they from a scientific paper reporting the results of a survey or are they just made up by the JTI copywriter? I am still waiting for a reply.
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume many smokers had somehow reported that they have difficulty quitting, and that they were then asked to say why they thought they were in this unfortunate situation. Let’s take the quoted alleged reasons one by one.
‘Some say they miss the pleasure they derive from smoking’. But if they say they miss the pleasure of smoking this means they have already stopped, so the difficulty is retrospective and these former smokers cannot therefore be included in the ‘many’ who allegedly currently have difficulty stopping smoking.
As for a habit, whether well-ingrained or merely ingrained, that smokers apparently have difficulty breaking, this is not why smokers smoke or why they find it difficult to stop. Habits are easy enough to make or break but drug (nicotine) addiction is another matter entirely.
Those who ‘complain of feeling irritable or anxious’ as a reason for having difficulty in quitting are nearer the truth, but why do they feel this? Because the irritability or anxiety is caused by the cigarettes themselves or, more specifically, by the withdrawal symptoms of nicotine in the cigarettes.
Then we have:
But no matter how smoking is described, people can stop smoking if they are determined to do so. No one should believe that they are so attached or ‘addicted’ to smoking that they cannot quit.
Note how ‘attached’ is written as part of the normal flow of the sentence but ‘addicted’ is in inverted commas. This implies that smokers are not really addicted to smoking, only attached to it, and that if they really wanted to stop they would. Thus JTI reveal themselves: Don’t blame us if you think you can’t quit – you could if you wanted to!
What JTI does not admit, of course, is that the difficulties smokers may experience in quitting are an inherent part of the poisonous product they have provided for their customers to get hooked on – and to remain hooked on – for years, decades, or until they die.
Text © Gabriel Symonds