Tobacco Control: Feeble, Duplicitous and Futile
We do not need to read very far into the current (July 2017) edition of Tobacco Control to have demonstrated to us yet again the feebleness of the current official approach to the tobacco problem, the duplicity of the tobacco industry and the futility of academic research into smoking.
Turning over the cover of the journal with its curiously ambiguous name we arrive on the first page at an editorial headed, ‘It’s the 21st century: isn’t it past time to ban menthol cigarette sales?’ The reason for posing this question is:
Because menthol appears to make smoking initiation easier…and may be associated with greater addiction or difficulty in quitting, scientific groups have urged that policy-makers ban menthol in tobacco products.
What these scientific groups, whoever they are, apparently fail to realize, apart from the cockeyed idea that there are degrees of addiction, is that the reason smokers are addicted is nothing to do with the presence or otherwise of menthol in cigarettes, but because they are addicted to the nicotine. It’s true that menthol cigarettes may make smoking initiation easier because it to some extent disguises the horrid taste of cigarette smoke, but if menthol were banned tomorrow, what difference would it make? Can you imagine a callow youth, foolishly thinking that smoking will make him appear more grown up, approaching a purveyor of tobacco, surveying the various poisonous products on offer and then saying to himself, ‘Nah, no menthol? Forget it!’ He would obtain somehow or other, even if underage, a packet of non-mentholated cancer sticks, likely proceed to become addicted to them (whether ‘more’ or ‘less’ addicted is immaterial) and carry on smoking for years or decades.
On to the next page, under ‘Worldwide News and Comment’, we are reminded of an appalling situation:
With over a billion deaths forecast this century if current trends continue, reducing tobacco use remains an urgent priority…(emphasis added)
Why aim only to reduce tobacco use? How many tobacco-related deaths this century would be acceptable? Half a billion? One hundred million? Why is it not an urgent priority, or even an ordinary priority, to abolish tobacco?
Then Ms Ashima Sarin and Mr Rajiv Janardhana, the authors, go on as if they are hurt in their feelings :
Despite the harm of its products, the tobacco industry continues to obstruct, delay and attempt to dilute the introduction of…measures…against the tobacco epidemic.
Of course the tobacco industry obstructs, delays and dilutes. Do they think the tobacco industry will do the decent thing and close down their factories as soon as practicable?
A more hopeful stance, however, is revealed on the same page by the news that the Danish Institute for Human Rights has recommended that ‘Philip Morris International (PMI) should immediately get out of the tobacco business’, noting along the way that:
Tobacco is deeply harmful to human health, and there can be no doubt that the production and marketing of tobacco is irreconcilable with the human right to health.
And how does PMI respond to this charge? Like this:
Acknowledging and acting on the societal harm caused by our products is central to our human rights commitment and to our vision for a smoke-free future to replace cigarettes with smoke-free products.
So that’s all right then? Well, it isn’t all right. It’s downright dishonest. Note that their acknowledgement of harm is diluted by calling it ‘societal harm’. No mention of the billion deaths this century to which PMI’s poisonous products will contribute. They merely proffer their smoke-free products as if they’re the answer to the harm caused their ordinary products – by which they presumably mean cigarettes. And their vision for a smoke-free future is not a future without tobacco, but one where, at some unspecified time hence, their cigarettes will be replaced with a product where tobacco is merely heated instead of being burned. A safer cigarette! These are already available – PMI calls them iQOS or IQOS. So what are they waiting for? Why don’t they stop making ordinary cigarettes right now?
Let’s press on through Tobacco Control to a research paper from New Zealand: Achieving the tobacco endgame: evidence on the hardening hypothesis…
I won’t bore my readers by quoting the title in full, but the intriguing neologism ‘endgame’ – which I suppose in this context means the happy state where nobody smokes anymore – appears nowhere but in the title, and by ‘hardening hypothesis’ they are referring to so-called hardcore smokers who are ‘more addicted and less able or less motivated to quit.’ All clear?
I have already commented on the illogicality of degrees of addiction, but what do they mean by less able or less motivated to quit? Degrees of quitting ability or of motivation to quit are, likewise, nonsensical. Nonetheless, motivation is assessed by the number ‘quit attempts’ a smoker may make in a year, an attempt being arbitrarily defined as an occasion on which a smoker has refrained from smoking for at least twenty-four hours.
All this is of no practical use whatsoever. There are only two states one can be in with regard to smoking: either you smoke, or you don’t. It is not as if motivation to quit can be increased, as this paper suggests, by greater exposure to information about the harms of smoking. The implication is that if only smokers realised the damage they were doing to their bodies and the money they were wasting by smoking, they would all have sufficient motivation and ability to quit and, therefore, presumably would just quit.
Not to worry, because this learned six-page, five-author paper comes to a reassuring conclusion: tobacco control strategies that result in reduced smoking prevalence are not accompanied by an increase in ‘hardcore’ or ‘hardened’ smokers. What a relief!
Text © Gabriel Symonds