Cigarettes extinguished, along with liberty

At midnight tonight the State of Washington’s vindictive and senseless ban on smoking in all bars, restaurants, nightclubs and within 25 feet of any public doorway goes into effect. How did such a revolting and absurd state of affairs come about? The philosopher Roger Scruton explains:
"The emphasis on life-style also explains the extraordinary war now being waged against tobacco. Smoking belongs with those old and settled habits—like calling women "ladies," getting drunk on Friday nights with your mates, staying married nevertheless, and having babies in wedlock—that reflect the values of a society shaped by the clear division of sexual roles. It is a symbol of the old order, as portrayed by Hollywood and Ealing Studios in the post-war years, and its very innocence, when set beside cocaine or heroin, gives it the aspect of discarded and parental things.

Furthermore, tobacco advertising has specialized in evoking old ideas of male prowess and female seductiveness: even now, cigarette ads dramatize decidedly un-hip fantasies that stand opposed to the elite culture—after all, the target consumer is the ordinary person, whose fantasies these are. Nor should we forget that tobacco is big business, from which giant corporations make vast profits by the hour. In almost every way, tobacco offends against political correctness, and precisely because it seems to put older people at their ease and enable them to deal confidently with others, it raises the hackles of those who have never achieved that precious condition and whose discomfort is only increased by the sight of others so harmlessly and sociably enjoying themselves.

This is not to deny that tobacco is a risk to health: of course it is. Moreover, it is just about the only product on the market that relentlessly says so. But the health risk does not really explain the vehemence of the attacks on it or the extraordinary attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency and other bureaucracies to portray cigarette smoke as the single most important threat to our children's well-being. For the risk tobacco poses, when compared with those associated with marijuana, automobiles, fatty food, alcohol, or sedentary ways of life, is not actually very serious. Robert A. Levy and Rosalind B. Marimot have shown that smoking reduces the life expectancy of an American 20-year-old by 4.3 years. In an age when people manifestly live too long, why should Nanny be so worried? And why doesn't she turn her attention instead to those products that risk not the physical but the mental and moral health of the consumer: television, for example, or pornography?

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that what offends about tobacco is not its medical guilt but its moral innocence. It is precisely because it is so harmless, from every point of view other than the medical one, that smoking gets on Nanny's nerves. People don't commit crimes under the influence of smoking, as they do under the influence of drink or drugs. People who smoke have a ready way of putting themselves at ease, of standing back from the world of troubles and taking benign stock of it. Their characters are not distorted or corrupted by their habit, nor is their moral sense betrayed. The smoker is a normal, responsible member of the community, and he can be relied upon, when asked, to put out his fag. He is not led by his habit into transgressing the established order or the old moral code; on the contrary, his habit has been entirely domesticated by the old sexual morality and recruited to the task of glamorizing it."


  1. The main argument I heard for the ban is that employees shouldn't have to work in a dangerous smoke filled environment. But the undercurrent is puritanical. There are a lot of former smokers who would really, really like to have a smoke once in a while. Since they cannot have their pleasure, because of health concerns, why should anyone else be allowed to either?

  2. All true. If non-smokers were treated the way smokers are, they wouldn't be able to stand it. They would protest and it would be ugly. But it's the old paradox: it takes a saint to be a saint.

  3. Rob: Second hand smoke may be unpleasant, but it isn't a health risk to anyone.

    Mortimer: Agreed. Of course, smokers have no urge to do anything to non-smokers, we just wish to be left alone.

  4. Well, it's your blog, but there's evidence that it is a health risk. Of course it depends on dose. Smoking is a health risk, the risk is caused by inhaling the smoke, the affects of the smoke will be dose related whether you sucked on the cigarette or just breathed the smoke. I don't think the risks justified the law, but it is documented, and is the reason cited by many I know for voting for the ban.

  5. I'm not aware of a more definitve study of ETS than this, which concludes "The results do not support a causal relation between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality, although they do not rule out a small effect. The association between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease and lung cancer may be considerably weaker than generally believed."

  6. That's an interesting study. However, it measures the cancer risk of being married to a smoker, not the cancer risk of being exposed to second hand smoke. Anecdotally, my mother was married to a smoker before he quit (the smoking that is). But since he wasn't allowed to smoke inside, she was never really exposed.

    A long term study of non-smokers known to work in a smoky environment would be a lot more convincing either way.

  7. They asked how much of their spouses smoking they were exposed to. If anything the study underestimates the amount of SHS exposure, because many of the people in the study, in particular the earlier years, were also exposed to SHS at work.

    As for those the amount of exposure from smoky environments see this.

  8. All certainly true, though I'm not so sure the nanny impulse will stop at smoking; witness how they are turning their attention to fast food and appear ready to adopt similar tactics in the conquest of another industry viewed as crassly capitalist because its products aren't needed, just wanted. As for what cigarette smoking represents, it also had a certain cache as a bohemian vice, too.
    The image of big tobacco and next the bloated visage of the fast food industry certainly have something to do with all the puffed up outrage. Perhaps if tobacco came from peasant Andean farmers they wouldn't be so energized.
    It seems it's no more complex than a moral crusade is always needed, and in the post-sexual revolution can be hard to come by. The second hand smoke bugaboo gives them the justification they need, granted by a non-smoking majority willing to sacrifice a small measure of someone else's liberty to appease this powerful impulse, as well as ridding themselves of the minor inconvenience of enduring a little cigarette smoke. Moral superiority is the drug of choice for some, and their intoxication is as ugly and embarrassing as that of the most obnoxious drunk. Just have a look at those annoying kids on the truth dot com ads. I almost want to take up smoking in protest.

  9. I missed the part in the study about asking spouses how much smoke they were exposed to. Truth be told, I skimmed it, so that's not surprising. But if second hand smoke isn't dangerous, the truth has done a lousy job of getting out. Where's Big Tobacco when you need them.

    I agree fully that the world would be a much better place if the do-gooders would concentrate on making their own lives better rather than worrying about everyone else.

  10. It's never to late to start smoking Dennis. I sometimes suspect that the Truthout ads have been co-opted by tobacco industry moles, and are intentionally reverse psychology encouragements to smoke.

    Rob: the reason everyone bought into the second hand smoke lies was because it was never about health, it was about envy, spite, and extorting billions of dollars from the tobacco industry.

  11. I have never seen anyone, anywhere, attempt to justify a ban against smoking in bars with scientific evidence.The most you'll see is an anecdote from a bar employee who doesn't like smoking.The bottom line is that the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association support smoking bans, and will endorse and support candidates who enact laws which ban smoking. The elected officials have calculated the political cost /benefit, and decided accordingly. Of course, there is the rare true believer, like Mayor Bloomberg of New York, but this is generally just a ploy for politicians to get favorable "ink".

  12. Just got through from two days of testimony dealing with the lady next door who burned her house down. She was moving drawers while tidying up a room, and a coal from her fag dropped unbeknownst to her into a drawer full of frilly lacy undies.

    Second hand smoke...thats a smokescreen (pardon the pun), even if second hand smoke won't hurt you, there is little justification to subject tenants or family to second hand fire.

    Sobering statistics...
    The U.S. has one of the highest fire death rates in the industrialized world. For 1998, the U.S. fire death rate was 14.9 deaths per million population.
    Between 1994 and 1998, an average of 4,400 Americans lost their lives and another 25,100 were injured annually as the result of fire

    Of those forty four hundred killed EACH YEAR from fire, most were from careless smoking. (cooking creates more fires, but they don't kill as many people...)That means more than two thousand people a year die from fire caused by smokers. Can't argue those stats away!

    Every single one of those people who killed a loved one with their smoking would swear that "Oh sure, other people are careless, but not me...nosir!".

    Ever walk through a burn unit? Makes you wonder if they really were the lucky ones. Lots more people are injured than were killed.

    The above stats are taken from this site...

    Personally, I could not care less about the cancer! I smoked for years until the emphesema became too bad..I didn't stop smoking because I stopped LIKING it! Cancer may or may not get me....its a gamble I was willing to take. Its the burn victims! Most of whom are there because somebody was stupid with a flame in their face. Back in my Air Force days, us smokers got to smoke in a 40 foot container delivered outside the hangar. Steel walls. No padded furniture. Good times. But, that was because its a hanger full of airplanes whose fuel load exceed the weight of the aircraft! Fuel all over the place, dripping onto trays.

    So go ahead, smoke as much as you like. In a safe place. Like a concrete or steel room. In a bar with tile floors.

  13. Luckily for me my home is made of asbestos.

  14. Been nice knowin' you....

  15. Obviously (one would think), the state has no business banning smoking on private premises, regardless of how well established the health threat is. That employees would also have long-standing exposure to the dangers of passive smoke is an interesting point, but somehow not convincingly persuasive (how many people have absolutely zero choice about where they work?) when compared to preserving private property rights

    That this simple idea is not widely and well accepted enough to prevent the passage of such laws tells you something about modern America.

  16. Scuton's article is very interesting and I mostly agree with it, but it is a little exaggerated. Smoking was never fully uncontroversial, and pace Scruton's identification of smoking as a conservative virtue, the objectors to it in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were generally among the more conservative and strait-laced members of the community. Evangelical Christians have always looked askance at smoking. (Smoking on campus is restricted or completely forbidden at Wheaton, Grove City, and even Bob Jones.) And as for the identification of smoking with calling women "ladies," quite the reverse is true: Smoking by women was generally considered a masculinizing outrage until the 1920s, when flapper types, not the ladylike, began smoking and eventually were able to wear down the prejudice. Scruton's citation of old movies is more apropos, since the Golden Age of Hollywood and the Golden Age of smoking did roughly coincide. If we had movies from the Victorian period, I don't think they would portray smoking, especially by women, in so positive a light.

  17. Interesting points JK. I'm reminded of Evelyn Waugh's remark that "women who smoke in public should be arrested."

  18. Speaking from a Melbourne, Australian perspective, the thing that causes me a great deal of amusement is that people are constantly outraged at cigarette smokers - it has successfully been banned within cafes in restaurants, and the various lobby groups are now pushing for it to be banned inside pubs, bars, and clubs - yet seem to fully support taxpayer-funder heroin injecting rooms, wherein heroin addicts are given a warm place out of the rain to shoot the stuff into their arms, under supervision, with needles provided and a nurse always present. I have no real opinion of heroin or of the legal system but the fact of the matter is that heroin is an illegal drug that can land you in jail, whereas cigarettes are totally legal and can be purchased by anybody who looks 18.

    And you are correct in asserting that the evidence for damage caused by second-hand smoke is scant at best. Certainly it can be unpleasant for people who don't like the smell, but then it is very easy to raise the cliched objection that I don't like the smell of secondhand automobile fumes - a proven killer - but there have as yet been no moves to ban cars.


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