Great book: pity about the title

Dissecting antismokers’ brains

By Michael J McFadden

Aethna Press, 2004

ISBN 0-9744979-0-8

 It is the most astonishing political saga since the rise of Adolph Hitler, and there are many parallels to that event. The cold-blooded intensity with which the anti-tobacco campaign has been so carefully choreographed takes one’s breath away, when it is laid out so starkly as in this detailed account. All the techniques for undermining the democratic process are there – big lies, vote-rigging, emotionalism, Orwellian control of language, well known logical fallacies and, of course, junk statistics by the barrow load.

The author tells the story well and comprehensively. He divides up the anti-smokers into nine groups – Innocents, Neurotics, Truly Affected, Bereaved, Ex-smokers, Controllers, Idealists, Moralists and The Greedy. The latter, of course, are the lawyers and, however often you hear it, the sheer magnitude of the fees they have pocketed is truly awesome.  Even more so is the funding that goes into the campaign, ironically extorted from the smokers themselves.

The second part of the book deals with the tools of the trade, most of which will be familiar to anyone who has read The Epidemiologists, though here, of course, the application is more specialised.

Most of the text is in the form of a polemic, presenting a side of the argument that is seldom heard, especially in the Establishment media. Some of the appendices, however, are important scholarly documents. Especially useful is the summary of all the statistical studies on passive smoking. Anyone who still believes the EPA claims that it can establish from these data a link between passive smoking and lung cancer should just run an eye down the list of relative risks. Almost all of the confidence intervals (at the usual undemanding level of 95%) embrace the value 1.0, which means there is no correlation at all. Indeed, thirty of the 130 odd studies would suggest to lovers of marginal statistics that passive smoking actually protects against lung cancer.

The book rather underplays the role of the antismoking campaign in the larger political context. The anti-smokers are the storm troopers of the PC movement and the defeat of tobacco by the oppression of the minority who persist in its use is to be the marker of the power of the movement. Users of alcohol are under attack and the next minority to feel its wrath are the fatties and their suppliers. One day it will be those who vote the wrong way. The author, as did number watch back in January 2002, quotes Pastor Martin Niemoller:

 In Germany, they first came for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.  Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.  They came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Catholic.  Then they came for me and by that time there was no one left to speak up.

So what is wrong with the title? It is the fact that it is likely to deter the people who ought to read the book; the ordinary, reasonable, unfanatical majority.

John Brignell

September 2004

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