An Open Letter to the World Health Organisation
by Geoffrey A. Cliff
UK Citizen; educated by the UK State Education system and life experience,
European Citizen; trusted to vote, expected to obey the laws of the UK and the European Union;
of sound mind, and considered by most to be an intelligent and perspicacious man.
Let me state from the beginning that I am not a fool; my judgement has not always been of the best, but I am far from stupid. I have an intelligence quotient that puts me in the top 5% of the general population. I am blessed with a scientific mind, an ability to see to the heart of problems, and a sensible approach to life. So please do not try to tell me that I have no opinion of value, or that I am unable to comprehend scientific reasoning, or that I can be easily confounded by specious argument. I can think for myself.
When I was a young man I began to smoke. At the time it was not unusual. People around me smoked, I tried it, I liked it, and I continued to do it. I started eating different foods in exactly the same way. Those I liked, I continued to enjoy. I did the same with activities such as cycling, swimming, fishing et cetera. Although each of these things gave me pleasure, and the more I enjoyed them, the more I enjoyed my life, I never considered that I was in any sense 'addicted' to them. I took part in no illegal activity, for I was taught to be a good citizen and to follow the laws of society, so I never took drugs. These, I was told, were addictive, and highly dangerous, and should be avoided, so I obeyed. I was taught, too, to be cautious of the many dangerous things that I would be exposed to; knives, scissors, petrol, gas, electricity, road vehicles, trains, alcohol, people who would do me harm, and so on ad infinitum. None of these things were illegal, so were not prohibited in my life, so I learned how to survive among them, and use them safely.
The fact that I survived into adulthood is proof enough that I took note of the admonitions, and adapted my youthful enthusiasm in order to assure my safety. But I continued to smoke even when concerns were raised that I may be doing myself harm. Because I enjoyed it, because it had become a habit, I looked at the warnings, considered the dangers, examined the evidence for and against, and carried on, since I believed that the dangers were over-stated, and were issued on moral grounds as much as on health grounds. Even when I was told that I may be shortening my life expectancy, I looked at people who smoked and lived to ages far in excess of the 'three-score and ten' that was said to be the norm (including Sir Winston Churchill and the late Queen Mother), and decided that I was willing to take the risk, as it was my right so to do.
Then, of course, I found myself facing an avalanche of propaganda; statistics from every conceivable source, medical opinion, religious views, ad tedium. Again, I looked at all the evidence, for and against, and realised the wide divergence of opinion that existed between supporters of smoking and antagonists – often based on the same 'evidence' but with widely differing conclusions! I read of experiments involving force-smoked beagles being killed, not by the smoke they were forced to inhale, but by 'humane' dispatch for analysis to 'prove' that they might have died had they been exposed to smoke for a lifetime! Visits to my doctor became nothing more than anti-smoking rhetoric; on one occasion I attended the surgery with, I think, a scald. Asked whether I was a smoker, I asked the relevance of the question. The answer: 'Well, it doesn't help, does it?' Resisting the urge to make the point as to whether the price of milk was a help or hindrance, I realised that I was in the process of being brainwashed. Being a stubborn kind of person, unwilling to bow to this assault, I vowed to resist and carried on smoking, as it was my right so to do.
Now began the assault on my pocket. If smokers were going to make themselves ill, and seek medical help from the National Health Service, then said the Chancellor, they should pay special taxes for the additional costs. Escalating rates of taxation would then force the smoker to relinquish the habit. A moment's thought will cause a reasonable person to observe, a) If smokers are dying younger, then they will require medical treatment for less time than will non-smokers. b) If they are dying so much sooner than non-smokers, the savings in pensions and elderly health-care will be reduced. c) If the governments are so convinced of the dangers of smoking, why are tobacco products simply not banned, like heroin or cocaine? Is tobacco less dangerous when tax has been paid? So I made the informed decision to continue smoking, as it was my right so to do.
Now began the assault on smokers via public opinion. No longer was it enough for smokers to be told that smoking could be harmful to themselves, the public had to face a barrage of propaganda 'proving' that smokers were harming the populace via 'passive' smoking. People who had never entered a public house in their lives were being told that they were in mortal danger from doing so because of it. Even though the risks from passive smoking were reported to be less than those from living on a city street, having an open fire in the home, going out in fog, burning candles, having a garden bonfire, et cetera, calls immediately came for smoking to be banned in enclosed public places. Even some smokers thought this not a bad idea, for there would be designated areas where they could continue to smoke, without facing the fury of a now-hostile non-smoking public. Of course, designated areas were not part of the plan, and 'enclosed public places' was stretched to include inclosed places to which the public might have access, as well as all workplaces, even where only smokers work, including hospital car parks, railway stations, bus shelters et cetera, ad nauseam.
Eventually, under such pressure, even the most dyed-in-the-wool smoker gives in – as he was intended to do by the moral purists. He tried to give up the smoking habit, but found it so ingrained that it was difficult to do so – not, I venture, because of addiction to nicotine, but simply breaking a habit, finding something to with his hands. But the kind and benevolent health services had solutions to symptoms of withdrawal; nicotine replacement therapy or NRT; patches, gum and inhalers containing nicotine. And counselling services, and quit-clinics, and helplines. Brilliant ideas, except that they did not work for most smokers, so they continued, in their little corners, to smoke as they had a right so to do.
Then came a miracle. A clean non-tobacco device that contains just three harmless ingredients and a little nicotine. It produces no toxins, has no side-effects on the user, nor on the wider public, since it produces nothing more than water vapour, steam, mist, gaseous H2O. It mimics the hand-to-mouth motion of smoking, and is almost universally believed to be at least 1000 times safer than smoking to the user, and several million times safer to any bystander. Under all current laws, it is legal to use anywhere, since it involves no lit tobacco, and no harm to the general public. Little wonder, then, that smokers turned to the electronic or electric cigarette, or e-cig, in their thousands, now millions. They have discovered the joy of obtaining their harmless 'buzz' from nicotine without the harmful carcinogens and toxins of tobacco smoke – the substances they were warned for years were the real danger of tobacco. And many, myself included, instantly became that ideal of the moral purists – non-smokers! After fifty years, in my case, during which I probably smoked around 500,000 cigarettes, plus cigars and pipefuls of tobacco, I am a non-smoker. I haven't had a cigarette for six months. I feel that my health and vigour have improved, my clothes smell better, my car smells better, my never-smoker wife is happier in my company, I enjoy walking more. What more could be asked for?
Well, to start with, I would like to be allowed to be a non-smoker. I would like to be allowed to sit in a pub or club, or restaurant and exercise my legal right to enjoy nicotine with my drink, or my meal, or my friends, without breathing in tobacco smoke, for I am a non-smoker. I do not wish to be a passive smoker lurking in the doorway, or huddled under a tree. For I am not a smoker, and I do not wish to be treated as such because of the war on tobacco, for I have forsworn tobacco for good.
But now the battle is no longer about smoking, and there is little pretence that it is, or ever has been. The moral purists no longer demand that the public is protected from my smoke, instead they seek to take from me my right to consume a substance no more harmful than caffeine, much less so than alcohol, on the pretext that it is a powerfully addictive, toxic, carcinogenic, dangerous drug. Yet there is no evidence for these charges, and there is ample evidence to the contrary. Even the medical profession know that there is no evidence for addiction, for they will happily give me nicotine to satisfy my 'cravings'. Would they prescribe a shot of vodka for an alcoholic, a 'fix' for a heroin junkie Would we take a compulsive shoplifter on a shopping spree, or a serial killer on a paint-balling session?
There are other specious and spurious arguments too. The main one says that using an e-cig 'normalises' the act of smoking. This is preposterous. How can the act of NOT doing something normalise the performance of the activity? One could similarly argue that driving carefully normalises dangerous driving, or that lying in bed normalises the act of standing. Then there is the one that says that e-cigs encourage the consumption of nicotine, and nicotine addition forces people to smoke. This muddled thinking is wrong on two counts. 1) As we have seen in my case, smokers start by being attracted to smoking for the sake of smoking, since they have not yet experienced nicotine. If they take up the habit, they become accustomed to nicotine (note I do not say 'addicted', since this is an exaggeration). When they want to quit, nicotine helps them to do so, if an acceptably attractive alternative source is available. It is thus a 'gateway' out of smoking, not in. 2) Had e-cigs been available when I began my smoking career, I would almost certainly have stuck with them, for I never much enjoyed the taste of tobacco, and I hated the 'fug' of smoke when I was in a room of smokers, or that hung on my clothes afterward. You see, I am a non-smoker at heart, and always was, but I let custom win, for there was no alternative until recently. And this is true of just about every e-cig user with whom I have discussed this point!
One of the most poisonous arguments used against e-cigs is the supposedly cynical use of sweet flavourings in e-cig liquids deliberately to attract children to start smoking. This is ludicrous for several obvious reasons. 1) Ex-smokers do not want to emulate a tobacco habit, so many prefer to break completely from tobacco to something tasty; mint, fruit, aniseed, chocolate, coffee; the very same tastes that even non-smokers prefer for sweets et cetera. 2) These same flavourings are used to make alcoholic drinks palatable. No one has ever, to my knowledge, suggested that pubs should be allowed to serve only vodka in order that young people do not become alcoholics. 3) If sweet flavourings are more attractive, and encourage more smokers to quit, then, surely, this is precisely what the moral purists have been trying to encourage! And in whose interest would it be if young people took up smoking? Not the e-cig and e-liquid suppliers, but the tobacco companies, and the tax collectors would get the lion's share!
Then we have the argument that children will fail to recognise the difference between e-cigs and tobacco cigarettes, and will take to smoking if they see adults with e-cigs. This is clearly ludicrous because children can easily tell the difference between things. I have never known a child to attempt to eat a ball because he or she has eaten an orange, or to make a telephone call on a remote control, or to walk up curtains because they resemble carpet. Swords and table knives have a similarity, but we teach our youngsters to tell them apart, and to understand the difference in use. I do not know of a child that cannot tell the difference between a policeman and a fireman. And in any event, should we not be teaching our children about the hazards they will face in life, and helping them to choose safer options?
Finally, we come to the crux of the matter. Moral purists do not want e-cigs because they do not want anyone to enjoy anything that they themselves do not enjoy, or that they think is 'sinful' or 'unnecessary'. They would un-invent the car, the television, the radio, the computer, but if we were riding on horseback, they would argue that we should walk. So they will not tolerate anything that undermines their moral high ground. Obviously, they were not truly intent on securing smoke-free public places; they have achieved that already, but a world in which no-one consumes nicotine, or puffs out water vapour, or even looks as though they might be getting a little enjoyment out of life. Along that route lies a dark and sinister world. As guardians of the public health, you should ask yourself, “Can I ever make the world 100% safe? Would life be worth living in such a world?” And, “If no-one is being harmed, should I interfere?”. A single 'No' should mean that it is time to let others make their own life choices, as it is their right so to do!