Sunday, 19 August 2012

Arguing that plain packs "don't work" legitimises the busybodies

Arguments about plain packs "not working" and disputes about intellectual property of cigarette companies can be smugly shooed away by the authoritarians, as money (and partly due to said money, the public's trust) is in their hands. The intellectual property arguments certainly don't win hearts or minds, as they reinforce the idea that tobacco companies are faceless vultures desperate to maintain profits without actually engaging with the realities of the powers we are handing over to faceless, undemocratic supranational agencies. Arguing that there's no evidence that plain packs/hidden tobacco displays/smoking bans in public places will lead to fewer people taking up smoking or more people quitting smoking is playing into their hands as it accepts that this is necessarily a good thing, again without communicating the real danger - that we're stepping closer and closer to having our lives micro-managed and our personal choices removed. This line of attack is an own goal, because the authoritarians are, have and will produce reports "proving" anything - statistics will say anything when tortured enough, and the minute they produce these reports, the anti-authoritarians are defeated in the mind of the public. We must not defend liberty with such details and minutiae, we must stand up against the ideology of these authoritarians.

The idea that "tobacco is the only legally available consumer product which kills people when used entirely as intended," has been peddled continually to placate the general public to the idea of ever more stringent tobacco control. There is certainly a mindset that because using tobacco can lead to ill health effects, that fewer people using it can only be a good thing and this idea, fuelled by constant propaganda about "clean air", smoke "smelling bad", and graphic images of mouth cancer etc has resulted in a majority of people apparently reporting that they support the smoking ban, which has opened the floodgates to the public health fascists preparing to regulate many more aspects of our lives.

Alcohol and obesity are already now "being tackled" by the authoritarians. Thanks to "public health", authoritarians have almost completely killed the idea of liberties and individual responsibility. We are told that obesity, smoking rates and alcohol are the problems of societies rather than individuals. The authoritarian left appeals to socialists by highlighting the fact that many poor people are obese, thus packaging authoritarian policies as "breaking down inequalities", whilst the authoritarian right are also involved, pontificating that "eight million professionals are routinely drinking too much alcohol and endangering their health, even though they do not binge drink or get drunk." The latter claim is based on people drinking more than the government's recommended intake of alcohol each week, which is ridiculously arbitrary. Such arbitrary guidelines are subject to ever more draconian reductions, as "experts" are now claiming that cutting alcohol intake to barely quarter a pint of lager a day will "save 4,900 lives a year." It is hardly hyperbole to speculate that many people are now addicted to escalating nannying and prohibition. We are now constantly bombarded by the media with information on what will supposedly "save lives", but is denying ourselves any pleasure and living a model "healthy life" really living? Especially when any alternative lifestyle choice is increasingly being demonised and legislated against?

I am in favour of people having honest, balanced information about the health risks of obesity, smoking, alcohol (and the list is ever growing - women who bottle-feed seem to next in nanny's sight to be demonised and have their right to choose removed) but we must not continue to allow, and encourage, nannying tyrants to further tighten the screws on our freedom by giving them taxpayers' money to invent ever more ludicrous "reports" and draw up ever more authoritarian policies. With things like plain packaging, we must fight the entire culture rather than the particulars, or we are handing them absolute victory.


  1. I agree with this, but it's more complex ... no actually, it's a lot simpler. The thing is, evidence does not matter in these types of debates. The only thing that matters is how you can make people feel. Too many people base their decisions on "what feels right."

    That is why the tobacco control industry consistently wins. Opponents of tobacco control insist on "evidence." That is why opponents always lose.

    Furthermore, too many people are lazy and/or stupid and do not want to think for themselves. They want to be told what to think and how they should feel about what they are thinking, and they want to feel like they belong to the majority view, whatever the view is. On single issues like plain packs, they don't care about the intricacies. They care only "about the children." They don't care if it will work or won't work. If it *could* protect one child, they'll say "Good enough."

    Anyway... liked the use of "nannying tyrants." :)

  2. Welcome to the world of blogging about the dumb things done by pseudo-public-health people. I look forward to reading more.

    You make a very good point about not making some technical challenge the crux of one's argument against a bad policy. It is easy to fall into the trap -- though sometimes what looks like that it is more a matter of someone wanting to make a useful analytic point and not wanting to go into extensive disclaimers about, "of course the main reason is... but it is also useful to consider...." The anti-tobacco industry, and others like them, are masters of trying to get their premises accepted by sheer repetition, avoiding actually trying to defend them, and it is worth resisting that.

    (Aside: I am starting to like Jay's "tobacco control industry" better than the "anti-tobacco industry" that is a bit more common. I will explain why in a blog post sometime.)

    But I would offer that there is value in pointing out the inherent folly of a particular policy: It shows that the policy proponents are scientifically illiterate, dishonest, desperate, etc. Moreover, there is value in making the implicit cost-benefit analysis that will appeal to some people, as in: "you may think that giving up a bit of liberty is worth it to achieve the promised substantial consequentialist gains, but there are no material gains to be had".

    Finally, running through the full analysis of the real practical implications of a policy (as I did for this one in two EP-ology posts this week) can have some additional value, how this policy will likely create a new "corporate" infrastructure of black marketeers that will come to dominate some markets, and how it will force governments to *lower* excise taxes.

  3. I understand that countering claims that xyz measure will stop x number of children smoking is also important (by pointing out there is no evidence that plain packs will stop children smoking etc), but I suppose I wrote this because I've felt that the public debate so far has concentrated too much on these details and that to win hearts and minds we must bring the focus on to the implications of plain packaging and the tobacco/obesity/alcohol/sunbed/breastfeeding/[what next...?] control industry's endless goals.

    I quite like the idea, when people go on radio debates or whatever, of responding to ASH etc's individual claims with rebuttals (such as about lack of evidence of it "working", or about the black market implications) but then rather being on the defensive about plain packaging, attack by framing plain packaging as a wider issue and revealing that it's part of a far bigger plan/trend. It would be good to mention the tobacco control tactics that are and have already been seeping into alcohol and "unhealthy" food, and pointing out that groups like ASH and cancer research and other public health bodies work together and have similar objectives.

    At the end of the day though, I don't know really. I have been interested in politics for a good number of years, and many things about the way things are distress me, but over the last year or so I have realised that the influence and objectives of the tobacco/other products control industry are by far the most worrying issues to me.

    I've become slightly obsessed with all of this and how to counter it, (also - sorry that this comment is probably fairly incoherent; I don't tend to read my own comments back to myself before submitting them)so thank you for your comments as they've given me different insights on this.

  4. And also,
    "But I would offer that there is value in pointing out the inherent folly of a particular policy: It shows that the policy proponents are scientifically illiterate, dishonest, desperate, etc."

    Yes! I hadn't thought of that. Thank you! ASH and others are crooks, and the more they can be discredited the better. I can't bear that the BBC and media in general never question them and portray them as trustworthy etc. I wonder whether the BBC would ever make an investigative documentary exposing the corruption and dishonesty of the tobacco control industry... Perhaps it will be broadcast the day Ann Widdecombe is appointed manager of Manchester United.

  5. Good point, and well made.

    (Non-smoker, pro-liberty.)

  6. Good post.
    What Jay said but to add: The tobacco control industry also has the media on thier side. All thier junk science reports get published and become part of the mindset of the general populace.
    Groups that stand for freedom get no more than a footnote at the bottom or a tobacco control article, and even those are usually phrased to sound a bit crackpot.

    I agree we need to fight the nannying phenomenon as a whole, I've often said that removing freedom from one removes it from all, but I also think we need to keep up the micro fight, chipping away at all the junk science and statistics they keep churning out.

    Going back to the media, if you look at the comments below recent tobacco control articles in the Daily Mail you can see a distinct shift from people beleiving it all, to questioning it, to dismissing it out of hand.

    Once people start to see bullshit in one study they will start to see it in all of them. Results like that come from fighting junk stats with real ones and sniping at each new junk study with targeted rebuttals.

    Hope to read much more here. Keep it up. I've bunged you on my blogroll.