Social Icons

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Believe Whatever You Want

Over at the E-Cigarettes Politics blog, tobacco harm reduction advocate Chris Price postulates on what it means to save a life. His piece, which is tagged with "bitter and defeated smokers," references and aims to provide a counter-response to my recent post, Class Warfare and Saving Lives. Chris calls me a "smoking advocate" and I believe that Chris misunderstands where I'm coming from, so I will attempt to set the record straight below. He also draws several parallels in respect of saving lives, and I believe those analogies don't fit well, so I will also cover that.

So let's begin with the paragraph that describes his view of me and of other smokers.
The blogger Liz refers to is a smoking advocate and speaks from a smoker's point of view. I don't blame him at all, he is entitled to his opinion; clearly he is extremely jealous of the progress made by the ecig community, so tiny (about 8 or 9% of them currently) compared to the smokers, who were powerless to protect themselves (or made a terrible job of it, depending on your point of view). Their bitterness at their own impotence tends to be transferred onto everyone else; and, to be honest, perhaps I'd feel the same way if I had 25% of the population to work with and still failed utterly. But everyone has an agenda and you need to look at who is bringing you the message before you know what the message is worth. This is why propaganda is so very powerful: it is a message brought to you with a smiling face by a cleverly camouflaged liar, sometimes unaware of the fact, working for someone else (industries that profit from the lie fund the liar; a perfect example is tobacco control and pharma).
My response to this is that I'm not a "smoking advocate" -- I don't care if someone smokes or does not. Please read my blog post "I'm Pro-MYOFB":
Semantically, "pro-smoker" is also incorrect. I don't identify as a pro-smoker. I identify myself as "pro-Mind Your Own Fucking Business." I'm pro-MYOFB. I don't care if you smoke or don't. I don't care if you drink or not. I don't care who you sleep with or what you do for work. It's your life to live as best as you see fit. It's not mine. Who am I to tell you what to do or how to live?
Furthermore, I'm not at all jealous of the vaping community or any of the progress made. I sincerely want vapers to be able to use their products without prohibitions or interference from nannying tyrants and governments. What I feel is disappointment that a vocal minority of vapers have co-opted the tobacco control industry's rhetoric and propaganda to advocate for e-cigarettes, and by doing so are (perhaps unwittingly) also demonising smoking and smokers. I find such acts to be incredibly distasteful, and I cannot support any person, organisation or company who does this. Rest assured, it's not jealousy that I feel. I may be bitter, however, but not for the reasons you presume.

In respect of the statements made about smokers, I believe you have it mostly wrong again, Chris. Smokers (and businesses) were deceived by the tobacco control industry and the Labour government. We were told that pubs would be excluded from the public smoking ban, and when the law was passed, to everybody's surprise (except for tobacco control nutjobs), there were no exclusions for pubs. It's not that we were or are powerless or impotent -- we were tricked. The reason why smokers do not organise is because we all come from different classes, different points of view, different backgrounds. We're not a group. We are people who smoke -- most smokers do not identify as "smoker." I think you mis-characterise smokers -- I do not find such language helpful or appropriate for tobacco harm reduction advocates.

That said, many smokers feel guilty about smoking, because the tobacco control industry has for decades told smokers that they are bad people unless they quit smoking, that we will die unless we quit smoking, that smokers are killing unborn foetuses and young children, that we are helpless addicts, that smokers are stinky, unclean and unfit for their enlightened society where everyone can live forever if only you do precisely as Public Health advises. After a time, after ceaselessly being told how worthless you are because you're a smoker, is it any surprise that people begin to believe it? They believe all of the propaganda that second-hand smoke kills, and that the magical substance third-hand smoke kills. And they believe that smoking will give them a "premature death."  So faced with all of that guilt, the knowledge that smokers are responsible for every last disease and death on the planet, many smokers simply do not wish to associate themselves with other smokers or a "pro-smoking" movement. Smokers know that the mainstream media and our governments hate them, and that these days it is perfectly acceptable to verbally attack, denigrate, shame, and in some cases even physically assault smokers at every opportunity -- all of these things thanks to some truly misguided people in Public Health, activist doctors, and the tobacco control industry who have encouraged it, wittingly or otherwise.

Let me show an example of the latest anti-smoker propaganda (with thanks to Jan Johnson for sharing it with me), where a smoker's mouth is replaced with an anus:

"Death as a rationale is getting worn out and young people need to meet other messages to stop, think and listen."
That's what smokers are up against every day -- truly despicable people who hate smokers so much that they would create ugly and hurtful propaganda like this. Keep in mind, the target audience for this propaganda is young teenagers. Do let me know if you think this kind of propaganda is acceptable, Chris.

Let's move on to the subject of saving lives.
The phrase 'to save life' means exactly that, to everyone, under all circumstances. For example if a firefighter pulls you unconscious out of a burning building, they saved your life. If a lifeboat crew pull you off a sinking ship in the middle of nowhere, they saved your life. If a surgeon operates on you and fixes an aortal aneurism, then the operating theatre team saved your life. Or maybe you think they didn't? To 'save your life' means to prevent death at that point (and postpone it to a later date). That's what it means.
Actually, no, the phrase "to save life" doesn't mean exactly that under all circumstances. This is where semantics come in. For instance, if somebody helps me with something and I say, "Thanks, mate, you saved my life!" would anybody take that to be a literal statement?  I think not.

As for the examples you gave, those are indeed lives saved, but -- and this is an important distinction -- they are lives saved from "imminent death" if no actions were taken. There's a huge difference between acts to save someone from imminent death and acts taken to possibly prevent a death of some kind at some unknown future time.

Because you don't know when you're going to die. You don't know what the cause of your death will be. So how can you say that a life has been saved by switching to e-cigarettes instead of continuing to smoke? How can you ever prove that e-cigs even extended your life? You cannot, because even if a person lives to be 110-years-old, you can never be certain that quitting smoking and using e-cigs made that happen. You can believe it to be true, but that doesn't make it fact.

Let me put it another way. A smoker is diagnosed with lung cancer. Will e-cigarettes save that person now? No, they won't. And for the absurd comparison, if I am unconscious in a burning house, will giving me an e-cigarette save my life?  No, it won't. In what scenario is it proven that e-cigarettes will definitely save anybody? There are none. When people say "e-cigs save lives" what they are actually saying is "e-cigs may reduce the relative risks of getting certain diseases that may be caused by smoking, thus possibly extending your life by some unknown amount of time."  That's all you are saying. You can reduce the relative risk of getting certain diseases, but you have no idea whether you would get those diseases if you continued to smoke. You have no idea when you might get those diseases, and you have no idea if even those diseases will ultimately kill you if you do get them.

And indeed, that is all that the tobacco control industry is saying when they claim that "quitting smoking will save your life."  It's a confidence trick designed to exploit your natural fear of death. There are risks to everything that we do, some of them have the potential to harm you. It's up to you to decide the pros and cons of taking those risks.
If you switch to ecigs and don't die 10 years early from continuing to smoke, then ecigs saved your life - that's all there is to it.
You can say e-cigs save lives all you like, but it doesn't make it a fact. It's conjecture. It's speculation. It's betting on a possible outcome in an unknown future. How do you know it was an  early death? Upon what basis do you define an early death? You aren't guaranteed any amount of time on this planet. Some people live to be very old, and others die moments after birth. In between all of these tragic deaths there is an average age of death, but that's only a numerical figure, not a guarantee, not a promise. But if it helps you to get through your day, believe whatever you like.

The other issue here, which nobody ever discusses but they should, is that some deaths are better than other deaths. That's the real issue, to be honest. Anti-smokers are saying that if you die from cancer, or heart disease, it was a bad death caused by your bad choices as a smoker. Actually, they say Big Tobacco killed you. The truth is, all death is equal. It's just death.

But a slow, lingering and painful death frightens the hell out of all us. Does it not? It's not only frightening for the person dying, it's frightening for his family, too. Nobody wants to die like that. One could make a good argument that nobody has to die like that, but our governments have decided that you do not have the right to determine the manner of your death. So, thanks to people who know best for us, we're forced to linger on, waiting, in pain, and suffering.

Certainly, some people choose to linger this way, hoping they will be saved, or perhaps simply afraid to die. That is their choice. Sometimes, families are unable to let their loved ones go, so the family insists on keeping their loved ones alive for as long as possible, in some cases against the wishes of the person who is dying.

So the question is not whether e-cigs save lives. The questions are: "What should we die from? When should we die?"

I await the answers to those questions.