Society, Health and the Freedom of Choice

By Vexen Crabtree 2007 Jul 30

Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics.

Fletcher Knebel

Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations (

1. The Personal, Medical and National Costs of Smoking

Despites decades of work by health campaigners, more than one billion people still smoke today. Smoking kills up to half of those who fail to quite puffing, reducing their lives by an average of 12 to 15 years. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says more than 5m people a year die early from the effects (direct or indirect) of tobacco. That exceeds the toll of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The Economist (2008)1

Book CoverThe Health Education Authority refers to the current situation as 'the smoking epidemic' and estimates that smoking is responsible for approximately 110 000 deaths a year. This amounts to roughly 17 per cent of all deaths. Some 285 000 people are admitted to hospital because of smoking and on average occupy 9500 hospital beds. The total cost of smoking to the National Health Service is £437 million.

"Britain's Population" by Steven Jackson (1998)2

It has been estimated that for every 1000 young smokers, one will be murdered, six will be killed in a road accident and 250 will die before their time because they smoke.

Secretary of State for Health (1998)4

While Jackson (1998) states above that there are approximately 110 000 deaths a year from smoking in the UK, the Secretary of State for Health (1998) states a slightly worse 120 000 3. The younger people start to smoke, the more they cost themselves and society.

Smoking causes cancer and increases the rate of ageing, by damaging the DNA inside cells. "Smoking corresponds on average to 4.6 years of ageing, and smoking a pack per day for four years corresponds to 7.4 years of ageing"5. Smoking by mothers causes a range of disadvantages for the future lives of their baby; it is linked with lower IQ and ADHD6.

The health of the nation is something that affects everyone, especially in the long-run. The economy is slowed by ill-health. As young smokers get older, sick leave increases. We need more working healthy pensioners otherwise the demographic shift towards old age will cripple all our industries in 100 years.

I wrote a heart-felt criticism of smoking, and the surrounding social psychology, in 2003:

Smoking cigarettes for social reasons, to relieve stress or for enjoyment are all foolish and counterproductive. You feel stressed for a reason. Smoking fags does not relieve the cause, but causes increased stress on your body, albeit less consciously. Smoking (or drinking) to "relieve" nerves only has a long term detrimental effect on your nerves. If you bend to peer pressure and smoke in order to be sociable, you are weak, a sheep, and have nothing to contribute to society: So why even try to be social until you've learned to be yourself? Smoking for pleasure or relief of an urge to smoke is counterproductive and shorted: The want of nicotine reduces pleasure, abandoning cigarettes altogether results in an increase overall happiness, not to mention cons that are avoided, such as:

  • Stinking clothes
  • Foul breath
  • Kissing that tastes like ash
  • Smelly ash trays, house furniture
  • Unhealthy lungs
  • Unhealthy veins and arteries, reduced blood flow to the brain
  • Less healthy mind as a result of chemicals & oxygen restriction
  • Loss of control of social aptitude without smoking
  • Loss of control of urge to smoke, loss, therefore, of free will and self control, loss of life

If you smoke, you are irresponsible to yourself, the environment, others around you, those who care for you, those who rely on you, and you are being uncaring also to those who will know you in the future and have to put up with the negative legacies and symptoms of a post smoker.

"Chemical Support" by Vexen Crabtree (2003)

2. The Untermensch

Smoking is intrinsically linked with the untermensch, the lesser-educated, higher-crime rate classes of the population.

Today only 15% of men in the highest professional classes smoke, but 42% of unskilled workers do. Despite punitive taxation - 20 cigarettes cost around £5.00, three-quarters of which is tax - 55% of single mothers on benefits smoke. The figure for homeless men is even higher; for hard drug users it is practically 100%. [...] The lower down they are on practically any pecking order - job prestige, income, education, background - the more likely are people to be fat and unfit, and to drink too much.

The Economist (2007)7

The psychologists Davison & Neale pointed out in 1997 that smoking is more common amongst unskilled and manual workers, prevails among "less educated" individuals8, and is associated with poverty. Steven Jackson reported almost the same percentages as The Economist, in 1998:

Approximately 15 per cent of professionals smoke in comparison to over 40 per cent of unskilled manual workers.

"Britain's Population" by Steven Jackson (1998)9

In the Armed Forces, 34% of Army regulars smoke in the medical corps, who represent the lowest rate in the Army10. One Army medical corps senior officer estimated that the smoking rate in the Army is about twice that of civilians, therefore being at 84%. Although the value is dropping, there remains an institutional acceptance and promotion of smoking within Army social life - it is also the UK's biggest employer.

Smoking is intertwined deeply with trash culture. If you smoke, you are more likely to drink. If you smoke or drink, you are also more likely to do drugs. This is the result of the 1999 publication from the Office for National Statistics entitled "Smoking, drinking and drug use among young teenagers in 1998". A key factor of trash culture is that it is self-promoting. Once trash habits become accepted, they spread themselves. This entire culture is itself a harmful disease.

Amongst young teenagers, "the likelihood of having ever used drugs is strongly related to smoking experience: 63% of regular smokers had used drugs, compared with only 1% of those who had never smoked". With drinking the statistics are also similar and cyclic: 44% of young teenagers who drink also get involved in drugs, compared with only 1% of children who don't drink. And importantly, in case it is doubted that all these factors propagate one another, "virtually no children who had never smoked or drunk had ever used drugs".

The key for parents and teenagers is to delay drinking and smoking until children are older. This usually means giving up themselves, especially in front of their children.

So far we have seen that smoking, drinking and immature drug use have all gone hand in hand. The evidence is social, but there is also direct biological links between smoking and trash culture that transcend social factors, as reported in the British Medical Journal (2005)11:

This direct link is part of the self-propagation of the irresponsible and short-sighted aspects of trash culture. What is more is that the effect of smoking takes place across all income classes. It affects the children of professionals as much as the children of the unemployed: Money cannot make up for the loss accrued from smoke (and passive smoking) during pregnancy.

3. Social Issues

3.1. Smoking in Public

England has followed the example of Eire and other countries, and banned smoking in public enclosed spaces. It is now illegal to smoke indoors in any public place including pubs, places of work and work vehicles. The government cannot rightly ban smoking because it is not up to the government to force people to adopt good practices, merely to punish people for stepping on others' toes.

Some trashy tabloids ran keen campaigns against the bans, and some smokers have complained of being 'oppressed'. They are wrong. Passive smoking is dangerous and real. People are free to smoke, but, they are not free to force other people to smoke. Therefore banning smoking in public places enforces freedom, preventing smokers from infringing the rights of others not to smoke.

3.2. Workplace Politics

There has long been a bone of contention between smokers, who take frequent breaks outside, and non-smokers, who are more inclined to feel guilty (however misguided) over such breaks. This small-scale conflict highlights a greater debate over human free will. For those who take frequent smoke breaks do so in addition to any standardized workplace breaks, to which most non- smokers tend to stick. The latter view the former's extra breaks as frivolous, whereas smokers view them as normal. The view of the militant anti-smoker is that smokers have chosen to smoke, and therefore are skiving work. The view of smokers is that they 'have' to smoke. It seems those who have chosen the less responsible lifestyle choice are being rewarded with extra time off, therefore encouraging ill-health.

France followed a European trend by making it illegal to smoke in offices. [...] To the outrage of some, several companies have decided to clock out staff as they leave the building for a smoke, and deduct the time from working hours.

The Economist (2007)12

The measures that some French companies have taken - clocking people's smoking time against their wages - has the potential to officially take into account the time-management practices of smokers and non-smokers. If computer -game addicts were often seen sneaking off to the rest room for a quick game, then, that time too should be deducted. Such methods can be taken too far, but, if in the case of smoking we can discourage a public health issue through time-monitoring, it is probably a good idea, and it will also appease activist non-smokers.

4. The International Fight Between Public Health and Multinational Tobacco Companies

4.1. Evading the Law

Tobacco companies have received bad publicity recently after a series of exposÚs, resulting from their manipulation of scientific studies into the ill-effects of smoking. Some studies were paid for by the companies to reach doctored conclusions, and others were suppressed. Not only this, but they have resisted attempts to regulate advertising aimed at children, and have continued to use bad practices abroad even when they are outlawed or regulated at home. In other words, they have been evading the law, intentionally leading people into the habit, and failing to inform users of the risks of their product. The World Health Organisation says that most users do not understand the risks. Multinational firms frequently evade the law in such ways, but the growing strength of political unions such as the EU help curb their behaviour [Crabtree 2006]. Many companies have been forced out of business for less, but the addictive nature of smoking means that this will not happen with tobacco firms.

The numbers of smokers in China, India and other developing countries is continuing to grow, as addiction spreads faster than information. Hence the determination of almost everybody involved in global public health to escalate the war on smoking. Over 150 countries have already ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires countries to take a range of anti-smoking measures. Last July negotiators agreed on international norms for banning smoking in public places.

The Economist (2008)13

4.2. Public Relations Lies in the Mass Media

Modern journalists work at breakneck speed to process stories as fast as possible. Therefore most news services rely heavily on public relations (PR) material in order to rapidly produce the stream of news. Much of this news comes from trusted wire agencies, but these also rely on PR input. Because of these pressures, public relations firms and commercial companies are having a heyday and find it easy to insert material into news media. In general, over half of all news stories are mostly PR or contain substantial PR-sourced material. Journalists themselves do not check the facts or figures of such inputs, nor admit in the articles themselves that PR material is the true source of the information, so the news often appears unbiased. Powerful commercial lobbies use this weakness to pervert public opinion.

For example in the 1950s the smoking lobby created a waft of innocent-sounding and scientific-sounding groups in order to discredit government information about the dangers of smoking. Oil and petrol lobbies have spent fortunes on the same PR tricks, as have food industry lobbies. They produce scientific reports engineered by their own scientists, which serve to boost their own industries by deceiving the public. In short, don't trust the news media directly even when they are reporting on scientific-sounding research groups. Always check facts with long-standing scientific bodies such as the Royal Society. Rich and activist commercialist lobby groups have a set of well-practised and efficient methods for manipulating the news and public opinion. The scientists and welfare groups who wish to get real scientific worries about certain industries out into the open are not funded or equipped to run public relations campaigns. Only multinational information campaigns, legal agreements and inter-national political bodies such as the EU have the oomph to be able to fight back against such powerful industries.

"Modern Mass Media: The Bane of Human Cultural Evolution" by Vexen Crabtree (2009)

This disinformation campaign has spanned many decades; vested commercial interests provide an incentive to manipulate the public's understanding of the risks.

Book CoverAs a result of paperwork disclosed in US court cases, we now know that when the tobacco companies in the 1950s found themselves under pressure from the discovery of the link between smoking and cancer, they hired PR companies to create a network of pseudo-groups to massage public thinking on their behalf. Hill & Knowlton, who were then the biggest PR agency in America, duly created the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute as apparently independent organisations to produce research to defend their sales. [...]

A second PR agency, Burson-Marsteller, created the National Smokers Alliance as an AstroTurf group, to hold public meetings and hassle politicians, changing the tobacco story from a threat to health to a threat to freedom.

"Flat Earth News" by Nick Davies (2008)14

5. Conclusions

Smoking is intertwined deeply with trash culture. If you smoke, you are more likely to drink. If you smoke or drink, you are also more likely to do drugs. Only 15% of men in the highest professional classes smoke, but 42% of unskilled workers. Smoking is higher amongst those who are already in trouble: single mothers smoke at 55%, most homeless do and practically 100% of drug addicts do. Smoking during late pregnancy reduces the IQ of babies by an average of 6.2 points and causes increased antisocial behaviour.

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By Vexen Crabtree 2007 Jul 30
Last Updated: 2009 Jun 06

References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

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British Medical Journal. Tavistock Square, London, UK.

Crabtree, Vexen
"Multinational Corporations Versus Democracy: The Fight Between Commercialism and Nation States" (2006). Accessed 2013 Jul 05.
"Modern Mass Media: The Bane of Human Cultural Evolution" (2009). Accessed 2013 Jul 05.

Davies, Nick
Flat Earth News (2008). Hardback. Published by Chatto & Windus, Random House, London, UK.

Davison & Neale
Abnormal Psychology (1997). Hardback 7th edition. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Amazon link points to a newer edition than the one I've used here.

Jackson, Stephen
Britain's Population: Demographic Issues in Contemporary Society (1998). Published by Routledge.

Secretary of State for Health
Our Healthier Nation: A Contract for Health (1998). 1998 Feb. Government consultation paper presented to Parliament (CM3852).


  1. The Economist (2008 Jul 26) article "Stub out that weed for ever". Added to this page on 2009 May 20.^
  2. Jackson (1998) p93.^
  3. Secretary of State for Health (1998) paragraph 2.21.^
  4. Secretary of State for Health (1998) p21.^
  5. The Guardian (2005 Jun 14) article "Smoking and fat speed up ageing, say researchers", reported by James Meikle, health correspondent.^
  6. Davison & Neale (1997) p411.^
  7. The Economist (2007 Jun 23) article "Britain: Public health" p31.^
  8. Davison & Neale (1997) p301.^
  9. Jackon (1998) p94.^
  10. British Medical Journal (2004 Jan 17) Vol.328 No.7432 article "Urgent action is required to tackle smoking in the armed forces".^
  11. British Medical Journal (2005 Mar 05) Vol.330, p499 article "Smoking in late pregnancy is linked to lower IQ in offspring".^
  12. The Economist (2007 Feb 03) p38.^
  13. The Economist (2008 Feb 09) article "Smoking: How to save a billion lives" p67. Added to this page on 2008 Mar 15.^
  14. Davies (2008) p168-9. Added to this page on 2009 Jun 06.^

© 2013 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.

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