This isn’t about health. It’s hysteria

The good people of Belmont in California want to expand the city’s smoking ban to the point where the only place it will be legal to smoke is in your own home – provided that home is completely detached (such homes, apparently, cost around nine hundred thousand dollars). Smoking in your own car, by yourself: illegal. Smoking in the street: illegal. Smoking in parks: illegal. And so on.

What’s interesting about this isn’t the ban as much as the internet debates about it. Inevitably it’s brought out the pro-smoking “you can take my cigarettes when you prise them from my cold dead fingers… my grandad smoked all his life and the fact he died horribly aged 24 is not connected in any way” yahoos who give considerate smokers a bad name, but more interestingly it’s brought out the anti-smoking puritans. And they’re the ones who scare me.

The problem with the puritans is they talk about health, but they mean annoyance. So – and this is a real example by an anti-smoker – you’re in your car at a red light, and the guy in the car in front is smoking a cigarette, and you can smell it. He is, clearly, trying to kill you.

There are lots of examples like that one, and while some people are perfectly honest – they hate smoking because they hate the smell – others are nuts. The dangers of second hand smoke aren’t as clear-cut as anti-smoking groups would have you believe – it’s certainly a risk factor if you’re constantly exposed to lots of it, and only the most deluded pro-smoking advocate would attempt to argue otherwise, but there’s this hysterical interpretation that essentially goes like this: second hand smoke can be a health risk. If I inhale a single molecule, I’m going to die. Therefore anybody who smokes is murdering me. Smoking must therefore be banned everywhere, and smokers punished.

This is a real post, from

Smokers think like NAMBLA.

NAMBLA is the American group whose members want to fiddle with kids.

Smokers argue that people have been smoking for millenia; NAMBLA would argue that people have been engaging in pre-adolescent sexual behavior for millenia. But it’s still disgusting and hurtful… Smokers argue that they have civil rights, freedom to do whatever feels good to them, tossing in as an aside “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else”…and then descrying talk of second-hand smoke damage as non-conclusive. NAMBLA argues about freedom too; somehow discussion of emotional and physical damage to the young boys doesn’t ever resolve itself to a positive conclusion.

…there is no moderate level of carcinogenic gas.

What’s fascinating about that post isn’t the level of lunacy it’s exhibiting – NAMBLA? Carcinogenic gas? Jesus – but the complete lack of response to it. It’s actually quite a common viewpoint on US sites.

Now, smokers aren’t the most sympathetic of groups. It’s a bloody stupid thing to do, cigarette smoke annoys people who don’t smoke, some smokers give the rest of us a bad name by being inconsiderate twats and the smokers who are currently emailing anonymous death threats to Belmont’s mayor are utter arseholes. But there seems to be an attitude shift happening here: in the discussions on US internet sites, the *extreme* anti-smoking position seems to me as if it’s becoming the *mainstream* anti-smoking position. And of course, where California leads the UK eventually follows. We’ve already started with the “hospitals ban smoking in their grounds because they can’t be seen to condone smoking” nonsense, so the other stuff will follow.

So what we have here are two really scary, really popular viewpoints:

* I don’t like smoking, so the state must make sure that I never, ever encounter it.


* I believe that if something is believed to be a health risk in certain circumstances, if it exists in the world at all then I am a murder victim who just hasn’t died yet. The state must eradicate every molecule of it.

Position number one, then, is a variation of the “I must never encounter anything of which I do not approve, and my view is all that matters” argument; position number two is the “despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary, I believe that electricity/paint/radio/the phone/flouride is EATING MY BRAIN and my feelings are more important than evidence. Yes, I am a hysterical nutcase but I PAY MY TAXES GODDAMMIT” argument. And increasingly, those are the mainstream opinions.

Am I the only person who thinks that’s utterly terrifying?



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