5. I See Gold in them thar Tabacky Fields

Until Repace published his paper the war against smokers was largely driven by people who felt that they had a right to fresh air. Mostly they did not like the smell of stale cigarette smoke. Most smokers will tell you that they also do not like the smell of stale cigarette smoke.

The lines of battle were drawn to allow anti-smokers space where they can breathe fresh air by laws that restricted the behaviour of smokers. Most smokers did not feel that this was unfair.

This was a battle of personal liberty: does smokers have the freedom to make other people’s lives unpleasant.

Awareness of the link between smoking and cancer was growing as the scientific evidence was mounting, but this also restricted the battle line to whether a smoker has the right to suicide by cigarette, or, does society have the right to prescribe how others should die (because they will die whether they smoke or not).

To some extent this proof that cigarettes cause cancer did extend the argument to the cost of health care for the smokers. The economic argument being that smokers are using up the limited resources of society.

The enemy was smokers! Up to this stage the associations that were formed attacked smokers as people (or a community) and the laws that were formed were anti-smoker laws. The issue in the battle was how to restrict smokers.

The tobacco farmers, importers of tobacco and cigarettes and the cigarette companies were mere suppliers and largely unscathed in the battle. Just think in terms of the modern war on drugs how this war is waged on the producers, smugglers and distributors rather than the users.

It is true that one can construe the banning of advertising and the taxing of cigarettes being attacks on the cigarette companies. However, the taxes were simple recovered from the smokers and had no effect on the cigarette companies. The advertising bans simply increased the profits of the cigarette companies without much damage being done to their income. In fact the opposite was the case.

However, as the scientific evidence of smoking and cancer increased the cigarette companies committed one PR blunder after the other. Every student of public relations should be forced to read through the way that the cigarette companies handled the situation. The outcome was that the villain in the story was not the smoker anymore, but the cigarette companies.

The new perspective was that the cigarette companies hooked the unsuspecting smoker with nicotine and then killed him of by giving him cancer.

This gave a lot of lawyers a lot of ammunition to sue the bastards – and make fortunes doing so. The USA’s law allowing for class-actions made the lawyers see a real field of gold rather than tobacco. It is significant that this turned the smokers from the aggressors (attacking others with filthy air) into the victims of the cigarette companies deserving the sympathy of the law.

At the same time Repace’s theory of second-hand smoking also changed the playing field. Now it is not just the smokers themselves that are victims, but everybody that has even been exposed to a smoker in their vicinity. The villains can be the smokers or the cigarette companies.

This gave rise to whole new host of names on the walls of the hall of fame of the anti-smoking brigade. Not many people realised that the cause has changed dramatically for these new rebels.


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