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« Banned! Sadly, it's not only the Irish economy that's in trouble | Main | Thumbs up for fake science!! »

Passive smoking and the price of propaganda

A couple of weeks ago I received an email that I wanted to publish verbatim but my correspondent was worried that it might "rip my family apart if they read it". I have edited it slightly to remove one or two tell-tale details but it is fundamentally the same. Sadly, I suspect that June (not her real name) is not alone and the scenario she describes will be familiar to others of a similar age. Anyway, this is her story:

I'm a 57-year old-woman who is not knowingly suffering from any ‘smoking related’ illnesses. I have smoked cigarettes since my teens and have raised a son and a daughter. They are both healthy. Neither of them became smokers. My husband (also a non-smoker) has no illnesses related to ‘passive smoking’. He is in fact extraordinarily athletic.

I was a ‘stay at home mum’. Luckily my husband could support us and I could devote my time to him, raising the children and being a near perfect housewife. When my youngest went to university I wanted to get back into the workplace but found that nobody wanted to employ a fiftysomething woman so I had unwittingly given up my career to raise my children.

I thought I had raised my children to be tolerant. One of the first lessons I taught them was ‘Everybody’s different and we all like different things’. Can you imagine my distress when my daughter first insisted that I smoke outside her flat? But I accepted it. I never smoke in her flat, nor in any property belonging to a non-smoker as I understand that they may find it distasteful and they have the absolute right in their own property to insist on fresh air. I’m OK with that.

This year, for the first time in years, my daughter, her husband (an ex-smoker) and their young son will be joining us for Christmas. I’d stopped inviting her (as refusals do hurt a bit) but this year she asked to come.

I’d decided not to smoke in the same room as my grandchild. Three days ago my daughter rang me. She wanted a frank discussion about my smoking. Would I be smoking outdoors? She didn’t want her son in a house where someone had been smoking. I told her that in my own house, on Christmas Day, when I had cooked for eight, I wouldn’t be standing outside in the middle of winter to smoke.

I agreed reluctantly to smoke in an upstairs room, with the door shut. I actually don’t know how I’m going to pull this off (with my sense of outrage running high) and still be a welcoming hostess to our guests.

So this is what years of propaganda about the perceived threat of passive smoking has done to ordinary families. Look, I can understand why some people may have concerns about long-term exposure over many years to a heavy smoker in a confined space (though how many people genuinely experience that is open to doubt), but short-term exposure is a different matter entirely (unless you are a serious asthmatic) - and I certainly don't buy the argument about the dangers of "thirdhand [sic] smoke".

I do believe that people should err on the side of caution (or courtesy, as my friend Rose puts it) where small children are concerned, but I am not going to condemn anyone for smoking in their own home and as a parent myself it would not stop me visiting anyone, let alone a close relative, with my own children.

As it happens, my mother-in-law gave up her 40-a-day habit before my children were born but if she hadn't quit I certainly wouldn't have boycotted her house. Nor would I have dreamt of having a "frank discussion" with her about her habit. And as for insisting that she could only smoke in one room, upstairs, with the door shut, what a blooming cheek!

But what really appalls me is that June is fearful that if she shares her experience with you, dear reader, and her children see it, it could "rip my family apart". What type of society is that?

June wants us to do everything we can to combat the propaganda on passive smoking. We're doing our best but my fear is that the horse has already bolted and it will be easier to counteract the denormalisation of tobacco than reverse the often irrational fear of secondhand smoke.

As far as families go, what is needed is a sense of proportion from parents of young children and some common sense (and courtesy) from everyone else, including smokers. Is that too much to ask?

PS. I will ask June to report back after Christmas ...

Reader Comments (28)

Tell her to stay away. And swop your newly formed opinions about the damage caused by inherited wealth with her opinions on smoking.

Enough of this talking shop. We need some smoke-ins. The ban will be amended within weeks.

November 17, 2010 at 18:06 | Unregistered Commenterjon

I had a similar exercise with my eldest daughter not long ago. I'm afraid she doesn't visit us now but we do visit her. The irony is she is a smoker herself and was brought up in a smoking household but, simply, will not allow it around my grandson. She was told that under no circumstances would we not smoke in our own home and the one she was brought up in. We give no quarter on this matter. Another irony is that our two sons and youngest daughter are non smokers who don't seem to mind.

I am surprised to find Simon stating that he considers the horse to have bolted on the SHS issue. Given the amount of 'evidence' around the debate appears far from closed. If Brian Binley and David Nuttall were/are prepared to carry the flag, why doesn't simon?

November 17, 2010 at 18:24 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

I think the answer is relatively simple. Go along with this Christmas, but then immediately afterwards, nip along to the family solicitor and cut the self-centred little madam out of the family Will. People who show no consideration deserve no inheritance!

November 17, 2010 at 19:21 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

I don't think we should give up the fight against the passive smoking fraud. It is part of the denormalisation process after all. They could never get away with what they do to smokers without that to back them up.

It's always been false. They were never believed because they could never prove it conclusively and still can't. Nulabour created the hysterical fear in its continual public broadcasts. The party was ideologically prejudiced against tobacco and used the full force of law and threat against little people in the "greater good" of finally eradicating tobacco use by any means.

The propaganda was gentle and nudging before they turned it nasty and personal with a view to tearing families apart and making smokers who refused to quit outcasts.

This is why I feel this issue is one of the most important. At it's root is a plan to make smokers quit by any means by dehumanising them and turning their family , friends and colleagues against them. Their methods to achieve a smoke free world are shameful. Any Govt that backs this kind of approach really can't call itself "progressive."

November 17, 2010 at 19:23 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Simon, can you give 'June' my email address and ask her to contact me please? richwhite(at)smokescreenslorg

November 17, 2010 at 19:57 | Unregistered Commenterrich white

June – Your house...your rules…if said daughter can’t abide by them, then tell your daughter, please stay away. You must smoke in your home wherever you so choose...if that means when your granson is around so be it...we know it doesn't do any harm. You're a good example of that.

It might help to write her a letter outlining the nonsense surrounding ‘passive smoking’, and how this draconian ban has driven a poisonous wedge between decent honourable people like yourselves. It appears that your relationship is badly strained because of this.

Nice one – you reprehensible, duplicitous, half-wit politicians. See what you’ve done?

November 17, 2010 at 20:03 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Simon it makes me angry when people are denormalised and stigmatised like this. I try not to invoke Godwin's Law but it is quite authoritarian to have a state sanctioned 'hate' campaign against an identifiable group of people.

The truth will eventually get out and people will bitterly resent being misled by so many people for such a long time, and the lack of trust that the world may have with scientists and doctors is a major worry.

Just to finish Professor Martin Jarvis of ASH must sleep uneasily in his bed knowing that with a modicum of education anyone can research passive smoking. He may one day have to be made to account for all his junk science and hang his head in shame as he is publically disgraced. I came across this article co-authored by him and Arnott's predecessor Clive Bates.

"Martin Jarvis adds (for this note): "studies based on cotinine measurements in non-smoking children exposed in the home continue to show nicotine intake equivalent to smoking 100-150 cigarettes per year where both parents smoke*. Although exposure levels in adults are lower than this in general, studies in particular groups, (eg. non-smoking adults working in smoky bars) show nicotine intakes as high as half a cigarette per day.**"

Firstly Jarvis' paper shows by a factor 50x- 100x more exposure than the 3 other papers I have read on how much smokers breathe in per hour. He from his own paper suggests maximum exposure is 0.41 to 0.5 cigarettes per day.

I defy Jarvis or anyone else to show that an active smoker consuming =/<1 cigarette per day runs a higher risk of mortality, lung cancer or heart disease. I have read most/all of them and it does not happen.

*Javis M., 1989 - Application of biochemical intake markers to passive smoking measurement and risk estimation. Mutat. Res. 222:101-110.
** Jarvis, Foulds, Feyeraband, 1992, Exposure to passive smoking among barstaff, British Journal of Addiction, 1992 vol 87 p.111-113)

November 17, 2010 at 20:27 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

I'm sorry to disagree with you Simon, but for FOREST to say 'the horse has bolted' on passive smoking is not good enough. 'Passive smoking' is THE basis for the bans and segregation and demonisation. It is THE LIE from which al else flows. FOREST should be debunking, disecting and deriding the 'scientific' evidence LOUDLY and at every opportunity, because the end to this madness will NEVER come whilst non smokers believe I am killing them from 20 paces. If the myth of 'passive smoking related illness and DEATH' goes unchallenged by FOREST - or worse - is seen to be accepted - it seems to me sufficient reason to shut up shop and go home.

November 17, 2010 at 20:31 | Unregistered Commenterdunhillbabe

Amen to that last post! I could not agree more. I know that Forest have tried to argue that SHS is a fraud, and that many, or most, politicians and journalists haven't wanted to listen. I know it's difficult. I've been in interviews where the plug gets pulled as soon as I mention SHS. BUT, SHS has always been the primary justification given for the vilification of smokers and the imposition of smoking bans. We should NEVER say the argument is 'lost', and NEVER stop bringing it up at every possible opportunity. The old adage 'a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth' has often been quoted in relation to antismoking lies. Well, why can't the truth repeated often enough become the truth? With enough repetition and enough conviction, someone sooner or later will have to start listening. Otherwise, the argument against SHS starts to look like just a 'tactic' that we gave up when it didn't seem to be working.

November 17, 2010 at 20:57 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Jackson

If June was to go into a separate room, the children are bound to try to find her and enter that room. The person who's house it is makes the rules.
When a child, you obey your parent's rules. When children grow up and you enter their home you should obey their rules.

November 17, 2010 at 21:02 | Unregistered Commenterchas

The damage limitation you can achieve on denormalisation if you concede on the issue of secondary smoke will be negligible. There is also abundant evidence that public scepticism is high: e.g. John Kay's account of the Scottish heart attack miracle last week. There is no reason to believe that the anti-smoking jackals have won on the issue of secondary smoke.

As for June, what a despicable way to treat you and your relationship with your grandson. And Chas is right about the children looking for you. I had it in my house, a smoker went to an adjoining room out of consideration for the children (not on my insistence!) and one of the children looked for him (actually she went to look outside on hearing that he was smoking ... a child of six). I wouldn't blame you for calling the whole thing off.

November 17, 2010 at 21:38 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda

June: As Misty said, tell her that the house is henceforth willed to the local cat charity and watch the attitude change.

November 17, 2010 at 21:55 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

WRT June - one wonders what her Grandchildren would think if they knew - or came to learn (and I'd make sure they did) that their Mother was to all intent and purpose blackmailing their no doubt much loved Nan ?

November 17, 2010 at 21:58 | Unregistered Commenterdunhillbabe

Er, where I did I say that Forest has given up challenging the anti-smoking lobby on passive smoking? In the past few years - in submissions to governments, politicians, on our website, on radio, television and in the press - no-one has consistently refuted the allegations about "passive smoking" more than Forest.

We will continue to do so but stating that "I fear the horse has bolted" is simply recognising the difficulty we face in reversing many people's belief that secondhand smoke is a genuine threat to health. A little bit of realism doesn't mean we have given up the fight - far from it.

PS. If Forest had given up the fight on passive smoking why would I have published June's email? The whole point was to highlight how the issue has split not only pub-going communities but families as well.

November 17, 2010 at 22:20 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Clark

lvan Pavlov would not have worked with canines in this day and age ... he would've used sheeples.

November 17, 2010 at 23:07 | Unregistered CommenterSmoking Hot

'My fear is that the horse has already bolted and it will be easier to counteract the denormalisation of tobacco than reverse the often irrational fear of secondhand smoke'.

Remember what Deborah Arnott said were their tactics (including of course the use of junk science and scare tactics)? “Campaigning of this kind is literally a confidence trick: the appearance of confidence both creates confidence and demoralises the opposition.”

The 'denormalization' issue needs to be fought - but so to does the passive smoking myth - and with equal vigour. Surely there have been enough hyped up fear and hysteria-inducing scares in recent years - subsequently found to have little or no foundation - that FOREST can cite? People do not generally take kindly to being made to feel afraid for their lives on the basis of a lie.

Undermine ASH's credibility on ALL fronts - expose their funding links to 'big pharma', the money they receive from the taxpayer, the junk science. And let's not use their language either - denormalization??? It's a weasel word for bullying into submission. Tell June's story. People don't like bullies - and they don't like being suckered into helping bullies do their work either.

November 17, 2010 at 23:23 | Unregistered Commenterdunhillbabe

June. There are other ways also without a rumpus ensuing.

When visiting your daughter, limit the length of the visit. Don't smoke at all, but leave after, say, an hour. When grandson asked why you are going, say that have things to do. Quietly, without rancour, say to your daughter that you want to ‘have a fag’.

As regards Christmas, I see that you have 8 persons to cater for. I assume, for the purpose of this discussion that there are 3 persons in addition to your daughter and family. Are they other children of yours?

Whatever. Do not worry yourself. Go upstairs and lock yourself into a bedroom. Say nothing about ‘having a fag’. Just do it. Just disappear. Let other people ask where you are and why. This would be especially true if you ‘disappear’ just before dinner. “Where is Nan?”

I would guess that the ‘prohibition’ of you smoking in your own home would last for, at most, 10 minutes.

Also, do you babysit? I would suspect that you are not asked, since your daughter’s NEED for a babysitter would for outweigh her objections to your smoking. If you DO babysit, AT ALL, point out that you cannot – do not say why until she presses you. Let HER decide whether she wants you to babysit or not.

Lastly, when she visits you, do not ask permission to smoke. Just do it. If she says anything, just shrug your shoulders and carry on. Your home, your house. If you have to say anything at all (which I doubt), just say something like, “Where do you get these ideas that x (your grandson’s name) will die?” – in an amused sort of way. Let her explain.

Essentially, the important thing is not to mention ‘smoking’ as such. Your reason could be anything. I have had this situation myself (without actual ‘discussions’). Just be yourself – do what you wish to do. Light a cigarette and then ask for an ashtray, or saucer, or whatever. Make HER explain.

November 18, 2010 at 1:26 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

"June"'s position... er... I don't smoke around non-smokers, unless they don't mind, because I am Polite and Respectful. My 12 yo doesn't like smoke, I don't blow it in his face, but if he comes into my room (office, den, call it what you will) then it's his problem.

I've had this problem for years: "You aren't going to smoke in front of my children are you?!!" My various sarcastic responses ("Of course! and then I will rape and kill them!!!" etc) are usually met with suspicion and loathing. There are some loonies in this world, but most of 'em seem to be middle-class-vegetarian-eco-feminist-non-smokers. Or, your average Grunaiidad reader. Case:

A few years back I was at a community centre, t'was a kids thing... anyway, most of the parents were self-satisfied vegan middle-class types, I satisfied myself with a ham sandwich, which no doubt disgusted them. The kids didn't know any better, except for my boy, who knew ham was way better than the gluten-free and dodgy-looking brown rice offerings. To add further disgust, I went outside for a smoke. Every 15 minutes or so...

So the kids are killing each other (or trying to) and the parents are sitting around out-smugging each other... I went outside for yet another fag (bliss), and this young woman decides to go home with her 6/7yo daughter. The woman wasn't bad looking, if a bit plain, and is wearing a shawl she knitted herself, of which she was rather proud (I had to restrain a "You GO GIRL!" as she showed of her massive achievement in the kitchen earlier on), the daughter was happy as any innocent kid can be, and looked at me as they went to their car... I waved and said "bye", she waved back. The girl then asked something of her mother, and I inquired what had been said, seeing as it was obvious that I was the point. The mother said: "She said 'What's that man doing?'. I said that he is smoking a cigarette... she's NEVER seen someone smoking before."

The mother gave me a look which said: "oh, the trouble you have caused!"

I often wonder what the kid would make of Casablanca, or any other Bogart films, or any other movies from that era.

Thus, we come to "denormalization": kids are brought up with the knowledge that Smoking Is Bad, it's a given, just like Gravity and Left is Left, and Right is Right. Simon's point up-thread, is simply a matter of fighting public opinion, not the science. Public opinion has been so skewed by propaganda it's an uphill battle, and public opinion drives modern democracy. Fuck.

On third-hand smoke:

In the mid-90s(ish), ASH came out with a statement that cot-deaths were attributal to parents who smoked, ie, not smoking around the babys, but smoking away and coming back to them. Cot death is a painful issue, for any parent, so the suggestion at the time was met with vehement rebuttal by the Foundation for Sudden Infant Deaths (FSID). They have since mellowed(ish):

"if you (or your partner): are a smoker, even if you never smoke in bed or at home" (It's the "at home" bit that gets me),

As for our anti-smokers: "almost half of parents do not know that secondhand smoke can cause cot deaths (47 percent)"

A blatant lie, or playing with the Truth?

No, it's a blatant lie. SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is exactly that, the point being no-one knows why it happens. For you comfort, from FSID:

"Try to remember that cot death is rare and that if you follow advice such as sleeping your baby on the back, you will be reducing their risk of cot death considerably."

It is rare....

November 18, 2010 at 1:41 | Unregistered Commenterftumch

On SIDS between 1970 and 1988 deaths rose by 500% in the UK but smoking declined from 42% of the population to 25%. It seems exposure to SHS has little to do with it.

My guess for the rise in SIDS is that from 1970 onwards houses became warmer through central heating as opposed to coal or electric fires, plus the rise in single parenthood (apparently SIDS disproportionately affects young mothers under 20) and possibly a rise in air pollution as car ownership increased are far more persuasive.

November 18, 2010 at 9:17 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

I smoke in my own home as does my wife.
If people don't like it ,tough, don't come in.

November 18, 2010 at 9:50 | Unregistered CommenterMcgraw

Some of the comments I read on here make me so angry.

All the blame seems to be laid at the feet of this woman's daughter, who in my opinion is as much a victim, as the poor woman herself.

Who are we to tell this woman not to see her daughter, and to strut about saying "this is my house and I will do what I want here, etc., etc.."

Acting in this manner would make this woman as bad as the people who spread these lies and propaganda in the first place, it would make her selfish and ignorant.

If her daughter really believes in the propaganda that has been pumped into her over the years, as is also now happening to children as well, then our job, and FOREST'S job, should be to educate her and her children, not alienate them from their family!

We need to prove that we are caring, passionate people, not the monsters that ASH portray us as, and we will never prove that by acting like selfish ignoramuses.

If I had a sore throat or a chest infection, I would politely ask my wife not to smoke too close to me, does anyone on here think I would be a monster for asking that? After all "it is my house isn't it?"

November 18, 2010 at 10:43 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Thurgood

Like June, I'm in my mid-fifties, with a non-smoking partner and two non-smoking children. All three put me under a lot of pressure to quit smoking back in 2004 (the Ban came to Ireland), and it went on in a nagging insidious fashion until I sat down with all three and calmly, but firmly told them that I would continue to smoke as long as I chose to do so and if I heard another word from them, there would be rows in the house.

However, when I tried to tell them the story behind ETS, they wouldn't listen to me and just got up and left. Sadly, I concluded, that many people simply don't "want" to know the truth. In fact, they actually want to believe the lies. I am happy that neither of my children (19 & 26), have chosen to smoke and while my partner toyed with the odd one many years ago, she absolutely hates them now.

So, separately, she confronted me one night and demanded I quit smoking. Like June's situation, but in reverse, I had a good job and she stayed at home and brought up our two children wonderfully well. I paid all the bills, paid off the mortgages, bought and paid for the cars and for a long time, I worked away from home also. I was 100% faithful at all times because I wanted to be. Our relationship was sacred to me. So, thus confronted now, I began gently, explaining that I'd done my best always, had few vices, was respected and loved by both children and had always provided for all of them. Explaining that I enjoyed smoking, I said it was my intention to continue to do so. I was called a selfish bastard who would kill himself and thus deny the children his presence when they both might need me.

This emotional blackmail, combined with renewed nagging and the addition of my partner's niece into the fray, a holistic healer who apparently knows everything, finally made me crack. I lose my temper, on average, about every ten years, and I lost it then. I won't go into my diatribe in detail but, suffice it to say, they were told that I would do as I wished and they could fuck off and buy their own house if they didn't like it. !

I smoke in any room I like as before. I smoke in my car, though I have never smoked in my partner's car. The know-it-all Niece has a new baby and I don't smoke near the boy, not because I believe it will harm the little mite, but because I respect their wishes. I am also the only one who drinks in the house, another source of ire for my long suffering partner. But their greatest annoyance is that I am also the only one who never gets sick.

I would not define myself as a smoker though. I'm a man, a Father, a lover, a friend, a trier, a truthful person and a bit of a messer ...... who smokes. Stand up for yourself June !

November 18, 2010 at 11:06 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Mallon

I imagine this situation to be common with the unspoken threat that the smoker won't see the grandchildren any more if s/he insists on smoking in their presence. It will get worse when the third-hand smoke myth is repeated unchallenged until, like SHS, it becomes embedded as truth in the public psyche. Then, grandchildren won't even be allowed in the presence of grandparents.

The entire denormalisation process is underpinned by 'SHS'. They got away with that and they'll get away with third-hand smoke, no safe level of smoke outdoors/in cars and so on until the SHS fantasy is demolished. There's absolutely no point in talking about rights, civil liberties or tolerance - they cut no ice when non-smokers are told by the 'good guys' that smokers are murdering them.

FOREST published a report ('The Myth of Passive Smoking'?) but I'd have a devil of a job trying to find it again on the FOREST site. Why isn't the disreputable 'science' driving FOREST's campaign?

November 18, 2010 at 21:45 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

@ Peter Thurgood: If I had a sore throat or a chest infection, I would politely ask my wife not to smoke too close to me, does anyone on here think I would be a monster for asking that?"

Not a monster, but....(anecdote alert!) A science lecturer once told us that, despite being a non-smoker, whenever he gets a sore throat he'd have a cigarette. Tobacco smoke is enormously antibacterial and can nip a developing infection in the bud.

I agree wholeheartedly with Joyce's last paragraph. The Forest refutation of second-hand smoke is excellent and really ought to have a highlighted link.

November 19, 2010 at 8:07 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

To: Peter Thurgood - Separate from the issue of liking smoking or not, is the old fashioned matter of good manners. Asked for anything from a polite stranger, especially a simple request not to smoke for the reasons you outline, it is only good manners to desist from smoking at that point in time.

November 19, 2010 at 13:59 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Mallon

A Question of Manners?

Yes, of course it is - in part. As I understand it, the sanctimonious little puss invited herself to her mother's home (a crucial point, I think), and - not content with June's generous concession of indulging her vile habit (whose practice seems to have had no ill effect on said daughter over the years) in a separate room - took it upon herself to impose an even more onerous term in her one-sided contract: lest her bairn's future be irreparably damaged by a day's visit to Granny.

One can only hope that she's gracious enough to do the washing up, whilst the woman who devoted a goodly portion of her young life to bringing the lady up relishes a brief exile in the bracing night air of late December.

Yes, indeed - a Question of Manners, at the very least. Perhaps when the dust finally settles on this grotesque piece of science fiction the lady will not be TOO set her ways to acquire some (common sense might prove a tougher proposition).

November 19, 2010 at 22:54 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

Dear Mr Clark

June's daughter is obviously suffering from the newly recognised (by me at least) condition of second hand compulsive obsessive disorder (SHCOD). I hope her daughter will have walked to her house, and not polluted the atmosphere with a wide range of known carcinogens. I assume she will not protest about lighted candles or burning brandy on the Christmas pudding. If there is an open fire, that will leak far more smoke into a room than a chain smoker could manage.

Hmm, smell the turkey roasting ...

Has anyone analysed what’s in those fumes? They get everywhere.


Make 1 July National Smoking Day – I’ll drink to that.

November 21, 2010 at 0:17 | Unregistered CommenterDP

I like the suggestions about the inheritance or lack of it issue this daughter should face in the future.
As for June? The my house/car rule always been my choice.
I am sure most posters here seen this link about SHS:
but will post it anyway in case some did not.
Fully agree ; "SHS has always been the primary justification given for the vilification of smokers and the imposition of smoking bans. We should NEVER say the argument is 'lost', and NEVER stop bringing it up at every possible opportunity."

November 21, 2010 at 16:51 | Unregistered Commenterflex

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