The shameful history of the anti-smoking crusade

Jacob Grier's The Rediscovery of Tobacco shows how the war on smoking has been built on junk science, class snobbery and plenty of cash.

Christopher Snowdon

Topics Books Politics UK

Jacob Grier doesn’t like cigarettes. He doesn’t smoke cigarettes. He advises people against smoking cigarettes. And yet he believes that adults should be allowed to smoke cigarettes without being harassed, demonised, over-taxed and thrown out of every building in America, including, in some cases, their own home. This view, which was once so uncontroversial as to go without saying, makes him virtually a libertarian provocateur today. In The Rediscovery of Tobacco, Grier explains how this cultural revolution happened.

It is unusual for governments in modern democracies deliberately to encourage intolerance and animosity towards a large group of fellow citizens, but that is effectively what happened when ‘denormalisation’ was embraced as a tobacco-control strategy. The restraints of the US Constitution mean that many of the policies available to anti-smoking campaigners elsewhere, such as advertising bans and plain packaging, are out of reach, and so, rather than targeting the product, American crusaders have forcefully targeted the consumer.

It is the petty vindictiveness of America’s ever-expanding network of smoking bans that really irks. There will soon be nowhere left to hide. If it is not obvious to you that most ‘smoke-free’ laws are contrivances to force smokers to quit, rather than to ‘protect’ nonsmokers, this book will surely persuade you. It is almost comic to watch the quackademics of ‘tobacco control’ garrotting science to justify bans on smoking outdoors and in private dwellings. When the dubious epidemiology of secondhand smoke outlived its usefulness, the concept of thirdhand smoke was invented to persuade the public that they are at risk from anything that had ever come into contact with smoke: furniture, carpets, wallpaper and, most pertinently, the clothes, hair and skin of smokers themselves. In the land of the free, campaigners would rather encourage mass hypochondria than admit to being paternalists.

The mere sight of someone smoking is viewed as sufficiently dangerous to justify criminalisation. When New York City’s health commissioner wanted to ban smoking in Central Park in 2010, he asserted that ‘families should be able to bring their children to parks and beaches knowing that they won’t see others smoking’. The ban was introduced the following year.

By the time vaping became a mainstream activity in the early 2010s, the anti-smoking lobby was well practised in the art of manipulating public opinion. The greatest harm-maximisation innovation of the century was no match for people who could get away with making three preposterous claims before breakfast. By 2019, a steady stream of junk science and outright lies from supposed ‘public health’ groups had convinced two-thirds of Americans that e-cigarettes were as hazardous or more hazardous than traditional cigarettes.

The anti-smoking fanatics get away with it, Grier argues, because they have had no accountability since the turn of the millennium. By the mid-1990s, the American tobacco industry had become a byword for corporate malfeasance. By the end of the decade, cigarette companies had finally stopped trying to dispute the addiction and harm associated with their products and closed down front groups such as the Tobacco Institute. On the face of it, this was no great loss to smokers, but one effect of the industry withdrawing from the stage was to leave the anti-smoking lobby free to say almost anything. The threat of having their work picked apart by the Tobacco Institute ‘helped enforce rigour in anti-smoking research in much the same way that the adversarial process in a courtroom trial forces both sides to justify their claims with evidence’. Without it, it was open season for junk scientists.

Meanwhile, the spectacular collapse in trust in the industry gave the media the only story about smoking it would ever need. It became a simple morality tale in which there was no doubt about who the goodies and baddies were. Those who called for greater restrictions on smoking wore a halo, while those who defended smokers’ rights were suspect. Journalists were understandably anxious not to be fooled again, but their lack of scrutiny of the anti-smoking side amounted to giving a free pass to extremist cranks and fostered ‘a scientific environment in which research is judged primarily for its usefulness in promoting the goals of tobacco control, dissent is punished by personal attacks, and dubious claims about the effects of second- and thirdhand smoke can be made with impunity, sure to receive favourable press coverage by reporters eager to write a shocking headline’.

They get away with it for other reasons, too. Class prejudice, for example. With cigarette smoking increasingly concentrated among the working class, smoking bans became tools of social engineering and gentrification. In the US, as in Britain, ‘smoke-free’ laws led to the mass closure of the kind of bars the upper classes were never likely to step foot in. Outdoor smoking bans gave the police licence to harass the homeless and helped clear the streets of undesirables. The ban on smoking in public housing, enacted in 2018, left homeowners well alone. Meanwhile, casinos, golf courses and high-end cigar bars got exemptions.

And then there is money. Lots of money. A handful of British anti-smoking groups are funded by the state, and every government relies on tobacco taxes to some extent, but the financial corruption in the US is off the scale. The Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 requires tobacco companies to make annual payments to state governments in exchange for immunity from personal injury lawsuits. These payments rise and fall in line with tobacco sales and many states have invested in tobacco bonds, thereby giving them a perverse incentive to keep people smoking. Major anti-smoking organisations such as the Truth Initiative also depend on the Master Settlement Agreement for their income. Add into the mix pharmaceutical companies who have their own nicotine products to sell, and you have a Bootleggers and Baptists tragicomedy, with consumers picking up the tab.

The genius of anti-smoking policy from the 1990s onward was to portray the war on tobacco as a crusade against the tobacco industry, thereby sidelining the views of millions of ordinary smokers who wanted nothing more than to be left alone. While the tobacco industry continued making piles of money, and the anti-tobacco industry kept the grant cheques rolling in, it was individuals and small businesses who bore the brunt.

Grier is familiar with the pain of both, having worked as a bartender in Virginia and Oregon and being cured of his anti-smoking tendencies when he discovered the joy of pipes and cigars. ‘By any honest accounting,’ he writes, ‘my life has been enriched by the enjoyment of tobacco. To pretend otherwise would be a lie.’ He is puzzled by the way in which the pure enjoyment of smoking never seems to enter the equation. And if people enjoy it, why shouldn’t they be free to do it?

The answer from ‘public health’ activists is that they do not enjoy it and that smokers do not ‘possess any freedoms to be meaningfully infringed’. When legislators in Hawaii proposed raising the minimum age for purchasing cigarettes to 100 (yes, you read that correctly), the bill stated that: ‘Banning the sales of cigarettes should be viewed as a good-faith effort to free smokers from the enslavement of this powerful addiction and not an infringement on individual liberties.’

Grier is an engaging and knowledgeable writer with a solid grasp of history and science. His analysis of the modern anti-smoking movement as ‘a contemporary manifestation of the old-time temperance movement, wrapped in the modern clothing of epidemiology but with the same tired contempt for individual liberty’, is surely correct.

Resistance seems futile when fanaticism has become institutionalised at the highest level of American society – the Food and Drug Administration is currently contemplating the ultimate harm-reduction measure of removing nicotine from cigarettes – and yet Grier sees a glimmer of hope. The cigarette, he says in an unusually judgemental passage, is a ‘terrible product’. He views its rise in the early 20th century as a tragic historical accident that will be corrected when safer nicotine products take over the market. Cigarettes may have been dominant for over a century, but this is a small window of time in the long history of human consumption of tobacco. He thinks it likely that e-cigarettes, heated tobacco and other low-risk nicotine devices will make the combustible cigarette obsolete in this century.

I’m sure this will happen in some countries, but perhaps not in the US where the anti-smoking lobby has become an anti-nicotine lobby and the message to smokers is ‘quit or die’.

Christopher Snowdon is the co-host of Last Orders, spiked’s nanny-state podcast.

The Rediscovery of Tobacco: Smoking, Vaping, and the Creative Destruction of the Cigarette, by Jacob Grier. (Order this book from Amazon(UK).)

Picture by: Getty.

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dom torato

13th July 2020 at 7:18 am

Your right to smoke, violates my right not to!
I suffer badly with hay fever and allergies, for me, second hand smoke HERE► Read More


17th July 2020 at 2:27 pm

No it doesn’t. It’s a nuisance you can avoid.
I don’t like ‘canned’ muzak in shops. I don’t patronize them.

dom torato

12th July 2020 at 7:43 am

Snowdon and Grier are obviously nicotine addicts. Nicotine is the most addictive substance known and to prevent the numerous harm HERE► Read More


12th July 2020 at 10:58 pm

Did you know that suicide is not a criminal offence in England?
You also need to to read Bernard Levin (below) or JS Mill’s essay “On Liberty”, not that the likes of you ever will.

David Margison

10th July 2020 at 7:43 pm

Your right to smoke, violates my right not to!
I suffer badly with hay fever and allergies, for me, second hand smoke makes me ill. It’s not just me, there are hundreds of thousands like me, asthma is a “real” epidemic. My neighbour smokes like a chimney, she chain smokes indoors. The smoke pervades everywhere, it comes through the wall and through open windows.
Smoking depleats the NHS of resources, causes passive injury and fills the street outside smokers homes with litter. I can’t wait for a total ban


12th July 2020 at 10:53 pm

The definitive response to your tiresome argument is Bernard Levin, “No Smoke . . .” (Times 22/12/1983) and ” . . . Without Fire” (Times 20/1/1984).

Barry O’Barmy

9th July 2020 at 5:54 pm

Snowdon and Grier are obviously nicotine addicts. Nicotine is the most addictive substance known and to prevent the numerous harms smoking causes the body, it is important to prevent children taking up this addiction.
Smoking causes chronic bronchitis, arterial atheroma and bronchogenic neoplasia. These are undisputed and the lives of smokers are statistically much shorter than non-smokers. Myocardial infarction and leg amputations result from the arterial atheroma. If you want to kill yourself, take up smoking.
As for Snowdon’s silly comment about smoking in public, would he really like to watch heroin and mor phine addicts “shooting up” in our streets?
This man is essentially advocating mass addiction to nicotine, a thoroughly undesirable public health menace which costs our NHS billions. This sort of article is in very poor taste.


12th July 2020 at 11:01 pm

You’re in very poor taste and emblematic of the political intolerance now sweeping the country.
I suggest you emigrate to America. You’ll feel at home.

Shnarkle Von Barkle

9th July 2020 at 3:29 pm

Second hand smoke is a serious problem for me. One whiff of it, and my heart starts fibrillating. I had to stop taking Big Pharma’s pills because of the nasty side effects, but now I have nothing protecting me from immanent death. My cardiologist told me that anything that can cause my heart to fibrillate can stop it completely. I have to be hypervigilant all the time when I’m out in public, and even when I’m in my own home because even if a smoker assures me that they will not light up, they have done so absentmindedly on a number of occasions. I do not live with smokers, but smokers are everywhere. I can no longer ride a motorcycle because of smokers blowing smoke out their windows at a traffic signal. I’m not asking for legislation to ban smoking, but this idea that second hand smoke can’t harm anyone is patently false. A cardioversion costs me over $6,500.00 after the insurance pays their share. I’ve been paying that for years simply because smokers like to stand next to the entrance to grocery stores, hardware stores, etc. There are laws against this practice, but they’re never enforced. It’s my problem, but I’m not the only one who has to deal with this, and I’m getting dangerously close to splashing water in the face of the next smoker who decides to light up next to me. I don’t need anyone to pass any laws against smoking. I need to move away from smokers. I’m already practically a hermit as it is which wasn’t so bad when the stores were open 24 hours. I could get around pretty well in the middle of the night when most smokers weren’t around. But this Covid lockdown has resulted in me having to go out during the day which requires me to go back to running past smokers as I hold my breath. Laws aren’t going to change anything. Hit and run missions with water balloons might be a better option for me. I can remember how enjoyable it was when I was a kid as well, and that’s what this is all about, right? It’s about being able to freely enjoy these habits, and who doesn’t enjoy tossing water balloons at people?

David Margison

10th July 2020 at 7:54 pm

I know where your coming from, you have my sympathies. I’m 65 when I was 27 I would sometimes wear a mask when going out, I was unusual to say the least.


12th July 2020 at 11:11 pm

My sympathies, Herr von Barkle.
Hope you’re OK when a door suddenly bangs, or a dog suddenly barks.

Capt. Randall

9th July 2020 at 2:29 pm

Besides tobacco correctness shaming and mass marketing of quitting aids, the health impacts of smoking remain hidden along with remediation practices. Commercial tobacco is packed with cadmium/other heavy metals, pesticides, radionuclides and hundreds of additives. Organic tobacco is much cleaner yet still tobacco plants concentrate metals from soil. The idea here is to limit oxidative stress and toxic damage to lungs and cells. Large doses of Vitamin C are needed to offset its destruction on the order of 500-1000mg/cigarette. Vitamin C is critical in powering phages which cleanse lungs. Large doses of Vitamin C along with chelators like chlorella are needed to detox metals from the body. A “large dose” is between 3 and 10 GRAMS of Vit C as sodium ascorbate, taken to bowel tolerance, 3-5Xs/day. Sodium ascorbate is made by mixing cheap pure Vit C w half as much baking soda in water; fizz, drink. Fear shaming itself causes health damage, so if quitting doesn’t work, at least use Vit C constantly and enjoy/not worry.


12th July 2020 at 11:05 pm

Life is dangerous.
Some people like racing sports cars . . .

David McAdam

8th July 2020 at 9:32 pm

I’m amused when a train station announces “Customers (the word passengers having been dropped from public discourse) are reminded that there is no smoking at THIS station.” ‘This station?’ I mutter, ‘There’s no smoking at ANY station, for goodness sake.’ Of course the announcement goes on to say that this includes vaping. I too, don’t smoke but I resent the persecution of men and women indulging what was only until recently, an acceptable and common habit.


8th July 2020 at 6:21 pm

David Hockney pointed out smokers may have a certain immunity to Covid 19. I wonder if it is effective against its big brother bubonic plague which W.H.O insist is well under control?

Dominic Straiton

8th July 2020 at 9:55 pm

Smoking was compulsory at Eton during plague, punishable with a beating. So id say you have something there.

Dominic Straiton

8th July 2020 at 6:00 pm

Anti smoking ruined pubs. The result are the spoilt brats who have made everyones lives a misery in them for 25 years. These brats are shouting on twatter in the same way. SHUT UP and a smack bottom is and was the answer

James Knight

8th July 2020 at 5:07 pm

Once smokers became a minority, it was open season. Maybe the US needs a further amendment, like the 2nd amendment, to protect the “right to bear tobacco” (as part of a well-regulated smoking militia, of course).

Gareth Edward KING

8th July 2020 at 2:25 pm

Additionally, these comments here from vehemently anti-smokers. You all miss the point. I’ve never smoked but I’ve never been on the State’s side when it purports to arrange which vices we can have and which not. It’s called tolerance. I don’t particularly like piercings either or face coverings of any description, but it’s no business of the state to make the decisions for us. France shouldn’t’ve have banned the various Muslim-related veils either. If anything, if people were actually allowed to laugh at each other a bit more we might actually get somewhere. It’s not very respectful, but ‘respect’ has become one of the most overused words in the English language. Humour and guffawing are much healthier.


8th July 2020 at 2:37 pm

Well said.

Gareth Edward KING

8th July 2020 at 2:16 pm

And now look where we are…it was all ‘slippery slope stuff’ banning smoking in the public sphere, now they’ve got us by the shorts and curlies with this dystopian nonsense about unaesthetic ‘face wads’ which have even less ‘science’ behind why we’re exhorted to wear them. In Madrid they’re obligatory but how is their use supposed to be policed? Impossible. But it seems that people have fallen for them like there’s no tomorrow-it’s extremely unusual to see anyone not wearing them: on public transport, in the street, in parks, the countryside and on the beach! People are gullible as never before. Pappi State says put them on so on they go! Much as Pappi State said not to smoke in public places. Today, the main city park: El Retiro is closed off again due to ‘adverse weather conditions’ what? It’s unbearably hot and it’s a bit cloudy that’s all. Want to go the pool? Book an appointment! The beach? Book an appointment. Unless there’s a serious push-back people are ready to swallow it whole! I get the impression that they’re gagging for these authoritarian measures. Schools are barely open, but what the heck! It’s laughable, but extremely sad, so the Chinese were right all along?

Barbara Baker

8th July 2020 at 8:42 pm

We think these are just bat s**t solutions – turns out it only took a handful of actual bat s**t for the CCP yellow peril to take over the world ….

Finbarr Bruggy

8th July 2020 at 1:28 pm

Forget the health issues. It’s a disgusting habit. When I worked in a bar, my clothes stank. Even my fiddle absorbed the smoke and would stink for 3 or 4 days after I’d played it in a bar. My local beach is like an ashtray at the end of every summer with sunbathers stubbing out their cigarettes in the sand. Smoking is on a par with chewing and spitting betel leaves.


8th July 2020 at 1:40 pm

Chaqu’un à son goût.

Highland Fleet Lute

8th July 2020 at 1:17 pm

A comprehensive review of the many health benefits of smoking Tobacco


8th July 2020 at 1:47 pm

Thanks for the link.
Much appreciated.

James Conner

8th July 2020 at 1:02 pm

“I enjoy it, I know the risks and I dont care”

That’s fine by me. Go ahead and enjoy it. Just don’t sit near to me in a pub/plane/train/cinema/restaurant, because the stench of cigarette smoke is something I detest. The smoking ban didn’t come soon enough.

Linda Payne

8th July 2020 at 1:09 pm

You cant smoke in these places anyway; I have no problem with smoking and non smoking bars/restuarants etc, and if you really despise the smell just walk away

James Conner

8th July 2020 at 2:41 pm

“You cant smoke in these places anyway”

… which is precisley my point. Fortunately, thanks to anti smoking laws, smokers have been forced out of public spaces. No doubt you are one of those selfish gits who would be happy to inflict your disgusting stench on others nearby, expecting them to move out of your way if they dislike it. But it’s nice to know that thanks to the law, you’re the one who has to move, because us non-smokers don’t like it and won’t put up with it. Now stick that in your pipe and smoke it.


8th July 2020 at 7:43 pm

But it’s due to intolerant gits like you, who forbid smoking in ALL pubs – and do not allow a publican to set up a smokers’ area away from the likes of you – that we have nowhere to move to. So I’ll blow my smoke at you.

James Conner

9th July 2020 at 6:18 am

“…we have nowhere to move to”

Stop it. You’ll have me in tears in a minute. You smokers have had your way for decades, now the game’s up. Take your filthy pipe and go and sit in your smelly armchair at home and light up.

Jonathan Marshall

9th July 2020 at 4:12 pm

The worst thing is that the “intolerant gits” are just the sort of people who never go near a pub anyway.

Linda Payne

8th July 2020 at 12:46 pm

I wrote an article over 20 years ago for the Nursing Times on the junk science around passive smoking, it clearly had no impact as now you cant smoke in pubs and many public areas are no smoking zones. Smokers have become the pariah of public health, cigarettes are more expensive adorned with gruesome images on the packs, environmental enforcers look out for smokers to see if they can fine them for dropping a fag end in the wrong place and you get these pathetic people who claim they could not have given up if the restrictions had not been imposed. The medical profession continues to nag patients to distraction even if their illness has nothing to do with smoking. If anyone asks me why I dont give up the answer is simple I enjoy it, I know the risks and I dont care


8th July 2020 at 2:03 pm

Good on you, Ms Payne.
As a retired doctor who enjoys a pipe of tobacco, I understand where you’re coming from.
One of the most powerful arguments I read against the Anti-Smoking industry came from the sorely missed Bernard Levin in his Times columns:
“No Smoke . . .” (22/12/1983)
” . . . Without Fire” (20/1/1984)
Both are in his collection “The Way We Live Now” (Sceptre, 1986).

Bradley Robinson

6th August 2020 at 6:06 pm

I enjoy a good smoke. I have been researching tobacco for a good long while now, and everything they told us about tobacco was a lie. it is not as harmful as they say, in many cases its very beneficial. what is your medical opinion in regards to tobacco and its health benefits? i believe its healthy but would like to hear a medical doctors opinion

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