Even a single cigarette could be deadly. I often hear this opinion.
I will remind the tragic story of 18-year-old Archduchess Mathilde of Austria. She had learned to smoke from Sissi (Empress Elisabeth, 1837-1898). One day Mathilde set her dress on fire when she tried to hide a cigarette from her father, and suffered severe burns. She died in agony about two weeks later.
Archduchess Mathilde (1849-1867)
Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Link.
Of course, it was a horrible accident. However, when you are addicted to smoking, it will probably kill you. And when you start smoking, you will probably get addicted to it.
It would be very naive and dangerous to deny these well-known facts. For me, they are not the matter of discussion. Nonetheless, I intend to write down some remarks on chosen anty-smoking propaganda techniques. I`m going to present only my opinion on this complicated issue.
Due to smoking’s negative health consequences, society has come to view all patterns of tobacco use as unhealthy, whether one is a regular smoker, just an occasional puffer, or a dipper.
This is the moment when propaganda appears on the scene – skillfully masked as a reasonable approach -, playing with emotions, especially with fear.
Today, the conventional wisdom amongst the anti-smoking movement is that contact with any amount of tobacco smoke is damaging to human health. The problem is that this conclusion is rather a matter of faith. It`s a seriously worrying situation when an article of faith is called a result of scientific research – even if the intentions of persons claiming it are good and noble. The belief of many people in the idea of “no safe level of exposure” is so strong that even religious feelings often fade in comparison to it. Many people engaged in the anti-smoking campaign are determined not to leave any single “open gate” for smokers, any single opportunity for them to seek excuses for smoking, that`s the reason.
Nevertheless, at present it would be extremely difficult to prove without doubt that smoking a few cigarettes or one cigar over the course of one’s entire life resulted in lung cancer or in any other deadly illness. Of course, it might be true.
„The dose makes a poison”, as once a famous physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) stated. As a chemist, I wonder how a substance can exist (or, in this case, the mixture of substances) that is toxic in any concentration. Tobacco smoke probably contains about 100 000 substances, but most of them are in hardly detectable concentrations (people are pretty rarely told that). I’ve never heard of a substance that is always harmful regardless of its concentration. Of course, the safe level of exposure to some chemical compounds is very low, but it still exists. Why, then, should tobacco smoke be an unique, horrible exception? Is Nicotiana tabacum (the latin name for the cultivated tobacco) a devil`s plant of some kind?
It is not suprising that Poland also has not been immune from the spread of the anti-smoking propaganda. Some persons here managed to convince other people that the risks are pretty much the same no matter how heavily or lightly a person smokes. People are told that every single cigarette takes 5 to 7 minutes off of their life, and that smokers run a 10-20 times increased risk of lung cancer. Of course, it often goes unmentioned that such a level of risk only applies to those who have smoked heavily for decades. How many minutes takes off for example every single hour of car driving, when the traffic-related death rate would be taken into account? Such calculations are just pointless. Smokers are told that they have black lungs filled with tar. Why then smokers` lungs are used for transplants? And other parts of their bodies as well? Smokers are minority in the society now, so it does not happen because of the inevitable necessity. Of course, the number of donors is limited, but the main reason for performing those surgical procedures is that smokers` organs are also considered well suitable for transplants when they are healthy. If that`s the case with “firsthand” smoke, could it be true that secondhand smoke has so devastating effects on others as it`s often being depicted by the mass media? Could it be justified to depict smokers almost as murderers? Is it reasonable to frighten people even with thirdhand smoke?
As the result of anti-smoking’s propaganda, some people even have believed that there’s truth in such ridiculous claims like: “secondhand smoke is even more harmful than direct smoking”, or that “filtered cigarettes are as dangerous as unfiltered”, and “light cigarettes are more dangerous than full-flavored cigarettes”.
Now, the part of the anti-smoking movement is also trying to exclude the smoking minority in Poland from the public debate about tobacco use. They claim that smokers are simply so ill and addicted – just like heroinists – that they are unable to properly assess their own condition, or express their own needs. Therefore, there shouldn`t be any discussion with smokers, but only treatment. Some of the anti-smoking activists are convinced that such an attitude is morally acceptable because it will serve to achieve their ultimate goal – to make tobacco use and trade illegal.
Smokers have gradually become the pariah of the modern world. Many people already consider them as stinky, untouchable, miserable, suicidal, and almost homicidal creatures. It turned out to be the result of this ongoing propaganda. And this is really perilous situation, when the large part of the society is able to label a group of people living in this society in such manner – depict them as enemies, and at the same time deprive them of the right to defend themselves. Who then would be next?
Smoking is so dangerous itself that reliable information about health risks associated with it will be just enough.