• June 22, 2024

Quitting is Easy

 Quitting is Easy

Credit: Ivelin Radkov

Credit: Ivelin Radkov

It seems to be very difficult for many politicians and think-tankers to change their minds.

By George Gay

Ever since they were mentioned in a Guardian newspaper leader in the U.K. in February, I have been fascinated by sea squirts. These tiny creatures start off as eggs and then develop into tadpole-like entities that swim around seeking a suitable rock or piece of coral on which to make their homes for life. But this is the good bit: Once they have attached themselves to their homes-for-life, they no longer need to swim or seek out suitable habitats, so they devour their own brains.

The rest of their lives is spent blissfully drawing in sea water through one orifice, removing the nutrients they need and then squirting out what they do not want through another orifice—all without having to contemplate tricky meaning-of-life questions.

Do these little creatures remind you of anything or anybody? To me, their way of life mirrors that of many politicians and employees of ideologically rigid “think tanks.” I mean, once these people have swum away from home, school or university and attached themselves to their political party or ideology of choice, they no longer need their brains, just a couple of orifices, one of which takes in information that is scanned for the nutrients that will feed their political or ideological prejudices and the other to squirt out the indigestible, inconvenient facts.

You might laugh at this, or you might find it outrageous, but it would explain something that to me is otherwise inexplicable: the fact that it seems to be enormously difficult for many politicians, think-tankers and people in thrall to the aforementioned to change their minds.

It is not unusual to hear a person who has always voted for a particular political party to say, while acknowledging that their party has been in power for years and proved itself to be incompetent, corrupted and lacking ideas, that they will continue to vote for it because “imagine what another party would have done if it had been in power during the same period,” something that, obviously, cannot be known. This is your individual as a sea squirt, operating to her full potential with two orifices while comfortably attached to her easy chair.

In a similar vein, there is no end of people willing to tell you that tobacco smoking is the worst thing that anybody could do, but who will then add that, nevertheless, “can you imagine the awful things that vaping could usher in in the long term.” These two-orifice people look for nothing new, listen to nothing new and say nothing new.

This resistance to doing things in new ways, even putting one foot in front of the other, was highlighted by John D. Barrow in The Book of Nothing when he quoted Francis Cornford. “Every public action, which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.” Crazy as it might seem, this is where we are with vaping. Traditional tobacco products are customary, so they are OK, but vaping devices could set a dangerous precedent.

It must have been the case that sea squirts or their relatives were in charge at Suring School in Wisconsin, USA, recently. According to a Vaping360 story relayed by Tobacco Reporter, Wisconsin legislators have had to propose a bill that would make certain invasive searches of students illegal.

“The proposed law follows searches of students aged 14 to 17 last year in Suring, Wisconsin, in which the students were made to strip down to underwear in order for the superintendent to search for vapor devices,” the story reported. “The students were not told that they could decline the search, and parents were not informed until after the searches were completed.”

At first, I found this story difficult to believe because it requires your accepting that somebody, or some people, thought that one way of protecting students, who might or might not have been carrying vapes, would be to humiliate them. They apparently thought that theirs was a proportionate response to student vaping.

The students were 14 to 17, at a time of their lives that many find difficult to navigate, when they should be able to rely on the adults running their school to set an example of rational, humane behavior. Instead, they seem to have been confronted by adults obsessed with enforcing petty rules even to the extent of carrying out strip searches, which most people probably associate with prisons.

I would suggest that even if those students vape for 50 years, it will do them less damage than the memory of being strip searched. I salute the legislators who are seeking to stop such incidents occurring again.

An issue that seems to me to arise from the above story and one from Sheridan, Wyoming, USA, is that a lot of adults need to grow up. Their ideas on rules and discipline seem to be aligned with those of your average 13-year-old, which often tend to be inflexible. According to a Sheridan Media story relayed in TR, the city council in Sheridan was due to consider an ordinance pertaining to vaping and tobacco use by minors in the city.

“Under the proposed ordinance, any minor [I assume, anyone under the age of 21] found possessing tobacco or electronic cigarettes (vaping devices) would be subject to a tiered system of fines through municipal court,” the story reported.

Credit: Olly

It’s none of my business, I suppose, because I don’t live in Wyoming, but, nevertheless, perhaps I could respectfully suggest that there should be some consultation on this. Perhaps the authorities might do well to draw on the expertise of people informed about comparative risks and gun laws in Wyoming, where I gather from the internet that just about anybody in the state who is above the age of 18 may carry a gun.

As elsewhere, in clamping down on vaping devices, the authorities in Wyoming seem to be more concerned about things that people can protect themselves from, such as vaping, than about things that it is difficult if not impossible to protect themselves from, like being shot. At the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization seemed more intent on putting on an anti-tobacco/anti-nicotine conference than protecting us from a deadly virus that, unlike tobacco smoke, could and did sweep unseen across borders.

By the way, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rank Wyoming as having a firearm mortality rate of 25.9 per 100,000 people, which places it third highest, below Mississippi (28.6) and Louisiana (26.3). And, as another aside, this raises an interesting question about whether the CDC believes that gun ownership is a disease, but that is not for discussion here.

Although, having said that, language does matter, according to Johanna Cohen, Bloomberg professor of disease prevention and director of the John Hopkins School of Public Health’s Institute for Global Tobacco Control. Cohen stars in a video that seems to be an advertisement for language purity by scientists and academics working in the field of opposing new-generation products (NGPs).

It is a rather confusing video to my way of thinking because, while the voice-over makes the point that language evolves, Cohen seems not to be a Darwinist. She seems to lean toward genetically modified language, where such modifications are controlled by people such as her to avoid language developing adjectival diseases helpful to the tobacco industry.

This all becomes rather silly in fact. At one point in the video, according to a piece by Alex Norcia writing in Filter magazine [I quote Norcia because, though I watched the video, I did not transcribe it], Cohen says that “words like ‘novel’ and ‘emerging’ are really misrepresentative by nature as a product is only new for so long.”

I mean, come on, I know that a lot of people who like to go on about tobacco cannot resist dredging up the past, but what is she trying to do here, reignite the 1920s debate between Albert Einstein and Henri-Louis Bergson on the nature of time? As a bit of a diversion, is she seeking the illusive equation that will define for us the “now” moment? Cohen seems to want to set up an Academie Anglais when the object of the NGPs exercise should simply be to make it as easy as possible for those people who want to do so to switch from traditional combustible cigarettes to these less risky products.

As always, if you want to make sense of something, it is best to seek out the experts, and by that, I don’t mean the scientists and academics. I mean the people who smoke and who use NGPs. At the bottom of a TR news report on the Filter piece, a viewer of the video was quoted as saying, “WE use these devices. WE define the terms. You need to stop talking and start listening.” Sixteen words that say it all.

But Cohen is right in one way: Language is important, and those who support tobacco harm reduction (THR) should not be lulled into picking up and repeating whatever ideas the anti-tobacco/anti-nicotine activists put out. And there is a tendency to do this, especially within the tobacco industry, which is forever issuing mea culpas in an effort to curry favor with its enemies. One obvious example of this is the way in which just about everybody applies the word “addiction” to smokers and vapers without bothering to define what exactly is meant by addiction, something that I try to point up in another piece in this magazine.

Another example can be seen in the otherwise useful World Vapers’ Alliance Policy Primer featuring case studies of the most successful countries that have embraced alternative products as a means of combating traditional smoking. It is unfortunate, in my view, that the primer at one point had this to say: “Quitting smoking is one of the hardest things to do, and smokers need all the support they can get instead of being stigmatized.”

I find it hard to believe that anyone whose aim is to get people to switch from smoking to vaping would make this point, which I don’t think is even correct. For one thing, the hardest thing to do would vary from person to person, but it is easy to imagine that, for some people, obtaining a doctorate in quantum physics, playing Hamlet well, knitting a jumper with two arms in the right place, playing Wagner or listening to The Ring Cycle right through … might all come higher up the scale of difficulty than giving up smoking.

I gave up smoking without recourse to any replacement or alternative products, and many of my peers did so, too, and I don’t for a minute believe that we were a particularly strong-willed bunch. Indeed, the figures showed that countless numbers of people did so at the same time.

And even if this were not the case, I would find it difficult to understand under what circumstances any sensible person would try to encourage another person to do something by telling them it was difficult. It is time to take advantage of some corporate speak. For years now, no company worth its salt has faced problems; it has instead faced challenges. Note, the obstacle hasn’t changed, just the way of looking at it.

The worker faced with a problem is entitled to hold her chin and shake her head. The worker faced with a challenge is set up to measure the height of the obstacle and the length of the run-up needed to clear it.

We of the THR persuasion should not perpetuate the myth that quitting tobacco is difficult. We are not sea squirts attached to the anti-tobacco/anti-nicotine rock and being force-fed its solutions. It is not in our interests to perpetuate such myths, though it could be seen as being in the interests of those in the anti-tobacco camp. After all, if smokers came to know that it was not difficult to quit, they might do so and put those employed to be anti-tobacco out of work.