So that is what those of us trying to work for public health are up against. The vast profits tobacco companies make at the expense of people’s lives and wellbeing are ploughed back into more and more sophisticated marketing and recruiting practices, and into pursuing costly legal action against policies and legislation designed to reduce the deaths, diseases and anguish caused by tobacco.
Well, actually Sheila, that's no longer all that you're up against. For decades the tobacco companies have been fighting a lonely battle for survival against an army of well-paid antismokers like you. It's like a besieged city having its walls slowly battered down. But now a relief army is taking shape, and beginning to march to its assistance. And the besiegers are themselves becoming besieged.
The relief army is made up of the world's increasingly angry smokers. There are about 2 billion of them (although not all of them are foot-soldiers in the army yet). They're angry because their smoky culture is being destroyed, and because they're being demonised, fired from their jobs, and refused medical treatment. And they're becoming blazingly angry. I should know. I'm one of them.
It's always seemed to me to have been a catastrophic mistake by Tobacco Control to have not just demonised Big Tobacco, but to have now demonised tobacco smokers too. While they were just demonising tobacco companies, their enemies were relatively few in number. They were tobacco company executives and employees, tobacco growers, tobacco distributors and so on. Certainly that's a large and powerful enemy. But the numbers of all these people around the world is probably a few hundred thousand. Maybe a million. It must be that order of magnitude.
But when they started demonising the world's smokers too - all 2 billion of them - they created for themselves an ubiquitous new enemy that was a thousand times more numerous than their old enemy.
I've said it before, but I'll say it again. If I was a tobacco company executive, I'd be going round seeing my fellow executives and telling them, 'We've won!' and breaking out the champagne and the biggest Havana cigars.
It's much like when, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, and already at war with Britain and Russia and a few other countries, Nazi Germany declared war on America as well, just for the hell of it, and because they could, and because they thought they were invincible.
By declaring war on smokers, Tobacco Control have kicked over a wasp's nest. And the angry wasps are coming out. I've said this before too. And their numbers are growing and growing. I've begun to lose count of the number of blogs that have sprung up being written by angry smokers. There are more and more of them.
Of course, they're not very organised. But is a swarm of wasps ever organised? Is there a king wasp who leads from the front, shouting 'This way, lads!' No. Seems there isn't. The intelligence of the swarm is a collective intelligence. It's made up of all those tiny wasps brains getting wired up together to create a very big brain. Just like a lots of dumb transistors are wired up together to create a supercomputer. The intelligence of the whole is greater than the intelligence of the individual parts. The swarm is self-organising.
Same with the growing swarm of angry smokers. They're self-organising too. There's no leader. There's no headquarters. There's no general staff poring over maps of battlefields. There are just angry individuals here and there who occasionally have a bright idea. For a poster. For a video. For something. And these ideas and suggestions get passed around, and accepted or rejected. And there are more and more ideas getting passed around, faster and faster. And there are more and more new wasps joining the swarm, as more and more smokers start saying, 'You know what? I'm angry too!' And there are one hell of a lot of angry smokers out there who haven't yet realised that they're angry. But they will.
And someone like Sheila Duffy has no idea what's coming down the track. She's got her Nazi binoculars fixed on the city of Big Tobacco that she's besieging. Her guns are all pointing that way. She's not looking behind her. She probably hasn't even noticed that there are one or two wasps flying around. She hasn't noticed that she's under attack.
And what a brilliant attack it is! She put up her blog on 20 July. And she's switched off the comments. So what did some genius do? They just went and reproduced her blog elsewhere, this time with the comments on. The mirror blog was set up on 22 July. Just 2 days later.
I'd have never had the idea of doing that. But some wasp somewhere had that idea, and went and did it. It took another 2 days for the news to reach me. It took another 2 days for me to catch that buzz. But that's how it is in the swarm. It takes a while for the news to filter across it.
2 days. That's a pretty rapid response. It indicates that the swarm is getting stronger and smarter. Soon the responses will come in 2 hours. And then 2 minutes. And 2 seconds. And so on.
And people like Duffy will have no response to the gathering swarm. They're rigid thinkers with a fixed mindset. Their eyes are fixed upon Big Tobacco, which they blame for all the world's evils. And they're used to issuing press releases to the media. And nobody asking any questions. They're used to lobbying parliament. And nobody asking any questions there either. They're very good at not asking any questions over there.
What they're not very good at doing is arguing their case in public. They've never done that. If anything, they work by stopping argument, by stopping debate, by excluding and demonising people. That's why Duffy switched off her comments. She doesn't want to debate anything with anyone. She knows better than any of them. She's an authority. I bet she goes to those 2-day antismoking conferences, where all the delegates tell each other how awful smoking is for the nth time.
But she can't stop the debate. She can only stop it on her own blog. So the debate will happen instead on the mirror blog. And so the latter will be the one that everyone reads, because it's got comments under it.
ASH and its familiars operate by controlling opinion. They craft careful antismoking messages, and release them into the compliant mainstream media, who never fact-check any of them. And it works well in the authoritarian megaphone mainstream media. But it doesn't work on the internet. Or on blogs which are all about exchanging ideas. Sheila Duffy is probably deeply unfamiliar with the idea of people exchanging ideas, and chewing things over. Her world doesn't work like that.
And her world is dying. The swarm has already delivered a fatal blow to her. She's become a laughing stock. And she probably isn't aware that she's been stung. When she does cotton on, she'll blame it on the tobacco companies, of course. She'll say that the tobacco companies have been organising smokers to do things like reproduce her blog, and make her look stupid. She'll say that because that's the only sort of organisational control she understands. Top down control. Shaping opinion. Sending the right message. Blah blah.
Big mistake. It's going to be death by a thousand cuts for these people. Death by 2 billion stings. On its own, a single wasp sting is more or less harmless. But 2 billion of them means instant death
Elsewhere Leg-iron remarked today that:
Smoky-Drinky has spread further and faster than I'd imagined. The Telegraph even has a Pub Shed category in its gardening section.
Funny old world, isn't it, where things keep happening faster and faster?