Should the cigarette industry be abolished?

First aired on Q (18/01/12)

cigarette-smoking-175.jpgWithout doubt, Canada's smoking and tobacco laws have become stricter in the past decade. We've seen numerous provinces enact public smoking bans and the use of larger and more graphic health warning labels on the packaging.

But Stanford history of science professor Robert Proctor doesn't think our laws go far enough. In fact, he doesn't think any laws that don't completely abolish the manufacture and sale of cigarettes go far enough.

"We ban all kinds of things," Proctor said to Q host Jian Ghomeshi recently. "We ban lead paint, we ban children's toys that can be swallowed, we ban asbestos insulation, and in Canada, I guess, we even ban electronic cigarettes. But the really big killer...the biggest killer in the history of human civilization, we actually tolerate."

In his new book Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition, Proctor argues that people should have the right to smoke, but that the multi-billion-dollar tobacco industry should go up in smoke for selling a "product that has all kinds of the world of filth in it."

Despite all the advertising, PSA commercials and health education in schools, Proctor believes average Canadians still don't know what really goes into a commercially produced cigarette.

"Do they know that cigarette smoke contains radioactive isotypes — Polonium-210? Do they know that the industry juices up the product with ammonia to freebase it? Do they know that cigarettes are designed deliberately to have this power to sustain addiction? Really, cigarettes could be a lot less deadly than they are and people, I don't think, really do know the full range [of health risks.] They don't know that smoking causes breast cancer and baldness and erectile dysfunction. They don't know that cigarettes are a leading cause of things like fires or even deforestation."

But would banning tobacco be effective? After all, Canada tried stemming the flow of alcohol during the early 20th century, which only created an illegal underground market for it. Proctor, however, believes that a ban on cigarettes could work because the majority of its users — as many as 80 to 90 per cent, according to the professor — wish they weren't smokers.

"Only about three per cent of people who drink are alcoholic. If smokers could choose freely, then they would choose not to smoke. Nicotine is not a recreational drug...It's really fundamentally different."

Ultimately, if people want a smoke, that's their personal choice and Proctor says he has no problem with it. But try growing your own tobacco, like he does.


Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition

by Robert Proctor

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From the publisher:

"The cigarette is the deadliest artifact in the history of human civilization. It is also one of the most beguiling, thanks to more than a century of manipulation at the hands of tobacco industry chemists. In Golden Holocaust, Robert N. Proctor draws on reams of formerly-secret industry documents to explore how the cigarette came to be the most widely-used drug on the planet, with six trillion sticks sold per year. He paints a harrowing picture of tobacco manufacturers conspiring to block the recognition of tobacco-cancer hazards, even as they ensnare legions of scientists and politicians in a web of denial. Proctor tells heretofore untold stories of fraud and subterfuge, and he makes the strongest case to date for a simple yet ambitious remedy: a ban on the manufacture and sale of cigarettes."

Read more at University of California Press.