As an example to others, and not that I care for moderation myself, it has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain from smoking when awake.
When they used to tell me I would shorten my life ten years by smoking, they little knew the devotee they were wasting their puerile word upon—they little knew how trivial and valueless I would regard a decade that had no smoking in it!
Mark Twain made that first quip at a public lecture more than a century ago, a time in which bureaucracy was still a benign social disease. Indeed, the disease was thought relatively harmless, so it was left untreated. The fullness of time might yet reveal that the inaction of our ancestors will cause a fatal reaction in the body politic.
A hundred years ago the nascent malignancy was so weak that Twain was able to give that speech freely and in the open air, without having to insert a mandatory warning about the evils of tobacco. But try that kind of lecture now, at a time when the disease has grown into a menace, and if the speech were to be filmed, it would require an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Kiddies’ ears would have to be plugged, lest they hear an unapproved message.
Or perhaps Twain now would be made to augment his talk with a Power Point presentation filled with lurid pictures of rotting teeth and blackened lungs. Much like our bureaucracy will soon mandate to appear on packages of tobacco.
Didn’t you know? Yes: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, tumorous bureaucracies whose growth rate would send an oncologist shooting into the nearest tavern for a stiffener were they human patients, gave lots of money to a team of marketing “researchers” to prove that shocking images of disease would induce citizens to forswear smoking. The study was needed so that the bureaucracies’ fiats could made to sound scientific.
The design of the study was basic. A panel of smokers was lassoed into a confined space and shown words like “WARNING: Smoking Causes Mouth Diseases” or enhanced pictures of nacreous flesh. They were then asked how much they wanted to quit smoking. Those treated to the Night-of-The-Living-Dead images were more apt to say that they’d quit. Golly.
Wait, just wait: let’s pause to say that again. People shown disgusting pictures were more likely to say, on the spot, that they’d like to quit than those shown mere words. But are they more likely to quit? Ah, we don’t know. Our government says it wants to try this latest scare tactic because some European governments are already doing it, and some Asian ones too. Experience there has shown that the effects of viewing medical porn are not lasting. But hope is everlasting.
Anyway, that isn’t the interesting part. For in the same issue of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing in which this curious study is found appears the rhetorically entitled article “Can Corrective Ad Statements Based on U.S. v. Philip Morris USA Inc. Affect Consumer Beliefs About Smoking?” This editorial is made to appear as independent evidence, but it is nothing more than an analysis of the same study discussed above.
They say that “the results indicate that the corrective ad statements can have a positive effect on antismoking [sic] beliefs of focal interest in the case, and some beliefs are affected more strongly by the test advertisements than are others.”
One can only correct what is mistaken or what is in error or is dysfunctional. It is absurd, and indeed impossible to correct what is well, unbroken, or proper. Thus the government has convinced itself that its subjects—I mean its citizens, of course—do not know how to best judge whether smoking is proper. The bureaucracy believes that the “correct” behavior is to not smoke.
And the reason it thinks so is obvious: health is more important than anything. If citizens do not share that ideal, they will be forced to pay for a bombardment of “corrective” images until they are made to see the error of their ways, until such time, that is, that it shares the ideal of the bureaucracies.
I now enjoin you to reread that second Mark Twain quote. “How trivial and valueless I would regard a decade that had no smoking in it!” Twain believed that there are some things more important than health. And if enough of us do not share in Twain’s wisdom, health is all we’ll soon have left.