Joe Jackson and his smoking diatribe

I couldn’t sleep last night, so around midnight I snuck to my computer for a little late-night browsing. I ended up at The Local, an English-language news site covering Berlin.

Imagine my pleasure when I found an editorial written by one of my favorite musicians, Joe Jackson!

Imagine my excitement when I read that he’s been living in Berlin for several years!

Imagine my disappointment when I realized the man is an idiot!

First off, allow me to quote his editorial in full. You can always click over to The Local, and read the article embedded in its home page… but it’s not going to make it any less crazy.

Steppin’ Out for a Smoke

Having lived in Berlin for the better part of three years, I’ve been asked to write something about my ‘right’ to smoke here. But I’m not sure I have one. The real question, I think, is: who has the right to forbid me to smoke, and on what grounds? Consider the following:

(1) Tobacco is legal in Germany.
(2) Smokers are adults.
(3) Smokers contribute enormous amounts of tax revenue.
(4) Pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants are private property.
(5) If some people don’t like smoke, this is a matter of taste and therefore for the free market to sort out, not the government.
(6) A decent modern ventilation system can render smoke virtually unnoticeable.
(7) ‘Second-hand,’ or ‘passive’ smoke hurts no one anyway.

This all seems pretty obvious to me, but the last point may need some explanation. Seven years of research has convinced me that the potential risks involved in smoking are currently hugely exaggerated, for reasons which have more to do with politics than health.

In the case of ‘second-hand’ smoke, though, anyone who really looks at the evidence – how the studies are done, who pays for them, what the statistics really mean – is soon reminded of the old story of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

You remember the one: the Emperor thinks he’s wearing a fabulous invisible costume, and no one has the nerve to tell him he’s naked because, well, he’s the Emperor! We’re not so impressed by emperors these days, or by priests or popes or politicians. But we seem to practically swoon at the sight of a doctor’s white coat. That’s why, more and more, it’s the uniform of choice for anyone in authority who wants to nag you, bully you, raise your taxes and generally push you around.

In Germany, the ‘official’ figure for yearly deaths from ‘passive smoke’ has been, for the last four years, exactly 3,301 – two-thirds of whom, incidentally, are supposedly over 75 years old and one-third over 85. This comes from a cancer research centre in Heidelberg. How do they know? Well, they don’t. They have just cherry-picked a few dubious statistics from a few trashy studies, and done computer projections from them. They can’t actually prove even one death.

I’m happy to say there seems to be a bit more (healthy!) skepticism about this sort of thing in Germany than, say, the UK. I’m delighted, too, that in the face of court rulings, fierce resistance, and half-hearted enforcement, smoking bans are unravelling in Berlin and the rest of the country.

Very few people, it seems, wanted them in the first place, and even most non-smokers favour some kind of freedom of choice. After all, a Berlin Eckkneipe, or corner pub, is typically a place where the owner, the bartenders, and most of the customers smoke. How far are authorities willing to go to stop them? The Nazis were fierce anti-smokers, but even they did not ban smoking in pubs.

There are bigger things bothering me than some nebulous ‘right to smoke.’ Basic democratic principles (freedom of choice, property rights, free enterprise, tolerance) are increasingly regarded, by politicians and lobby groups acting in the name of ‘health,’ as nothing more than obstacles to be scornfully swept aside.

People need to look beyond their personal prejudices and wake up. The phenomenal recent success of the anti-smoking movement is evidence not of the ascendancy of a noble cause, but of phenomenal infusions of cash. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been extorted out of the US tobacco industry in behind-the-scenes deals like the Master Settlement Agreement. Add to that punitive taxation and especially, the enthusiastic support of the pharmaceutical industry – which wants to sell nicotine products and antidepressants to the world’s 1.2 billion smokers. This is how a fairly small network of prohibitionist fanatics grows into a juggernaut which simply intimidates any opposition into silence.

Anti-tobacco in Europe is driven to a large extent by the World Health Organization – in an explicit partnership with three of the world’s biggest drug companies. AIDS, typhoid and dysentery are rampant in developing countries, and two million children a year die just from lack of clean water. Yet the WHO now prefers to bully the generally healthy citizens of prosperous countries over ‘lifestyle’ issues such as tobacco, alcohol, diet, obesity, and road safety.

Every aspect of our personal lives is being dictated, more and more, by unelected and unaccountable bodies like the WHO or various bit of the EU bureaucracy. If you don’t smoke, you may think it’s none of your business. But don’t kid yourself. If you’re a few pounds ‘overweight,’ or drink more than two government-defined ‘units’ of alcohol per day, or eat ‘unhealthy’ foods, then you’re next in line to be scapegoated and stigmatized, denied health care or insurance, denied jobs or housing, forbidden to adopt children . . . the list is growing daily.

These things are already happening in nanny states like the UK, Canada and Australia, and Germany can’t be so far behind. Nevertheless there is some cause for cautious optimism here. Germany, at least, won’t be the first country to sleep-walk into a joyless, squeaky-clean, socially-engineered future. So light a cigarette, raise a glass, and drink to that healthy disrespect for authority which is still alive and well in the bars of Berlin.

This man borders on the paranoid. A grand collusion of the pharma industry to outlaw smoking… so they can sell nicotine gum? Die he actually use the phrase Nanny State? His juvenile Me-and-Mine approach to rights is reminiscent of the most primitive wing-nut Fox News watchers.

The Germans have a lovely Neu-Deutsch phrase called Fremdscham – it’s New German for being ashamed on behalf of someone else… like when you see someone make a complete ass out of himself without realizing it. This is a version of empathy I’m feeling for a former larger-than-life star in my personal pantheon of 1980s hipsters.

I’m a smoker. Occasional smoker in any case. I don’t mind people smoking in my house. I don’t even mind it in most restaurants, but after the ban came into effect I noticed the air got better. I like it, but I’m not militant about it. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a hard habit to kick. But with all the real problems in the world, Joe Jackson makes his grand stand on the barricades of the pro-smoking struggle. Cigarettes are a product marketed to 14-year olds, most of whom figure out relatively quickly that personal insecurity can be compensated through more effective ways than posing in the school yard like a member of the Sharks or the Jets. Grow up, and quit smoking. Don’t sell it back to us as an infringement of your rights and a conspiracy of NGOs.

Joe, unclench.


  1. bowleserised said:

    The phrase “Nanny State” gets bandied about a lot in the UK.

    Eh. How amazing, an oncologist who also releases records! /sarcasm.

    A friend commented that she would be saving a fart or two for Joe if she sees him in a bar. No proof that secondhand farts harm anyone, after all. I’m sure he won’t mind.

  2. The Boy with the Thorn in His Side said:

    I just came across you comments on the Joe Jackson piece and your over-reaction makes me think that his points got under your skin much more than you are willing to admit. There is nothing in the article you quote to suggest that Joe Jackson isn’t aware that there are other issues in the world worth fighting about. Trying to undermine his argument by creating a hierarchy of “worthy” issues suggests there is something in his arguments that unsettle you. I think the English would refer to it as “playing the man not the ball”. I am a non-smoker but I also believe that ensuring there are limits to government interference of citizens’ rights is something worth defending. I also think you are forgetting a libertarian and anarchic heritage that has nothing to do with right-wing nutters on Fox. And finally, your friend can fart as much as she likes in a pub but I’m not sure how she’d feel if she was banned from one for doing so.

    Yours in hope that there are other alternatives left to sucking on Big Brother’s cock or on Nanny’s titty!

  3. smokingporn said:

    Ah, but Joe looks so sexy when he smokes. Go on, say it ain’t so!

  4. James said:

    Just like any “powerless” alcoholic or former drug addict tends to despise people who enjoy that which they once abused, your over-the-top reaction to Joe Jackson’s comments is exactly what one would expect from a former smoker who “grew up.”

    Perhaps smoking was a problem for you, perhaps you began smoking when you were a 14 year old insecure kid. That sucks for you. But it doesn’t give you the right to transfer your own insecurities to everyone else.

    You say that you aren’t “militant”and yet you describe smokers as childish and insecure. But that is worse than militant, it is condescending and…well…it’s also quite childish.

    Alcohol is evil, says the alcoholic; cigarettes are evil, says the insecure former smoker. Nothing new to see here, folks.

  5. healthycynic said:

    He’s actually not as paranoid as you think. The AMA, pharm-companies, and their lobbyists control what is “healthy”. 50 years ago, cigarettes were totally “healthy” and even recommended by doctors. Insurance wasn’t even a real institution until the AMA decided that doctors and hospitals would get more money off healthcare. I see that you’re come from a sincere place but at the same time, do read up on social policy and indoctrination before making the all too common misinformed statement or two. Trust me if you knew what happens in govs, you’d definitely be paranoid (and I’m a fan of gov regulation haha!).

    PS I’ve worked at an IGO (related to WHO- and they certainly are EXTREMELY political as opposed to altruistic) and have extensively studied gov & law for 7 years.

  6. Steve said:

    Yoram, you truly a dick. Write a rebuttal with references, resources and disprove what he has to say you dim witted moron. You think pharmaceutical companies don’t have a vested interest? What a naïve, simplistic, myopic and twisted ‘little’ ex smoker you are.

  7. Mr Me said:

    Steve is an idiot and so is Joe Jackson. Ton’s of evidence Steve, Pull your heads out of your asses and join the 21st century morons

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