Iain Murray: The anti-smoking lobby should watch its behind

Anti-smoking monomaniacs are upset by the Government’s lack of action on tobacco ads. But the cracks in the kitchen also merit their attention, says Iain Murray

One of the most remarkable discoveries of the last quarter of the twentieth century was the astonishing number and variety of ailments for which tobacco is responsible.

As the terrible truth unfolded, it became clear that smoking was the cause of every known affliction, physical and mental, as well as those as yet unknown. Combining the casuistry of the Jesuits with the messianic fervour of the early martyrs, the anti-tobacco fanatics threw everything into the great purpose of making the world a fit place for non-smokers.

Of course, as with any crusade, there was a price to pay; in this instance it was the civil liberties of those who preferred to exercise their free choice to smoke, regardless of the risk to their lungs, heart, liver, spleen, complexion, virility, hair condition, breath, taste, memory, eyesight, balance, and sanity. Theirs was a simple choice: either to be virtuous and forego the weed in deference to those who knew better, or to be hounded, harried, persecuted, and vilified. For their own good, be it remembered.

Only now, however, is it becoming clear that for those who stood on the side of righteousness and held aloft the banner of Intolerance Infinite there was also a price to pay. They were to be afflicted in ways undreamt of when the cause was born and the sword first unsheathed. In subtle ways, at first too small to detect but later visible in a wildly swivelling eye and a series of involuntary spasms, the anti-smoking crusaders were seen to be suffering from a form of dementia. Though symptoms varied, there was a common thread: the delusion that the very act of believing something to be true made it so.

The malaise erupted last week with the news that a ban on tobacco advertising was not featured in the Queen’s Speech. No sooner was this omission made known than the eyeballs started to rotate, the jaws to involuntarily twitch and the foam to fly. A doctor appeared on Radio 4’s The World at One and launched into a monologue, the gist of which was that people would die as a direct consequence of the Government’s failure to outlaw tobacco ads.

It was not clear until the following morning, however, that what he meant was that people would die in their thousands during the course of the next Parliament. That was spelt out by a woman interviewer who berated a Government spokesman on the Today programme. Smoking, she declared, was responsible for the deaths of 3,000 people a year, therefore, as a direct result of the failure to ban tobacco advertising, 12,000 people would die over the next four years. (I may have got the figures wrong, but the point still holds true, or rather false.)

You do not need a PhD in formal logic to see the absurdity in that claim. Yet it went unchallenged – as do all the pronouncements of the anti-tobacco lobby – because when you have right on your side you have no need of logic, truth or fact.

We must not, however, forget our common humanity and the need for compassion. Which is why I wish to propose a form of treatment for the anti-smoking monomaniacs. They should broaden their interests and assemble a portfolio of concerns. For there is something therapeutic in diversity. And I have just the thing to get them started.

Were you aware of the appalling suffering of chefs? Andrew Parkinson, head chef at Bertorelli’s in London and a veteran of many a cordon bleu kitchen, tells all in a new book, Cutting it Fine: Inside the Restaurant Business. It’s harrowing reading, the sort of thing that makes you want to light up and breath in the soothing fumes of the weed.

Among the horrors endured in the course of creating a queue de boeuf aux olives noires to be followed by poulet en cocotte and rounded off with sans-gêne gâteau are burns, cuts, drug abuse, violent behaviour, divorce, and nervous breakdowns. Add unsocial hours, poor pay, heat and noise, and you begin to see that life in the kitchen beats anything thought up by Dante during his bleaker moments.

“I got varicose veins from standing close to the ovens, and dermatitis from nerves,” says Parkinson. “Chefs have all kinds of medical problems, some more natural than others. Chef’s arse is a common condition (sores that are caused by sweat constantly running down one’s back).”

Now if ever a cause thrust itself forward and demanded to be espoused, it is surely this: to rid the world of chef’s arse. I for one will never be able to look at Nigella in quite the same way again. And who, watching Delia sweetly knocking up steak and kidney pudding in her sun-filled conservatory, could imagine the painful truth that lay behind her brave appearances?

If the boys and girls at Action on Smoking and Health are to regain their sense of mental balance (though it may be too late), what better treatment than to stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood and seize the cudgels in a battle worth fighting?

I can see but one snag. The anti-smokers may well declare that chef’s arse, though undoubtedly a rebuke to us all, is caused not by sweat trickling between the buttocks but, you’ve guessed it, smoking.

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