Iain Murray: ASH’s zealous principles vanish in a smoke of puff

How can the anti-smoking lobby hound smokers of one weed while endorsing the use of another, particularly in the light of tobacco’s new-found benefits.

Everything about Action on Smoking and Health, from its witty acronym to its inexhaustible zealotry, makes it a monument to single issue fanaticism – the standard by which all others are measured and are usually found wanting.

It would be curmudgeonly, not to mention plain wrong, to deny its achievements. Never swerving from the belief that the end justifies the means, ASH has employed every device to hand, from bogus science to publicity gimmickry, in its noble and self-appointed mission to anathematise, bully, and victimise smokers. Its efforts have been rewarded by conspicuous success.

It is easy to imagine the pride that must well in the chest of every ASH activist when he or she passes a huddled knot of smokers standing outside their places of work in rain-lashed streets, furtively indulging the habit that has made them office pariahs.

But there is still more to do. ASH will not let its sword sleep in its sheath until the evil of tobacco is extirpated not just from this green and pleasant land, but from the globe, the solar system – from all of creation.

But what can lie behind such single-minded, unsleeping devotion to the cause so great that beside it all others pale? Why, to stop unnecessary pain and suffering, of course. Heaven knows what the latest figure is – it changes as the wind – but there are, we are told, millions of smoking-related deaths, all of which could be avoided by the simple measure of forcing people to be good.

So much is plain. However, those of us who have long suspected that there may be a little more to ASH than meets the eye – what conspiracy theorists call a hidden agenda – were comforted and amused by the astonishing comment from Clive Bates, director of ASH and grand high vizier of the lobby, that there is a “credible and persuasive case” for legalising cannabis.

Reason totters on her throne. What can this mean? Here is a man who has dedicated his life to rooting out the evil of one weed only to endorse the legalising of another. Surely one as versed as he in the medical aspects of inhaling the smoke of dried leaves will know that cannabis contains substances four times as carcinogenic as tobacco and is a mind-altering drug to boot. By what peculiar standard is it acceptable to die from one but not the other?

One can only guess at the byzantine thought processes at work, but I suspect that cannabis wins the support of ASH firstly because it is a fashionable cause – and single issue fanatics are slaves to fashion – and secondly, because it springs from a cottage industry, unlike tobacco which is in the hands of the giant multinationals, those dreaded behemoths hell bent on destruction. Those of us that have marvelled at ASH’s ruthless persecution of a minority have had revealed to us a hitherto unsuspected kindly side to its nature: it is the friend of the old dope peddler. Bless.

Of course, it is said that cannabis has certain beneficial properties, but so does tobacco. Experiments conducted by Wei-Jung Chen, an expert in anatomy at Texas University, have found that smokers hold their drink better than non-smokers. “Blood alcohol concentrations can be significantly reduced in the presence of nicotine,” he says.

Smokers, therefore, need to drink more than non-smokers before they start to feel relaxed, merry or drunk. Mr Chen’s findings, he adds, come from animal experiments but he believes that the same is true for people.

The transcripts of these experiments must make for interesting reading, as the following extracts of my own hope to demonstrate.

“It is a common misconception,” said the tortoise, biting the end off a Cuban cigar and spitting it into the sawdust, “that I am a cold-blooded creature with a low blood alcohol concentration. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact…”

“If you don’t mind me saying so, old boy, hot or cold, you still look like an animated meat pie,” said a seal, seated at the bar, balancing a Gin and It on its nose.”

“This bitter tastes like gnat’s pee,” commented a flea who was, as always, making slow progress with a pint.

“Well, you should know,” said a goat, drawing deeply on a Marlboro Light, “being of the same family.”

“Same family as what,?” said the seal, peering through the fug with a bloodshot eye.

“Same as a gnat,” said the goat, offering the seal a gasper.

“Never touch them,” said the seal holding up a flipper and burping softly.

“They stop you getting hornswoggled, narmean?” said a hyena, laughing. “That’s what the bloke in the white coat said last time he was here handing round the roll-ups.”

“Nonsense,” said the seal as the glass fell from its nose and shattered on the floor. “It’s all a jatter of mudgement. Sinking drensibly is the answer. Know your limit, that’s what I say.”

At which, a non-smoking newt slid gently from its bar stool and fell into peaceful slumber amid the butts strewn across the lab’s floor.


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