Whither Moderate Smoking?

A doctor writing for New Zealand’s Department of Health in 1953:

Cut down your smoking. Heavy smokers have more coronary disease than light ones … there is a growing body of opinion that the circulation and lungs may be affected … and there is some connection between excessive smoking and cancer of the lungs. … Tobacco has its uses. As a social habit it has become accepted by both sexes the world over. It is used to relieve tension and help relaxation. … What is moderation? The latest American thought is – limit yourself to, say, six or eight cigarettes a day.*

I can’t imagine a similar statement today. Health promotionists now focus exclusively on encouraging people to quit smoking altogether. The framing of the tobacco question has shifted from smoking as an activity to the Smoker as a deviant identity. Cue Foucault:

The nineteenth-century homosexual became a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mysterious physiology. Nothing that went into his total composition was unaffected by his sexuality. … Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy into a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul.  The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.**

Update: The Rest of the Story has some related discussion:

The real danger here, however, is not in the possible misrepresentation of the scientific evidence. It is, rather, the possibility that in making this statement, the ACS might actually play some part in convincing smokers who would otherwise continue to cut down on the amount they smoke that it is simply not worth it because they aren’t going to see any health improvement anyway. Given the addictive power of nicotine and cigarette smoking, it is far more likely that these discouraged smokers will simply continue smoking at their current amounts then that they will quit smoking entirely. And they may even increase their cigarette consumption, since it may appear from the ACS statement that the amount smoked does not relate directly to disease risk.

Very good throughout. Read the whole thing. 

*Quoted in Thomson and Wilson, 1997. A Brief History of Tobacco Control in New Zealand,  p. 9.

** Foucault, 1976. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. (Robert Hurley Trans.), p. 43.

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