A number of us are still trying to figure out how prohibitionists work their evil magic.

Various strands of rhetoric and tactics are essential to successful prohibitionist campaigning. Here’s how it works.

Framing the ‘confidence trick’ 

In 2006, a year before England’s smoking ban came into effect, ASH explained in The Guardian how the legislation was passed. Note the title of the article: ‘Smoke and mirrors’. Emphases mine below:

… It marks the culmination of one of the most successful social change lobbying campaigns of recent times. The campaign showed the importance of sound strategy, sharp tactics and a lot of luck, and holds lessons for future campaigners.

First, frame the argument. For years, action on smoking in public places was mired in discussion about the claimed “freedom” and “rights” of smokers, and the need for “voluntary” shifts towards compromise solutions, particularly in pubs, restaurants and clubs. We changed the terms of the debate to health and safety at work. We argued that secondhand smoke is a killer – making a smoke-free workplace a right for everyone, and that there is no “compromise” solution

The next step is to split the opposition. In every country where smoke-free legislation has been mooted, the most vocal opponents are the tobacco trade and the hospitality industry. But the preferences of these allies are subtly different

It is crucial to exploit opportunities that come your way

John Reid (an ex-smoker), publicly stated that banning smoking in public places was not on his agenda. “Show us the votes,” said his political adviser, when we tried to convince him of the public health arguments. But Reid overreached himself. His description of smoking as a “working-class pleasure” created a media firestorm that we could exploit

Political champions are essential. Our coalition owes a sincere gratitude to numerous politicians and officials …

It is essential that campaigners create the impression of inevitable success. Campaigning of this kind is literally a confidence trick: the appearance of confidence both creates confidence and demoralises the opposition. The week before the free vote we made sure the government got the message that we “knew” we were going to win and it would be better for them to be on the winning side …

The struggle for smoke-free legislation went from nowhere to victory in a short time. It routed powerful opponents and exposed many of them as incompetent or insubstantial. It shifted public opinion from indifference to overwhelming support. Some ideas reach a point at which their time has come. But some will also often need a vigorous campaign before politicians notice the obvious.

Components of a successful campaign

From ASH’s description of the ‘confidence trick’ above and looking at other tactics used in prohibitionist campaigns, the following elements are necessary:

- Shifting to an argument which works. ASH moved from the defensive in fighting off accusations about personal liberties to the attack once they switched their argument to ‘health’.

- Ensuring your target groups are too divided to band together. The way bans are currently shaping up reveals that prohibitionists are targeting three groups: smokers, drinkers and the obese. Non-smoking drinkers are unlikely to align with smokers. Nor are the obese, some of whom are ex-smokers. End result: smokers have only themselves on whom to rely. The obese — some of whom are practising pietist Christians — are unlikely to band together with drinkers. So, each group is on its own.

- Obfuscating the real issue. Non- and anti-smokers still believe the smoking ban is about health and have fully taken ASH’s arguments about second-hand smoke on board. In reality, this is, as ASH say, about ‘social change’. A number of us would say that this social change involves property rights, as this Orphans of Liberty post explains:

It was never about health because the public have always had the right to choose not to enter a pub if they were concerned about their health. The ban was about a seizure of property by the state.

This opens the next door for the Tobacco Control Industry; Banning smoking in cars.

Cars are also private property but the government has decided it now controls private property so they can also dictate what you do in your car.

Banning smoking in cars would be for one reason and one reason only – To protect children. There is no other argument in favour of a ban in cars. In order to effectively police this law however, the ban must extend to all cars.

Simply banning smoking in cars where children are present would be unenforceable. Small children cannot often be seen in cars and it’s hard to tell exactly how old teenagers are.

- A one-size-fits-all ‘remedy’ to a ‘problem’. ASH say, ‘There is no compromise solution’. Therefore, all enclosed public spaces must be non-smoking. Again, consider the issue of property rights. Although pubs are ‘public houses’, they are no more public than any other privately-owned business is. However, all business owners have been deprived of making their own choice as to whether they could provide a smoking room for their customers and/or employees.

- Demonising perceived opponents. The media and ASH took Labour’s John Reid apart when he stated that those living in poor areas found comfort in smoking. However, every public comment from media personalities falsely made him out to be a man who was nonchalant about health and — more importantly — children. I might disagree with John Reid politically, but his was an accurate observation, like it or not. However, the constant media attacks forced him to adopt a compromise position.

- ‘Think of the children’. Any prohibitionist rhetoric concerning legal adult activity — consumption of tobacco or alcohol — must have a family or future generations element. ASH and others say that if smokers really cared about their children, they would either smoke outdoors or give up altogether.  Therefore, according to ASH’s spurious reasoning, a parent who smokes indoors does not love his children. As soon as the smoking ban came into effect, ASH and other experts started criticising smoking in cars — especially where children are present. However, in order to protect children’s health — or ensure that the state controls your private property — no one must be allowed to smoke in their private cars, children or not.

- Encouraging hypochondria. This study describes in a rather sinister way the way cigarette smoke has gone from an unnoticed background odour to a life-threatening menace:

In the last half century the cigarette has been transformed. The fragrant has become foul . . . An emblem of attraction has become repulsive. A mark of sociability has become deviant. A public behavior is now virtually private. Not only has the meaning of the cigarette been transformed but even more the meaning of the smoker [who] has become a pariah . . . the object of scorn and hostility.

As this comment explains:

This change from fragrant to foul has not come from the smoke which has remained a constant. The shift is an entirely psychological one. Unfortunately, the way the shift is manufactured is through negative conditioning. The constant play on fear and hatred through inflammatory propaganda warps perception. Ambient tobacco smoke was essentially a background phenomenon. Now exposure to tobacco smoke (SHS) has been fraudulently manufactured into something on a par with a bio-weapon like, say, sarin gas. There are now quite a few who screech that they “can’t stand” the “stench” of smoke, or the smoke is “overwhelming”; there are now those, hand cupped over mouth, that attempt to avoid even a whiff of dilute smoke. This is a recent phenomenon. It says nothing about the physical properties of tobacco smoke. These people are demonstrating that they have been successfully conditioned (brainwashed) into aversion. They are now suffering mental dysfunction such as anxiety disorder, hypochondria, or somatization. Questionable social engineering requires putting many into mental disorder to advance the ideological/financial agenda.

- Organising international networks of like-minded people. From one or two cranks in the 1970s and fringe movements from the 19th century, the prohibitionists have managed to team up into a worldwide army of people. The Australian prohibitionist Simon Chapman, known worldwide, started his MOP UP — Movement Opposed to the Promotion of Unhealthy Products — in 1979 with four people. He describes in his 1983 book The Lung Goodbye how his ‘movement’ — a word he highly advocates for its psychological connotation of an unopposable force — grew from a handful of people with little money to a larger national group. The same thing occurred elsewhere in the West and, as a result, these groups have joined forces, gaining strength over the past 30 years.

- Getting good PR and maximising media appearances. Having a good public relations person is essential, even better if they are part of your group and can provide their services free of charge. Continuing media exposure is essential. There is no such thing as overkill, even if you repeat the same spiel time after time. Refrain from answering any difficult questions and respond with something peripherally related or repeat yourself. Talk over other people.  Make the words ‘concern’, ‘safety’ and ‘health’ part of your mantra. Use them often.

- Appearing concerned and presentable. Never appear in public, especially in the media, unless you are well scrubbed and presentably dressed.  Wear conventional clothes and a normal hairstyle, both of which lend gravitas and credibility. Make sure that your public mien conveys concern, sobriety and love of mankind. There’s no mandate to actually mean it.

- Getting buy-in from (inter)national organisations, politicians and other leaders. Send out press releases as well as post them online. Keep your website up to date. Write to and lobby your elected officials. Ask them for their active support. Make sure that other health bodies know your group exists. Align your group with WHO objectives and quote massaged statistics often.

- Ensuring that you can obtain government — taxpayers’ — money to finance yourselves. Lobby, lobby, lobby — get in politicians’ faces.

- Starting small and seeing how other groups and countries effect bans. Make a long-term plan of what you would like to see, e.g. full prohibition and denormalisation of alcohol and tobacco. Then begin breaking that larger plan down into smaller, cumulative ‘interventions‘ which elicit a ‘So what?’ reaction from the public. Remember how anyone on a flight could smoke wherever they were sitting? Eventually, because airlines were bombarded with anti-smokers’ complaints, these turned into smoking sections in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Then, in the 1980s, a better organised anti-tobacco network lobbied for certain flights to be non-smoking: ‘All we’re asking for is that flights under two hours be smokefree.’ Note the words ‘all we’re asking for'; it sounds like such a small, harmless, one-off request. Also observe what other countries do and say, ‘In ———-, this has proven very successful’. Whether it actually is ‘successful’ doesn’t matter but saying that it has been ‘proven’ seals off debate. Cite bogus statistics in your favour and say ‘studies show’.

- Lather, rinse, repeat. What works for one prohibition will work for another. All the Tobacco Control tactics can be reused — and are — for campaigns against alcohol, fat, sugar, salt and more.

- Using Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, summarised here in a short post. Hold to the following in particular:

RULE 1: ‘Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have’. Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. ‘Have-Nots’ must build power from flesh and blood.

RULE 4: ‘Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.’ If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.

RULE 5: ‘Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.’ There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.

RULE 6: ‘A good tactic is one your people enjoy.’ They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing and will even suggest better ones.

RULE 10: ‘If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.’ Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.

RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalise it, and polarise it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

Whilst the normal, law-abiding citizen might not be able to fight these bans and additional laws (e.g. cycling helmets, seat belts), he can at least understand the rhetoric and tactics behind them. This helps to educate him enough to vote against these moves in referenda, raise awareness and petition his lawmakers accordingly.

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