In Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, I suggested that the 5th World Conference on Smoking and Health (1983) was a turning point for the anti-smoking movement. I said this for several reasons. It came in the wake of the first passive smoking studies and there was an unprecedented thirst for action. The language used there was unusually aggressive, particularly towards the tobacco industry. There was open talk of prohibition. The policies decided upon at this conference set the template for the next three decades.
The list of who spoke at the 1983 conference reads like a who's who of the anti-tobacco movement, both then and now. John Banzhaf (ASH) and Stanton Glantz (Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights) both took to the stage, as did Takeshi Hirayama (author of the first epidemiological passive smoking study), Roy Shephard (author of 'The Risks of Passive Smoking') and James Repace (author of an early passive smoking study). Other familiar faces included Michael Pertschuk (of the Federal Trade Commission) and Paul Loveday (president of GASP).
Some of those who spoke at the conference would not make their mark for many years. Konrad Jamrozik, for example, was there. His mathematical howler would form the basis for claims about the death toll from secondhand smoke in the run-up to the English smoking ban. Nicholas Wald was also present. Wald's meta-analysis of passive smoking studies become a powerful weapon for pro-ban opponents in the UK and would heavily influence the SCOTH committee (of which he also happened to be a member).
And so, I would contend, the 1983 conference represented the coming together of a distinct 'club' which would have tremendous influence in the years ahead and continues to do so today. Few people realise how small this club is, or that they are working from a plan devised decades ago.
While I see the 1983 conference as a turning-point, the wheels had of course been turning throughout the 1970s. Vincent-Riccardo Di Pierri has recently been going through the documents to show the particular influence of Sir George Godber - who was Britain's Chief Medical Officer from 1960 to 1973. Godber was a fervent anti-smoker at a time when such views were unfashionable and was regarded by his peers as one of the leading lights - arguably the leading light - of the global anti-tobacco community.
In his thorough review of the various World Conferences on Smoking and Health, Di Pierri identifies what he calls the 'Godber blueprint' which anti-smoking activists have followed ever since. This involves the denormalisation of smoking and the criminalisation of smoking everywhere outside the home. Even today, most anti-smoking groups would not publicly call for such a draconian approach and yet, as Di Pierri shows, Godber was advocating these hard-line policies as far back as 1975 and his peers were agreeing with him.
I have written about the slippery slope before, most recently with reference to John Banzhaf. Indeed, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist is - as the title suggests - all about the slippery slope. Few outside the anti-tobacco circle would have agreed with the Godber blueprint in the 1970s. Many would have found it fanatical, excessive and illiberal, which is probably why we didn't hear much about it at the time. And yet we have moved much closer to Godber's final goal thanks to a gradual softening-up of the public accompanied by a little voodoo science.
At every turn, the public is told that the evidence is leading the policy, but there is every reason to believe that the policies were set in stone many years ago and that these policies have been leading the evidence. It is clear from the documents that plans to deal with passive smoking, for example, were being drawn up long before there was any evidence of harm.
Pour yourself a drink and have a read of Di Pierris' article. It's a long one, but worth it.