The cigarette is the most lethal consumer product in history, but how has smoking changed in the last 30 years? Smoking is banned from many restaurants, bars, parks, and places of work. The moral panic has ensued around smoking and the fear is only increasing. But, what if there is a better way for smokers to have what they want without burdening them with regulations?
Why did the cigarette take over the tobacco world? Should there be places that people should go to enjoy smoking tobacco together? How did second hand smoke become a property rights issue? Why is smoking so stigmatized? What is thirdhand smoke? Does anyone want a safer cigarette?
00:07 Trevor Burrus: Welcome to Free Thoughts. I’m Trevor Burrus. Joining me today is Jacob Grier, a writer who has covered various aspects of Vice policy for more than a decade. His new book is “The Rediscovery of Tobacco: Smoking, Vaping, and the Creative Destruction of the Cigarette.” Welcome to Free Thoughts, Jacob.
00:21 Jacob Grier: Thank you for having me on.
00:22 Trevor Burrus: Why the rediscovery of tobacco? I don’t think we lost it, did we?
00:26 Jacob Grier: I think we lost the sense that tobacco can be good. That’s why I called it a rediscovery ’cause the book opens with the discussion of how when Europeans first came, at least for that period, first came to North America with Columbus and came across tobacco for the very first time, and they had no idea what it was. They were given leaves by the indigenous people and some of the things they were given, they knew what they were, and then they had these mysterious aromatic leaves that they just had no clue. Like, what are these for?
00:55 Trevor Burrus: Right. They had big torches and stuff you write about.
00:58 Jacob Grier: Yeah.
00:58 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, yeah. Just, they had all different weird ways of smoking it too.
01:00 Jacob Grier: Right. And so they finally figured out eventually by going to shore and going inland in Cuba what smoking was about. And we sort of lost sight of this idea of tobacco being something that’s new and interesting and has qualities that are worth pursuing through quality tobacco like cigars or pipes because of the ubiquity of the cigarette. So, especially post‐1960s, once we found out that cigarettes are exceptionally lethal, smoking has been stigmatized, we’ve rightly wanted to get away from smoking, especially with regard to cigarettes. But it’s become impossible to even think about tobacco in any kind of positive light. So part of what I wanted to focus on as someone who smokes not habitually, but every once in a while enjoys a really nice cigar or a nice pipe of tobacco, is to think about how tobacco might have some redeeming factors, and also with the development of e‐cigarettes now, and also with snus in Scandinavia, we’re seeing ways that people can consume nicotine, if not tobacco itself, in a way that’s much less harmful to health. And so that opens up possibilities worth discussing about whether that also has redeeming qualities or not. So the idea is to talk about both the original, at least European discovery of tobacco, but then also to change the way we think about it now too and give it a fresh look.
02:16 Trevor Burrus: It’s interesting that tobacco… I mean, of all these vices, it is the one that there’s a concerted effort to make it just disappear, and as we know drinking is bad and coffee and all these other things are bad, but it does seem that tobacco is a little bit different and that seemed to start about, I would say, in the ‘90s it seems to me, about that time we got the settlement. But we’ll get to that later. I think… I like talking about the beginning. So we get… The new world, they bring tobacco back. But even early on smoking and tobacco use had critics, including some members of the royal family or kings.
02:53 Jacob Grier: Yes, yeah. So one of the most famous anti‐tobacco tracks ever was King James counter‐blast against tobacco.
03:01 Trevor Burrus: So first, one second, do we believe he actually wrote this himself like, King James? Or did he call, ask his clerk to write it? Was he known to be writing a bunch? I’ve never… I don’t think it’s…
03:11 Jacob Grier: It isn’t… I don’t actually know. That’s deeper into the history than I could comment on.
03:15 Trevor Burrus: I just… I can’t name another thing that… Like, a king wrote. But continue.
03:18 Jacob Grier: Yeah. Whoever wrote it has a way with words. It’s a really good piece. It’s not exactly scientifically informed.
03:23 Trevor Burrus: No. No.
03:24 Jacob Grier: As you would expect in the 1600s. But it is a really interesting piece and he talks about some of the contradictory or seemingly contradictory effects of tobacco, which is really interesting. And he sort of makes fun of the idea that people were promoting tobacco as a cure‐all. And they would say it’s good for anything. And so he would say, “You smoke to wake up in the morning and then you also smoke to go to sleep at night. Well, what is this drug really doing? This makes no sense.” And we actually know that the way nicotine is used in the body, it does have these kind of dual effects, but it certainly didn’t seem accurate at the time. But he also had a lot of medical flimflam about tobacco at the time as well. And if you go back to that period in England, people were mostly using pipes and smoking it, but elsewhere in Europe it was a lot of snuff, which is… If people don’t know that, that’s when you grind up dried tobacco leaves so they’re really fine and then take them straight up your nose, like, just inhale it.
04:18 Trevor Burrus: Extremely popular for a very long time.
04:20 Jacob Grier: Yeah, which is hard to imagine now. I mean, I’ve met one person in my entire life who is an actual snuff user now, and he was a very eccentric bar‐owner in Germany.
04:29 Jacob Grier: And he just pulled it out while we were at the bar and did snuff. And I was like, “Oh, I’ve never seen that done.”
04:34 Trevor Burrus: It’s only slightly more strange than pipe smoking, I think, at this point, but definitely more strange, yes.
04:38 Jacob Grier: Yeah. And then the other way it was used was actually as a medical poultice. So people would take tobacco leaves, take them in a mortar and pestle and grind it up, put some vinegar and some other things. And then it was rumored, if you had a sore or a bite or even cancer, you could apply this to your skin and hold it there and wrap it around your wound and the tobacco would cure it. This was believed by a lot of people at the time. So a lot of, especially in continental Europe, tobacco was originally popularized as a medical cure‐all. And then, of course, people realized it’s also fun and addictive. And then we were off to the races onward to the present day.
05:15 Trevor Burrus: And there had been… You write about the sort of anti‐smoking, it’s not… Wasn’t as strong or as successful as alcohol prohibition, but there was also a concerted anti‐smoking movement in this country.
05:26 Jacob Grier: Yeah, and it was a really interesting period. It was at the same time. People forget about it today, but in that early time from say, I think 1900–1927, I think there were 15 states at least that banned cigarette in some form. Sometimes it was just the sale, sometimes it was even possession. And I think the last one was Kansas to finally repeal that in 1927. And it was not a medically informed opposition. People knew that smoking caused some illnesses. People knew that you could start coughing. They knew you might get oral cancer from it. But nobody knew about the medical science we have today. So you had moral reformers like Lucy Gaston Page, and then industrialists like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, who believed that cigarette smoking in particular set you on a path to degeneracy. Yeah, so you started smoking, and Lucy Gaston Page thought that you had a substance called furfural in smoke that would make you be compelled to drink.
06:24 Trevor Burrus: I can attest… I don’t know what the substance is, but I can attest to that.
06:27 Jacob Grier: They do go well together.
06:28 Trevor Burrus: Yes, they do go well together.
06:29 Jacob Grier: Yeah, and then she was convinced that once you start drinking, you become a criminal. So it was the cigarette was the first step to a path to becoming a degenerate criminal.
06:35 Trevor Burrus: I’m hearing… I’m hearing You Got Trouble from Music Man in my head right now, it’s the smoking. So what about the cigarette? You write very interestingly about the actual invention, as it’s an industrial revolution to some extent story, because we have loose leaf tobacco, rolling around tobacco, pipe tobacco, cigars which I guess were hand‐rolled and stuff like that… But the cigarette was a pretty big innovation.
06:56 Jacob Grier: Yeah, for sure, and then… Cigarettes existed in some form perhaps even before Europeans got to the North America, whether it’s a cane tube or like a corn paper wrapper. People were always smoking cigarettes in some way, and they had some popularity in Europe as well. But to do that without any kind of industrialization, the cigarette was not a very practical item, ’cause you would have to pay somebody to take tobacco and roll it in a paper tube for you, which is a very labor intensive process. And then by the time the cigarette gets to you it might be damaged in‐transit. So most people, one, they weren’t smoking at all. In the ‘1800s, in the US, chewing tobacco and chaw was the number one way to use tobacco.
07:37 Jacob Grier: And then if you were smoking, you were probably smoking a pipe or a cigar or maybe you were rolling your own. But this idea of buying a pack of ready‐made cigarettes was not very popular to begin with. So you had two things that really changed this. One was the agricultural, there was a change in the tobacco, which we can go into the reasons for… But basically, instead of curing the tobacco over open flames, they switched to a flue system that directed the heat indirectly, which sounds inconsequential, but what this did was it ended up making the smoke much lower pH and therefore easier to inhale. And so for the first time ever, we had people really trying to directly inhale tobacco smoke constantly, which, one, made it more addictive, because it hits your bloodstream so much faster, and two, and worst, it exposed all your lung tissues to this tobacco smoke.
08:26 Jacob Grier: So nobody knew at the time that this was gonna be the effect, but this happened. And then paired with that, they invented the Bonsack machine, which was the first commercially viable commercial tobacco rolling machine in the US. So now, instead of having hundreds of women rolling cigarettes by hand, you could have a machine that could do the work of 40 people in a minute. So it was a huge innovation. And along with some tax cuts on tobacco that happened, you now had a very addictive, very cheap to produce product that was ready to just take over the market. And it still took time, but those two things really set the stage for the cigarette taking over the entire tobacco market in the US and then around the world.
09:07 Trevor Burrus: And this… You’re not a… It’s clear from your book that the cigarette is the problem here, you’re not a fan. It is very bad… It is a very, very good delivery system for addiction. Without that, I guess the corollary pleasures refer in the same way, I guess.
09:26 Jacob Grier: Yeah, and I think people do obviously enjoy cigarettes as we’ll talk about when we talk about the anti‐smoking movement. People like to deny that there even is pleasure in it. I don’t think that’s really true. But yeah, I would say from a quality perspective, other forms of tobacco are certainly more interesting to me and to I think a lot of people. So one of the questions is how do we target cigarettes in some way, whether through government, by other means, I think people of goodwill wanna see people not smoke cigarettes, but still preserve these options to have these quality artisanal side of the market, which is, if not specifically targeted, at least caught in the cross‐fire of modern regulation and threatened with being wiped out.
10:05 Trevor Burrus: The idea of cigarettes being dangerous, it seemed to be… Well, you often see as a joke, if they put the ads up that say 9 out 10 doctors prefer Camels, or this one is the healthiest cigarette. And so, I see why there was concern about… That the… Coughing and things like this, that there were health effects to cigarettes, if they were making health claims about cigarettes in some way?
10:32 Jacob Grier: Yeah, the concern was definitely in the air so to speak, even if people didn’t know exactly what was happening. I think if you’ve talked to people who have smoked for decades, you can’t help but be aware that it’s having a negative effect on your body. People were not exactly in denial about that, although the companies certainly tried to play up the idea that theirs were for some reason healthier, although they never had a really good reason. There was never any logic behind the claim. In fact, sometimes it was completely manufactured. Like one example with the Camel case was they would go to doctors conventions, and they would arrange for every doctor to be given packs of Camel cigarettes. So then, when the survey goes around and asks the doctors at the convention, “Oh, what cigarettes do you smoke?” And they pull them out and it’s Camel, suddenly Camel’s the most popular choice of the doctors, so it’s a completely manufactured situation.
11:22 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, that’s pretty shady.
11:25 Jacob Grier: Yeah, but what set things off was a real epidemic of lung cancer, which if you look at the beginning of the century was virtually unknown, extremely rare way to die, and there’s an anecdote in the book about one of the early tobacco researchers who, when he was a medical student, was invited to an autopsy of a lung cancer patient and his… The person teaching him told him, “You should come, because you may never see this case, again in your life. You may get through your entire medical career and never encounter a lung cancer patient again.” And of course, the opposite happened. It became a flood of lung cancer patients in just a… From the period of the end of World War I up to the 1940s, you suddenly had this one form of cancer in particular taking off and the mystery was why?
12:10 Trevor Burrus: Now, skipping forward a few decades, I think people have… Know the story generally, but we get to the ‘90s and we start to see the first sort of backlash against smoking, and it’s something that concerns I think libertarians or civil libertarians to some extent, especially these indoor smoking bans based on the theory of second‐hand smoke in particular. You do a good job of going over that literature. So, what were the claims of second‐hand smoking and what do we actually seem to know now?
12:39 Jacob Grier: It gets really, really complicated. And I kinda divide it into two eras. So, initially, the first concern was lung cancer. And the concern was long‐term exposure. And this makes sense, if you think about it, it’s the same smoke. If a person inhaling it deeply, repeatedly, is getting lung cancer from it, maybe there’s some risk to being around it as well. And even if you’re not taking it in deeply, maybe enough exposure over time you’re gonna have a risk too. So the challenge was to find a way to study that risk, and to do that, you need to be able to compare populations of people who are exposed to second‐hand smoke and people who aren’t. And the best way that people found to do that was women who don’t smoke who are married to smokers. The idea being that when they’re at home together, the husband is smoking indoors and the women is not. So they studied these populations and they looked at the rate of lung cancer, trying to control for as many other factors as they could, and there’s some early studies suggesting that there probably was a relationship. And it was what they… They say there’s a dose‐response relationship, so the more someone is exposed, the higher the risk. So this is all indicating that, at some level at least, there is a risk there.
13:49 Jacob Grier: It turned out this… As he repeated these studies and looked at more populations, this effect tended to get a little smaller or non‐existent. The challenge is it’s such a small effect even in the studies that find it, that it’s hard to say consistently what the size is. And if you look at say populations of smokers versus non‐smokers, at a minimum… A smoker is increasing their risk of lung cancer by 10 times, sometimes 20–30, depending on how narrowly you define it, you can see studies that claim a relative risk of 50 times. So it’s a huge effect. So even if there’s uncertainty, nobody is denying… At least nobody honest is denying. Tobacco companies obviously denied it. But nobody honestly looking at the evidence would deny that link. With second‐hand smoke, it’s a lot harder to say what the risk is and to even find the effect consistently. So, if you look at the Surgeon General’s Report of 2006, which was a really thorough summary of it, their risk are around 1.12 to 1.43 for a disease that’s very rare to begin with.
14:48 Trevor Burrus: So one would be no.
14:50 Jacob Grier: So one would be no effect.
14:51 Trevor Burrus: No effect. So, okay…
14:52 Jacob Grier: And less than one would be a protective effect. So, a relative risk that low is… It tells you it’s hard to study for one thing. And… And it just shows you there’s a lot of uncertainty about it. But it is justified to say that if you are constantly exposed to second hand smoke perhaps there’s this risk there, and that’s totally legitimate. The second wave, I would say started especially in the late 90s‐early 2000s, was an attempt to demonize even brief exposure to second‐hand smoke. And this is where we started talking about cardiac effects, and where some of the science got really dodgy. And some claims were made that were clearly impractical.
15:30 Trevor Burrus: Well, Helena, Montana is a miracle place apparently.
15:32 Jacob Grier: Yeah. So that’s the big one that a lot of us who study this bring up a lot. And, this was a case by a professor named Stanton Glantz at the University of California, San Francisco, who’s been a long‐time anti‐smoker advocate and researcher and who also gets… He’s very good at fundraising. He actually just got a $20 million dollar grant from the FDA a couple of years ago… Even now. But… Yeah, in this study they looked at Helena, Montana, which is not a big city, and Helena had a six‐month smoking ban. So, they passed a smoking ban in all the bars and restaurants, and then six months later, it was struck down by a judge. And, they looked at the data and they said, “Well, during the smoking ban heart attacks went way down, and then when the smoking ban ended they went right back up.” So they said… Without publishing the study, they said that the smoking ban caused a 60% decline in heart attacks for the entire city.
16:23 Trevor Burrus: It’s just insane to me that that was accepted. It doesn’t sound plausible on its face.
16:28 Jacob Grier: No.
16:28 Trevor Burrus: Because at the… On the flip‐side would be that you would have heart attacks of unimaginable levels in places that hadn’t banned smoking, because we’re talking about fleeting exposure in bars, and then there are other places where people have been getting exposed for 20 years and they should be just dropping dead on the streets if this is even moderately true.
16:45 Jacob Grier: Right. And at the same time, California already had a smoking ban. So, why are you studying the small town in Montana when you have an entire state you could be looking at?
16:52 Trevor Burrus: It doesn’t pass the common sense test.
16:54 Jacob Grier: No. But they… But they sent it out as a press release, without the study being done. So, even if people wanted to critique the study, it didn’t exist. And that didn’t come out for another year. And so Michael Siegel who’s become a critic of this, who’s a epidemiologist at the Boston University School of Health, was critiquing this. And he called it science‐by‐press‐release, where before you even do the work, you send it out to the press and then nobody can critique it. And as it turned out, they did finally publish a year later. They changed the observed reduction from 60% to 40%.
17:24 Trevor Burrus: Still astoundingly implausible.
17:25 Jacob Grier: Yes, still astoundingly high.
17:27 Trevor Burrus: Yes.
17:28 Jacob Grier: And then, he actually wrote recently, he talked about the uncertainty of the estimate when I critiqued this, and what they actually found was that a statistically significant level… That the actual effect could have been anywhere from 1% to 79%. So this just tells you that the data is so small that you can’t form a reliable judgment about it. But anyway, these kind of studies got picked up and they were repeated around the country and what happened was the bigger a population you looked at, the smaller the effect got… And, depending on the study, it sometimes they just got down to zero. So, this ended up being somewhat of a myth. I mean, I’m not saying that there’s no effect. But these huge effects that were used to popularize smoking bans certainly haven’t held up.
18:11 Trevor Burrus: But isn’t… 1%, let’s take the lower end, should we be subjecting people in bars to even a 1% greater risk of cancer or heart disease? Isn’t… Does any risk seems unacceptable in those situations?
18:25 Jacob Grier: That’s the tricky part. We would… We would certainly like to imagine removing all risk but we know that’s not possible. And we don’t do this in other jobs as well. One, as a customer, I think we can choose where to go and where we don’t. And I do feel as I talk about in the book, nobody wants to go back to the ‘60s. It’s a totally legitimate complaint that it was hard to go out in daily life, and not be exposed to tobacco smoke. So I’m not arguing against that. But the question is, should there be any exceptions? Should free adults have any places they can go and enjoy tobacco together? And if you talk to people in the anti‐smoking movement, they’ll say “No”. And I think at that point, you really are coercing people and taking their free choice. So it was a huge difference between “I live in a town with 100 bars and 99 of them allow smoking.”, to being, “I live in a town with 100 bars, and none of them allow smoking ’cause it’s illegal.” So I don’t think anyone is being coerced to be around smoke if we allow a few places to open that specifically cater to smokers.
19:29 Trevor Burrus: For… We’re libertarians. Do we even need the science of second‐hand smoke to justify banning, if you want to ban smoking in a private place you can, of course, do it. But it’s always struck me as odd that if they, let’s say, they found out that second‐hand smoke was good for you. You know, it lengthened your life or something or helped prevent lung cancer, people say like, “I don’t like the smell. I don’t wanna go home smelling like smoke. I wanna go to bars that don’t have smoking in them.” I don’t need to prove that my neighbor’s music that is loud and annoying me, is physically hurting my ears to get him to stop doing that. I don’t have to prove that. And so, just having property rights, annoyance is good enough. That’s good enough from a libertarian standpoint. So in some ways, the search for the second‐hand smoke thing was not necessary if you had a good definition of property rights.
20:25 Jacob Grier: Yeah, I agree. And the people tended to… They would argue both sides. It’s like, in the DC smoking ban, there was a group called Smoke‐Free DC. And they actually had a website where they listed all the smoke‐free bars and restaurants in the city, which I think at the time was well over 400 venues.
20:40 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, by demand.
20:41 Jacob Grier: Right.
20:42 Trevor Burrus: Yeah.
20:42 Jacob Grier: And so they would simultaneously argue that this is a profitable move for businesses to make. And also that they should be coerced to do so and… And so the question is why, if this is profitable, why do we need to coerce people?
20:55 Trevor Burrus: Well, the question I think came to the workers… Workers’ rights and that was the idea that you shouldn’t have to go to work… Let’s say you want to work in the hospitality industry and you wanna be a bartender, and that’s with comparative advantage of your skills, you shouldn’t have to go to work and be exposed to toxic waste or toxic chemicals.
21:15 Jacob Grier: Right. And I think there is a valid point to that, and as some people may know, I’ve worked in the bar industry, many times myself, and I’m glad the places I’ve worked in have not been smoke‐friendly. I prefer not to be around it most of the time. But I don’t think you can tell people they can’t do that job. And so, we’ve gone from, trying to assure that people who wanna work in hospitality don’t have to be exposed to smoke, to forbidding them entirely from ever offering a hospitality space to smokers. And one thing I’ve seen with tons of people in the industry is if you go to a bar at closing time, as soon as the customers leave, the bartender starts smoking. [chuckle]
21:52 Trevor Burrus: I imagine that smoking is not… Amongst bartenders is probably not representative of the population as a whole, I guess.
22:00 Jacob Grier: I think it’s probably higher.
22:01 Trevor Burrus: Yes.
22:03 Jacob Grier: And I’ve talked to business owners that who ask me, I live in Oregon, and they’ll come to me and say, “Hey, I wanna open a smoke‐friendly bar. What do I need to do to… What hoops do I need to jump through to do that?” And they never believe me when I tell them that it’s actually impossible now. It’s completely…
22:19 Trevor Burrus: They tell the story, was it Oregon where they built the 25 foot…
22:22 Jacob Grier: No, that was Washington.
22:23 Trevor Burrus: Washington, yes.
22:25 Jacob Grier: Yeah, so this was a place in Washington that has a sister bar in Oregon, that has a smoking lounge.
22:30 Trevor Burrus: But they’re grandfathered.
22:31 Jacob Grier: Yeah, they’re grandfathered in. But this one in Washington wanted to do it and so their lawyers looked at the law and Washington is extremely strict. You’re supposed to be 25 feet from doors or windows to smoke, which means a lot of places can’t even have a patio to be from any door or window. That’s a lot of space. So, in Washington, you’ll see people huddled by the street, a lot. But this bar figured out that what if they had a 25‐foot walkway deep into the building and what if it was staffed only by owners, not employees? So only three guys who own the place would ever be in there and you had to be invited in. It wasn’t a public space.
23:08 Trevor Burrus: I imagine they had a filtration system and everything.
23:11 Jacob Grier: Oh yeah. So, they spent more than $15,000 on this, trying to build a space for smokers, and literally, as soon as it opened, the health inspectors came in and said “No, you can’t do this.” And that’s the kind of thing that, to me, is someone who values the freedom of adults to trade with each other, is a pretty clear imposition on their rights to do so.
23:29 Trevor Burrus: I remember, I wasn’t here at the time, at the time when Christopher Hitchens spoke at Cato… Were you working here with when he was here? I think it was about 2005. He spoke about smoking bans and he had a great quip saying, “At the end of the day, all they had left were workers.” It was just workers who had no choice but to work in a place that didn’t want to be exposed to smoke but they had to work there. That’s who we’re reforming the world for.” And he’s pointed out just the ridiculous of being like… I don’t think that person can say… I’m not sure that there’s a person who can’t get a job except who doesn’t wanna work around smoke but can only get a job working around smoke and if that person does exist, we’ve reformed the entire world for that person. We’ve said, “No smoking anywhere because of a hypothetical person who may or may not exist.”, which I think is an interesting point.
24:20 Trevor Burrus: And the thing you point out, the question of why wouldn’t we have passed a law that just said, “You have to either be a smoking bar or non‐smoking bar. You should declare it out front” and whatever? But I don’t know what cities did that. Why did everyone go so much to the “ban smoking” side everywhere?
24:38 Jacob Grier: Yeah. And I think that comes down to how much we stigmatize smoking now, and I think so many of these arguments, like you said, are a fig leaf that give people the justification for clearly coercing other people, as they do with these smoking bans and other measures. And Worker Health was that first step. And one thing I also talk about is, if you were really concerned about worker health, secondhand smoke exposure would be fairly far down the list, and things like logging, fishing, driving, these are all… I feel like an actual fatality is far more dangerous. And I wonder how many people who think it’s absolutely terrible that anyone should ever work in a smoking bar then take a Lyft home or an Uber home from someone who spends their entire day driving. And we actually know that driving kills 40,000 people a year in the United States, and from an occupational hazard, it’s also one of the biggest killers. Or if you…
25:31 Jacob Grier: I also talk about seafood. People fetishize things like Dungeness crab, where has one of the highest fatality rates of any fishing job. But we make TV shows glorifying it, like Deadliest Catch, so… The idea that no worker should ever have the right to make the choice to go work in a smoke‐friendly establishment to me is taking that example way too far, and at that point, you start coercing owners, workers, and patrons and denying them any space where they can enjoy this. And that comes down to just stigmatizing smoking, and we see that especially once we get to outdoor smoking bans, where we’re now kicking people out of first patios, then parks, then beaches, and then entire downtown areas where it really becomes a class issue more than anything.
26:14 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, how much is this about class, do you think, at the end of the day?
26:17 Jacob Grier: I think at this point, it’s just certainly up there, and if you look at who smokes cigarettes, it’s gradually become something that people of lower incomes and less education do. And sometimes it’s explicit, like I use the example of Eugene, Oregon. It’s usually seen as an extremely progressive city, pretty close to me in Portland, where it’s more progressive than Portland even, but they’ve passed a, or at least they talked about passing a law banning smoking in the entirety of downtown. And they were very clear about why, and it was because there were people loitering, and they perceived that as bad for business, and so it was just a pretext. They weren’t actually worried that secondhand smoke was killing people on the sidewalks, or at least they weren’t seriously worried about that, it was just how can they make downtown more welcoming by getting rid of these people.
27:03 Trevor Burrus: It is a question of, as soon as your tastes diverge from the ruling class, your taste of vices, then you could be on the chopping block, so to speak, in terms of getting a ban. We had alcohol prohibition, which itself is a strange story, but the lawmakers were pretty convinced that if they wanted to drink, they could continue to drink, as they had secret distribution channels in DC and all the stuff, so there was a very big… And you point this out too, the “for thee, but not for me,” even with smoking bans.
27:38 Jacob Grier: Yeah, ’cause the places that get exemptions are high‐end cigar bars, which I personally enjoy quite a bit, but I think…
27:45 Trevor Burrus: Like Shelly’s here in DC.
27:46 Jacob Grier: Yeah, which I love, but I don’t think that should be the only option. And I was pleasantly surprised last year, Barbara Ehrenreich did an interview with Slate where she talked about smoking bans as a war on the working class, and she made the same point about how she goes out and she sees workers in a big box store or an office who probably have fairly low‐paying jobs and smoking is one of the few things they get to enjoy during their day, and they’re huddled outside in the wind or the cold and the rain in an alley somewhere with no comfortable space ’cause there is no place for them to go anymore. And we usually think of opposition to smoking bans as a libertarian or right‐wing issue, but there are certainly people on the left now too who are looking at the way that these bans are basically exiling people of lesser means from their homes and from workplaces and from public spaces and starting to object to that too.
28:34 Trevor Burrus: So now we also have this concept of third‐hand smoke. So secondhand smoke was… I think you put it correctly, some risk over a long period of time, but nothing to freak out about. But they just moved right on into third‐hand smoke. So what’s third‐hand smoke?
28:54 Jacob Grier: So it’s something you can perceive. It’s the residue that’s left…
28:57 Trevor Burrus: At least you can perceive it, ’cause fourth‐hand might become completely invisible.
29:01 Jacob Grier: Right. So it’s a real thing, in the sense that it’s a substance, like if you’ve had a jacket on and you were smoking outside and then you come back in and now there’s a fragrant or not‐so‐pleasant smelling residue on your jacket, or that’s left on the sheets in a room or… It’s whatever’s left behind when you smoke. And so, the substance of the smoke falls down and coats things. So it’s out there, we know that. The question is whether it’s something to be really concerned about. And the way that this came on the scene is funny.
29:34 Jacob Grier: There’s a pediatrician at Harvard named Jonathan Winickoff, who’s probably not the first person to use the phrase, but he’s the one who’s popularized it, and he… It was written up in the New York Times and Scientific American and newspapers all over the world a little bit… About 10 years ago, about his study on third‐hand smoke. And the idea was that it’s dangerous and people need to be concerned about it. The funny thing was, his study was a phone survey. Literally, all it was, was he called up… Well, he didn’t do it himself, I’m sure, but somebody working for him conducted a phone survey of random adults, explained the concept of third‐hand smoke to them, and asked them if they were concerned. And then, they got to write a story everywhere about how there’s not enough concern about third‐hand smoke.
30:17 Trevor Burrus: Wow.
30:18 Jacob Grier: Yeah. And again, third‐hand smoke is made of tobacco smoke and it decomposes, so at some hypothetical level, it could be bad for you. And…
30:30 Trevor Burrus: That’s true of a lot of things.
30:31 Jacob Grier: Right. And there are certainly people, like I wouldn’t say, “Go smoke a cigarette on your baby’s swaddling blanket and then go wrap your baby with it.” Yeah, there’s some very common sense things to talk about there. But it’s been really blown out of proportion, and in ways that one stigmatize smokers, so Winickoff described smokers as emitting toxins. So, even now just sharing the elevator with a smoker is an assault on the non‐smoker because they’re assaulted with this third‐hand smoke that’s toxic and could be killing them.
31:04 Jacob Grier: So there’s really no evidence yet. And they’ll admit this in research papers that they know that if they take these substances and they give you a really high exposure or they give cells in a culture or a rat, a really high exposure, that there’s some bad effects. But there’s really no way to study it, because how do you find someone who is exposed to third‐hand smoke, for a long time, but not exposed to second‐hand smoke? This is a population that basically doesn’t exist, but in the press they… It’s been talked about for 10 years and they’ll put out all these studies and they get millions of dollars to study this. And I’ve seen releases saying that third‐hand smoke, may in some cases be worse than first‐hand smoke, which would be absolutely wild if true. There’s obviously no evidence of that, smoking is… Smoking cigarettes is one of the worst things you can do of health perspective. There’s no circumstance in which third‐hand smoke compares and one described the idea that there are hotels where people can still smoke and then workers come in and change the bed sheets, and they call this a problem of global proportions, which I think there are some global problems that might be more pressing, compared to sheets.
32:14 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, just a few. So what does it say about the public health establishment? That’s one reason I really like your book, it’s because in my work with drug war, a lot of the stuff ends up being the same where you… Perception of the user. So even with illicit drugs like marijuana, begins with the perception of the user, you get a hyperbolic idea of how harmful something is, like marijuana is gonna make you into a stark raving lunatic. And then the fact that the ruling class doesn’t use marijuana at the time, made it very easy to ban for example. And now, since smoking is class‐based, it’s just a form of class, of class warfare. Another one is soda. Soda has become a class‐based beverage, you can have every girl who’s an upper class, 30 something girl drinking LaCroix. But you would never see them drinking soda. It’s almost impossible to imagine…
33:10 Jacob Grier: Drinking a Big Gulp is a class factor now.
33:12 Trevor Burrus: Yes, drinking a Big Gulp with the cigarette is a class marker. And so, what does this say about the public health world and also specifically as it pertains to smoking, how is this related to the Master Settlement Agreement which I think is a really fascinating thing you pointed out.
33:26 Jacob Grier: Yeah, this is an interesting development. So the Master Settlement Agreement was a lawsuit settlement between the big tobacco companies and all 50 state Attorneys General back in 1988. When the states were suing the tobacco companies to be compensated for their Medicaid cost, essentially in Medicare. Long, complicated issue, but basically, at the end of this part of what the tobacco companies agreed to give up, was funding their research arms, that were admittedly not doing the best work.
34:00 Jacob Grier: They certainly put out a lot of flawed work. But the situation that existed before that, which I think the best… The best depiction of this is, Thank You For Smoking, a fantastic book and movie, where back pre‐master settlement, if a public health group said something bad about cigarettes, yeah, the reporter gets off to the phone, calls up the Tobacco Institute and says, “Hey, what’s your talking points to counter this?” And obviously, there’s a lot of misinformation, but that critique force to the anti‐smoke movement, to be honest and to do good work.
34:31 Trevor Burrus: Or at least a little bit more honest. Yeah.
34:32 Jacob Grier: Yeah, yeah, like they at least gave into a debate. And then after that, two things changed. One those research arms in a way on the tobacco side, and two money from cigarette sales through the MSA got directed to all these non‐profit groups which now had a huge war chest to fund anti‐smoking research. And so Michael Siegel who’s… Came up through the anti‐smoking movement and has done a lot of work and he’s testified against tobacco owning companies. He’s a big smoking ban advocate, so his credentials are very, very solid. But he now critiques to the anti‐smoking movement, because he says that they became free to feel like they could just say anything. And journalist in particular, just don’t have anyone to go to for a critique and they don’t think they need to have one. Anyone who’s seen as being anti‐smoking is on the side of the angels, so reporters, I think bear a lot of responsibility for failing to grasp how things have changed since the ‘90s.
35:31 Trevor Burrus: And that’s why maybe 60% drop in heart attacks, just was repeated endlessly.
35:36 Jacob Grier: Right. In very reputable places like CBS News, or New York Times. And the same thing how you saw claims that 30 minutes of exposure to second‐hand smoke, would make your risk of heart attack the same as a smoker’s. It’s a claim that a lot of people made, and then the third‐hand smoke stuff, just easy to get the headline, easy to get the story and very hard or maybe at the bottom of the story there might be a note about how nobody has actually associated this with any harm yet.
36:07 Jacob Grier: Yeah, these stories just get out there. And I think journalists have failed to adapt to what the current dynamic is and don’t really see how ideological the anti‐smoking movement has become and so they don’t turn a skeptical eye on some claims that with just a little bit of background in how a scientific publishing works you might wanna push back on a little bit.
36:27 Trevor Burrus: Well, there’s an issue with the public health world in general, where, if public health is run amok, it can be very dangerous to freedom, especially if you don’t take preferences into account. I gave a speech in Australia, which is pretty anti‐smoking. [chuckle] It’s about 35 Australian dollars a pack, I believe, maybe up to 40 now there. And everything is plain packaging, so they all have rotting teeth and stuff on them. But part of the fact that you saw that the rate of smoking in Australia is about 15%, which is about what I think it is in the United States. And if you understand the fact that smokers on average as a ex‐smoker… If you ask them how dangerous cigarettes are, they tend to overrate how dangerous cigarettes are. They think it actually increases their lung cancer risk more than it actually does.
37:17 Trevor Burrus: So, if you take those together, if you say, “This person in Australia thinks the cigarettes are more dangerous than they actually are, is paying $35 a pack for cigarettes, then smoking must be incredible for that person. It must be the best part of their day in terms of revealed preferences.” And the only way to do the public health thing is to ignore their preferences as either illegitimate, or a product of addiction, which is… It can be the same thing. Illegitimate because it’s just dirty and you shouldn’t have to do it, to causing too much externalities or the product of addiction. I’m not sure addiction means that you should take that away. And so, what public health people do with smoking, you wouldn’t do with anything else, like hang gliding. The reason hang gliding is legal is ’cause people… It’s fun. But if someone was like, “I don’t care about the fun of hang gliding, it has too many problems with people breaking bones,” and things like this, if you didn’t care about the fun of hang gliding, then you would make hang gliding illegal. And it seems like we have to get the same thing going with tobacco.
38:13 Jacob Grier: Yeah, and a lot of these measures are, I think, at the end of the day, just punitive and stigmatizing. And I think the graphic warning labels are a perfect example of that, where there… There’s not a ton of real world evidence that putting those labels on affects behavior too much.
38:27 Trevor Burrus: I think there’s a couple of studies that show that it actually increases smoking or…
38:31 Jacob Grier: Yeah, cigarette sales went up in Australia recently…
38:33 Trevor Burrus: Yeah. [chuckle]
38:33 Jacob Grier: Which is not what was intended. Yeah, the…
38:36 Trevor Burrus: Collect all the boxes. You gotta get the lung one and the mouth one and the…
38:39 Jacob Grier: Yeah, right. Well, and it’s like you said, the… Oh yeah, so the evidence that went for them, like you said, about revealed preferences. The way the first studies were done on this was not real‐world, it was not putting these boxes out in the shops and seeing if people quit smoking. It was more like survey data or focus group data where you’d take smokers into a room and you’d show them these graphic warning labels and you asked them, “Does this make you less likely to smoke?” Well, yeah. What’s the answer gonna be?
39:08 Trevor Burrus: Talk is cheap, is the number one rule of economics, isn’t it?
39:12 Jacob Grier: Yeah, exactly. But you saw tons of stories that are never followed up on, that say, several years ago, how Australia is going to wipe out smoking. And it’s this very optimistic case about how this making‐smokers‐look‐at‐these‐ugly‐pictures is gonna solve the issue. But where’s the follow‐up three or four years later to look at how it’s actually worked out? Nobody does that. [chuckle]
39:35 Trevor Burrus: And from a public health standpoint, smoking is… Well, it is bad. Smoking cigarettes is particularly bad. But alcohol is extremely bad. There’s cirrhosis of the liver and other fatalities from drunk driving. But they’re not putting labels on alcohol.
39:49 Jacob Grier: Well, you say that now. [chuckle]
39:50 Trevor Burrus: Not to give them any ideas.
39:51 Jacob Grier: Well in England they actually are trying.
39:53 Trevor Burrus: Oh, really?
39:53 Jacob Grier: Yeah, there are public health groups in England… And this isn’t an issue I follow super closely but…
40:00 Trevor Burrus: Chris Snowdon.
40:00 Jacob Grier: Christopher Snowdon. Yes, who…
40:00 Trevor Burrus: Who has been on the show, yeah.
40:01 Jacob Grier: Yeah, and he wrote a great book called “Velvet Glove, Iron Fist”. And he warns, years ago… If you’re enthusiastic about playing packs for smoking, liquor’s next, and junk food is next. And there are groups in England who have promoted both of these ideas now. Let’s see if they get traction. I think liquor is not yet so stigmatized that that’ll be an easy push, but…
40:24 Trevor Burrus: Well, that’s the point. It’s not about what actually is the comparative public health harm, it’s about stigmatization and whether or not the particular vice is enjoyed by the ruling class, I think is what a lot of this is.
40:36 Jacob Grier: There was a great book called “Smokefree” that came out a couple years ago by Simone Dennis, who’s an Australian anthropologist. And so, she actually went out and did field work among smokers in Australia, just to talk to them and see how they were reacting to things. And one of the points she brought up when these graphic photos came out is she actually talked to smokers who would completely irrationally try to get the images that they thought wouldn’t affect them. So, if they had a family member who’d died of lung cancer, they wouldn’t wanna get the lung cigarette pack. [chuckle] They’d wanna get the heart one.
41:08 Trevor Burrus: They’d get a different one. [chuckle]
41:09 Jacob Grier: Which obviously makes no sense. But this is the way these things are perceived.
41:15 Trevor Burrus: And now, we have the next thing, which I guess, a propitious time for your book to come out. But now, it’s about vaping, which was under the… That’s what I do now, and it was under… People didn’t really notice it, but I was a pretty early adopter for vaping. I don’t use the Juul, but now, it’s gotten pretty crazy. And it’s the same thing repeating itself, it seems like, again, with not a lot of evidence, the precautionary principle with public health being a huge thing. But people seeming to just not like… They’re for the patch and gum and things like these, but because you have this motion that looks like smoking and vapor that goes out in the air, they’re not happy with this at all.
41:55 Jacob Grier: And the fact that people like it. I think is the big key.
41:56 Trevor Burrus: Yes, and the fact that people like it. Yes.
41:58 Jacob Grier: And they’ve been called it the triple goal of the anti‐smoking movement, which has really defined it for decades. You wanna wipe out smoking, you wanna wipe out the harms of smoking, and you wanna wipe out the tobacco industry. These are their three goals. And I think most people would agree that one and two are un‐objectionable. [chuckle] Depending on how you go about it. You and I prefer non‐coercive means, but I think we’d both agree that if fewer people smoke cigarettes that would be great.
42:29 Trevor Burrus: Cigarettes in particular. Yes. I’m not… With you, though, I don’t think that eradicating nicotine is… It should be the goal of the world, nicotine use.
42:37 Jacob Grier: And so, e‐cigarettes came out, and this just threatened the ability to achieve all of these goals.
42:42 Trevor Burrus: They tried getting a foothold again.
42:44 Jacob Grier: Yeah. Well, you’re still wiping out smoking. Well, some people will say vaping is still smoking, which of course is nonsense. It’s completely a different substance. There’s no burning. But you still… You’re not wiping out smoking‐like behaviour, you could say. You’re greatly reducing the harms of smoking, from everything we know. If we could snap our fingers and switch all 34 million Americans who smoke now to take up vaping, I don’t think there’s much question that they would live longer and have fewer illnesses. But some of these vaping devices are made by tobacco companies, or companies that could become like tobacco companies. And so, there’s this skepticism and even sense of being offended within the anti‐smoking movement that these means would come about, not through government, not through pharmaceutical companies, but through recreational brands, and really, from the bottom up. It came up from users packing their own systems together in a large part. But yeah, the idea that nicotine use can be, if not safe, then at least much lower risk, and also enjoyable and openly done is very threatening to the ideology of the anti‐smoking movement, which just wants to see nicotine wiped from the face of the earth, essentially.
44:02 Trevor Burrus: Well, it seems interesting, because if you… For years, everyone at HHS or just public health in general have been trying to figure out how to reduce smoking. And no one could ever figure out a really good mechanism to do that. And then, this vaping comes up, which has pretty good demonstrated elimination of smoking, and that’s what you’d think they’ve been looking for forever. But instead, they just go right after that and attack it, which is disconcerting to say the least.
44:33 Jacob Grier: Yeah, and you saw that also before, back in the ‘80s, the tobacco companies had tried to make a safer cigarette, and they failed. The product combination just wasn’t there yet. The products they made didn’t taste good, nobody liked them, they were hard to use. They actually spent a lot of money and lost it. [chuckle] Just kind of some funny stories about how they tried to do that. But yeah, at one point tobacco companies were actually trying to convince the government to help fund research into how to make a safer cigarette. And the response from the anti‐smoking movement was, “No, nobody wants that. We just need to eliminate smoking.” Which at the time of the ‘80s was probably right. But now we know there are other options. And I think the other one that illustrates that is snus in Sweden, and Norway now as well, which is a form of oral tobacco, which is very different. If you’re thinking of American chew and people spitting everywhere, snus is very different, both chemically and in its risk profile, and in the fact that it doesn’t make you spit all the time.
45:33 Jacob Grier: And we’ve seen Sweden has both the lowest smoking rates and lowest tobacco‐related mortality in Europe, because people have made the switch starting in the ‘60s. They got away from dangerous cigarettes to a safer way of enjoying nicotine. And it’s really interesting, I went to Sweden a couple of months ago, actually, to do some research on this. And the casualness of people using snus there is almost shocking as an American.
46:00 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, I’ve been there too.
46:01 Jacob Grier: Yeah, they actually have stores where you can go and mix your own flavor of snus. I went into bars and the bartender pulls one out and offers me one. [chuckle] It was very disconcerting. If you’re ideologically opposed to tobacco and nicotine use, you’re not gonna like this, but it’s hard to look at Sweden and say that the health effects of this have been bad when they have lower tobacco‐related mortality than anyone.
46:27 Trevor Burrus: And as your… In the subtitle of your book, “The Creative Destruction of The Cigarette”, that’s an example of that.
46:32 Jacob Grier: Yes.
46:33 Trevor Burrus: There’s an epigram in one of the chapters of your book I’d like to read, it’s a very good quote. “The freedom to smoke ought to be understood as a significant token of the class of freedoms. And when it is threatened, one should look instantly for what other controls are being tightened, for what other checks on freedom are being administered. The attitude of a society toward the freedom to smoke is a test of the way it understands the rights of people at large. For at any time, all the time, a quarter to half of all the deaths of the world are puffing away at cigarettes. This is a… ” Oh, sorry. “According to half of all the adults in the world are puffing away at cigarettes.” It’s Richard Klein’s “Cigarettes Are Sublime”. Do you think we can normalize… Do you see this getting to a point where we can turn tobacco into a normal vice as opposed to a… And start respecting the freedoms of smokers, or is there just too much headwinds in the public health establishment and culture?
47:26 Jacob Grier: I think it might happen, but I think, one, is gonna take time and, two, I think it might not be in the United States. I’ve become very pessimistic about the future of tobacco in the US. I think you might see it in other countries, and then, we might again… We might repeat prohibition, essentially, where we go too far on the restrictive side and then have to backtrack when we see what the rest of the world is doing. And one of the last things I talk about in the book is these two approaches to tobacco regulation. One, being very liberal and open and the other being very top‐down and centrally planned. And if you look at vaping, I think, a couple of years ago, that people were very optimistic in, say, the FDA. And it was Scott Gottlieb in particular who has a background with the American Enterprise Institute, he comes from a sort of Republican background. And he had this idea that from the top down, they could centrally plan the tobacco market by taking some products off and letting some products stay on, and we’re gonna have off‐ramps, and on‐ramps to nicotine.
48:27 Jacob Grier: And we’re gonna tweak all this with our wise view from above. And eventually, we’re gonna get cigarette use away and only have vaping or safer things. And then, I think the past few months, where we’ve had this moral panic over vaping, have shown that that doesn’t work, ’cause all it takes is one bad news cycle for every person in Congress, every reporter, every public health group to come out and pass these emergency bans. And that whole vision has now just completely blown up. So, the point I try to get back to is, however we look at vaping and however the data comes out as more studies are done, we always have to start at this foundation of respecting adult choice. And we shouldn’t try to plan everything from above, but give people accurate information and try to pick the best look at the risk profile we have, but start with the idea that it is ultimately an adult person’s body and their choice what they to do.
49:28 Speaker 3: Thank you for listening. If you enjoy Free Thoughts, you can find our Free Thoughts discussion group on Facebook or on Reddit at r/freethoughtspodcast. You can follow us on Twitter @FreeThoughtsPod. As always, please rate and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Free Thoughts is produced by Tess Terrible and Landry Ayres. To learn more, visit us on the web at www.libertarianism.org.