Customer Reviews: For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health
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on August 12, 2005
Jacob Sullum's book, "For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health" is maybe the best book for anyone interested in the issue of smoking. Sullum, a non-smoker, has taken a logical, meticulously researched look at the smoking issue and come to the heart of the essential problem; the "all or none" approach of the anti-tobacco movement.

Rather than approaching his book as a confirmation for smokers who wish to smoke, Sullum examines all of the essential issues of tobacco use including the health effects of secondhand smoke, the danger of smoking itself, and the comparable danger of both activities in relation to other activities. Sullum gives the specifics of these issues and points out the problems with the broad-brush generalities that anti-smoking crusaders have given to the public. For example, one has a difficult time reconciling statements like "Smoking takes ten years off your life" against "Quitting smoking for ten years will return your lungs to a healthy state". Sullum addresses discrepancies like this and brings the issues into perspective.

Sullum takes a cool and reasoned approach to this book and editorializes only at points that demand it. Sullum wants the reader to know they've come to the right place if they want 'just the facts' and the inevitable logical conclusions that can be drawn from them. In purpose, "For Your Own Good" doesn't vilify the anti-smoking movement, despite its title. Sullum points out early in the book that he found the vast majority of anti-smoking proponents he interviewed to be reaonable and well-worth talking too. It also doesn't give smokers a free-pass to smoke eighty cigarettes a day without any fear of ill health effects. The tobacco industry takes its lumps where warranted, but is equally defended against the wholesale extortion it has been exposed to. The tobacco industry may have spent billions to get millions to smoke, but it is also now forced to pay billions for a campaign of self-incrimination, and even pays out billions for public programs that benefit non-smokers by an overwhelming majority.

In the end, Sullum's reasoned approach makes for a most effective indictment of the anti-smoking crusade. The anti-smoking movement is "all or none" and wants you to hate smoking and oppress those who choose to smoke as a means to ending smoking forever. The political implications do not matter. If a "smoke free society" means the total loss of freedom for those who smoke and the eventual loss of freedom for all, we're going to live our lives as others tell us to, like it or not. The spread of misinformation isn't important as long as it achieves the ultimate goal.

Think of the most zealous of religious groups being given tens of billions of dollars and complete government support for their view. Any individual not expressing total devotion to any of the religious tenets is an apostate to be condemened in public. This view will be expressed on every radio and television commercial break. Any means necessary will be used to express this view. This is the current power of the anti-smoking movement eight years after this book was published.

Sullum covers everything you wanted to know about tobacco but were afraid to ask in 350 pages. Sullum carefully covers his trail and carries the reader on to the next page with the feeling that they've been given the best information available. The history of tobacco and smoking is also covered in brief.

I wish that Sullum would write a follow up or at least an updated edition for this book. In 2005, this book would be an eye-opener for those who have so completely swallowed the bait. I just realized that I'm the first person to review this book in five years. Scary, to say the least.
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on December 3, 2000
Jacob Sullum has written what can only be described as a breath of fresh air in a current of noxious fumes. This book is a fair and balanced account of the anti-smoking movement and has received favorable reviews in such prestigious medical journals as the "Lancet," and the "New England Journal of Medicine."
The critiques of the propaganda used by the public heath movement to scare people: the assertion that advertising causes smoking, for example, are particularly interesting. The demolishment of the assertion that the hazards of smoking were recently discovered (actually, James I published one of the first anti-tobacco pamphlets in 1604) should make anyone considering suing the tobacco industry to recover damages take pause.
This is one book you will not be able to put down. Everything is documented, so checking Sullum's sources is easy. Regardless of your position on smoking, this book's clear detail about tobacco and its enemies will make for enlightening reading.
I must respond to what I think are genuine attempts to commit ad hominem attacks. One reviewer simply noted, without reading the book (it was obvious), that because Sullum in an editor of Reason magazine, his book and everything he says should (essentially) be ignored. Reason magazine is published by the Reason Foundation, which has accepted donations from tobacco companies in the past. Ergo, using the logical fallacy of ad hominem, one should ignore everything Mr. Sullum writes. This kind of reasoning is the last haven of the ignorant.
In the Introduction, Sullum notes that less than 1% of the Reason Foundation's budget has ever been funded by the tobacco industry, and that Philip Morris has bought ad space in Reason Magazine. Yet he also points out that his job is not dependent on Philip Morris, and that Reason has never (and does not) assert control over his writing. Sullum was a critic of the anti-smoking movement long before working at Reason and this book also criticizes the tobacco industry. Hardly the work of someone who is a flack for Philip Morris.
And finally, imagine what the reviewer said is true. Namely, that money makes results. At once the entire foundation of modern science is destroyed. The anti-smoking movement gets funded too, by groups that have a financial stake in getting less people to smoke (like the Federal government, for example). Ergo, anything the anti-smoking movement says is biased because it is in their own self-interest. We must accept this if we committ the ad hominem fallacy. If we are not stupid morons, we should look at the evidence. If Jacob Sullum is a tobacco pawn, then his book wouldn't stand up to critical review. Yet it does, as evidenced by the reviews in leading medical journals that are favorable.
Something I want to point out that Sullum did not have access to when he wrote "For Your Own Good:" The EPA's classification of secondhand smoke as a class A carcinogen was declared void by a federal judge in 1998 due to gross scientific errors, manipulation of statistical results, and methodology designed to yield data preferable to the anti-smoking side only.
That should make one pause when reading the reviews about how Sullum missed the mark on secondhand smoke. Actually, he hit the nail right on the head.
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on November 20, 2002
The author of this book doesn't smoke but I do and I thank him. I have lived in both Great Britain and the USA, and am finding anti-smoking activism an increasing bore in both areas, although much more so in 'the land of the free.' Sullum points out that much anti-smoking policy is based on 'second-hand-smoke' fears and that these fears are demonstrably hysterical. The fear of getting lung cancer from sharing a bar with smokers is like fearing cirrhosis from smelling a drunkard's breath. But now US policy makers wish to ban smoking everywhere, private clubs, outdoors...they'll be imprisoning people for enjoying a cigarette soon if they have their way. As if individuals and people like restaurant owners couldn't decide without the government's boot on their necks where they wish to allow smoking and where they don't. I've smoked for four decades, and can't think when anyone's smoking ever bothered me, or when I was ever asked to put out my cigarette, until the last few years, once the alarmists started holding sway. Britain did not always treat well those subject to its empirical power. America had its witch trials, its commie hunts, its slavery. Germany's citizens went along with the vilification, degradation, and attempted murder of all its Jews. It's human nature, apparently, for societies to vilify and harass, such persons and practices as they choose, when they choose, without good reason: as reasons are lacking, societies simply make them up, and most docile citizens just go along with the hate-streams provided. Sullum points out that tobacco, and cigarettes particularly, have been banned before, for reasons that proved hysterical or alarmist, and that tolerance of smoking returns in time. Smoking is an exquisite pleasure. Enjoyment of it should be moderated, or even avoided by individuals, as they choose. Such moderate views are rarely heard in these days of anti-smoking Taliban. Sullum is fair-minded and objective. He's written a wonderful book, of import to smokers, and to all who despise ignorance, intolerance, alarmism, hysteria, and the hate-filled members of our societies, who are now using these age-old weapons, to humiliate and ostracize tobacco users. Read this book. Smoke pridefully, and resist the temptation to blow your smoke, in the face of the Taliban types. Unlike them, most smokers are civilized, and this is the source of our pride.
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on August 20, 2002
This book will certainly set you aflame. Whether you hate smoking (as I do), prefer civil liberties (as I do), and/or despise the busybodies who know best how we should live our lives (as I very much do), you will find something here to excite you. If you belong to that latter group--please read it and stop your meddling. You do not know what's best for everyone!
I wish he had spent more time attacking the medical model of "addiction". This has changed our society in more ways than we can contemplate, and all for the worse. But his naming names and dates of those who have told lies in furtherance of a good cause is worth the price of admission alone. A good book, one that tells a story that cannot even get to the sidelines of our know-it-all culture, and asks questions we do not permit to be asked.
For those who prefer freedom and personal responsibility, this book delivers one knock-out blow after another. Use his data and arguments and you'll reduce opponents to name-calling.
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on November 14, 1999
The book thoroughly exposes the serious threat to liberty posed by the public health movement, a grim mob of meddlers who intend to force everyone to stop smoking, lose weight, eat veggies, etc., etc., etc. With meticulous reporting, the book focusses on anti smoking delirium and the outrageous lengths to which the public health crowd will go to impose its no-smoking will on the rest of the populace, but the underlying message is that these people are ready and willing to repeat the same tactics against other violations of their prescribed lifestyle code. As Mr. Sullum explains, the public health service was originally organized for the purpose of preventing and controlling outbreaks of infectious diseases -- a mission that is hard to argue with. But when these diseases no longer posed a major threat, the various arms of the public health movement (government bureaucracies and the non-profit groups, like the American Cancer Society) decided to turn their attention to lifestyle factors -- with smoking as enemy number one. As copiously documented by Sullum, this put them on a collision course with liberty, because these folks are not content with dispensing accurate information for individuals to use in making their own decisions about how to treat their bodies. To their dismay, they realized that a large number of people are not particularly inclined to follow their advice. So the public health boys, it turns out, are more than willing to corrupt science in order to make their information more scary and to push through laws that coerce people into doing what they tell them to. The latest ploy -- and perhaps the most egregious -- is their aggressive promotion of the totally unproven idea that second hand smoke can seriously threaten the health of innocent bystanders. (I have personally researched this topic and there is no there there.) This excellent, eye-opening book should be read by everyone, because in their crusade for maximum potential longevity, the public health movement is making a major attack on the cherished freedoms of us all -- and ruining the credibility of science to boot. I think, however, that one of the book's strengths is also a weakness. Sullum's style is totally objective, low key and understated. This gives it a dispassionate credibility. But it also makes it a little dry, and since the antics of the public health machine are so beyond the pale, I wish he would have yelled and cursed and thrown things at the wall a little. But that's OK, readers can do that on their own.
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on February 25, 1999
Sullum provides an excellent history of the anti-smoking movement that is a must read for anyone concerned with their individual liberties. Most importantly, he looks behind the numbers we all see reported in the press related to the adverse health effects of smoking, second-hand smoke and tobacco advertising.
As Sullum discusses in detail at the beginning of the book, he has been smeared by people who don't like his arguments as a tool of the tobacco industry because the organization for which he works got a donation amounting to less than 1% of its budget from Philip Morris.
I am strongly opposed to smoking, yet I find his arguments compelling. I imagine many people might read his book and still not question the views of the anti-smoking movement, but they are simply not thinking for themselves!
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Jacob Sullum, For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health (Free Press, 1998)

It took me a long, long time to get through this book, but it was worth it. I still don't understand how Sullum managed (or why he felt it necessary) to present a balanced view of the stupidity to be found within these pages (and make no mistake, this is balanced; those who would call it "biased" obviously didn't read far enough between the lines to see all the value judgments and the like Sullum didn't include here-- and in my view, should have), but here it is. As a result, the book can get dry at times, and there are portions where it even sounds as if Sullum may be arguing for the other side. Still, in the end, his heart's in the right place. Which is more than one can say for either side in this ongoing, and incredibly stupid, war.

Sullum traces the history of smoking, and the parallel history of the anti-smoking movement. The latter history involves a great deal of tactic-switching, doublespeak, and outright lies (and this book was written before the biggest liars in the antismoking movement, and, were formed). The former history does as well, of course, and contrary to what the book's critics would have one believe, Sullum does not shy from the less-than-ethical depths to which tobacco companies would go during the early years of cigarette marketing in order to draw new customers. It's tough to understand how someone can call a book "biased" when the good guys are as slimy as the bad guys, but there you go.

It is at times interesting and at times not, as books like this often are, but there is a wealth of knowledge to be found within if one is going to try and combat the antismoking movement on any sort of reasonable level. (As is obvious from the tone of this review, I gave up on such things long ago.) One thing I did take away from it-- I switched to lights. Because, despite what the antismoking movement now tells you, there is such a thing as a "safer cigarette". Funny, the antismoking movement seems to have bankrolled some of the research into finding one. Need more examples of how they've changed their tune over the years? There is a wealth of them to be found herein. Peruse at will. ****
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on May 31, 1999
Not the most gripping prose ever written, but worth reading by anyone who values liberty. If I may be permitted a reductio ad argumentum, Mr Sullum has merely stated that the smoking of tobacco since its inception has been objected to, complained about, and railed against by those who do not like it. Legislation has been tried; the legislation failed. The argument of 'health' has been tried; that argument failed. Social ostracism has been tried (though not taken to the length of to-day's hysterics); even social ostracism has failed. Through it all, tobacco has remained a legal and popular product in most places and at most times. Why? Because, dear friends, governments can levy taxes upon the production, preparation, packaging and shipping of tobacco. Governments are more addicted to tax monies, which means your money and mine, than the most degraded, ashtray-breathed, ash-stained wretch who ever lit up a Sweet Caporal. Mr Sullum appears to believe - and if he does, I agree with him - that it is sufficient to lay the facts before the consuming public, and let them decide whether a moderate pleasure is worth the few months of life it may cost those who indulge in it. As far as the objections from those who do not like to be in the presence of tobacco smokers, let the tobacco smokers see to it that they do not unduly vex those sensitive souls. Manners do have a place in the scheme of things, and they work both ways. Life is, after all, multidimensional; if it be merely long, with neither depth nor breadth, it may satisfy the self-anointed monitors of our lives, but will it satisfy us? I think not. I, for one, am heartily sick of the grand dervishes of the health-worshippers and their interminable exhortations. I do not need to be told that 'it is bad for you', 'it is good for you', or 'spit it out if it tastes good'. It may be that, in my sere and yellowed leaf, I have need of a nanny; if that be so I shall hire one. It was never, and shall never be, my intention to hire one. Yes, I smoke. I smoke a pipe, usually, although I do enjoy a good cigar from time to time. If you leave me alone I will leave you alone.
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on April 13, 1999
This is an excellent book, which takes about as objective a tone as one is likely to find anywhere these days on this contentious issue. I read it from cover to cover (not in one sitting!) and found it brimming with information both current and historical. The author applies properly skeptical reasoning with regard to the many "facts" that are bandied about, and, as a statistics instructor, I was particularly pleased to see someone write so knowledgeably and clearly about statistical issues. A very well-written and comprehensive book.
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on May 14, 1998
and Jacob Sullum resists the temptation. Unlike so many recent books on similar subjects, Sullum examines the arguments on their merits. Surprise! surprise! looked at objectively, without the preconceived bias most authors never try to hide, there is actually a complex issue at stake here. Reasonable readers will find many of their most treasured myths about smoking punctured. (see the Appendix, "Ten Myths of the Anti-Smoking Movement" for a quick summary).
Those who have read Sullum's recent articles on the subject in Harper's or Reason will enjoy the in-depth coverage of issues and graphics of anti-smoking propaganda.
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