Thank You for Smoking
In the article, Peter Brimelow makes a case for smoking that has been heralded by many as dangerous. Brimelow starts by lamenting how government agencies including the American Medical Association, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration have harassed tobacco companies and smokers with prohibitions that seem unstoppable. The government has engaged in an antismoking campaign that has seen the federal government abandon research into safer cigarettes or assess tradeoffs even though research suggests cigarettes may be beneficial to health. The government stand on smoking has persuaded other interested groups including doctors to take an aggressive stand against smoking, and tobacco companies are afraid of the liability suits and regulatory implications of promoting safe smoking.
Peter states that smoking has an obvious behavioral benefit as research shows that smoking stimulates dexterity, alertness, and cognitive capacity. Smoking is also amphoteric and may counter depression and excitability. Peter states that these behavioral conditions might be the reason a third of Americans still smoke even though they are incessantly warned of the dangers of smoking.
Besides the behavioral benefits, smoking also has subtle health benefits that may outweigh the health risks. Peter recognizes the health risks of smoking such as lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases that result in over 400,000 smoking-related deaths, but opines that smoking may be beneficial for health. Research has, for example, shown that colon cancer, ulcerative colitis, prostate cancer, endometrial cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease appear to be 50% less frequent in smokers than in non-smokers (Brimelow, 2013). Additionally, Osteoarthritis which is a degenerative disease of the cartilage and bones is five times less likely to occur among heavy smokers. Smoking also leads to lower rates of acne, allergic alveolitis, and sarcoidosis.
These health benefits of smoking lead to the question of whether the occasional smoking of cigarettes should be recommended. Peter is skeptical of this due to the absolutist moral fervor against smoking, and in conclusion states that smokers are defenseless against the biggest challenge to smoking; power hungry puritanical bigots.
Brimelow’s article is a well-written argument supporting the claim that smoking does have some health benefits. He provides rational support to his argument by providing evidence and examples to back his arguments. Peter begins by showing the behavioral benefits of smoking before listing a number of disease that are mitigated by smoking. Peter backs his argument by using evidence from qualified sources and researchers including that of the Surgeon General. By backing his arguments with data, Peter strengthens his assertions and makes them believable to the reader who has secondary sources to verify the information given. This use of factual information as well as statistics and percentages makes the information valid enough and worthy of consideration and is beneficial to enabling the readers make individual choices on whether the rewards of smoking are more than the risks.
Brimelow also captures the reader’s attention by offering a counterclaim stating that “The Surgeon General has indeed determined that smoking is dangerous to your health” before going on to quote research that shows smoking-related deaths to be over 400,000 annually. The reason for the counterclaim is to show awareness of the other side of critique; that smoking is not all beneficial for health. This counterclaim is important because most readers have been exposed to numerous data and allegations showing the adverse health effects of smoking (CDC, 2016). Failing to recognize this opposing view would weaken Peter’s article as he would be deemed not to be objective.
Peter also makes a warrant concerning the freedom of choice, and this is the secondary tool he uses to defend smoking. He compares smoking with driving automobiles, a risky venture for health leading to over 40,000 deaths annually. Despite these automobile deaths, people still drive because the rewards far outweigh the risks and because they have a right to make these choices. This freedom of choice should also apply to smoking where people should be left the freedom to make their own choices. Peter’s warrant on free choice is necessary since it appeals to the reader’s value and coaxes them to make independent choices away from the rhetoric propagated by the media and government.
Peter’s warrant of free choice is, however, watered down by his unnecessary attack on everyone who does not support smoking. Peter’s article is meant to show the benefits of smoking, but somewhere along the way he stays away from the issue and starts attacking the government, its agencies, and individual groups including doctors. Even though the government has been seen to be rather objective on tobacco use, even exempting pilots from the ban on smoking on domestic flights and availing funds for research, Peter portrays them as the root reason why people do not smoke. Peter states that the government has engaged in an absolutist moral war against smoking and in concluding makes a statement that power hungry puritanical bigots are a huge threat to smoking. Whether these assertions are unfounded or not, they act to draw the reader away from the main argument and into government failure and bureaucracy. Peter comes out as a disgruntled critic of the government who cannot maintain a logical cohesive argument and his attempt to rouse novel views on smoking loses all merit.
Another critique against Peter’s article is that the evidence appears circumstantial and inconclusive. The research on the subtle health benefits appear too good to be true and general, sometimes with caveats to its value as exhibited by the need for corroboration for the data on prostate cancer. Additionally, some of the data appears to be outdated going as far back as 1964 even though the article was written in 2013. Although this may be ascribed to the alleged cessation of funding to research on smoking, such outdated data is not very valuable since over time many aspects have changed including methods of determining and monitoring disease. As such, the evidence posited by Peter is not timely and cannot be fully relied on.
In the article, Peter also systematically uses qualifiers that while useful in limiting the overgeneralization of claims only make his argument less credible. Brimelow’s main claim is that, “smoking might be, in some ways, good for you.” (Brimelow, 2013). Such qualifiers act to put doubt in the reader’s minds because they feel that Peter is not confident about his stand on the subject. Peter seems skeptic about his assertion and the audience begins to look for other mistakes or assertions with a keen eye. Due to his skepticism, we even begin to question the data that he has expressed so keenly, and words like “appear” and “seems” in the evidence cast doubt as to its credibility. His counterclaim on the Surgeon General’s determination about smoking being harmful seems more confident than his claim, and we begin to wonder why the doctors do not recommend occasional smoking despite the “suggested” health benefits. By using qualifiers, therefore, Peter appears unsure and this casts doubt about the credibility of his argument.
Brimelow considers the theoretical possibility of people taking up smoking in order to reap the suggested health benefits, but soon concludes that such an occurrence is likely to remain theoretical due to the absolutist moral fervor of the antismoking campaign. He then devotes the next three paragraphs on criticizing this moral campaign, which leaves readers wondering whether they should smoke for the perceived health benefits or for moral grounds. Peter forgets his earlier assertion that a third of Americans smoke, and most likely as a way of self-medication. It thus becomes confusing to the reader why the author makes an assertion for why about a third of people take up smoking and still believes the occurrence to exist only in theory, which further weakens his arguments.
In conclusion, Peter Brimelow makes a good argument for his claim that smoking has some health benefits filled with evidence and examples articulated in a logical manner. He strengthens his argument by offering a counterclaim and a rebuttal to the counterclaim, but his article is weakened by numerous unprofessional fallacies on his part. Firstly, his data is outdated, circumstantial and some uncorroborated. Additionally, he uses too many qualifiers that leave the reader feeling that the author is unsure of his claim. What breaks the argument down, however, is the unnecessary attack on anybody that does not support smoking. In the end, it feels like Peter is at war with everyone in the antismoking bandwagon leaving readers feeling that he is overly critical. Such attacks only work to draw readers from the main argument which becomes counterproductive in the end. Despite these drawbacks, Brimelow’s claims and evidence are strong and they leave the reader more knowledgeable on the issue of smoking.
Brimelow, P. (2013, December 13). Thank You for Smoking. Retrieved from lewrockwell.com: https://www.lewrockwell.com/2013/12/peter-brimelow/thank-you-for-smoking/
CDC. (2016, December 1). Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. Retrieved from Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/