Taming The Anti-Smokers

Smoking has nothing to recommend it. Surely everyone knows that? Well, almost everyone! The demon weed has its defenders too, and some of the staunchest defenders of smokers’ rights are themselves non-smokers. No, not the shareholders of tobacco companies! Civil libertarians and free market anarchists. One such civil libertarian and free market anarchist is Chris R. Tame, Director of the smokers’ rights organisation, FOREST. This charming acronym stands for Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco. Tame joined FOREST in 1989, but the charismatic, outgoing 44 year old has been involved in the defence of civil liberties and the free market for much longer than that.

Tame graduated from the University of Hull in 1971 with an MA in American Studies and immediately dropped out for a few years. “It was the in-thing to do at the time”, he explains. After working in hamburger restaurants and bumming around reading he got down to work as an admin officer for the Associated Examining Board, later working for the free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs as a research assistant. He also worked for the Freedom Association as its Research Director then ran the Alternative Bookshop for a while in London’s Covent Garden.

The Alternative Bookshop stocked a wide range of free market and other freedom-oriented publications. Unfortunately, it went bust in the mid-80s; the great irony says Tame is that there is more profit to be made selling Marxist (anti-capitalist) books. The bookshop was also firebombed at one point, but although Tame and his colleagues had their suspicions that a far left hate group was behind this, they could prove nothing.

Tame married in 1977 and worked for a while with his wife in financial services, in which she is still engaged. He also worked for a Channel 4 production company, Diverse Reports. He joined FOREST as its Campaign Director at the invitation of an old (also non-smoking) colleague Stephen Eyres and became its Director after his premature death. FOREST employs two other full time workers and one part timer. Marjorie Nicholson is the Campaign Manager and editor of the organisation’s journal Free Choice; Juliette Wallbridge is the Office Manager, and 74 year old Judith Hatton helps out with secretarial work and research. As well as being the only man in the office, Tame is the only non-smoker. He is also a vitamin freak, holds belts in four different martial arts, and is an enthusiastic runner. Isn’t that a strange combination for someone who runs a pro-smoking organisation, we ask?

“FOREST is not pro-smoking”, he says, emphatically, “FOREST is pro-choice.”

“It doesn’t promote smoking at all then?”

“Not at all.” And, he says, he has a successful libel action to prove it. In 1991 anti-smoking activist Dr. Sam Everington, foolishly accused him on a radio talk-show of being a drug-pusher and of giving cigarettes to children. Tame received a substantial out of court settlement. FOREST’s arch enemy is Action on Smoking and Health, a largely government (ie taxpayer) funded pressure group.

“Ah! You’re defending the tobacco companies. Does that mean you get paid by them?”

“We’ve never made any secret that we get money from the tobacco companies. FOREST was started as a pressure group by a former Battle of Britain pilot, Wing Commander Foxley-Norris - who is still around. The story is that one day he was waiting for a train at Reading Station peacefully smoking his pipe when a woman came up to him and ordered him to put it out. As he was standing in the open air, this infuriated him. He said he was damned if he had fought the Nazis so that little Hitlers like her could order him not to smoke. (Hitler, by the way, was a fanatical anti-smoker).

As a result of that he started a smokers’ rights pressure group. This was funded entirely by subscriptions and donations. This organisation soon changed its name to FOREST. With regard to its funding, the reality is that in the modern world you can’t run any sort of campaigning organisation purely by subscription, so after a while FOREST went to the tobacco companies and said how about putting back some of the profits you make from smokers into an organisation that’s doing something for them?”

“How much money does FOREST get out of the tobacco companies?”

“About £200,000 per year, which really isn’t enough to fund the sort of campaign that’s really needed. In the United States, the tobacco companies give quite freely to civil liberties organisations, but the truth is that in Britain, businessmen are far less sophisticated in seeing the importance of backing long-term ideological campaigns in favour of freedom of choice and free markets.”

But isn’t smoking unhealthy? Tame points out that while smoking certainly has its risks, so does keeping fit. He has suffered a hamstring injury through running and fractured ribs and a broken coccyx in karate. (The coccyx is the bone at the end of the spine, the remnant of our ancestors’ tail).

Tame’s defence of smoking is as passionate as his defence of the free market, and although he doesn’t dispute that smoking causes lung cancer, he says that the health and safety lobby have been churning out the most appalling - and often blatantly dishonest - anti-smoking propaganda, particularly about passive smoking. “What about Roy Castle?” we ask.

“This case has obviously received a great deal of publicity because Mr Castle is a well-known entertainer and a lifelong non-smoker. He’s being exploited quite shamelessly by the anti-smoking lobby because, it is claimed, he contracted lung cancer from passive smoking. He goes up and down the country lecturing on the evils of smoking. Obviously we have the greatest sympathy for him, but we have to point out that lung cancer has never been a disease exclusively of smokers; it has other causes. And the fact that somebody contracts a disease does not make that person an expert on it. The evidence that passive smoking causes lung cancer or any other disease is extremely weak, in fact the balance of scientific evidence is against it.”

“But smoking causes lung cancer in smokers. You can’t deny that?”

“FOREST doesn’t deny that there is a statistical correlation, but the scientific literature paints an entirely different picture from the sensationalist press, or even the so-called quality press. In Britain, the correlation of smokers and non-smokers is 9 to 1. Which means that for every ten people who contract lung cancer, nine are smokers. In Thailand though the correlation is a mere 1.6 while even the heavy smoking Japanese have a correlation of 3.8. Incidentally, the Japanese have the greatest life expectancy in the world. You won’t find these inconvenient facts in the Sun or ASH fact sheets. Obviously lung cancer is a lot more complex than the anti-smoking lobby lets on. There is a great deal of evidence going back to the 1950s that diesel fumes have a lot to do with lung cancer; Dr. Simon Wolff, of University College London Medical School, for instance believes that it is not smoking but smoking and diesel which causes most lung cancer in cities.

Having said this, I have to say that this is an issue that FOREST is not particularly bothered with. Smoking is an adult pastime and entails certain risks, like drinking, boxing or driving to work. We believe that adults have a right to take these risks.”

“So how does FOREST campaign?”

“We publish literature in defence of freedom of choice, debunk the anti-smoking lobby’s scare stories, and make representations to employers, the government and politicians. A lot of employers introduce workplace smoking bans without consultation. For one thing they think that if the workforce doesn’t smoke it will be healthier. The reality is that many people smoke because it helps them relax and calms them down when they’re working under pressure. If they can’t smoke, they suffer from stress. A worker under stress is an unhappy worker, and an unhappy worker is an inefficient one.

Another thing FOREST does is campaigns for designated smoking and non-smoking areas. Restaurateurs and publicans also find it useful to have designated smoking and non-smoking areas. In fact, publicans find it extremely unprofitable to ban smoking; recently a pub lost £14,000 worth of custom in one year after introducing a smoking ban.”

Increasingly though, FOREST’s long-standing complaint that the war against smoking is the thin edge of the wedge has been shown to be true. Last year there was the scandal over the case of Harry Elphick, the smoker who was refused heart surgery and later died. There have actually been a number of such cases, although they haven’t been well publicised. FOREST supporters organised a an equal rights in the NHS rally in the wake of this. Virginia Bottomley also received a delegation at the Ministry of Health including Lord Harris of High Cross, FOREST’s Chairman and himself a pipe smoker.

Tame is particularly disturbed by the current trend to monitor all aspects of people’s lifestyles through a survey distributed to all Britain’s GPs. “It’s long since ceased to be only smoking that is targeted,” he says, “it’s also alcohol, of course, but the net is ever widening. They’re also collecting data on the amount of fat people eat. What next? Are we to be told what sports are acceptable, or what sexual practices we can or can’t engage in? It’s outrageous!”

At this point we push our luck and return to the subject of profit. “In your literature you refer to Britain’s “free enterprise tobacco companies,” we say, “some would claim that this means free to profit off misery, human suffering, cancer etc. How do you answer that, Mr Tame?”

“Tobacco companies exist to provide a service. Firstly, you’re speaking as if making a profit was something bad. If you can show me a better system which is able to deliver goods to ordinary people, [than capitalism] then you name it. Profit is a magnificent tool for revealing what the wants of ordinary people are. That’s the reason why reactionary Tories and reactionary socialists hate it so much, because ordinary people are able to buy what they want. Manufacturers simply respond to that demand. A lot of people in the anti-smoking lobby have the same mentality as those who support every loony left cause under the sun. They have this image of big businesses battening off the working class and making obscene profits. The tobacco companies are an easy target; in a way they have come to epitomise the evil capitalist. In reality, tobacco companies, like other businesses, don’t simply respond to consumer demand, they create wealth, for their employees as well as for the consumer.”

“And their shareholders?”

“But who owns shares?” says Tame, “under Thatcher, millions of ordinary people bought shares, and became capitalists. The major shareholders in tobacco companies as in all companies, are institutions: banks, insurance companies, pension funds and the like. There are a few super-rich people, but the vast majority are middle class, and now working class.”

“Okay, one final point, Chris, there is a school of thought that says that there are some practices that are so dangerous that the average person is not capable of making a judgment about them. That people have to be protected from themselves.”

“The people who normally say that count themselves among the group who are intelligent. And, of course, they will be the people choosing for the other people. But how are we to know that they are more intelligent. How are they to be selected? This is fascism; one group of people saying that we know best, any other decision made by any other group of people is either stupid or irrational, and we will stop them from making it. Where do we stop? The harm caused by smoking is of nothing in comparison to the misery and harm created by various political and religious creeds. If we accept the arguments of the anti-smokers, we destroy the rationale for political and religious freedom in every area.”

At this point we decide to call it a day. Anyone who wants further information about the right to smoke or the benefits of free enterprise capitalism should contact Tame at his London office and ask for an information pack. His number is 071-823 6550. FOREST’s address is 2 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1. A free information pack is provided on request; membership is £10 a year.

[I can’t recall exactly when I wrote the above but the text was last edited no later than July 4, 1994. The interview and a lot of other material, some that was published, some that was not, was commissioned by a small publisher with a big imagination. I got paid, eventually, by courtesy of a circuit judge at Clerkenwell County Court. The penultimate draft was approved by Chris; I have made only very minor textual alterations since he saw it, if any, and none at all since the above date].

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