20 August 2021
I spent over 20 years of my life with my principal task to fight the tobacco industry. I saw how harmful smoking was in my patients, and tried to tell them. But smoking was common, allowed everywhere and, after food, the most advertised product in the country. Shops were so covered with ads that when you drove into a town, you looked for the cigarette ads to find the food shop. It was normalised. One of my patients, whose leg I had just amputated said, ‘All the doctors say that smoking is harmful, but if it was the government would do something about it’.
There were almost no smoke-free restaurants anywhere, because the non-smokers had been trained to put up with it, and restaurateurs were worried that smokers might leave them. They knew that the non-smokers had no choice. The tobacco industry told the pub owners that smokers drank more and gambled more, so they had better not offend them, so the Australian Hotels Association were the major lobby, with the Registered Clubs and Restaurant Association tagging along. The tobacco industry disputed the science long after it was proved to any reasonable analysis, and smokers clung onto this. The tobacco industry PR followed what was called the ‘tightrope policy’. They did not know if smoking was harmful because they were not doctors, so they were not responsible for selling a lethal product, but because everyone had heard it was harmful, smokers were taking their own risks.
Smokers therefore said, encouraged by the Industry that it was their ‘right to smoke’, and then they denied that it harmed everyone else. So instead of the tobacco industry having to prove that passive smoking was harmless, the medical profession then had to prove it was harmful and then get legislation implemented, a process that took about another 45 years at about 43 deaths a day in Australia. Since non-smokers also got heart attacks etc, the Industry argued that they could not blame them on the second hand smoke.
Now we have the ‘right not to be vaccinated’ and the ‘right not to be excluded because we are unvaccinated’. Instead of spreading second hand smoke, unvaccinated people are spreading COVID virus. And they are saying that vaccinated people also spread the virus and can also catch it. Perhaps. But vaccinated people spread less virus, and the right not to be exposed to a virus trumps the right to spread it.
China unashamedly goes for the greatest good for the greatest number and puts little store on individual rights. Our tradition of Greek thought is all about the individual reaching his or her full potential, even if this means we tend to overlook the exploitation of others. This is becoming increasingly relevant as unregulated markets, like a Monopoly game, move money upwards and increase inequality.
I saw a meme yesterday that the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) does not mandate masks. This was in the context of the conclusion that ‘neither should we’. No doubt CDC does not need to mandate masks (assuming that the meme was correct)- the people who work there will have the vaccine ASAP.
The answer in civil rights terms if that anti-vaxxers have the right to be unvaccinated as consenting adults in private, but they do not have the right to go into public spaces where they may spread the virus. That is the individual rights answer and also the greatest good for the greatest number. We had a tobacco epidemic for 100 years, when it should have lasted 50 years if there had been science-based policy. This must not happen with this epidemic. We must have a lockdown until probably 90% of the whole population is vaccinated. We should vaccinate people who want it as fast as we can. Then we should have vaccine passports so we can open up again. Florida in the US is showing us what happens when silly policies are followed.