Montreal, March 5, 2006 • No 169




Jasmin Guénette holds a master's degree in Political Science at Université du Québec à Montréal.




WARNING: Health Canada wants you to know that this book review was written while smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and eating burgers.


by Jasmin Guénette


          The best book published in Canada lately (after mine of course!) is my friend Ezra Levant's The War on Fun. In it, Ezra clearly shows how big health lobbies, politicians, do-gooders, busybodies and lawyers are attacking personal liberties, destroying the long Canadian tradition of freedom, turning rational grown-up adults into children, wanting to replace parental responsibility by bureaucratic programs and creating a victimhood mentality. As far as do-gooders are concerned, people (i.e., you and me) don't know what's best for them and must rely on bureaucrats and politicians to tell them what to do.


Scientific advertising

          In Ezra's book, we start to understand how health lobbies are not as clean as they claim to be: "Curiously, though, many of the sources of anti-smoking 'science' [other than your tax money I would add] are paid for not by neutral universities or academic foundations seeking only the truth, but rather by corporations whose business depends on a constant stream of anti-smoking information: pharmaceutical companies who sell smoking cessation. There's nothing wrong with for-profit pharmaceutical companies paying to promote the idea that cigarettes are unhealthy and their smoking cessation medicines are better – but that's called 'advertising' when it's done in other industries. In the anti-smoking industry, though, it's called a scientific journal." (p. 50)

          This book also shows how today's health fascists are only applying the same medicine Hitler applied: "as one Nazi propaganda magazine put it, 'brother national socialist, do you know that your Fuhrer is against smoking and thinks that every German is responsible to the whole people for all his deeds and omissions, and does not have the right to damage his body with drugs?' There was no privacy in Nazi Germany, certainly not the privacy of your own body – especially when racially degenerative substances like tobacco were involved." (p. 32)

          Of course, Quebec's Health Minister Philippe Couillard doesn't want you to stop smoking to preserve some kind of racial superiority. But even if the reasons given for implementing a smoking ban are different today than they were in Hitler's Germany, the means of achieving a "smoke-free" society are still the same: the use of State power. And it is being used to force people to change habits they enjoy.

Ezra Levant, The War on Fun,
The Western Standard, Alberta, 2005

          The use of information is one of the State's most important tools for convincing people that government measures are needed. In the cartoon version of Friedrich Hayek's most significant book, The Road to Serfdom, slide seven expresses the idea that the State and its officers use the media to "educate people" and make sure that most of its citizens think alike. These days we can see TV ads paid for by the Quebec government to promote "Un Québec sans fumée" which means a smoke-free Quebec. If we follow the logic of the arguments presented in those ads, we would have all decided – all together – to live in a smoke-free environment. False! The only people who decided to ban smoking in bars are health fascists, do-gooders and anti-tobacco lobbyists. These ads are a tool to make you believe we all "crave" smoking bans. It's just government propaganda.

"Ezra understands the superiority of freedom and respect for personal choice as a peaceful way to solve the problems that inevitably crop up in our societies."

          As Ludwig von Mises wrote: "Propaganda is always the propaganda of lies, fallacies, and superstitions. Truth does not need any propaganda." Not only is it not true that "we" (whatever "we" means) all decided to ban smoking in bars, but this kind of government action creates social tensions and intolerances. Smokers are presented as potential killers, as victims who need help, as anti-social people who are not respectful of others. Maybe that's the reason why the World Health Organization (WHO) decided not to hire smokers anymore. What kind of organizations would hire potential killers? Can we imagine the WHO not hiring an overweight person? Maybe in a couple of years, when fast food is denormalised as cigarettes have been.

Manufacturing common wisdom

          Another great point made in this book is the notion of "poisoning the jury pool" (p. 70). Actions intended to demonise cigarettes and their users started a long time ago. Today, few people second-guess the second-hand smoke theory or the notion that smokers are victims of big tobacco companies. Why? Because anti-smoking lobbies have repeated these messages again and again over a long period of time. The same strategy is now being used by fast food opponents to make sure the notion of victimisation is also applied to clients of McDonald's. Eventually it will have become common wisdom to say that fast food eaters are hooked on addictive products and are therefore not responsible for their actions.

          And fast food is not the only thing health fascists have in their sights: sport utility vehicles, cellular phones and caffeine are also on their "most wanted" list. Not only can organised lobbies count on lawyers who see profits in going after big companies, but many artists and filmmakers can also play a great role in shaping people's opinions, as demonstrated by Morgan Spurlock with his documentary-style movie Super Size Me.

          Another characteristic of all do-gooders is that they rely on junk science. For example, while "second-hand smoke might be annoying to some, the fact is it has never been proved to be a health risk, period." (p. 110) The same thing with cellular phones, which junk scientists say causes cancer but "every major study has failed to show a link between cell phone use and cancer, including a massive Danish study that compared 42,000 cell phone users..." (p. 107) People at the Detroit Project, whose work is to ban SUVs, say trucks are more dangerous on the road than cars, but in fact, "the fatality rate for those accidents – front, side and rear impacts – is 157 per millions for small cars and 62 per millions for SUVs – making SUVs more than twice as safe." (p. 86) Even proved wrong, do-gooders don't care. They let ideology trump rationality and sound science.

          Why, then, do politicians vote for all of those laws that shrink individual liberties? Because lobbyists and other busybodies work hard to make sure their own preferences are the norm; because politicians are sensible to big, loud groups; and because certain clienteles, like smokers, make for easy targets.

          This book is a lucid look at today's politics. We all know politicians seek only two things: winning elections and staying in power. This is why our "leaders" care more about their images than the truth, why they listen to big lobbies rather than quiet scientists and, of course, fast food and tobacco executives who are afraid to speak out. Ezra understands the superiority of freedom and respect for personal choice as a peaceful way to solve the problems that inevitably crop up in our societies. If you want to read a good book, my money's on Ezra Levant's The War on Fun.