In 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan a novel respiratory illness began to ravage the population. Dangerously infectious with symptoms so severe to cause massive hospitalizations and death, the healthcare system in Wuhan began to buckle under the strain; and despite the efforts of the Chinese government the virus escaped confinement and spread around the world as the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic. The only effective measures at keeping the virus at bay, and healthcare systems from being overwhelmed, were lockdowns, social distancing, and the wearing of masks until a vaccine could be developed. The vaccine was completed within a year, a remarkable feat of modern science, and has been proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19 and its variants.
However, there has emerged an alarming number of people who either through ignorance or obstinance refused to either wear masks or receive the vaccine. These people called, “anti-maskers” and “anti-vaxxers”, have put the world’s efforts to overcome the coronavirus in jeopardy. These individuals resist despite the overwhelming scientific and anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness and safety of masks and the vaccines and the looming prospect of an endemic viral infection that could plunge the world back into uncertainty and ruin.
People who ignore scientific consensus and common sense are not new and anti-vaccination in particular is a dangerous brand of anti-ism that threatens the health and well-being of all people. Both Anti-Masking and Anti-Vaccination indicate a lack of essential empathy on the part of those who hold these views meaning the inability to consider the well-being and needs of others over their own wants and convictions.
This sort of dynamic was and in some ways continues to be at the center of the public debates around smoking. In the 16th-century smokers were maligned by King James VI, who wrote A Counterblaste to Tobacco in 1604, wherein, after blaming Native Americans for bringing tobacco to England (which his colonists did), the King complains about second-hand smoke, warns of injuries to the lungs from smoking, and decries it as being “hatefull to the nose.” Since then smokers have scoffed at the efforts of anti-smoking advocates to curtail smoking as infringements on their rights or as busybodies looking to control others. Scientific evidence began to emerge around the turn of the 20th century and mount in the years after the Second World War when a second generation of smokers took up cigarettes enmasse. By 1962 the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom had released its report linking smoking to lung cancer and two years later United States Surgeon General, and Alabamian, Luther Terry released the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health which held the same conclusion and urged remedial action on smoking.
Subsequently, Smoker’s Rights Groups backed by the Tobacco Industry began to form to advocate against the remedial actions being considered across the country from the local to the national level. Today many of the arguments used by Smoker’s Rights Groups and Anti-Smoking advocates can be heard echoing in the debate over masking and vaccines.
Troublingly for those working to end the Coronavirus pandemic, while many laws and regulations have been passed to prevent smoking and the public perception of smoking is still overwhelmingly negative, cigarettes are still smoked today.