They are murdering the country I love: that was my reaction to the recent, and rather scary, story of the future (starting from June 1) smoking bans in the place where I spend at least a couple of months every year, and where I have a home, many friends and lots of fun.
That’s when I really felt the pain described regularly by esteemed Mr. Frank Davis in his tireless blog. I saw communities and friendships immediately shattered, businesses lost (downcast, so far), society showing dangerous cracks, animosity coming to the open. It’s like being in a world war, when suddenly you see that a formerly happy nation had been nuked out, and will never be the same again.
Asia in general, as in “Asian public”, has, so far, showed wisdom, staying away from the Western madness of anti-smoking. There were some lukewarm bans, assuredly, but somehow they never really spoiled the general relaxed atmosphere. You always felt free and happy in Asia, be it Thailand, or Indonesia, or Malaysia. You never asked if there were smoking rooms in hotels – there always were; you never worried about spending an evening at the bar with a cigar, the bars were always there. I knew that Tobacco Control was scheming to invade Asia and opened it’s regional headquarters in Bangkok, but I was, somehow, sure that local societies were strong enough to isolate the monsters.
To my peril, I ignored the ominous signs: the smoking bans on some popular beaches in Thailand and the chance to be arrested there just for owning a vaping device – all right, that’s the military regime holding onto power there; the totally dictatorial anti-smoking rules in Singapore – all right, Singapore exists only because the folks there go to Malaysia for weekends and live like normal people; or how about the attempts to fight smoking in the cigar-making Philippines – all right, their president is slightly mad. But then, there is always Indonesia, which pointedly refused to join the dictatorial Framework Convention of the WHO, and has a nearly-perfect legislation on the matter. And there is always China, where you breathe freely.
And then – hop! – there comes a new government in Malaysia, and it starts to follow the example of Singapore. Note the way it did it: no parliament vote, they had such votes before, and voted the zealots down. So, this time, it was a government ordinance. Meaning that just several people have decided that, from June 1, you cannot smoke while you eat, even at the street stalls.
What happened next, even before the bans have been actually enacted: a total disaster. Here we have a multinational and multireligious nation, world-famous for accommodating all kind of lifestyles on one and the same street. All the politics is racial there, and here we have a deep conviction of the Malays and Indians that the smoking bans are a Chinese plot against them. But most of my friends there are Chinese, and a year ago they all voted to bring the current government to power. Now they all say that they won’t do it again, and mind you, not all of them are smoking. And they are worried, deeply worried about what may come next. And then there are local communities, starting to debate the California-style bans on smoking at home. Come on, all the people were friends and neighbors only yesterday.
I wanted to help, but imagine a foreigner running after some locals, saying: listen to me, I have knowledge, I know who attacked you and all their tricks, I have experience, I know what you should do. No, no, no. It’s their country, and they should come to me for advice, not vice versa. Let the anti-smokers open their foreign-funded headquarters there and train the activists, and let it be their vulnerability.
But, nevertheless, I really know what to do in Malaysia. If they ever asked me, I’d say: create your own organization to attack, not to defend yourself (they already did that, by the way). Make it respectable and glamorous, attracting people with obvious merits to the nation. Talk to the elite as equals, not as a tiny marginal groups. Talk to kings and paupers alike. Make yourself visible and always present in the media. Make your websites active and fashionable.
Never use violence, you are strong enough without it, since you have medical facts on your side. Seek medical knowledge, especially since all the facts about the scam of “passive smoking” are well known and documented. Get some doctors into your ranks and make it known. Hold conferences on the subject and make them known, too. Watch their statistics, knowing in advance they’re going to lie about “everyone giving it up” due to their bans. See who owns that statistics, and dispute it freely, you’ll never miss.
Know your adversary. Collect facts about the people who brought that calamity to your country, especially noting their membership in foreign anti-tobacco movements, and facts about the payments these people get from these. Publish that data and discuss it at length. State your goals openly and clearly, namely that you aim to destroy morally the Tobacco Control in your land, since it is wreaking chaos in your fragile society and harming public health.
Do not let just one political party subjugate you, attract people from all camps. Let them come for influence to you, not vice versa. We, in Russia, welcome the United Russia, the Communists and the defeated liberals, and our organization may be the only one where they all sit together and have fun – because all these people smoke or, at least, know who the antismokers are.
Go to your strong Indonesian brothers, since you now need all the help you can get. They won’t be holding alone forever, anyway. Act regionally, call your organization something like Smoking Asia, not just Malaysia. Attack (in a non-violent way) the Bangkok stooges of the foreign medical lobby, get friends there. Use a slogan like “Asia is no place for anti-smoking fear-mongering and hatred”.
Have a long and detailed program of actions, follow it in spite of the inevitable initial defeats. Get small and big businesses at least declare that they’ll never give a cent to any anti-tobacco effort. That’s how you create the momentum to the future victories. And, you know, right now Malaysia has all it needs to start the fight for restoring normal and healthy life for all.
Why a foreigner should never organize such things, like the TC is doing: because societies are different and will always be that way. Only the locals know what works and what doesn’t. I know it by my writings in Russia. Never speak of a nanny state here: we know that the State is supposed to be a nanny and a father and mother of everyone. But when you tell somebody that your mother is selling you down the river to a foreign and ruthless medical lobby, trying to rule your life – well, then the people listen very attentively.
Asia works in ways very different from the Western ones. The state is been viewed differently there. The impossible is possible in these parts, in good and bad sense of the word. So I’ll be watching with helpless hope my beloved Malaysia trying to heal the wound inflicted on it.