St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/02/2011 : 6:36 PM
Of Cigarettes, bashing and the M$F
I was chatting via IM with someone who reads my blog, a very nice fellow, yesterday and he said he was glad I wasn't bashing on M$F all the time anymore. He said, IIRC, despite everything he still loves the M$F. I said I loved what M$F was supposed to be and has fallen from. Soon both of us had to go - me to do some software maintenance and he to get a Chicago style hot dog for lunch.
I guess the conversation stayed with me because either I was half awake this morning or dreaming about it. In that semi-conscious state, I was thinking that no one seriously says they wish people would stop bashing on smoking because, despite everything, they still love to smoke.
No, smoking has no defenders. It just has a lot of defensive people who do it anyway, despite all they know.
As a society, we've accepted that smoking is bad for you for a great many years now. If a study came out and said it was good for you, who would believe it?
But, as a smoker (yeah, yeah, save yer speeches), there's still a lot of good I find in it. Admittedly, I dislike the smell (especially of stale cigarettes). I dislike the cost. I dislike the taste a lot of the time, and I dislike what it's done to my lung capacity. Granted. But more than all the drawbacks, I love the pause of it. Smokers past or present know what I mean and, if I have to explain... ; ) I know I should stop, know it isn't best or even good and is, in fact, bad, and yet I still smoke. Because I love it more than I dislike it.
I suppose this is because I get the good parts now and the bad parts I either don't see (I can just imagine what my lungs look like) or will get the illnesses in the future and that just doesn't seem as real as the satisfaction of lighting up now.
A tiny part of me still smokes precisely because of all the well meaning folks that lecture with the fervor of Amway reps about the evils of smoking, but it's more because of the unconscious sneer of disgust so many non-smokers have when they see smokers smoking. These strangers with their holier than thou looks as they walk by, if I was a pariah and that somehow, simply by not smoking, they are superior to me.
It's that same attitude that many riders tend to have about other things that society frowns upon. It's that rebel within, though our rebellion, as motorcyclists, is certainly flaccid and placid compared to years gone by. Even so, in this small derivative way, smoking has become a form of "class".
According to Gary Keiffner, motorcycle historian, "class" was a term that bikers used back in the 60-70s for acts that offend "citizens." Citizens were non-riders. It seems as if those bikers of old - and I'm using biker in the proper sense as those who ride as a lifestyle knowing that they were seen as an offense loved to be hung for a sheep than a lamb; let us offend in a grand way if offend we must by our existence.
Back then when society thought all riders were "bikers", of course, smoking was widely accepted. So widely accepted that it could be done anywhere even in hospital rooms. Few people thought it could cause cancer, although the first study linking the two was published in 1950. But we now know the Tobacco Industry knew as early as 1963 when the knowledge nicotine was addictive was put in a memo.
And yet that didn't stop them. There was money to be made in them thar smoker's lungs.
Back then, during those very same, everyone knew that motorcycling was dangerous, and so dangerous that the Government was going to intervene unless something was done. But that wasn't why society was offended by bikers' mere existence. It was mostly other reasons - they were wild, anti-social, outlaws. And, oh, yeah, almost as an afterthought, motorcycles themselves were dangerous.
In a way, then, smokers today are seen with as much approbation as riders of yesteryear. Of course, things changed in how both smokers and bikers are seen to the point that smokers are reviled more than riders.
It was a very long process, though. Virtually nothing happened between 1950 and the early '60s - abortive motions, discounted studies. A lot of people really loved to smoke.
In 1965, the government did step in with regulations - the lame ass warnings on the cigarette package. During the '70s, restrictions on cigarette advertising. Lawsuits were filed and lost until 1988 when Judge Lee Sarokin finds evidence of conspiracy on the part of the Tobacco Industry. Lots more lawsuits, lots more research, lots more concern, and then, finally, the smoking gun. In 1995, Jeffrey Wigand became one of the most famous whistle blowers by coming forward with the proof that the tobacco companies did know and had known for a long time.
It took a very long time from inkling to wide-scale disgust. Iow, 45 years of non stop bashing.
In 1973, of course, the Motorcycle Industry founded the M$F to avoid that kind of government regulation that was already plaguing the Tobacco Industry. Of course, no one would have or would now entrust all anti-tobacco programs to the Tobacco Industry without any non-industry oversight, but that's exactly what society did when it came to motorcycling.
Of course the parallel isn't: Today Phillip Morris, for example, has to provide a great deal of information to get people not to use its products while the Motorcycle Industry pays a great deal of money to get people to buy their products. Today the Tobacco Industry is scrutinized by a multitude of watchdogs. But underneath, it's still the same - both industries are doing what they must to keep the Government off their back and still make as much money as they can.
But the MIC chose wisely back in the '70s. The offensive pre-emptive strike by the Motorcycle Industry worked a hellava lot better than the avoidance defensive measures by the Tobacco Industry. State programs were established, instructors trained, students were trained by the instructors and all kinds of people - like my IMing friend yesterday - associate rider training with M$F even though M$F has ridden to glory on the state programs' seats in the saddle - and feet on the range.
And, I have to say, the thing that really did it was getting riders to accept that they alone accept the risk. It's their responsibility. They should've known better and they did it anyways - but did it with training.
This is one of the greatest accomplishments of M$F and the Motorcycle Industry - to be so tightly associated with safety training that they are seen as the heart and soul. Just imagine how much money the Tobacco Industry would've saved and how many more "safe" smokers there would be today if they had taken the same route back in the early '70s?
Of course the appeal to "it's your responsibility" worked so well because every rider knows it's true. We chose, we choose, and that's one of the things we love about riding - and, incidentally, one of the things that drives the helmet issue.
And it's not unknown among us smokers either despite all the do-gooders in government. We continue smoking though we know what all you non-smokers do. Despite the bashing and the social disapproval. Then again those of us reading this blog ride, too, despite all we know about how dangerous motorcycles are.
So it was no surprise that my IMing friend both characterized what I've been writing as "bashing" and that he still loved the M$F. After all, it only took 45 years for smoking to be definitively found to be Bad For You and during all that time the Tobacco Industry had done all they could to prevent the truth coming out.
If fact, the Tobacco Industry had research, too, that said their cigarettes weren't bad for you. That "proved" they were producing a good, safe product.
Kind of like the Motorcycle Industry and the M$F.
Of course, it's not the same because the Tobacco Industry lied, participated in conspiracies, threatened, falsified research, sued and denounced all nay-sayers.
It's not the same at all, she says tongue in cheek.
And, I'm sure, back in all those decades, those who spoke against smoking were also seen as bashing the Tobacco Industry. Just as some see me and others as bashing the M$F today.
But this is what I find humorous about it: the Motorcycle Industry has had 32 years of building up the M$F's reputation, of controlling it all, of having the motorcycling community hearing only one side of the story. But up until a couple of years ago, there has been no, none, zilch published questioning as to their motives, their means or their products.
And yet, when the very few voices of very small frogs raise questions and concerns in the very small pond where the very large bullfrog of the Motorcycle Industry sits ensconced on a very large lily pad, those little frogs are automatically seen as bashers.
Because, of course, bashing is seen - at first - as those who criticize without merit, without solid evidence. Just like those first studies linking smoking with death from lung cancer were seen as bashing. Just like so many much more powerful voices were seen as bashing the Tobacco Industry for so many years. Later, of course, people see the bashers were right all the time and why, oh, why weren't they listened to and of course THEY thought the bashers were right all along.
Meanwhile there are so many rider instructors who say they know that the course isn't the best or maybe even good, but "something's better than nothing." In a way, they're like smokers who say they don't smoke that much or plan to quit or know it isn't that good but it isn't that bad - for them. Oh, how can I say that - it's not the same thing at all? Except that death can result from both - but then the rider instructor can disavow any involvement in the student's death, can't they?
So it's humorous - and encouraging - that my IMing friend sees me as a basher. So often I feel as though I'm nuts to care about this, to devote so much time to this, to worry about those who haven't yet thought of enrolling in a course, to worry about the right of states not to be controlled by corporations. To care far more about keeping the Industry's consumers alive than the Industry does. So it was very good that my IM friend has reminded me that even my little froggy smoker's voice is heard loud and far and wide throughout this little motorcycling community pond. I am Basher. Hear me Croak. I should make myself a t-shirt: Basher and Proud of it.
Just like those early denouncers of smoking, I know what I know. I've put it out there and will continue to put it out there. M$F is not the entity you think it is. It is not rider ed. It is a vendor. The only stakeholders that ultimately matter to it are the manufacturers that fund it. The current iteration of rider training is no longer safe enough to be taught without serious modification. They should not have control over what states choose to do with rider ed.
So this is what I say to all those who love the M$F despite what has come out: If the Motorcycle Industry - without non-industry oversight - is the right entity to control rider ed, then Tobacco Industry back prior to 1995 is the right entity to tell us what's true and false about smoking. It's as safe to trust Phillip Morris with what's good for smokers as it to trust Tim Buche with what's good for riders.
If you're still going to support the M$F's monopoly, I suggest you go out and buy a pack of cigarettes and develop a pack a day habit.