Decades of government propaganda has convinced most people that tobacco smoking is a harmful addiction with absolutely no benefits whatsoever. Unfortunately, this brutalist approach to what is really a complicated issue neglects the very real psychiatric benefits of smoking tobacco. This essay proposes that the only realistic way to get young people to avoid smoking is to properly fund a mental health system.
Because our culture is going backwards in many ways, we are losing a lot of wisdom that used to be common. A lot of old folk remedies have been forgotten because a large pharmaceutical company was able to make profits selling an alternative. Cannabis is the most obvious of these, but tobacco risks becoming another.
Tobacco has been used in the West for its anti-anxiolytic and antidepressant qualities for hundreds of years, beginning with its discovery by Europeans in South America. The substance has a long history of shamanic use in South America, where some traditions seemed to believe that the exhaled smoke carried one’s wishes up to God.
Unfortunately, knowledge about how to use this substance wisely has been lost, and most people have drifted to either the extreme of smoking a pack a day or the extreme of thinking that tobacco has no benefits at all. Subtlety has been forgotten.
The first public government campaign against tobacco smoking was carried out by Nazi Germany. The authoritarian nature of the National Socialists made them well suited for ignoring the mental health benefits of the substance. Despite that, the Nazis were unwilling to go quite as far as the New Zealand Government and try to have the substance banned.
The truth is that people smoke tobacco because it feels good, and that tobacco feels good not because it gives an instant rush of pleasure that makes you addicted but because it alleviates suffering that already existed in the smoker’s mind.
If it was true that it gave people a rush of instant pleasure then everyone should become addicted, but this is not at all the case. People who are suffering psychologically are far more likely to become addicted, for the simple reason that smoking tobacco temporarily takes the suffering away. This appears to be especially true of people suffering from schizophrenia, depression or anxiety.
Some will say that these people have “addictive personalities”, but that is rubbish. The simple fact is that people who are suffering are more likely to take a substance that alleviates that suffering than people who are not suffering – this is obvious if one considers the balance of incentives.
And so they smoke tobacco because it helps them deal with stress, anxiety, rage, depression, and a range of neurotic and psychotic disorders.
The correct approach here is not to brutally force the citizenry into abstinence by taxing the mentally ill into poverty like a 20th century authoritarian hellhole would, but to cure the mental illnesses that cause people to smoke tobacco before they start smoking it.
Fundamentally, this means two interrelated things have to change. The first is for the Government to acknowledge that mental illness are legitimate health problems in the same way that physical illnesses are, and to properly fund a mental health system. With a properly funded mental health system psychiatrists will be able to keep up to date in their field instead of parroting 30-year old drug war propaganda because they have no time to research.
For this to be possible depends on the second thing, which is that New Zealand makes a cultural change in which it acknowledges that mental illnesses are legitimate problems in the same way that physical illnesses are, and that “hardening up” when you are suffering from depression makes as much sense as hardening up when you have a broken leg, and is equally as likely to kill you if you try to go on with your life without getting help.