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What we can learn from the anti-smoking movement

News Section Icon Published 05/05/2015

The highly addictive, famously filthy habit of smoking is now, in many places, passé. It’s the result of decades of campaigning, which we explore here, unearthing the links with our movement against factory farming.

young smokers

If you’re reading this blog, you may well be part of our fast-growing, global movement against factory farming. Together, we’ve had big wins – banning the worst types of battery cages in Europe, for example – but there’s still a mountain to climb.

Naturally, we’re always on the lookout for inspiration from other campaigning success stories: to see what kinds of techniques and tactics are achieving the most effective, long-lasting change. One of the best examples to learn from is the decades-long drive to get people to quit smoking.

The movement against smoking

It was arguably in the 1980s, when the growing body of scientific evidence linking tobacco to lung cancer became irrefutable, that smoking campaigns really began to get noticed. A series of clever and compelling messages, shocking images and sensible advertising restrictions (along with a number of other interventions) have been used over the years to knock the glamour out of this deadly habit.

Here’s just one example of how the UK’s Department of Health is encouraging people to stop smoking.

And although the anti-smoking lobby still has much work to do, huge progress has been made, particularly in the health-aware West.

A similar story to our own

For most of the 20th century, smoking was as entrenched in society as the over-consumption of “cheap” meat is today. Both “addictions”, at their height, have been enjoyed by the masses as a part of everyday life and accepted as a social norm, while carrying with them distinctly macho, “cool” connotations.

But the similarities between the centuries-long tobacco trend and our current “carnivorous” leanings don’t end there: in fact, both cultural obsessions share several devastating impacts, including a lack of worker rights, ecological devastation and human-health concerns, from cancer to heart disease. In illustration, this article, from the peer-reviewed Journal of Tobacco Control, states that the tobacco industry continues “ purchase leaf produced with child labor and high rates of deforestation.”

Furthermore, in the early decades of the factory-farming boom, there was a distinct lack of awareness about the industry’s potential negative impacts (even more than there is now!) – a scenario that eerily echoes the widespread lack of understanding about the health implications of smoking, which arguably endured till the 1980s and 90s.

Finally, one of the biggest growth areas for factory farming is in developing countries such as China, where populations are booming and regulation is weaker. This, again, is similar to the direction that the tobacco industry has taken. In many ways, then, the identities of these ingrained, insidious habits are very similar.

How to create long-lasting, positive change

Our ongoing work to put an end to factory farming also bears a number of striking similarities to the anti-smoking movement. Here are just five examples:

  • Working with multiple influencers: We’re creating positive change by engaging agriculture’s many influencers, from policy-makers and food businesses to farmers and consumers. This all-encompassing approach is similar to the one that’s been used by the anti-smoking lobby for so long, and which is still going strong. We share the belief that complex problems require holistic solutions – no one person or institution is responsible for the smoking problem in the same way that no single entity is accountable for factory farming.
  • Tackling the root causes: Although we won’t change things overnight, we believe that we can end factory farming. To do this we have to play the long game, which involves dismantling and exposing factory farming’s props, from the misleading food labels and price tags that keep consumers in the dark about where their food comes from to the misdirected taxes and subsidies that keep the entire system alive. The anti-smoking lobby has taken a similar approach, focusing on a wide range of interventions, including self-help groups, advertising restrictions, packaging, etc.
  • Positive alternatives: Leading on from the point above, we will continue to explore and promote positive meat alternatives (as the anti-smoking lobby has done with alternative, “healthier” options for nicotine delivery), which will likely make behavioural change easier and faster. More veg is the obvious answer, but there are other increasingly sophisticated and cost-effective solutions, which mimic the look, feel and taste of meat, milk and eggs.
  • Increasing the taboo: We must continue to stigmatise factory farming, truly embedding in society its damaging impacts – in the same way the widespread Western smoking bans threw the dangers of passive smoking into the spotlight.
  • Shock and awe: Another interesting point is the use of shock tactics that have been used so heavily in the anti-smoking movement, from the cigarette packets that declare “smoking kills” to the recent hard-hitting anti-smoking campaign that featured roll-up cigarettes turning into tumours and decaying tissue. We will continue to employ our own form of shock tactics – our incredible undercover investigations, which expose the cruelty and mismanagement that lies at the very heart of factory farming. In illustration, see our most recent European investigation on intensive rabbit farming.

Small steps

We all know that changing deeply ingrained customs and practices can be incredibly hard, and that changing these habits en masse relies on a mutual understanding and collective willpower of epic proportions.

With this in mind, we should take heart from the fact that, in many countries, smoking – one of humanity’s most ancient customs – is now seen as a dirty, selfish and outdated habit.

Factory farming, by comparison, is young. This senseless system of agriculture emerged in the postwar years as a knee-jerk response to the austerity and rationing of the World Wars. Surely, if we can work together to curb the tobacco trend, we can also curb the craze for “cheap” meat?

Help us end factory farming for good.

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