Christopher Snowdon's smoking ruin
A tobacco lobbyist and advocate for COVID lockdown theory dismisses criticism of it as 'a smoking ruin'. His essay is a survey of the now perilous state of lockdown theory.
But, fixating on just one of many causes of death, the Government told us we had to ‘save lives’—i.e. from COVID, not in general—and ‘protect the NHS’—i.e. from having to perform its job, funded by our taxes, of maintaining the continuity of our society and economy under the burden of disease.
To achieve these goals, Government had a choice. It could save more lives and avoid more hospital admissions by, for example, making tobacco a class ‘B’ drug like cannabis.
Or it could save fewer lives and avoid fewer hospital admissions by inducing the worst recession for 300 years; further impoverishing the poorest and imposing a generation of debt on our children; harming the development of a generation of children’s education, social skills, and immune systems; traumatising us by isolating us in our homes for months, and by exposing us to subliminal messaging designed to provoke in us a profound feeling of existential dread; preventing us from being present in the final months, and at the deaths and funerals, of our loved ones; creating a decade of excess deaths and mental and physical health issues; unethically and possibly unlawfully3 coercing us into participation in an unprecedented medical trial of a number of highly experimental, unlicensed, and incompletely tested medicinal substances;4 and significantly damaging our civil liberties and our relationship with the state.
It chose the latter. A narrative of COVID catastrophe was born to justify it, spawning a cult-like following. And anyone who harboured the concern that its resulting policies might not have been proportional, ethical, or even effective, was dismissed as a ‘sceptic’.
Christopher Snowdon—historian, journalist, and Director of the Economic Lifestyle Unit at the tobacco industry funded Institute of Economic Affairs5—agrees. And in his latest essay, ‘Vaccines and the Coronavirus Crank Crisis’,6 he offers an attempt, delivered in an abrasive style, to shore up the now rapidly unravelling narrative of COVID catastrophism.
In it, Mr Snowdon claims that critics of government policy argue in bad faith, and that their arguments have been disproven; that symptomless ‘cases’ offer a meaningful proxy measure for disease (the ‘D’ in ‘COVID, i.e. ‘manifestation of serious symptoms’), and that mass PCR testing of the symptomless is an effective strategy for procuring such a measure; that lockdowns and experimental vaccines are effective tools for limiting disease transmission; that the safety and effectiveness of experimental vaccine candidates ‘has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt’; that disease dynamics cannot be explained by seasonality, that they can only be explained by a combination of lockdowns and experimental vaccination, and that any resemblance to seasonality is entirely coincidental; and that, the supposed effectiveness of lockdowns and experimental vaccines notwithstanding, Britain is currently undergoing a ‘third wave’ of disease.
To safeguard against the possibility that his evidence alone is not sufficiently persuasive, Mr Snowdon’s essay liberally employs alarming language. Excess mortality goes ‘through the roof’, India is ‘ravaged’, COVID ‘ripped through’ Brazil and Uruguay, Swedish infections ‘shot back up’, and the UK is in the grip of a summer ‘surge’. Those who disagree are ‘cranks’, ‘wilfully misguided’, and ‘conspiracy theorists’. Their beliefs, which include ‘outright lies’, have been ‘annihilated’ and are in ‘smoking (sic) ruins’.
It’s intended, perhaps, as a morale booster for beleaguered COVID catastrophists, dismayed that the UK disease rate is disobligingly refusing yet again to conform to the comedic, order-of-magnitude-error predictions obtained from their outlandish models.
But to those who are familiar with the problematic nature of their theories, his essay offers a useful tour d’horizon of the crisis unfolding in the intellectual framework of COVID catastrophism as the seventh human coronavirus equilibrates in our society.
A point by point rebuttal of his essay would be as exhausting to read as it would be to write and, in any case, is available elsewhere.7 Instead, let’s briefly evaluate some of its most dubious claims.
None so righteous as the converted
But first, consider figure 1. COVID-19 contributed in 2020 to a death rate in the UK that was lower than it used to be every single year prior to 2003 (2008, when age standardised) i.e for more than half of Mr Snowdon’s life.8 I can find no evidence from his writings prior to 2020 of the concern for public health that he now professes.
In fact, quite the reverse. Throughout his life, two leading and easily avoidable causes of death in the UK have been smoking and obesity. And Mr Snowdon has worked assiduously on behalf of the tobacco and food industries to oppose government measures to tackle these more significant causes of death.
Those of us who value civil debate might welcome his recent Damascene conversion as a promoter of public health, and overlook what many might consider to be grotesque hypocrisy. But the abrasiveness he cultivates to discourage such debate precludes many from doing so.9
Nothing new under the sun
SAR-CoV-2 is the 7th human coronavirus.10 The common human coronaviruses are all winter seasonal respiratory infections. In the northern hemisphere, only 2.5% of endemic coronavirus infections occur between the months of June and September. They begin increasing from near-zero in September, they peak in January, and return again to near-zero in April. SAR-CoV-2 did exactly this in the 2020/21 winter respiratory infection season (figure 2).
Recognition that coronavirus and other winter virus disease dynamics are regulated at the macro level, not by lockdowns and experimental medicines, but by solar angle, and that the medical profession has understood this for decades,11 is ‘kryptonite’ to lockdown theory (to borrow imagery from Mr Snowdon’s essay).
It would provoke outrage and, perhaps, civil unrest amongst those who must now and for the rest of their lives bear the unnecessary and catastrophic harms inflicted on them by theories derived from the notion that a highly transmissible virus can be regulated by superstitious ritual such as partial domestic confinement and plague costumes.
So consider the extraordinary claim he must advance to circumvent it: this 7th coronavirus, unlike its common siblings, is not seasonal; any resemblance between the observed disease trajectory and seasonality is purely coincidental; lockdowns and experimental vaccines are effective and harm-free, despite mounting evidence to the contrary; all alternative views—e.g. seasonality—are in ‘bad faith’ and now ‘a smoking ruin’; anyone advancing them is ‘a crank’.
This is a central plank in COVID lockdown theory. And it is failing.
The lockdown Hokey Cokey
A trio of simple graphs reveal the apparent lack of influence on the rate of fatal infection of successive applications and removals of lockdown restrictions, and of experimental vaccination.12
Figure 3 examines Mr Snowdon’s claims that lockdown accounted for the decline in disease in 2020, and that disease ‘began doubling every two weeks after UK relaxed restrictions in the summer’. In fact, fatal infection was already declining before lockdown #1 was imposed; the rate of decline remained constant as lockdown restrictions were incrementally removed; and there was no significant increase when pubs, restaurants, and bars fully reopened in July.
It’s possible that the doubling in disease he refers to is the normal rise in seasonal infection in September (figure 2), misattributed to the reopening of pubs and restaurants in July. More likely, it’s an artefact of COVID catastrophism’s perennial and self-serving confusion between ‘cases’ and ‘disease’.
Again, consider the extraordinary violation of the Law of Parsimony required by Mr Snowdon’s attempt to coerce this data into the catastrophist’s narrative. This is not, he claims, the expected exponential decline signature of a novel pathogen being expelled from an immunologically naive population as it encounters increasing transmission resistance due to death and rising immunity.
Rather, it is (to him) compelling evidence of a highly lethal, shifting, treacherous pathogen, barely held in check by necessary and heroic lockdown measures, which coincidentally have balanced perfectly to yield…the expected exponential decline signature of a novel pathogen being expelled from an immunologically naive population as it encounters increasing transmission resistance due to death and rising immunity.
This startling—and improbable—thesis is another central plank in COVID lockdown theory. And it is failing too.
And experimental vaccines?
Figure 4 examines Mr Snowdon’s claim that experimental vaccines and lockdowns also account for the decline in disease observed after the peak in winter infection in December 2020.
In fact, the ‘explosion of infection’ predicted by catastrophists to be the result of relaxing restrictions at Christmas failed (again) to materialise. Disease was (again) already declining prior to imposition of lockdown #3; and the rate of decline was (again) constant as various events claimed by catastrophists to affect disease transmission came and went (e.g. reopening schools).
However, if the experimental vaccine candidates are as effective as is claimed, this is not the expected result. Recall that in unvaccinated Britain in 2020 (figure 3), disease declined exponentially at a constant rate i.e. presented a flat line on a log graph. The decline rate was indeed higher in 2021 than in 2020 (figure 5, below), consistent with higher levels of natural immunity in the healthy population despite the UK government’s expenditure of over £350 billion to impede our acquisition of it.
But over the initial decline phase in 2021, injection with experimental vaccine candidates increased from 2 million doses to 30 million doses, specifically targeting those most likely to die if infected. If effective, the rate of exponential decline of fatal infection should have increased over time i.e. a log graph slope should have curved downward. It did not.13
Again, Mr Snowdon’s theories compel him to interpret this as the outcome of a battle between a treacherous pathogen and an experimental vaccination campaign which, coincidentally, have balanced each other perfectly to yield a constant decline rate. This also is a startling claim.
Finally, figure 5 examines Mr Snowdon’s claim that the UK is now suffering a ‘third wave’. It compares the post-peak declines in the first (March 2020) and second (December 2020) waves. His ‘third wave’ refers, presumably, to the modest excursion at the far right of the graph. This, in the exotic argot of COVID catastrophism, is a ‘surge’.
Without reproducing them here, the ‘ravaging’, ‘ripping’, ‘shooting’, and ‘roof penetration’ examples in his essay are all similarly less persuasive when we inspect actual data rather than rely on a catastrophist’s florid account of them.
Elsewhere, Mr Snowdon—historian and tobacco industry lobbyist—shares with us his opinion that PCR testing of the symptomless is suitable for use as a mass-screening tool for basing decisions about quarantining, isolation, and lockdown. Medically qualified experts disagree.14 He believes, in the absence of a peer reviewed evaluation of a Phase 3 clinical trial of long term safety,15 that experimental mRNA vaccine safety has been ‘demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt’. The original developer of the still experimental mRNA technology disagrees, stating that there is insufficient data to make such a claim.16 And on it goes.
The real ‘smoking ruin’
We don’t have to rebut all of Mr Snowdon’s claims to reject his central claim. His central claim—that criticism of COVID lockdown theory is a ‘smoking ruin’, and that those who criticise it are ‘cranks’—is not proven here.
What his essay demonstrates instead is how thinly the COVID catastrophe narrative must now be stretched to sustain itself a little longer. Sadly, no amount of theatrical abrasiveness can disguise the widening cracks that this effort reveals.
Under the peculiar health policy choice Mr Snowdon favours, we’ve spent over £350 billion pounds (so far) in the attempt to target one disease—characterised by an average age of death that lies beyond the average human life span.
Has it occurred to this tobacco lobbyist to wonder where we might be now if we’d chosen to invest a fraction of this money in preventing deadlier diseases that affect more people?
Like, for example, diseases caused by smoking?
UK Government. ‘UK Coronavirus Dashboard: Healthcare in the United Kingdom by Nation; Cumulative patients admitted to hospital (England), 31 December 2020’. Link
Appleby, John. ‘UK deaths in 2020: how do they compare with previous years?’. BMJ, 13 April 2021. Link
For avoidance of doubt, this is not intended as an ad hominem attack. I am indifferent both to Mr Snowdon’s lobbying efforts to oppose public health policies, and to his enthusiasm now for public health policies. I merely note the hypocrisy inherent in the combative tone with which he pursues his apparent change of heart.
See e.g. Hope-Simpson, R. E. (1981), ‘The role of season in the epidemiology of influenza’, Epidemiology & Infection, 86 (1), 35-47.
These graphs have been prepared as follows. ‘Cases’ are not disease, and are assumed to be an unreliable measure of it (Mr Snowdon’s claims may originate in part in an unfamiliarity with this essential distinction). The level of disease is inferred from the level of fatal infection, which is computed by time-shifting ONS data for COVID-19 fatalities backward by 4 weeks (the average time from infection to death, plus the average time from death to registration). These are transformed onto a log axis, on which the gradient at any time is proportional to the exponent of the rate of growth or decline of infection at that time. I do not claim this to be a perfect measure of disease. I do claim that it is a less imperfect measure of disease than ‘cases’. All code and data available here.
We will leave for another essay the observation that the infection decline rate appeared to slow as experimental vaccination was extended to the healthy.
Stang, A., et al. (2021), ‘The performance of the SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR test as a tool for detecting SARS-CoV-2 infection in the population: A survey of routine laboratory RT-PCR test results from the region of Münster, Germany’,
Mandal, Dr. Anany. ‘What is a Phase 3 Clinical Trial?’. News Medical. 26 Feb 2019. Link For clarity, Phase 3 efficacy trials are being completed. Phase 3 long term safety trials, by definition, have not.