Militants, Manufacturers, and
Governments: Postwar Smoking
Policy in the United Kingdom
Most of the extensive literature on smoking in the United Kingdom has focused on the epidemiological “web of causation,” not on social science investigation and analysis. With some notable exceptions, there has been little research on smoking culture.1 The history of smoking as a cultural habit is better served,2 but there is still surprisingly little on the post-World War II years.3 This period has been, instead, the province of journalism and political science.4
In this chapter, I focus on the development of British smoking policy in the postwar years and analyze four broad stages of policy development. In particular, I show how traditions of voluntary regulation in policymaking, supported by some public health interests, came increasingly into conflict with a militant healthism that began to emerge in the 1970s. The role of science and new “scientific facts” was of central significance in this struggle, and I analyze how and why that scientific battleground has changed over time. I outline some themes that have marked this recent history, together with an agenda for further historical research on health and science policy.
The analysis presented in this chapter is based on traditional historical sources—published sources, interviews with key protagonists, and access to manuscripts, including government archives and those of the main activist organization, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). The goal, unlike that of much policy writing on smoking (and other current health issues), is not to convey direct policy advice or a policy message, but rather to identify the nature and determinants of issues and to raise historical questions about policy.