Cancer Research UK’s failure to call for banning cigarettes
As an example of the continuing official confusion in about smoking/vaping, here is a statement (9 Dec 2016) by Cancer research UK:
Harm reduction is a type of public health policy that aims to reduce the harmful consequences of substances, or actions, without necessarily reducing or eliminating the use itself. For example, condoms don’t completely eliminate the risk of sexually transmitted infections, but they reduce the risk of contracting one by about 99%. Same goes for seat belts and airbags in car accidents.
This is a false analogy. What they say about condoms, seat belts and airbags is true, but whereas sex and car transportation are normal or essential human activities, smoking is not a normal or essential human activity; it is drug addiction. And why do they say, in relation to the harmful consequences of substances, which must include smoking, ‘without necessarily reducing or eliminating the use itself’. Surely this is the whole point. Even if we allow that including the word ‘reducing’ here was unintended, and we have, then, ‘without necessarily eliminating the use itself’, why is Cancer Research UK apparently not concerned about eliminating ‘the use’, that is, smoking itself?
Again, they patronisingly say, ‘E-cigarettes aren’t 100% safe. But very few of the things we do each day, or the products we buy, carry no risk at all.’ This is the same false analogy in different words. Using e-cigarettes – an unnecessary and pointless substance addiction – cannot be compared with ‘the things we do each day, or the products we buy [in the course of normal human activities]’.
The conclusion is: ‘The evidence is showing e-cigarettes can help beat the tobacco epidemic. And when they have the potential to save millions of lives, should we just sit back and wait?’
Of course we should not just sit back and wait. But if they are so confident that the evidence shows e-cigarettes can help to beat the tobacco epidemic and have the potential to save millions of lives, why has it apparently not occurred to them that tobacco should be banned at the same time?
Note the emotional appeal: ‘save millions of lives’. It is not as if we are talking about normal unavoidable risks, such as riding in motor cars or using ladders to change light bulbs. Smoking is a voluntary activity and the millions of lives that are at risk from this cause could be saved by smokers merely ceasing to smoke. So if Cancer Research UK believes the way to do this is for smokers to change their way of obtaining nicotine to e-cigarettes, it implies that they think nicotine addiction in some form or other is part of normal human life.
Another view of the unnecessary and pointless difficulties that are unwittingly put in the way of people wishing to stop smoking, in spite of the best intentions of stop smoking counsellors, is shown in a film put out by Cancer research UK, called ‘Trying to stop smoking – Brian’s story’.
Here, in the first word of the very title of the film, ‘Trying’, we have a spotlight on the wrong-headed orthodox approach to smoking cessation. I have argued before there is no such thing as trying to stop smoking; there is only failing to stop. See, for example, these blogs:
Brian tells us he’s forty-nine years old and has been smoking for about thirty years. He wants to stop because he’s afraid of dying prematurely. What stronger reason to quit could one possibly have? He’s tried (that is, failed) to quit about four times, but he just gave in, he says. Now he’s decided to access his local stop smoking service. They provide support from a trained advisor. So far so good. But now ‘[the clients] get their choice of stop smoking medication.’ Already we have reinforcement of the difficulties of stopping: it’s so hard to quit you need a drug to help you, for goodness’ sake! He’s going to take a drug called Champix which ‘blocks the nicotine receptors in the brain’. So there should be no problem then? Brian says, ‘Tomorrow’s the quit date. I shall have my last cigarette. The Champix – I’ve been on it six or seven days now, you can really feel it working – I feel ill.’ This is actually what he says.
Then the following encouraging words appear on the film: ‘The stop smoking services give you the best chance of stopping smoking, but it’s still hard and only half of people succeed.’ Brian continues: ‘When I woke up this morning I really, really needed a cigarette, but after a while I just forgot about it.’ Yes, that’s the point: if you have the right attitude you can just forget about smoking – without the need to feel ill from Champix. Then he has the carbon monoxide level in his breath measured – and it had gone right down after one day of not smoking. Wonderful – if entirely predictable. Next, he tells us he’s feeling ‘Kind of rough. Absolutely dying for a (expletive deleted) cigarette…is it working? No…The last four weeks have been pretty stressful.’ Nonetheless, his final words are that the counselling and the drug have ‘given me an extra chance…I feel good…Yeah.’ Let’s wish him luck to resist any temptation to smoke again.
Now, consider Brian’s struggle to give up smoking and his taking of a drug that made him feel ill to achieve this aim, to say nothing of the possible harm he has already done to himself by smoking for thirty years: what more does Cancer Research UK need to call for an outright ban on tobacco?
Text © Gabriel Symonds