General Practitioners Can Foretell the Future!
Here’s an amazing news story. No, it’s not the Flat Earth News, but comes from the hallowed pages of The Scottish Sun. (Online edition, 25 January 2017.)
First, the surprising headline: GPs telling smokers how soon they will die ‘makes them three times more likely to quit’.
Now hang on a minute. How is it that GPs have suddenly gained the power to foretell the future? I wish I had that gift – it could be useful to know what next week’s stock market prices will be. Or, on the other hand, it might not be so nice if I could tell when I will depart this world myself. I plan to die my sleep when I’m 95¾ but as it’s not given to us to know the time or manner of our passing I’ll have to leave it to providence.
Let’s accept for a moment that GPs have indeed somehow acquired the miraculous gift of second sight, what then? The result, given in the body of the piece, is that ‘smokers are three times more likely to try and quit’. (Sigh.) So smokers, knowing when the sands of time will run out for them, are three times more likely to try and quit! Three times more likely than what? And what’s the good of ‘trying’ to quit? This means failing to quit – which they’ve been doing all along.
Another way of looking at it, we’re informed, is that ‘The numbers turning up for [stopping smoking] help sessions trebled when doctors detailed how long they had left [to live] if they kept on lighting up.’
Same thing. Put the fear of God into a smoker and he or she will be three times more likely to attend stop smoking help sessions and/or try (i.e., fail) to quit. Big deal.
All right, Dr Symonds, could you please stop being so cynical? But I’m not. This is actually the bankrupt state of the current orthodox approach to smoking cessation.
Unless a patient is terminally ill from, say, cancer or heart disease, it’s impossible to tell when someone will die. ‘The doctors gave me six months to live’ is a dramatic but merely fanciful idea from pulp fiction. Any prediction of this sort is no more than guesswork. Although it’s true, unfortunately for them, that smokers are considerably more likely to contract cancer or heart disease than non-smokers, they are very likely already aware of this. Even so, it does little to put them off smoking. Fear tactics don’t work very well. So let’s make it really scary and see what happens.
This is the wrong approach. How come the bottom didn’t drop out of the cigarette market when they started putting warning labels on cigarette packs saying ‘Smoking causes cancer’? The reason smokers smoke is not because of ignorance of the dangers of doing so. It’s a deplorable situation in which the following facts need to be recognised and acted upon:
- Smoking should be seen for what it is – drug (nicotine) addiction.
- Smoking is not a habit which some people find enjoyable even though it’s bad for them.
- Smoking-related diseases kill around 100,000 people in Britain each year.
- This is – or ought to be – unacceptable.
What follows from this is that the government should have as an explicit objective the banning of the manufacture and sale of tobacco products.
Text © Gabriel Symonds