How Not to Solve the Smoking Problem
There’s no shortage of ideas, particularly from people who appear to have no experience in actually treating smokers, about how to solve the smoking problem.
For example, let’s take a look at an article in the online Dorset Echo of 29 September 2017 written by a trainee reporter.
To set the mood there are two large illustrations: ‘A Generic (sic) Photo (sic) of someone smoking a cigarette’ and an ‘Undated file photo of a cigarette stubbed out in an ashtray’. How very interesting!
The piece quotes a report in which an unnamed expert says, ‘There’s never been a better time to stop smoking’. So last month wasn’t a good time but today is a good time? The best time to stop smoking is right now. Perhaps the expert means that these days it’s easier to quit because of all the support that’s supposed to be available. But even this doesn’t make sense. Every smoker desirous of quitting – and this very phrase begs the question that smokers actually want to quit – has himself or herself ultimately to confront the reality of never smoking again.
Then we’re told, ‘For the first time, any smoker – no matter their background or job, sex, age or where they live – has virtually the same chance of quitting successfully as the next person.’
How marvellous! But who is this mysterious next person? And what is meant by ‘the same chance of quitting’? Is quitting a matter of chance?
This is followed by the information that ‘The report coincides with the launch of Stoptober quit smoking challenge, which has inspired over one and a half million quit attempts since 2012.’
Allow me to ask, what’s the good of a quit attempt, and what does it mean anyway? You either smoke or you don’t. The idea of a quit attempt is meaningless. It’s a fantasy that colludes with smokers to feel less bad about their nicotine addiction: they’re trying to stop – while they merrily carry on smoking – so that’s all right then.
Finally, we get the curious news that ‘E-cigarettes are now the most popular way to quit in the country with half of all those taking part in Stoptober last year using an e-cigarette. The evidence is clear – vaping is at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking – a fraction of the risk.’
Unfortunately, our trainee is poorly informed. There’s no evidence that vaping is at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking; this was merely the opinion of a group of people with no recognised expertise in what is called tobacco control and was based on arbitrary, theoretical criteria. The figure was released at the end of a weekend conference in London in 2014 and has been heavily criticised in the medical literature, not least because of potential conflicts of interest of some of the participants. More details can be found in my blog at http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=1267
The reality is that no one knows what the effect will be of sucking into your lungs e-cigarette vapour many times a day for years on end. But common sense tells you it won’t do you any good.
Another example is a press release (2 October 2017) about an Australian billionaire, Andrew Forrest, who is rather upset, as well he might be, that his government is not doing enough to deal with the smoking problem and is preparing to launch a campaign to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.
This is based on the idea that since most smokers start in their teens or younger, if they can refrain or be prevented from smoking until they reach 21, fewer will start.
Professor Sanchia Aranda of Cancer Council Australia speaks approvingly of this idea, noting that the smoking rate among 14 to 18-year-olds is at an all-time low, with 80 per cent of young Australians in that age group having never smoked.
What the good professor doesn’t seem to understand is that the problem is not with the 80 per cent of young Australians who’ve never smoked, but with the 20 per cent who have tried smoking or currently do smoke, in spite of being below the legal age.
Any enterprising youngster will always find ways to obtain cigarettes if he or she wishes to. The problem is not the age at which cigarettes may legally be purchased, but the fact that they are available at all. And in the somewhat unlikely event that suddenly all young Australians will become models of compliance with all rules and regulations, it will take decades – assuming such an ill-conceived plan works at all – until a smoke-free generation appears.
Mr Forrest, more sensibly if still impracticably, also wants to sue tobacco companies for the damage their poisonous products cause. Predictably, a spokesman for the tobacco giant Philip Morris, alarmed at this idea, patronisingly says, ‘Instead of promoting costly litigation, we would encourage Mr Forrest to focus his attention on product developments that have the potential to substantially reduce the harms associated with smoking.’
Why should Mr Forrest collude with the likes of Philip Morris? The problem is not the lack of what are cynically called ‘potential reduced risk products’, but the fact that tobacco is available at all, to anyone of whatever age.
If Mr Forrest nonetheless really wants to make an impact on the smoking problem, perhaps he would consider using some of his wealth to promote the abolition of cigarette sales in Australia.
Text © Gabriel Symonds