Quit for Covid – or Quit for Yourself?

Thanks to the ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Daily News of 18 June 2020, we are informed of a new tactic to get smokers to quit: fear of Covid.

Dr Ruth Sharrock, a specialist in respiratory medicine in the English city of Gateshead, is involved in a new campaign launched by an organisation with the pleasant-sounding name of Fresh. She is quoted as saying:

In the last few months we have seen the awful effects of Covid-19 across our hospitals and communities. We already know smoking causes many diseases, and harms the lungs and immune system making it harder for the body to fight off infection. This means if you do get coronavirus, symptoms may be more severe.

She goes on:

I am really proud to support this campaign and to share my own experiences, hoping that it inspires more people to make quit attempts.

Dr Sharrock’s approach relies on hope, inspiration, and people making quit attempts, it seems. But what are her experiences that she is so proud of? She doubtless knows a lot about respiratory disorders, but what is her expertise in smoking cessation? Has she treated any smokers herself to cure them of their nicotine dependency? Or has she merely referred them to quit-smoking clinics in the hope that this will inspire more smokers to make quit attempts?

The director of Fresh, Ailsa Rutter, about whom I’ve written before (https://www.nicotinemonkey.com/ditch-tobacco-completely/), is also quoted in the Daily News:

There has possibly never been a more important time to quit smoking than right now.

Indeed, the only time you can quit is right now. This is obviously important for smokers’ health so it adds nothing to the meaning to say ‘never more important’, or, as she does later, to call quitting ‘an incredibly important step’.

In any case, unless you quit right now, it means you’re putting off quitting, so for the time being you’re still smoking. Thus it’s meaningless to talk of quitting in the future, no matter how important this step will be.

Now let’s visit the Fresh website (http://www.freshne.com/). It’s really scary. On the opening page we find pictures of people dying from cancer, one of a woman with mouth cancer who’s had a major operation, and a child who shows the damage second-hand smoking can cause him. There is also an exhortation to ‘Quit for Covid’ and one to ‘Report Illegal Sales [of cigarettes] Today’. Now there’s a thought: why aren’t all sales of cigarettes illegal? And back to scare tactics when we’re reminded that

Every time you smoke your blood gets thick and dirty with toxins.

As if this isn’t frightening enough, there’s a picture which could be from a horror film: a skeletal figure who’s either in a terminal state or already dead, with a distraught-looking woman holding a child at the bedside.

The following day AHS’s Daily News gives us more of the same. There’s even a link to #QuitForCovid including a reported conversation between a GP, Dr Charlie Kenward who practises in Bristol in the UK, and a mother who attended with her 9 year old son. She said she was worried about catching the Covid-19 virus because she is a smoker. The doctor then says:

I asked her why not quit? She looked at her son who looked back at her and nodded. This is something all smokers can do now so that’s why I’m asking smokers to #QuitforCovid.

Of course, Covid-19 is an extremely serious problem, but what is #QuitForCovid going to achieve?. It’s like #VoteForTrump. Our good GP accepts that the mother in this exchange wants to quit because she’s afraid of catching the virus, as well she might be, and clearly her son would love her to stop. But what about this smoking mother quitting for herself because she’s fed up with sucking poison into her lungs all day? And, if the pandemic is overcome, with an  vaccine and effective treatment as everyone hopes and prays it will soon be, what then? She can relapse to smoking because now she doesn’t have to quit for Covid?

You don’t need a viral pandemic as a reason to stop smoking. Smoking itself can be called a pandemic—widespread and often deadly.

Smoking should never have been started, and of itself is the only reason you need for quitting.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Gabriel Symonds

Dr Gabriel Symonds is a British doctor living in Japan who is interested in helping smokers quit. He has developed a unique simple method without nicotine, drugs, hypnosis or gimmicks that he has used successfully with hundreds of smokers. Further information can be found at www.nicotinemonkey.com

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