Trouble at North East

Thanks to the online Metro Radio publication (2 January 2018), we learn that in the NHS’s North East region of England, over 38,000 patients are admitted to hospitals every year as a result of smoking-related illnesses.

Riding to the rescue of this deplorable situation is Dr Robert Allcock, a respiratory consultant at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead, near Newcastle upon Tyne. He, in concert with Ailsa Rutter of an organisation called Fresh, is reported to be urging the estimated 390,000 smokers in this area to give quitting another try this New Year.

Ms Rutter ( has been doing this urging business for a few years now – she actually won a medal for it from the WHO in 2014 – and continues undaunted:

No matter how many times you have tried to quit, it is always worth trying again and make this time the one you quit for good.

Do smokers smoke for lack of effort in quitting? Then they should try harder!

Dr Allcock, on the other hand, lays it on thick:

Every time someone smokes a cigarette, they inhale tar and poisons which damage the lungs…the poisons cause permanent damage to DNA and increase the risk of cancer…the burden of illness and suffering that people endure as a result of tobacco remains enormous.

Too true. But what is the point of saying so? Is this something smokers don’t know? Is it to induce smokers to quit through fear?

And now he introduces a new ploy: guilt.

As a doctor one of the hardest things I do is to explain to someone that they have lung cancer caused by their smoking.

Of course it’s not easy for a doctor to tell a patient the bad news that he or she has lung cancer. But why throw in the additional information, unless it’s particularly asked for, that the cancer was caused by smoking (if the patient is a smoker). All this will do is make the patient feel guilty. In any case, one can never be sure that smoking caused the cancer because around 20% of lung cancers afflict people who have never smoked.

Dr Allcock is doubtless an expert in lung diseases, but what does he know about nicotine addiction?

On the other hand, Professor Peter Kelly, Regional Director for Public Health England North East, at least takes a small step in the right direction:

Smoking is a deadly addiction…

One can’t argue with this, but note how the emphasis falls on ‘deadly’ rather than on the addiction itself. More scare tactics? It seems so, since he continues:

Over the last three years, smoking has killed over 16,000 people in the North East and for every death, another 20 smokers have a smoking-related disease…

And then we come to the punchline:

Our new TV ad shows how every cigarette sends a flood of poisonous chemicals through the bloodstream in seconds.

Actually, it’s not a very good film because it shows what is meant to be poison spreading along the veins in the model’s skin, going the wrong way – away from the heart down the arms towards the hands. It reminds me a similar scary film a few years back showing a man smoking a cigarette and the cigarette developing a cancer in front of your eyes – rather horrible.

Now, let me get to the point. All of the above is scaremongering. The implication, it seems, is that smokers smoke through ignorance of the harm they are doing to themselves. So let’s give them the facts, and while we’re about it, try to make them really frightened and then maybe they’ll be more motivated to make another quit attempt!

Conspicuous by its absence in all of the above is a clear statement of why smokers smoke: legalised drug (nicotine) addiction.

If we start from this position – which is, after all, no less than the truth – we might make better progress in dealing with the smoking problem. Nicotine addicts would have a more realistic view of why they continue to poison themselves every day for years on end. Then there would be less emphasis on ‘trying’ to quit and the use of  logical arguments to urge nicotine addicts to desist.

A new approach is needed – because addictions are so little amenable to reason and common sense.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Gabriel Symonds

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