Don't demonise smokers - help them

People may choose to smoke tobacco - but most don't choose to become addicted.

I grew up surrounded by cigarette advertisements. I still  have a vivid memory of a particular billboard featuring a very popular Australian celebrity promoting a certain brand of tobacco. I even remember the slogan, as would many Australians in my age group.

When I first started smoking, the only health warning on the pack was in small letters, stating "Warning - smoking is a health hazard".

To a teen suffering the usual angst of that age (and then some), the warning meant little. I remember when the more stern warnings on packs came out such as "Smoking can harm your unborn child", we used to laugh at them. By that time, I was hooked anyway.

And this is a key point - even with the incredibly graphic warnings of today on packs and in television ads; a teenager often doesn't think of the consequences of actions, or doesn't care about them at that point in time. At that age, we are immortal or at the other extreme, don't care about our health.

By the time many teenagers pull out of what can be a dark or confusing period of their lives, they can be already addicted to nicotine. These teens may never experience a life without tobacco, which is tragic. 

Of course, there is some (limited) help to kick the habit. In Australia, we have nicotine patches, lozenges and gums as endorsed Nicotine Replacement Therapies - but their success is limited.

We have the Quit line which offers such things as SMS message support. To some that may help. To people like me it was a joke.

Smokers have become one of the most marginalised groups of people in Australia. 

For the working smoker, they are also heavily taxed for the privilege in the form of tobacco excise. I was paying around $300 to $400 in extra taxes each month on my cigarettes (even more at today's prices). 

I saw this major contribution to the government's coffers as pre-paid palliative care (on top of my already hefty private insurance and Medicare levy) and saw red when people used to complain about the strain on the health system. I was paying my way. 

Smoking is on the decrease in Australia, which is a good thing. However, many of those who are left are the hard-core smokers like I was; who see no other alternative after trying and failing with endorsed nicotine replacement therapies. 

These people do not deserve to be demonised, they need help, real help.

Some ex-smokers feel that just because they were able to quit cold turkey, everyone else should too. Reformed smokers have somewhat of a reputation for being the most critical of practising smokers and their passion on the topic can actually have a counter-productive effect on smokers.

Suffering withdrawal symptoms is not a badge of honour. It shouldn't have to be painful and for some the withdrawals are excruciating. My one serious attempt at going cold turkey was short lived, but so traumatic I swore I would never try it again.

It's one thing for someone who smoked a few low-nicotine cigarettes a day to kick the habit, it's quite another for a 50 a day, high nicotine cigarette smoker who has been smoking for decades. The shock to the system can be overwhelming.

It's my personal belief many of these people would be able to make the switch from tobacco to electronic cigarettes. 

People are dying because they cannot find the right nicotine cessation therapy. Ecigs haven't been approved as they haven't undergone "proper testing" to ensure they are safe.

Safer than what? Could they be any more dangerous than tobacco; which kills half of those who use it? 

With over 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, 40 of them carcinogenic and just a comparative handful of chemicals in nicotine liquid vapours; it's doubtful.

Research overseas estimates that ecigs have less than 1% of the hazards of smoking tobacco.

Even if it was 90%, that would still be a substantial harm reduction.

The tactics used to dissuade people from using e-cigarettes as a safer way to deliver nicotine is costing lives. Smokers should be encouraged to make the switch, not being subjected to scare campaigns or pushed into expensive therapies that for most, simply won't work.
 

 


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