I HAVE never smoked. I didn’t even when my friends experimented with cigarettes. It just never appealed to me and I will always be glad that I didn’t, given what we now know about the link between tobacco products and cancer.
I don’t even know how long it is since researchers and health authorities woke up to the dangers to health posed by smoking, but it is certainly long enough that there should be at least two generations who should have no connection whatsoever with smoking.
Unlike the generations before them, they have known without any doubt about the link between smoking and cancer.
So why do we still see young people smoking?
More to the point, knowing what we now know, why hasn’t the Government imposed a total ban on tobacco products?
When the danger to health was identified in other products they were banned, why not tobacco?
The cynic in me would wonder whether it is simply that the Government receives too much from the duty on cigarettes to want to bite the particular hand which feeds it.
In our own lifetime how much have we seen the duty on cigarettes increase in successive Budgets delivered by countless Chancellors of the Exchequer, but still people buy them.
And if tax revenue isn’t the reason, then what is?
Perhaps the strength of the tobacco industry lobby which doesn’t seem to be fazed by the fact that the product they manufacture can cause cancer.
Banning smoking in public places is only a partial help – it doesn’t stop people from smoking elsewhere and they do.
Introducing electronic cigarettes isn’t the answer either, because they seem to produce twice the vapour – generously shared with passers-by – and no one seems to know with any certainty whether they are any safer health-wise than regular cigarettes.
The one unavoidable reality is that smoking is an addiction, one which seems particularly difficult to cure and as a society we seem to be surprisingly tolerant of it – which is strange really.
It’s as if we don’t mind watching people risking their lives to lung disease and cancer. We wouldn’t allow them to handle blue asbestos, so why do we permit smoking?
I repeat my earlier question: how can the Government continue to allow tobacco, a potentially carcinogenic product, to be manufactured and sold in our shops?
Do whatever it takes to help wean people off their addiction to it, but don’t go on making it publicly available.
And if it also meant imposing much stricter penalties for attempting to smuggle cigarettes into the country contrary to such a ban, so be it.
The system is in place for hard drugs, why not also for tobacco?
A particular irony for me as a priest is in conducting a funeral for someone who has died from lung cancer, and seeing groups of people outside having a quick smoke before they go in to mourn the deceased!
What is wrong with this picture? Can they not put two and two together and see that four could be a distinct possibility? And of course the fact that they don’t is one of the reasons we see young people smoking – the immortality of youth!
When the ban on smoking in public places was first introduced, there was an expected outcry from smokers, and doom-mongers predicted the demise of public houses and restaurants across the land.
It never happened. What did happen was that children and non-smoking adults could breathe once again without the risk to their own health.
It also meant I no longer had to keep repainting the walls and ceiling of our parish hall which used to gradually turn a not very delicate shade of “tobacco yellow” – presumably the same colour as the inside of smokers’ lungs.
And I no longer had to change my clothes when I went back into the house so as to leave the stench of cigarette smoke at the door after attending a parish function.
Of course, the ban had a very limited effect on smokers because pubs and restaurants and work places began providing outdoor facilities for smokers thus encouraging them in their habit. And they sit out there even in the depths of winter risking pneumonia and hyperthermia as well as lung cancer.
What is wrong with this picture also?
Increasing tobacco duty isn’t the answer; increasing the places where smoking is banned isn’t the answer; “vaping” isn’t the answer and recent calls to ease restrictions on vaping certainly isn’t.
If tobacco poses the threat to health that medical research has shown to be the case, backed up by statistics relating to the connection between smoking and deaths from lung cancer, why are tobacco products still being manufactured?
If none were available then people couldn’t smoke them, and surely not smoking at all is the only real answer.
Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.