Forest understands and fully accepts the health risks associated with tobacco and the nature of that risk. Indeed, it has been known for so long we cannot believe there is a sane adult in the UK who is not fully aware of the potential health risks. (The US Surgeon General first announced a link between smoking and lung cancer in 1964, and as long as the Second World War cigarettes were often referred to as “coffin nails”.)
We do however have a problem with the tactics adopted by politicians and the health industry who routinely use the health argument to say they are “protecting” smokers from themselves. The health argument is then presented in one of several ways.
The first is to frighten smokers into believing that they will almost certainly die before their time (“quit or die”). The problem with this message is that it is so obviously false. As a great many families (and even doctors) will testify, many smokers live a long and healthy life, sometimes outliving their non-smoking peers.
Moreover, with one major exception (lung cancer), none of the illnesses described as “smoking-related” is exclusive to smokers and all are primarily diseases of the elderly. In reality, two-thirds of all deaths in the UK are caused by “smoking-related diseases”, despite the fact that only half of those people actually smoke.
Common sense would suggest that something else must be responsible for many of the deaths attributed to a “smoking-related disease” which is unrelated to smoking. (No, it’s not passive smoking!) Diet, perhaps, or genetic factors, or even general lifestyle (lack of exercise, for example). Or perhaps (horror of horrors) it’s just old age. After all, no-one lives for ever.
One disease that smokers cannot ignore is lung cancer for the simple reason that it very rarely afflicts non-smokers. Only 10 per cent of lung cancer sufferers are non-smokers and the average annual risk of a non-smoker getting lung cancer has been calculated to be 0.01 per cent. Even for smokers, however, the quit or die message seems somewhat excessive, especially with regard to lung cancer.
According to Professor Sir Richard Doll (the man who first discovered a correlation between smoking and lung cancer in the 1950s) research suggests that if you start smoking as a teenager and quit aged 30, the risk of developing lung cancer is 2 per cent; give up at 50 and the risk goes up to 8 per cent; give up at 70 (by which time you have been smoking for more than 50 years) and the risk rises to 16 per cent.
Surprised? Let’s face it, these figures paint a rather different picture from the anti-smoking lobby which gives the impression that most if not all smokers are going to die a horrible, agonising death well before their time. Again, this isn’t to deny the health risks, but let’s get this in perspective. In spite of what some people would have you believe, consuming tobacco is far from being a fast track to Death Row.
Revealingly, the anti-smoking lobby refuses point blank to acknowledge that smoking has any beneficial qualities whatsoever. The health risks of smoking may outweight the health risks of stress, for example, but there are many smokers who believe passionately that the former helps reduce the latter.
Likewise, many smokers believe (rightly or wrongly) that smoking, and the occasional smoking break, improves their concentration and makes them more efficient at work. Meanwhile, instead of welcoming research that suggests that smoking may help ward off Alzheimer’s disease (one of most debilitating illnesses known to man), the anti-smokers pour scorn on the idea. Why?
Finally, there is a clear lack of perspective in the smoking debate, a factor most clearly illustrated by the complaint that James Bond, in the 2002 film Die Another Day, was filmed (shock horror) smoking a cigar. The fact that they had no problem with 007 having casual, unprotected sex, driving dangerously fast or being in possession of a loaded gun (with intent to kill!) reveals more about their narrow-minded obsession than it does about the dangers of smoking.