Monday, 19 July 2010

I have never tried to smoke

a cigarette. I have never wanted to try. When I was a child my father smoked cigarettes for a while. It was the done thing back then. There was still no realisation of how potentially dangerous smoking was for one's own health and the health of those around you. Fortunately for us my father had a very bad cold which led to pneumonia and he quit. At the same time we children ceased to feel "car-sick" to the same degree. I still suffer from motion sickness in certain situations but I can normally travel in reasonable comfort.
I did not get away from cigarette smoke of course. Other people still smoked. I have spent far too many hours of my life in rooms filled with other people's cigarette smoke. I have come out of staff meetings (especially at universities) stinking of second-hand cigarette smoke.
Nobody in my immediate family smokes. My brother had one "to find out" and did not manage to finish it. He still remembers it as 'disgusting'. His children do not smoke. I have one sister who is a rabid anti-smoker. The other has flirted with it but never in the presence of any of us. She would not dare.
Dad has a couple of cousins who smoked. One of them gave up after a heart attack. The other has really struggled. It took the support of everyone he knew. At first he tried to do it without telling anyone except his wife. That did not work. Then he tried again and a few more people knew. Again it did not work - and again, and again. Then his wife told everyone he knew that he was trying again. We all worked on supporting him. We rewarded him with words of encouragment and eventually a small but very meaningful token of encouragement. He still wants to smoke and he probably always will. We need to go on supporting him.
I thought of all this when I read that the recent, quite hefty increase in the price of cigarettes had not done much to help people quit. I suspect that the psychology is wrong. Cigarettes are still freely available in places like supermarkets. They may now be 'hidden' rather than 'on display' but they are still there. They are available. People will buy them if they believe they gain 'pleasure' from smoking them.
If we really want people to cease smoking and not take the habit up at all then we are probably not going about it the right way. There are probably much more radical measures that need to be tried. Cigarettes should perhaps only be available through chemist shops on a doctor's prescription and for the same price. It does not make tobacco illegal but it would help to further restrict access. It would make it much more difficult for young people to take up the habit - and one of the most depressing sights has to be a child smoking while in school uniform. If prescriptions were dependent on people attending compulsory anti-smoking classes that would be another step forward too.
There would still be a trade in illegal tobacco but I think it is likely that there would be a reduction in tobacco consumption. Why? Because more people would know and would be there to encourage the smoker to quit. The prescription like price would help to pay for the treatment. The smoker would have to give up free time to attend a class - a powerful incentive to cease if it disrupted social life and the capacity to move freely. It would provide support to kick the habit too.
I do not think it is likely to happen. Immediate revenue from tobacco is still too high - that it costs in the long term is not a consideration to a present day government of any persuasion. That cost is in the future.
It seems that there is really only one best way to stop - and that is never to start.

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