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Marking World No Tobacco Day: a gong for Roxon, and a note to “social smokers”

As part of its World No Tobacco Day Awards, the World Health Organization has recognised Health Minister, Nicola Roxon.

According to the WHO, she has been awarded the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition certificate (with a ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra this morning).

Meanwhile, the Acting CEO of VicHealth, Associate Professor John Fitzgerald, puts the case below for a focus today on social smokers.

***

The problem with “just one”

John Fitzgerald writes:

Every year the theme underpinning World No Tobacco Day is basic: kick the cancer sticks and live longer. This message is targeted at regular smokers, but what about those people who puff a few ciggies on a Saturday night over a drink with friends?

It’s a common observation that people tend to smoke more when drinking. Some of these people belong in the dubious category of social or occasional smokers.

Here’s what we know about social smokers. Quit Victoria data tells us 4 per cent of people smoke weekly or less than weekly. In a survey by the Cancer Council Research Group, over the past 10 years, the number of ‘irregular’ smokers has grown significantly from 0.7 per cent to 2.4 per cent. I suspect even this group are under-represented because they tend not to see themselves as smokers.

They smoke to celebrate and because it seems to go so well with a drink. They feel they don’t need to quit, because they’re not addicted. That repulsive gangrenous foot and cancer-rotted lung on the cigarette pack will never belong to them.

With the eradication of point-of-sale displays in Victoria last year, and the world-first introduction of plain cigarette packaging in Australia soon to be implemented, tobacco companies will lose their last visible marketing tools. So now, more than ever, these companies need to rely on the highly addictive properties of their product.

Tobacco companies know just how addictive nicotine is. A social smoker will argue that they can give up at any time, but a University of Wisconsin study found that 50 per cent of occasional smokers were still smoking four years later.

It’s not just the amount you smoke, it’s the length of time you’ve been smoking that is the biggest risk factor for lung cancer.

In 2009, tobacco company Phillip Morris’s Australian branch posted a $47 million profit, up 20 per cent from 2008. Despite all the efforts of health agencies and a steady decline in smoking rates, these companies continue to lure new customers. Tobacco hooks customers in a way that no other product can. Once they are addicted, the industry generally has decades of loyalty as a result.

The fact is that even those who have quit smoking often relapse while drinking alcohol and most people who continue to smoke, smoke more when drinking.

Previously unpublished data from a 2009 VicHealth community attitudes survey of 1500 Victorians shows that 70 per cent of smokers smoke more when they drink, particularly people aged under 40. Among young women aged 16 to 34, this figure was 88 per cent. And similarly, 89 per cent of binge drinkers said they smoked more when drinking.

Smoking and drinking at the same time is proven to increase the chance of developing mouth and throat cancer – in some Australian studies, by a whopping 35 times.  It has been linked to an increased risk of mouth, throat and liver cancers.

How can any social smoker who knows this information still argue that it’s harmless?

Being an ‘every so often’ smoker doesn’t make you immune to cancer, heart disease and all of the other nasty health problems that result from inhaling cigarette smoke. There is no safe level of smoking, not even one every so often. After all, non-smokers get sick and die just from passive smoking: 141 a year at last count.

The next time you light up with a drink in hand, perhaps it would be wise to stub it out and breathe easier knowing you aren’t a victim to the tobacco companies’ ploys and you have made the choice to live healthily and to live longer.

• For help with quitting, call the Quit info line on 13 78 48 or visit www.quit.org.au

Related Posts

Comments 8

  1. MarkAU says:

    This site is also helpful in understanding and beating nicotine addiction: http://whyquit.com/joel/

  2. Cajela says:

    This is the kind of silly scare tactic that makes people give up on listening to the health experts. There’s no safe level of driving, either – or breathing, for that matter. Nothing in life is 100% safe.

    You won’t persuade me that it’s not better to be a monthly 2-cigarette smoker than a daily 2-pack smoker.

    Well, not without a LOT better references than this article which seems to alternate between the bleeding obvious and the highly questionable. Hello, length of time you have smoked is pretty damn strongly correlated to your total cumulative exposure, so obviously it’s correlated with cancer risk. And really? There have been studies on people smoking and drinking literally *at the same time*? As compared to just the usual epidemiological studies comparing smokers, drinkers, and people who do neither or both? As the kids say nowadays: [[citation needed]].

  3. Shooba says:

    @Cajela,

    Yes, there have been plenty of non-epidemiological studies showing the synergistic impact of smoking at the same time as drinking. A handy indicator is the level of carcinogenic acetaldehyde in the saliva while you do each of these things independently, not at all, or combined:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15239123
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17590988

  4. Julie says:

    Some people quit over a long-drawn out process like having 1 or 2 now and then. I think its great to recognise its still harmful, but suggest sipping on soda water, nibblling on pepitas when you are triggered to want to light up.
    I found learning how to deal with anxiety helpful, because the social adolescent anxieties are what makes most of join the pack, so self-esteem boosting can help you succeed.
    The only problem I see is those smokers who been also having joints for 30 yrs find it tough because they don’t want to give up the weed. The Minister ought to work on legalising and taxing that for the baby boomers health costs and the generation after!

  5. Cajela says:

    Yay, citations provided! Thanks, Shooba.

    From those abstracts we can get a proxy measure, the concentration of acetaldehyde in saliva. While this is not an actual epidemiological measure of cancer diagnoses in the relevant population, it’s better than nothing. The increases in the presence of the carcinogen are given as 3.5 to 10-fold over base-line. The “risk increased by 35 times” claim remains unsubstantiated. We can’t even say it’s a 3.5 to 10-fold risk increase, as other factors need to be taken into account. (Oral hygiene, vitamin deficiencies and genetics are known additional factors.)

    Julie’s point is directly relevant to the other main thing that seems wrong with this piece. If it’s true (as seems highly likely) that “some people quit over a long-drawn out process like having 1 or 2 now and then”, then harping on the dangers of the 1 or 2 now and then is really demotivating. All that effort to cut down, and it’s still not good enough! Why bother cutting down at all, then?

  6. jesse says:

    Yeah the whole “there is no safe level of smoking” line always struck me as unhelpful. Degree of tobacco exposure is closely correlated to risk of disease; doctors use pack-years as a method of risk assessment so clearly less is better than more and yet this information is glossed over by the cancer council.

    It’s not a question of ‘safe’ vs ‘not safe’, it’s a sliding scale of safety. Heavy smoker? High risk. Occasional/social smoker? Moderate risk. Non-smoker but exposed to second-hand smoke every weekend? Low risk. Non-smoker and you live on an island by yourself? Extremely low risk.

    Having said that this is being shown in the new(ish) ads I’ve been seeing – “every cigarette you don’t smoke is doing you good” – which I’m interpreting as promoting incremental steps, which is certainly what I did when I quit.

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Summer reading 2020-2021
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Testing Croakey News category 1
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Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
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#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC
#ACEM17
#AIDAconf2017
#BTH20
#CATSINaM17
#ClimateHealthStrategy
#IAHAConf17
#IDS17
#LBQWHC17
#LivingOurWay
#OKtoAskAu
#OTCC2017
#ResearchTranslation17
#TheMHS2017
#VMIACConf17
#WCPH2017
Australian Palliative Care Conference
2018 conferences
#6rrhss