Category Archives: lung cancer

Oyez! Oyez! Learn to love your lungs!

The Nursing Times (13 November 2017) brings us news of a great way to raise awareness of lung cancer for the citizens of the historic city of Leicester in England.

Specialist nurses will run a stall at a shopping centre where they ‘will be promoting e-cigarettes to the public…as part of efforts to boost smoking cessation.’

One of these highly skilled nurses, Sharon Savory, says: ‘We want to show the public what to look for, who (sic) to see and to learn to love their lungs.’

The key message, we are informed, is that ‘using e-cigarettes are (sic) a “great way” to reduce the harm caused by smoking tobacco.’

Then there’s the cheerful news that on the appointed day, ‘Everyone is invited to take a break from their shopping to learn about the early signs and symptom recognition of lung cancer.’

We also hear from the well known Leicester e-cigarette enthusiast, Louise Ross: ‘We know that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking, and that people who switch to vaping do very well with their quit attempt.’ I have written about this down-to-earth lady before:

The advice given by Ms Savory, bless her cotton socks, is somewhat restricted. Why should you learn to love just your lungs? What about the rest of your anatomy? The marvel of the human body is that, in health, everything works in perfect harmony with everything else. And smoking, though it obviously affects the lungs, also has widespread harmful effects on the blood, heart, brain, stomach and indeed every organ and system of the body.

What she says is just a slogan, of course, but it would be a better slogan, surely, if the intention is to discourage smoking, if it was something like: ‘Love your life’, ‘Respect your body’ or ‘Your body is the temple of God. Don’t desecrate it by smoking.’

Apart from this, there’s something unseemly about nurses trying to promote e-cigarettes. To start with, it’s incorrect to say ‘we know vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking’. Nobody can say they know this; it’s merely an unproven assertion.

The specialist nurses should be more aware than most people that to inhale e-cigarette vapour many times daily for years on end, as vapers typically do, could be a disaster; we just don’t know what the long term effects will be, and can’t know, until probably another twenty years.

And to say ‘people who switch to vaping do very well with their quit attempt’ is paternalistic and meaningless.

By all means let nurses and anyone else so inclined try to boost smoking cessation. But why do they think the best way to do this is to encourage the use of e-cigarettes? Are other methods no good? Or, if they really believe in this defeatist position, at least let them be open about what it is they’re offering.

What they will be saying at their shopping centre stall to the smoking public on the appointed day, although they appear to be unaware of it, in effect is this:

Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business with smoking come hither. Smoking puts you at serious risk for getting the horrible disease of lung cancer. If you stop smoking you will greatly reduce this risk. You need to understand that the only reason you smoke is because you are addicted to the nicotine in tobacco. If you feel you cannot do the obvious sensible thing and quit smoking forthwith, however, you might consider an alternative way of continuing to be addicted to nicotine that is, we hope, safer than smoking, namely, using e-cigarettes.

There’s a further unfortunate aspect to Ms Savory’s words: it’s reminiscent of the advertisement for ‘LeoLites’ e-cigarettes (illustrated), which was banned in Britain in 2014 because it was deemed to imply that e-cigarettes were beneficial to the users’ health.

Before our specialist nurses get carried away by their eagerness to encourage these new drug delivery devices, apart from the unknown risks of using e-cigarettes, perhaps they should consider whether anyone needs to be in a drugged state with nicotine at all?

Text © Gabriel Symonds

E-cigarettes: a Public Health Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Heavy smog in Piccadilly Circus, London, December 1952. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Heavy smog in Piccadilly Circus, London, December 1952. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Do you know what a ‘pea-souper’ is? You don’t really want to know, at least not at first-hand. It was the humorous name given to an decidedly unfunny atmospheric condition, not uncommon in the winter months in London in the nineteenth century and up to the 1950s, when a combination of smoke and fog (‘smog’), reduced visibility sometimes to the distance of your hand on your outstretched arm in front of your face. The smoke came from burning coal to heat buildings. Many deaths were attributed to smog.

If you lived in London in those days you had no choice in the air you breathed. Of course, no one would normally choose to breath polluted air, unless, that is, you’re a smoker – or a ‘vaper’ which, as everyone knows, means a person who ‘uses’ e-cigarettes.

Inhaling the smoke from burning tobacco doesn’t sound like a good idea, but if you feel you have to do it, or something similar to get the equivalent effect, then vaping seems to be the answer – at least according to a certain nutty professor who, in concert with other researchers, has declared that e-cigarettes are, by a nice round figure of 95%, safer than smoking conventional cancer sticks. Incidentally, Professor David Nutt also thinks hallucinogenic drugs are good for treating depression.

And now comes news that scientists at the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have discovered that vaping can raise blood pressure and start the process of hardening of the arteries leading to heart disease. They also found that the food additives used to flavour the fumes – fine when eaten – don’t do you any good when inhaled into your lungs. On top of all that, they concluded, hardly surprisingly, that using e-cigarettes is not a particularly effective way to stop smoking.

The Swedish researchers made a further interesting observation about e-cigarettes: the average user takes 230 puffs a day or 84,000 puffs in a year. This means, if we assume one sleeps for eight hours and spends two hours a day eating, there are fourteen hours or 840 minutes available for vaping. At 230 puffs per day, the vaper will suck the fumes from the e-cigarette device into his or her lungs on average every 3.7 minutes. And this is supposed to be 95% safer than smoking? I predict it could be a public health disaster waiting to happen.

There are other voices of caution about e-cigarettes, apart from mine, such as that of Professor Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He is concerned about the health risks of e-cigarettes in the long term and wants to regulate them ‘as much as possible’. Does he perhaps mean regulating them out of existence? He is also worried about nicotine itself:

For a start, nicotine is more dangerous than previously thought. It negatively affects the developing brain, helps cancer spread by encouraging the growth of blood vessels around tumours, and increases the risk of dangerous heart rhythms in those who have just had a heart attack.

These eminently sensible comments, however, do not do much to dampen the enthusiasm of some proponents of e-cigarettes such as Professor John Britton of the University of Nottingham, who has a foot in both camps:

We should not let studies rightly highlighting the potential dangers of e-cigarettes blind us to the fact that these devices are much, much safer than smoking tobacco.

For a smoker, moving to e-cigarettes brings a huge health benefit. The decision should be a no-brainer. When you smoke a cigarette you inhale not only nicotine but also more than 4,000 highly toxic chemicals, including carcinogens. And you inhale many of them in fairly high concentrations. So there’s nothing better you can do for your health than to quit smoking. Let’s be clear: e-cigarettes are not harmless and we shouldn’t be complacent. E-cigarette vapour contains toxic chemicals, and tiny particles that can harm lungs and blood vessels. But in terms of the harm they cause, they simply aren’t in the same league as smoked tobacco.

Further, we should not get carried away by the claimed success of e-cigarettes in helping 18,000 people in the UK to quit smoking in 2015, according to research by University College London and Cancer Research UK.

Since there are currently 9,600,000 adult smokers in the UK this reduction in the total number is trivial. Instead of it being presented as a point in favour of e-cigarettes it should be a wake-up call to re-think the whole smoking problem.

Professor Britton again:

Each cigarette, and especially the first of the day, restores normality and feels good – in much the same way as it feels good when someone stops twisting your arm. Most smokers smoke to feel normal. Half die as a consequence.

Too true. But non-smokers don’t have this problem: they are in a normal state and feel good (other things being equal) without nicotine.

You don’t need to smoke to feel normal. You just need to stop smoking!

Text © Gabriel Symonds