Smoking Addiction – Awareness

Smoking is recognised as the largest single preventable cause of death and disease in Australia. It is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, emphysema, bronchitis, asthma, renal disease and eye disease.  Back in 1961 ordinary people, concerned with the prevalence of cancer related diseases, established the Cancer Council of Australia, an independent (of government) authority.  In 1964 the Australian Surgeon General’s Report produced conclusive evidence of the link between smoking and cancer (mainly lung cancer); at a time when around 50% of males and 34% of females were smokers.

As a result of their concerted efforts, a recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare survey conducted in 2013 proudly announced that the number of ordinary Australian who smoked has been radically reduced to around 12.8%.  The latest government contribution to this big hard problem was the introduction of “plain packaging” legislation, which caused the average number of cigarettes smoked per week to drop from 111 in 2010 to 96 in 2013.   The social benefits of this overall achievement equates to discovering a vaccine against lung cancer.   To this extent, Australia leads the world in bringing about a sufficient shift in the mindset of ordinary peoples’ attitude towards smoking, so that today it is no longer regarded to be “cool and trendy” to smoke  but recognised for what it is –  an unhealthy addiction that warrants eradication.   All this was achieved despite years of aggressive counter moves from the wealthy, powerful and highly successful cigarette industry lobby.

It has taken over 50 years of commitment from ordinary people driven by their determined concern for others to achieve this remarkable shift in the Australian social mindset.  It is my belief, with the support of an appropriate social networking platform (like Yourself Helper website), that other similar addictions (obesity, alcohol, drugs, etc.) can also be solved but in a much shorter timeframes and at far less cost. This success story is provided upfront to illustrate how self-inflicted addition problems can be solved when ordinary people become more aware of their true consequences (to self and society generally) and awakened to the fact that their self-transformation can not only help themselves but bring about a complete shift in a social mindset.   Empowerment to win against the apparently invincible industry (tobacco) lobby groups with all their expensive media outlets, money, power, denials, counter-arguments and sales-marketing strategies.  The patterns of success imbedded in this success story have been leveraged in the proposed generic social network technology solution (“Yourself Helper” website).

This good news discussion on the ingestion of an addictive substance (“nicotine”) is of key interest.   Because we Australia we have succeeded where most others continue to fail.  The approach followed in Australia has dramatically reversed the number of people smoking cigarettes.  In contrast all other addictions in Australia are on the increase, some in epidemic proportions. This is one of the few compelling cases where through the efforts and determination of ordinary people one big hard social problem has been reversed.   And in doing so, it has provided the essential clues and a proven path to solving one of our big hard problems to a point where it may eventually be removed from our list, once the disturbing take-up by our very young is reversed as well.     It makes for an interesting comparison with the other discussion on big hard social problems (like alcohol and drug addiction) which continues to worsen in Australia and begs the question why wouldn’t a similar approach work to reverse these ingestion disorder problems and our other addictions (gambling, sex, technology, etc.). It’s all about reversing the established social mindset permanently and irreversibly.

Smoking Addiction – (it was) a big hard problem

It’s the powerfully addictive stimulant “nicotine” in tobacco that stimulates the brain when a cigarette or cigar is smoked.  When the smoke from the tobacco is inhaled into the lungs, the nicotine not only provides a pleasurable experience, it damages the functioning of the lungs and the associated brains receptors.  Smoking cigarette tobacco laced with nicotine on a regular and long-term basis quickly becomes an addictive habit that is not easy to quit.  My father, who had both an alcohol and smoking addiction problem, confided that giving up smoking was far more difficult than alcohol.   Up until he die in his 80s from cancer caused by these addictions, he was never able to fully give up either; he simply reduce the volume of intake. 

I recall back in 1964 when I finished my schooling, it was very trendy to smoke. A packet of 20 cigarettes cost around 80 cents.  Then, nearly 50% of the adult male population smoked and 34% of women. Today in 2015, nearly 50 years on, only 12% of the adult population smoke and this percentage continues to fall.  It is no longer trendy to smoke, in fact it is regarded as a filthy habit and those that continue to smoke are treated not as being cool and trendy but are pitied because of their inability to stop. The critical mass has shifted.   The traditional government strategy tof merely putting up the tax on cigarettes is no longer their sole and prime strategy (to protect their tax revenue cash flow) and ensuring the tobacco lobby groups’ political donations keep coming in.  Today the cost for a packet of 20 cigarettes is over $20.  While it’s taken a long time, this is a rare and glaringly good news story of hope worthy of further consideration, especially when almost all other forms of substance addiction continue to be on the increase, together with the consequences to our health, our health systems and society well being generally.

In 1964 cigarette smoking was on the increase.   Expensive, top-end advertising by the multi-national tobacco industry and lobby groups fanned this trend.  Even in movies, most of our role models smoked cigarettes.  It was seen to be cool and trendy to smoke.  The tobacco industry had a strangle hold on both sides of politics, through lush political donations and with their highly effective advertising, most ordinary people aspired to smoke at any price.  “I want to be a Marlboro Man” was one of their most powerful advertisements.   Ironically, Eric Lawson (Marlboro’s most famous “Marlboro Man”) died a few years ago from respiratory failure and pulmonary disease.

The addictive properties of tobacco’s nicotine was well researched and exploited by the tobacco industry, effectively dismissing all the concerns raised by ordinary people that there was a suspected link between increasing levels of cancer due to smoking.  Predictably, the only response from government was to increase the tax on cigarettes and thereby gleefully increase their associated revenue inflow.  The public response was the formation of the national Cancer Council Australia.  An independent (of government) authority established in 1961 into cancer control. It wasn’t until 1964 when the Surgeon General’s Report produced conclusive evidence of the link between smoking and cancer (mainly lung cancer) that ordinary people had confirmed what they had suspected for some time.   The cigarette companies immediately went into denial and re-acted by introduced filter tipped cigarettes, claiming this new innovation would now stop any possible smoke related toxins ever getting into the lungs.

Filter tipped cigarettes became the new fad, as smokers (already addicted to the effects of nicotine) could not give up their smoking habits.   As we all know today, when a person has developed an addiction to nicotine or any addictive substance, the issue is not money it’s the addiction.  The quality and expense of the cigarette advertising continued to increase, still presenting smoking as being even cooler and safer with the advent of filter-tips.  So young school leavers, as they began to earn their own money, continued to take up the habit.   All the while government revenue flow from the sale of this legal addictive substance continued to top up their coffers and that of the powerful lobby groups; making them even more wealthy and powerful to increase their marketing and counter arguments supporting the “coolness” of smoking. 

Thanks to the on-going support and the concern of ordinary people, the Cancer Council became better placed to take-on the powerful tobacco industry lobby and its claims regarding filter tipped cigarettes.   As usual the government response was “what more can we do about it” other than increase the tax on cigarettes even further   The government was right, there was little they could do because of size of the voting smoker base (50%) and a failing democratic processes than was being aided and abetted by a large number of multi-national industry lobby groups (not just the tobacco lobby).   

The Cancer Council rightly identified that the main problem was not just the tobacco industry but the mindset of ordinary people that saw smoking as trendy, pleasurable and of dubious damage to their health.   Smokers remained sceptical of the claimed link between smoking and cancer.   They remained prepared to run the gauntlet until it was conclusively proven to them, (like their eventual contracting of lung cancer).  Smokers truly did not want to hear that their cancer was in fact brought about by their smoking. 

The Cancer Council and other health organisation began to put together an equally expensive, powerful and thought provoking campaign of advertising the damage caused by smoking.  They singled out well known role models whose smoking had now left them with serious health problems, even some who were dying of lung cancer.  The most notable being a famous TV movie star, Eural Brunner (of “The King & I” movie fame).  It was well known that he was dying of smoking related lung cancer.   His simply but effective message was “Whatever you do, Don’t Smoke! Don’t Smoke”.  These styles of shocking visual counter-plays began to become effective in combating the all too familiar “Smoking is cool and trendy” style advertisements from the Tobacco Industry.   The next challenge was how to get people with a smoking addiction to stop.   While many were beginning to try to stop, very few were ever successful.  By the 1970s,  at least the social mindset shift had begun to turn the current trend around.

The main shift came from parents (both non-smokers and addicted smokers alike) who became fearful of their children taking up smoking, recognising the associated health risks, its proven link to lung and throat cancer and the latest concern regarding “passive smoking”.  One of the best ways to illustrate how this sway of concern spread across society can be illustrated by my own experience catching an interurban train to and from the Blue Mountains and the City each day. 

It serves as both a disturbing and now somewhat humorous example of the shift in ordinary people’s mindset towards smoking.  Ever since I began catching the long distance Blue Mountains country train, smokers simply mingled with other commuters on trains.  Smokers clearly had the upper hand and aggressively defended their right to smoke on the train, which for most was a 1+ hour commute and unpleasant experience for a non-smoker, such as myself.  If someone became uncomfortable with the smoke, their only alternative was to move to another seat in the carriage, in the hope that they might obtain some relief. With over 50% of the people still smoking, this offered little relief.   In fact we were all smokers, with us non-smokers being forced into become “passive smokers”, constantly breathing in others’ exhaled smoke.  The smoke from lit cigarettes and the smell from filthy ash trays was inescapable.  In those days the impact of passive smoking was not recognised nor inclined in statistics associated with smoking.

As the non-smoking cause against smoking gathered momentum, a trial was agreed where smokers with season tickets could have a permanent seat located in the front half of the carriage, where smoking would be allowed.   This only made matters worse.   When carriages become full and vacancies in the front smoking zone were evident, non-smokers were told by the surrounding smokers that none other than the prepaid smoker could sit in these seats.  This trial failed because all the smoke up-front simply drifted to the rear of the train and all the non-smokers continued to complain.  After several altercations had been reported (between smoker and non-smokers), the authorities determined to make half of the designated carriages (4 of the 8) available only for smokers.   

It didn’t take long before the smoking carriages became so dense with smoke that even the smokers began to move out of the smoking carriages and sit in the non-smoker carriages.  The non-smoker carriages became so congested, many had to stand-up for the entire 1+ hours journey. All the while observing how large the seat vacancies were in most of the smoking carriages.   It became farcical with half the (smoking) carriages almost empty and the remaining (non-smoking) carriages overflowing with complaining commuters.

In concert with the growing success of the non-smoking campaign and its associated advertising, eventually all smoking on long distant trains was prohibited, especially where exposure to smoking by non-smokers was in fact as bad as smoking itself.  This was the first recognition given to the notion that passive smoking did have an impact on the health of non-smokers, thanks again to the work of the Australian Cancer Council.     Today no one is allowed to smoke on any form of public transport, in any work building, in any restaurants and only in designated areas of some hotels that have open-air facilities.  That is open air locations where the smoke from smoking can readily escape into the atmosphere.  This isn’t perfect, but its far better than what it used to be.

Through the continued support from the Cancer Council, the quite majority of caring Australian people (initially non-smokers) clearly regarded smoking “un-cool”.   More and more disturbing advertisements from people dying of cancers related to smoking began to appear in the media (mainly for lung cancer).  This sent a clear message to our young that smoking was no longer cool but a killer.   The born again non-smokers (ex-smokers) who had successfully solved their smoking addiction problem, became that final critical mass tilt which finally brought about an on-going cultural shift in social mindset against smoking.   And there was much more that could be done as this critical mass now favoured the non-smoker cause and more related issues began to be exposed and solved. Non-smokers were relentless in their determination to get more of the truth regarding smoking out there by not only challenging the research of the powerful Tobacco & Cigarette Lobby but also by proving conclusively the deceptions in their advertising strategies.  Ordinary people became aware of the real consequences of smoking on themselves and the community.   So the war began in countering cigarette smoking advertising directed at specific demographic sections of the community and the winning of the minds and hearts of ordinary people towards channelling further government support to the efforts of the Cancer Council.

As stated earlier, the result of these efforts the number of ordinary Australian who smoked has been radically reduced.   Between 2001 and 2011-12, overall rates of smoking decreased for both males and females.   The age standardised rate of smokers for males aged 18 years and over fell from 27% in 2001 to 20% in 2011-12, and declined from 21% in 2001 to 16% for females.  Since the advent of plain packaging legislation in 2014, the average number of ordinary people that now smoke in Australia has dropped to a staggering 12%. The social benefits of this achievement equates to discovering a cure to lung cancer.     In Australia today, it is no longer “cool” to smoke but recognised for what it is as an unhealthy addiction that warrants eradication.

 However, it pays to never be complacent.   The tobacco and cigarette lobby group continue to invest in technology and scientific research, devising strategies like artificial cigarettes (e-cigarettes) that when used emit a vapour into the lungs that supposedly reduces the urge to smoke a nicotine laced cigarette.  Why most are suspicious that this is a ploy to convince people who want to give up smoking a highly addictive substance that by trying such alternative they will reach the conclusion that smoking cigarettes are far better.  So there is currently in-train efforts to debunk this latest ploy from a Lobby Group that has already been shown to be totally dishonest in its denial of health implications of smoking.  

Today in 2014, 50 years later 15,000 ordinary people per year still die from smoking related diseases especially lung cancer.  Smokers still spend $50 billion/year on their addictive habit.  In comparison, the US has an average of 1,200 people each day die from smoking, whereas the equivalent figure in Australia is 41. In the US, smoking kills more people than murder, HIV/AIDS, suicide, drugs, car accidents and alcohol combined.  So called “second-hand smoking” or “passive smoking” kills over 38,000 in the US every year.  

Yes the government has now gotten the price of a packet of cigarettes up to $20 a packet and rising every year, so its revenue flow has kept pace with the fall-off in smoking.   To its credit, now that the critical mass has shifted in favour of non-smoking.  Back in 2013 “plain packaging” legislation was introduced for cigarette packets with disturbing photographs people inflicted with the range of the health issues attributed to smoking.  Today 80% of smokers admit that they would prefer not to be smoking.  Smoking is no longer trendy. The mindset shift has occurred.  The critical mass is on the right side of the ledger.  People in the cities must now stand out in the street to smoke like the “unclean” lepers of the past, akin to sprinkling their cigarette ash on their head as a sign of their addiction.  Smokers are truly made to feel ashamed of the fact that despite their awareness of its consequences they are incapable of giving up their filthy habit despite them being known as likely to becoming a burden on society when their health inevitably begins to fail. 

Australians are clearly winning the battle against cigarette smoking. Yet despite this outstanding success, 10% of smokers in Australia still do not believe that their smoking is detrimental to their health and associated with illness. Two out of three long term smokers will eventually die from a smoking related disease, like lung cancer.   It will shorten their life by about 10 years.   So the fight must continue, especially as our children first become exposed to such substances.  The strong multi-national Tobacco & Cigarette industry lobby groups have now virtually given up on Australia and shifted to developing nations like China, India and other Asian growth areas where enormous expansion in their middle-class wealth with spending power exists.   If Australia had an active social network that was global, and if the will in China, India & Japan existed to also stamp out smoking.  Then through accessing the proposed Yourself Helper platform it would be possible to more quickly and effectively leverage an awareness campaign into the health risks and again stimulate a mindset shift sufficiently powerful enough to counter the hold that lobby groups have on any legal addictive substances, like alcohol. 

Our Cancer Council continues to be independent of government and serves as a source of nonpartisan, evidence-based advice to the Australian Government on all aspects of cancer, including that attributable to smoking.   Our fight against smoking is still not done.   Recent research has shown that the majority of the remaining 17% of smokers come from the lower socio-economic level of Australian society (ie. our Aboriginal communities, poorer suburbs and especially in places of internment). While government continues to increase taxes on tobacco sales and support good advertisement, our anti-smoking lobby also continues to accept people’s rightful freedom to choose and use legal substances such as cigarettes.   Measures like restricting sales outlets, to say chemist shops or having cigarettes classified like food (proven to be detrimental to your health) are all under consideration.  Here we have, yet again, another example of just how effective a well-orchestrated social platform can be in facilitating a shift in people’s mindset; in representing the will of the people in solving further big hard issues, especially those that are self-induced and thereby self-correctable.  Since 1960, social platforms have moved on from being physical public committees to virtual social networks, more able to effectively organise and collaborate pressure on the offending instrumentations.

As testimony to the power of an effective mindset shift aided by effective advertising with government support, Philip Morris cigarette manufacturing has ceased altogether.   Philip Morris sited the government enforcement of “plain packaging” as the final nail in the coffin for the multi-national who has moved its operation to South Korea.  UK is now seriously considering the introduction of plain packaging, based upon Australia’s success, as smoking there continues to be on the increase.  

In taking the next “Awakening” step, you begin to consider your unique health situation in regard whether or not you smoke (nicotine laced products).   You will initially be invited to answer some common questions and issues raised on the smoking problem and be encouraged to identify with your specific situation (smoker, anti-smoking expert, non-smoker).    Finally the questioning turns to the more important question of yourself as a social creature living in a fuzzy world of relationships with others, inextricably linking us to others – in our family, in our community, in our society and to even our spiritual connections or love of nature.   Smoking in Australia remains a serious problem, especially for our vulnerable & experimental young as well as the remaining 12% of Australians who still smoke. Smoking occurs in all socio-economic layers of society – it discriminates against no one.  

Simply “click” on the “Obesity – Awakening” button to take the next step in your self-transformation journey.  Even if you already know that you do not have a smoking problem, then you are a much sought after candidate for possibly volunteer to help and care for others that do smoke.  Better still, if you are an expert in this field you may be interested in updating or even owning the above layman and non-professional version of this Smoking “Awareness” material and all that follows.   


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