Recently there was a screening of one of my favourite movies of all times – The Blues Brothers. Whilst I have seen it many times on DVD (and am fortunate to have a directors cut edition with a few extra scenes) it was great to see it on the big screen again after some 35 years.
It is fascinating to see changes in society over this time. There are no mobile phones. When there is a need to make a phone call they go to a phone booth. When searching for a gig they literally drive around, as there is no Internet search.
But the one that really stands out is the line in an early scene when Elwood asks whether the car he is driving is the new Blue’s mobile and Jake answers –“fix the cigarette lighter”. This is of course after Jake has previously lit a cigarette and thrown the lighter put the window.
Through the movie some of the characters smoke. Readers who are not in public health won’t be surprised to know that despite seeing depictions of smoking I have not taken up the habit.
That smoking is not healthy is a given and quitting is a good idea. Rates of smoking have declined sharply since the late 1950’s. Today in Australia less than one in five adults smoke. Something under 5% of teens smoke so we can see where this is going.
The most effective way to quit smoking is to simply throw away the pack. This approach saw smoking rates drop during the 1960’s to 1980’s. This approach does not get much airplay, as it does not make money for anyone. In particular there is no government funding to be pocketed for running programs or promotions if people were told they could quit without help. This does not mean some people may not benefit from some assistance.
Meanwhile the same people in public health who want people to quit continue to oppose what is shaping as the most useful aid to those who do want or need help.
So why does public health oppose e-cigarettes, which help smokers quit? I really do not know the answer to this. Maybe because it is a market solution rather than a government imposed one?
A major UK study showed e-cigs to be at least 95% less harmful than regular cigarettes. Even (and it appears they do) if they do not get smokers to quit entirely, using something 95% less harmful makes sense.
John Belushi who played Jake died (way too young) from an overdose of cocaine. You rarely hear public health talk about illicit drugs as they cannot be taxed nor can advertising them be banned.
In Australia the opposition has flagged increasing taxes on cigarettes. This is on one hand meant to encourage people to quit but was also promoted as a way of raising revenue. It cannot really be both.
I am increasingly of the view that banning e-cigarettes helps nobody and deprives smokers of a useful option. They are also safer and more effective than some current stop smoking aids.
The current approach to e-cigarettes makes no sense but till there is enough outcry, smokers will have to continue to get their lighters fixed.