For quite a few years I have been a subscriber to Google Alert for the Dutch word for “smoking ban”. In recent years there was an average of five reports per month. Lately, these reports increased to more than two per day. The anti-smoking hounding is in full swing again: In medical circles those who hold themselves in high esteem, be it individuals or organizations, apparently are only considered part of it if loudly protesting against the tobacco industry. Organizations are now pressing for the prosecution of the tobacco industry, and hospitals can hardly wait to announce that they are a smoke-free site.
Anti-smoking has become a religious, if not sectarian, movement consisting of one God and one devil. The tobacco industry is declared the devil and the buddy of the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry, is declared the god. Incidentally, smokers themselves play no role in this fight. They are sandwiched between the two parties and are not even consulted when decisions are being made. Contrary to the claims of the anti-smoking lobby there are still many smokers who do not wish to stop smoking at all and most certainly are not keen on forced smoking cessation aids, from non-effective drugs such as nicotine patches to – even worse – antidepressants.
To create smoke-free hospital grounds is something the anti-smoking lobby came up with as latest addition to the list of measures penalizing smokers. This is currently the most inhumane measure hatched by medical circles: Especially in the situation in which people, including smokers (yes, smokers are also people!) experience greatest stress, e.g. hospital admission, their most important aid for stress relief, smoking, is taken away from them. Every normal person can work out that this does not benefit recovery, but the medical world obviously thinks otherwise. In addition, the question arises as to what benefit a smoking ban in hospital sites for smokers who are there only for brief treatment, should have. As soon as they are discharged and in their cars, they immediately light up first their first cigarette in the parking lot. Also, for smoking patients to agree to hospital admission the smoking ban has a negative effect. This does not benefit good quality patient care, but it backfires!
You have to ask yourself how the healthcare industry could sink so low. Is it the training of doctors, in which the humane, social component of health care is neglected? Is there any internal pressure in the profession to run after the doctrine to be recognized and, more importantly, to attract sponsorship? Does the industry even allow a critical look at the goals that are being pursued? Or does the intimate connection of medical specialists and their organizations with the pharmaceutical nicotine industry play a role? Is the anti-tobacco lobby even aware of the great social, psychological and economic damage it causes to society?
Independent investigations into the effectiveness of the many anti-smoking measures taken in the last decades do not exist. Research for this area is financed in most cases by the biased side and therefore cannot be objective. “Primum nil nocere”, one of the most important principles of the medical profession, has been trampled on in recent decades when it comes to the fight against smoking (and smokers). How an individual doctor can answer for that to himself is a mystery to me – unless he finds comfort in the misleading thought that 75 percent of smokers want to quit and therefore would have to be bullied and socially excluded.
This article was first published in Dutch regional newspapers.