Time to think about the health of our lungs Reply

A guest blog by Dr James Cant, head of the British Lung Foundation in Scotland and Northern Ireland

Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievements in football have long been recognised.
He is someone who has achieved international renown but has never lost an ounce of his Scottishness nor forgotten the community that forged him.

But by agreeing to be the face of the Scottish Government’s new lung cancer campaign, Sir Alex Ferguson should be seen as a true ‘life-saver’.



Far too often lung cancer is diagnosed when it’s too late to offer significant treatment. Scotland has world class respiratory clinicians and many new treatments have emerged in recent years.

But they will be of no use to you if you’ve not been diagnosed. So listen to Sir Alex and listen to your breathing and your cough. And if it’s changing or you ever notice blood when you cough, then get it checked. ASAP.

And remember you don’t have to be a smoker to get lung cancer. As many as one-in-five cases are people who have never smoked or who quit some time ago. Many of us will have spent time in smoke-filled homes, pubs and workplaces over years or may have been exposed to damaging particles through our work, so we all need to be aware.


And Sir Alex’s contribution also gives us the chance to take a wider look at our respiratory health. Most of us are fortunate enough to be born with a decent set of lungs. Treat them well and they should usually last you a lifetime.

But Scots have had a troubled relationship with their lungs. Our climate isn’t particularly conducive to good lung health and the heavy industries that we relied upon for so long took a heavy toll on the physical well-being of Scottish workers. Nowhere was this more the case than in respiratory health.

Added to that, we have our nation’s long-standing relationship with tobacco, formerly a mainly male preserve but one which women increasingly joined from the 1960s onwards, with a devastating legacy for their respiratory health.


Over the last 10–20 years, lung cancer rates in women have grown steadily to the point of matching those for men. This is gender equality in its most depressing form.

But there are many reasons for optimism. We are standing on the threshold of a new era that at last offers the opportunity for Scotland’s lung health to become a positive aspect of our nation’s story rather than a public health millstone.

Scotland has long been viewed as a world leader in tobacco control, having been one of the first nations to introduce legislation to ban smoking in public places. This had a swift and significant impact, with emergency admissions to hospital associated with exposure to SHS (second-hand smoke) falling by almost a fifth.


That’s the good news. The bad news is that children and young people across Scotland continue to be exposed to SHS at home and in the car on a daily basis, at levels of SHS which would match those that were to be found in the smokiest of pubs of old.

We also need to address the lethal danger posed by the fact that on average 40 children a day in Scotland will become smokers. They represent the ‘cannon fodder’ that the tobacco industry depends on to sustain its business model as so many of its existing customers die as a result of their tobacco use.

It’s difficult to imagine any other ‘legitimate business’ that would be tolerated in the knowledge that proper use of its product would end up killing one-in-two of its long-term customers at huge costs to the consumer, the health service and wider public finances.

The human cost of preventable lung disease is appalling. The financial cost is simply unsustainable for the Scottish economy.


Thankfully, help is at hand as the Scottish Government and other members of the Scottish Parliament are about to embark on an exciting year of new tobacco control measures that will help to finally break the chain and offer today’s young Scots the prospect of lung health that lasts a lifetime rather than three or four decades.

The Scottish Government has committed to introducing standardised packaging for tobacco products as part of its 2014-15 legislative programme. This is huge as it will cut off Big Tobacco’s most important promotional mechanism for enticing young to take up the habit.

We know how important this is to tobacco companies because of the sheer scale of money and advertising ingenuity that they invest in their packaging design.


And we know how much this scares them having seen the bitter and dirty campaign they waged to try to prevent it happening in Australia. They failed to bully Australia and they’ll be in for a fright if they try to bully Scotland.

Next year should also witness the introduction of a private member’s bill that will make it illegal to smoke in a vehicle when someone under 16 is present.

This is a sensible move that will be widely welcomed and it’s notable how strongly supported this measure is among smokers themselves.


This is a crucial element in the work of the British Lung Foundation. We’re not here to judge or lecture. We’re help to promote and protect lung health and to support people whose lungs are ‘broken’.

Many of the people we support have been smokers. Some still are. What’s most telling for me is that they often have the strongest voice and greatest determination to make sure that their children and grandchildren don’t share that same experience of debilitation caused by lung disease.

So let’s imagine Sir Alex offering us all a wee quiet word of encouragement to take better care of our own lungs and work together to make sure our children enjoy the life-giving gift of breath.


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