Guest blog: Why do we support the Charter? Reply

Keith Grassick, Tobacco Development and Support Worker, Aberdeen Foyer, writes about why the Foyer supports Scotland’s Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation.

Aberdeen Foyer has just signed up to Scotland’s Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation to join with what is probably the most important public health message around. There are many things we do as a society which could be classed as unhealthy; eating too much fat, too much sugar, drinking too much alcohol, living too sedentary a lifestyle, but nothing has the deadly impact that using tobacco does.

Next time you see a group of smokers outside a pub or an office, it is a sad fact that half of them (if they are regular smokers and don’t choose to quit) will eventually succumb to a smoking related disease. 13000 Scottish people will die this year ….. That’s 250 people a week.

This tends to be the message we give to smokers and true though it might be, they are negative, judgemental and sometimes patronising. Non-smokers make comments about the smell of smokers, the lack of fresh air around wherever they have to smoke, the litter they drop, their apparent self-destructiveness…. the list could go on.

Smokers on the other hand feel marginalised, picked upon, preached at and nobody listens gladly to a message like that. However, inform them that when they stop smoking their heart rate and blood pressure start to drop within 20 minutes, they get their sense of taste and smell back completely in two days, lung function increases and circulation improves in two weeks to three months, these are health improvements they can see in a shorter time than they expect.

The main thing we have to remember is that the real baddy in this story is not the smoker, but Big Tobacco. In my role as a tobacco support worker, I have never met anyone who denied that tobacco causes deadly and debilitating diseases. The trouble is, when you are addicted to a substance you actually have less choice than you may realise. “Just give up”, they are told. “There is plenty of help available”, but is it really that simple?

If a new discovery was made that exercise shortened our life, some people would manage to stop and become more sedentary, but many would struggle to give up their regime. Part of this is because of the endorphin rush they get, there would also be those who do it out of habit, as a social thing, you feel it gives a good image that you like to project….. See any analogies?

There are two stories here; we want smokers to choose to give up; and we want young people to choose not to start. If you ask smokers would they want their children to smoke, very few if any will say yes. Then explain that in order to do that, society needs to legislate it out of their sight and reach, and that information needs to be passed on to young people about exactly what they are signing up to.

When we were young (yes we were all once) we couldn’t wait to grow up and do all the things that we were told not to do. Why was this? It’s about discovery, it’s about rebellion, and it’s about being allowed to make a choice for yourself. Without that rebellion and ability to choose, each generation will miss the chance for learning and improving, and that is what evolution is all about.

Tell young people that smoking will kill them, they will tell you that they know! They will often tell you that they are not addicted, they can stop whenever they like and that they won’t do it forever. When you are 13 to 16, the future is often not how they’ll be when they’re 50, or 40, or even 30. The future could just be what you are up to tonight or what’s going on this weekend.

So we need to add to the message for young people. Tell them what the tobacco companies think of them. “Replacement smokers”, that is how R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company referred to them in 1984. Should we be smoking around children? “If children don’t like to be in a smoky room, they’ll leave.” And what about babies, “at some point, they begin to crawl.” (Another R.J. Reynolds chairman nugget of good caring advice from 1996).

Young people can easily see the moral error behind the Philip Morris initiative whereby they gave $125,000 to buy food that was used to help Kosovar refugees in 1999, then spent over $22 million creating a 60 second information advert to tell the world about it. The logic behind that sort of philanthropy is not lost on young people, in fact it gives them very strong opinions on who they want to give their money to.

So this is why we have to act. This is why Aberdeen Foyer has signed up to the charter. As signatories, we see it as our responsibility to ensure that the generation who are just being born start asking in 19 years’ time, “Why did people used to smoke?”

For the last 20 years at the Foyer we have provided homes for young homeless people, employability courses for the wider community, training, the Prince’s Trust Team Programme, job placements, health advice and support. Everyone who comes through the service is given a chance to hear the message through tailor made, asset based, and positive awareness sessions. We also train other professionals and volunteers in raising the issue of smoking, the provision of brief interventions by those who have the chance to bring the topic up, 1:1 sessions for people who find it hard to engage with mainstream services and even provide support to other organisations who want to update or create their own tobacco policy based on our own experience.

Aberdeen Foyer is proud to be a signatory of the Charter for a Tobacco Free Generation.

Keith Grassick, Tobacco Development and Support Worker, Aberdeen Foyer.

Scotland's Charter

For more information and to pledge your support for Scotland’s Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation visit: www.ashscotland.org.uk/charter.

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