Recently one of my favourite movies of all times, The Blues Brothers, was shown on the big screen again.
It is fascinating to see how society functioned in 1980. Phone calls were made from a phone booth, as there were no mobiles. With no internet, they literally drove around searching for a gig.
Another sign of change was when Elwood asks whether the car he is driving is the new Blue's mobile, to which Jake answers –"fix the cigarette lighter". He had previously lit a cigarette and thrown the lighter out the window.
Throughout the movie some characters smoke. According to current views about the impact of such depictions (remember the Carmen debacle), this means I should have left the cinema and immediately started a two-pack-a-day habit. Miraculously I did not.
That smoking is unhealthy is a given and quitting is a good idea. Smoking rates have declined sharply since the late 1950s when more than half the population smoked. Today in Australia, less than 15 per cent of adults smoke, with some estimates of as few as five per cent of teenagers doing so.
How has this happened? You may be surprised at the answer.
A review of over 600 papers on stopping smoking showed the most effective way to quit smoking is to simply throw away the pack. Around 70 per cent of smokers quit unaided... not always the first time but they get there. Since the 1960s, 90 per cent of those who quit did so unaided.
The review papers noted that "...paradoxically the tobacco control community treats this information as if it was somehow irresponsible or subversive". They added, "…smoking cessation is becoming pathologised, a development that risks distortion of public awareness of how most smokers quit to the benefit of the pharmaceutical industry".
It is fair to say that "cold turkey" does not make money for anyone. In particular there would be no government funding for running programs or promotions if people can quit without them. Yes, some people benefit from assistance, but most do not.
Some stop smoking medications can have significant side effects. In the US, there is a class action over one due to its link to suicide.
You might think that any new way to help smokers would be welcome. Sadly you would be wrong. The Supreme Court convicted a Perth man for selling e-cigarettes in a landmark case after the Health Department prosecuted him under the Tobacco Products Control Act of 2014.
E-cigarettes are used for vaping. Liquid is placed into a closed cylinder, allowing it to be "vaped". There is virtually no passive smoke. E-cigarettes can contain nicotine but not all do.
Relatively cheap and side effect free, they can help smokers quit. It is critical to note that while cigarettes are carcinogenic, nicotine by itself is not. An independent scientific review commissioned by Public Health England, found e-cigarettes to be 95 per cent less harmful than regular cigarettes.
This means that even if smokers simply switched to e-cigarettes, they are 95 per cent better off. Not surprisingly many who have quit using them are passionate about their use.
Researchers from University College London found that "e-cigarettes appear to be helping a significant number of smokers to stop who would not have done otherwise - not as many as some e-cigarette enthusiasts claim, but a substantial number".
Yet in WA you can legally buy cigarettes but not something that is 95 per cent less harmful at worst and may help you quit entirely at best.
Why is WA's public health lobby so against them? One argument is they lead people into smoking. The UCL team found "regular use of e-cigarettes by never smokers is extremely rare, and the decline in smoking prevalence in young people has been as great or greater than in previous years".
Another is that tobacco manufacturers have moved into this space. It should not be a surprise that an industry with a product in terminal sales decline would look for new products to sell.
Some vaping supporters have expressed a more cynical view. That is, because e-cigarette use is self-initiated (like cold turkey), it threatens the whole stop smoking industry, which hence wants it banned.
Maybe the name e-cigarette is the problem ... being too close to cigarette.
You will need to form your own opinions on the reasons why those who want people to quit continue to oppose what is shaping as the most useful aid for those who do want or need help.
And while the Health Department congratulates itself, people can buy them online anyway, just not locally. Banning sales does not actually mean they can't be obtained.
John Belushi, who played Jake in The Blues Brothers, died (way too young) from an overdose of cocaine. It wasn't the cigarettes that got him.
If you don't want cigarettes to get you, the solution is surprisingly simple.
Throwing away the packet has been conclusively shown to be the best way to quit smoking. To paraphrase Barack Obama: "Yes you can".
But banning e-cigarettes seeks to deprive smokers of a useful option, which is safe and more effective than some existing stop smoking aids.
Until there is enough outcry, smokers wanting help may need to continue getting their lighters fixed.
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