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Smoking kills, that’s a fact – how about we kill it?

Smoking is directly responsible for the deaths of millions each year. It is time in a progressive society that we put an end to it

It might be very well one of the last acts of a condemned man before he is sent to the gallows, but Rishi Sunak’s success in pushing through The Tobacco and Vapes Bill 2024 could see him on the right side of history.

According to Our World in Data, cancer accounted for almost one in five deaths globally up to the Covid-19 pandemic, placing it behind only heart disease as the most common killer of mankind. Taken together, they are responsible for every other death on Earth.

These are frightening numbers when you consider 61 million people are said to have died in 2023.

Heart disease is most associated with those living to advanced years, but cancer is far less discernible in its pattern of disseminating grief — affecting the young and older alike.

So whether it is a desperation to see through his agenda before an inevitable crushing defeat at the polls or indeed a genuine desire to safeguard future generations, the British prime minister and his shrinking band of supporters deserve some credit for viewing the bigger picture.

This show of defiance in the face of the pro-choice gang and big business — ie, the tobacco industry — is laudable for two chief reasons: there is yet to be found a cure for cancer, and tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of cancer.

Once the Bill passes through the Lords next month, it means that by 2027 no one aged 15 or younger today would be able legally to purchase tobacco or vaping products throughout their lifetimes. Notwithstanding the inevitable black market this would produce, by 2050 smoking in Britain and its negative health outcomes would be all but eradicated.

The plan for a smoking ban is modelled on proposals in New Zealand, which were repealed this year by a new government before they could take effect. But, with an overwhelming 383-67 majority built largely on opposition support, there is no chance Labour will backtrack upon forming the next government, as is widely expected.

Mr Sunak’s predecessors, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, rubbished the Bill — sure they would, citing an intrusion on freedom of choice — but the more persuasive arguments also came from within the ruling Conservative Party.

Sir Sajid Javid, the former health secretary, who backed Ms Truss for the shortest prime ministership in British history, said this about the addiction that is nicotine: “This drug diminishes freedom ... if cigarettes were first manufactured today, they would obviously never get through consumer product safety testing.”

And Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer: “This is a product which is designed to take your choice away from you. The great majority of smokers wish they had never started, but they become addicted at an early age and then they’re trapped — their choice has been taken away by that addiction.”

Midway through the 20th century, the world not only accepted that smoking was bad for your health, but also that something drastic needed to be done about it. An outright ban would have hit too many in the pocket, so the trade-off was tobacco companies being forced to advertise that their product actually kills — a bit after the Lord Mayor’s Show, given that by then most were already addicted to nicotine — and a very belated banning of smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces shortly after the turn of the millennium.

This next step, banning it altogether, would be a game-changer.

Since the first United States Surgeon-General’s report in 1964, more than 20 million Americans have died because of smoking, of which 2.5 million have been among non-smokers who have suffered second-hand, smoke-related disease.

Today’s RDH, an independent publisher and educational resource for registered dental hygienists, reported in January that smokers today are more likely to develop lung cancer than those who smoked 50 years ago, as 70 chemicals in cigarette smoke are known carcinogens.

The self-reported prevalence of smokers in Bermuda (10 per cent), per the Bermuda Health Strategy, may be lower than in many other rich countries — such as 13 per cent in both the US and Britain, which hopefully after Mr Sunak’s intervention will be soon running out of puff — but the number of cigarettes consumed is higher among those who smoke.

In 2019, there were 61 Bermudian deaths that could be attributed directly to smoking; that number was 58 in 1990, which shows we have a sustained problem. With so many in our country either uninsured or underinsured, the health outcomes are not encouraging, and the costs are mounting.

Let’s not forget that between 2006 and 2017, spending on health was up by nearly 70 per cent. This cannot be laid entirely at the door of smokers, obviously, but the contribution of lung cancer and related disease to the statistics is undeniable.

Bermuda prides itself on being a “world leader” on any number of levels. While an argument can be made among our two economic pillars for international business, any such claim in the tourism industry would be fanciful at best.

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the “new kids on the block” — fintech, family offices, you take your pick — as David Burt, Jason Hayward and the economic development machinery strain at the leash à la The Little Engine That Could to drive foreign monies our way.

The pursuit of universal health coverage, embedded within the ambitiously driven Bermuda Health Strategy 2022-2027, is well under way and anything within its remit that can save lives and drive down costs should be entertained.

Included in the health ministry’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment is an incentive for the provision of smoking prevention and cessation services. What better way to achieve that objective than by ultimately banning smoking altogether?

With a ban, whether it is all-encompassing or graded such as what is being proposed in Britain, we could dispense overnight with the raging back-and-forth over legalising cannabis — against which our 2017 opinion stands.

Make no mistake, notwithstanding the Bermuda Government’s determination in the face of resistance in Whitehall to accrue a revenue stream in this area, the vast majority of those who are in the “yes” camp reside there not because of any medicinal benefits (cannabidiol), but because they want freedom to get high (THC) — and with that achieve value for money in prolonging the sensation by adding a tobacco component that manufacturers were forced to admit more than a half-century ago can kill you.

And has done to the tune of millions.

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Published May 17, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated May 16, 2024 at 4:49 pm)

Smoking kills, that’s a fact – how about we kill it?

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