Guest Post: Welsh Local Health Board Continues to Demonize Smokers and Vapers Alike

The following post is from Rhydian Mann, these are his thoughts on the “Red Button” debacle.

It has been 2 weeks since a West Wales health board called Hywel Dda implemented what I can only describe as one of the most extreme forms of ridiculous “Tobacco Control” measures in the history of looking after the health of people in Wales. For those who want the background, please check out this trumpet blowing.

*deep breath*

Some of the readers of the ViP blogs and other contributions may have already seen the thoughts of other vaping bloggers on this. This is one example. Be warned it may contain colourful wording. However, I’d like to put the experiences from and what I heard at the Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) 2016 and apply it to the newest avenue of “health care” in Wales.

It is very well established that the armoury of tobacco control and smoking reduction, when in the hands of certain groups, includes taxation (to make cigarettes etc too expensive) and what something what I can only call “picking on smokers” to make them feel bad that they are smoking so much that they want to stop smoking ASAP. The posh word is known as “demonisation”. This is what I think Hywel Dda have gone beyond (not that there is an actual cap to it).

So, how is this “magic red button” demonising smokers? Firstly, since 2007 in Wales, by law, all indoor spaces such as a hospitals have been designated smoke-free zones. Ok, fair cop there. However, now smokers (and vapers on occasion) must now go outside the walls of the hospital to smoke or vape. This is where the underpinnings of such restrictions fall down. Currently, there is very little scientific evidence to support any kind of smoking ban outdoors. In regards to vaping, no evidence at all! I am also not going to babble on about this either, yet again others have written about it. If you force a smoker, who is having specialised care, to go outdoors, not just beyond the doors but beyond the boundaries of the hospital grounds, you are severely putting their health at more risk.

Back to the “magic red button”. Demonisation, doesn’t not have to come from a person in your face but more often than not, it comes from an anonymous force such as a poster, a label or a voice for where you have no clue where the source is. This is exactly how Hywel Dda are now doing things. They are using a voice from a box, triggered by some person who is probably nowhere near said smoker or vaper. Talk about “big brother is watching you”, right?

CeilingCat
If this is the preferred method for Hywel Dda to deal with smoking on grounds, they will only succeed in pushing patients and visitors and employees who smoke away from the key care they need. Push the patient’s etc far enough away, they won’t come back! Is that winning? I seriously doubt it!

Pushing away smokers will not encourage them to stop smoking or switch to vaping, they will more than likely shun anyone or anywhere that prohibits them from smoking in an outdoor space. So how can a local health board like Hywel Dda and any other hospital or healthcare site in Wales, do the right thing?

1 – End silly restrictions which are not scientifically justified and…

2 – Show some compassion.

Compassion, towards a smoker who is willing to stop smoking or is fed up of making “quit attempts” but still struggles on, is the helping hand they need. We are human after all, we all need compassion from time to time. Smokers are no different. Unless you are a particular official back in 2014.

Today, well more like a week ago, compassion was they key message from Dr Marewa Glover of Massey University, New Zealand. Her keynote presentation called “The Michael Russell Oration” but subtitled “Pioneering with Compassion…” showed how smokers in New Zealand have been and are still facing the same sorts of demonisation tactics as those in Wales.

ShameThem

Hywel Dda UHB not only demonises and will now shame smokers in the public outdoor areas of their hospital grounds, they are also borderlining on using emotional blackmail. Not sure what I mean? Take a listen to this. For at least 2 decades, tobacco control et al have been using the world-renowned line…

ChildrenMeme
…but now they are actually using recordings of local school children to send out their message. In my opinion, emotional blackmail is one of the most powerful yet most vulgar skills that people can possess. Emotional blackmail is how you (sometimes) get a young child to behave at home etc. Emotional blackmail is most certainly not the avenue to give an adult the motivation to stop smoking or switch to vaping. This method should be stopped, 100%, completely, by all Public Health and Tobacco Control groups.

Being compassionate, showing that you are not a wagging pointed finger that goes “naughty smoker!” or “naughty vaper!” is the way forward. So is Hywel Dda this wagging finger? I think so! As Hywel Dda’s smoke-free policy also captures vaping, it goes above and beyond the call of duty IN COMPLETELY THE WRONG DIRECTION.

I am aiming that at you too, the previous Welsh Government’s preferred source of scientific advice and evidence, the British Medical Association. Why do you still want to stamp out vaping in public areas? Where is your evidence? If…might…could…maybe…are just not good enough anymore. I get it! If you don’t like something, for whatever teeny reason, you want a ban. Go back to what your primary purpose is, being a trade union.

Please stop demonising and be compassionate instead. At least encourage vaping on your hospital grounds instead of banning it. Take a look across the border to England. As Dr Stephen Fowlie, Medical Director of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (first Trust to allow vaping, within reason, in England) said in May 2016:

[…] we think the potential for e-cigs to help patients give up the much more dangerous habit of smoking cigarettes… is far more important.

That is how it should be done. This of harm reduction via compassion. This is further back up by Professor John Britton of the Royal College of Physicians:

We need to encourage all patients and visitors who smoke and find it difficult to abstain while in hospital grounds to use medicinal nicotine, or an electronic cigarette.

The era of demonising smokers and vapers must come to an end. Now is the time to show compassion and support.