Tobacco, the most deadly product

We are in the middle of an industrially produced epidemic. The cause of the epidemic is the tobacco industry. According to the World Health Organization 5.4 million people die from tobacco use each year, and deaths may increase to more than 8 million by 2030. Tobacco kills half of its users, and as a result of marketing and availability worldwide more and more people are taking up the deadly habit. The epidemic has yet to reach its peak.

As a nurse I have witnessed much human suffering and premature death from tobacco use. In my clinical practice I felt powerless to stem the flood of disease and death. Yes, I could talk to people about quitting, and I could care for the sick and dying. But at the same time, the tobacco industry continued to promote its deadly products and produce more and more suffering and death.

I do not believe that tobacco use is merely a matter of adult personal choice. It is a fact that most smokers become addicted as teenagers. I know that tobacco is addictive. Even the tobacco industry knows that. Addison Yeaman, general counsel for the Brown and Williamson tobacco company, wrote in 1963: “…Nicotine is addictive. We are, then, in the business of selling nicotine, an addictive drug…” It is not merely addictive, it is deadly. Tobacco causes harm to every organ in your body. It causes cancer, heart disease; lung disease… the list goes on and on.

When it dawned on me that we need to stop the tobacco industry from promoting such a terrible and deadly product I joined up with a group of nurse activists. We call ourselves the Nightingales Nurses as we are continuing in Florence Nightingales’ nursing tradition of advocacy on behalf of our patients. Each year since 2004 we have gone to Philip Morris and other tobacco company shareholder meetings to highlight the tobacco-caused suffering we have witnessed and ask how “socially responsible” it is to keep promoting cigarettes.

I remember my knees were shaking and my mouth was dry the first time that I stood at the microphone and spoke about the terrible suffering I had seen as a result of their product. But I also felt so relieved to be able to tell the horror to the CEO and the other top executives, and I felt proud of my colleagues who spoke out at the meeting. One nurse asked for a minute’s silence in respect of her father who died prematurely as a result of tobacco use. Another invited the CEO to visit her hospital where she cared for patients dying from lung cancer. Needless to say he did not take her up on the proposal. The tobacco companies claim that they are socially responsible. We asked them how it is possible to be socially responsible and still promote a product that kills half of its users. So far they do not have a satisfactory answer. See news of our latest protests at

The Nightingales want the industry to stop actively marketing and promoting tobacco products. Can you help us to combat the epidemic? Here are our suggestions:

· We ask that institutional retirement plans divest from tobacco stock ownership. No-one should have to rely on tobacco company profits for a secure retirement. Ask your institution or pension plan to break its tobacco habit through divestment.

· Ask your insurance company if they provide full coverage for tobacco cessation treatment programs as a part of every health insurance plan.

· Do not accept tobacco industry funding for any social programs or health research. Acceptance of such funding legitimizes the industry and helps perpetuate the industry-promoted myth that we still don’t really understand the links between smoking and disease.

· Support R Rating for tobacco use in movies. Most smokers start using cigarettes as teens, and studies show that kids who view smoking in movies are more likely to take up smoking. For more information go to

· Restoration of full funding levels for comprehensive state tobacco control programs, which have been shown to be effective in reducing tobacco use and changing norms about tobacco. Contact your local smokefree coalition, American Lung Association chapter, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association or other groups working for tobacco control and ask how you can help.

The Nightingales are an international all volunteer group. For more information, or to donate to our cause, please visit our website at

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @RN2Q1Campaign

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