EDITORIAL: When a smoking gun can’t break the habit

OUR lives are filled with hard decisions wherein we weigh up the pros and cons, scoping the full range of possibilities, and ultimately commit to a course of action. 

Those with serious illness face many choices that are made for them, such as the need for treatment and the form it may take. Their decisions are ostensibly among the most difficult many of us could contemplate. 

But University of Newcastle clinical psychologist Dr Kristen McCarter’s work appears to show what on paper appears to be a very simple decision for cancer patients is one largely being made to their own detriment. 

There is barely a trace of doubt left in 2018 that cancer and smoking are intertwined, and few smokers are unaware that their habit carries a myriad of drawbacks ranging from the colour of their teeth to their risk for a range of diseases. 

In that climate, the figures Dr Kristen McCarter cites ahead of the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance event today are striking. Her research finds about half of all cancer patients smoke beyond their diagnosis. 

The rate is higher for lung cancer, the disease most connected to the cigarette in the public consciousness. 

There is an understandable if not agreeable line of thought that after diagnosis, the worst has already happened. In Dr McCarter’s works, “patients may feel the damage is already done or it’s too late to quit”. It is a notion easy to dismiss for those of us who may not be facing its reality. 

These are not normal times for cancer patients. Many who have turned to cigarettes in times of stress throughout their lives may find it a hard habit to shake. But like most decisions with serious health ramifications, the choice to keep smoking is one with a gravity that needs to be fully understood.

Given the impact cigarettes can have on treatment it appears to be a facet where patients require better support and assistance to consider the psychological and clinical factors at play and to empower smokers with cancer to break a chemical dependency.  

Addiction is certainly a strong force to overwhelm the wealth of knowledge about tobacco’s health impacts, even as the taxes rise, the warnings emerge and even packages disappear behind plain cupboard doors at vendors. Stigma offers no help, but any work that can help find the type of support to best help the most vulnerable smokers to an easier decision to quit is worth pursuit. 

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