“Preventing, or at least reducing the incidence of, MS and other autoimmune diseases sounds relatively easy. Simply identify the risk factors and get the population to avoid them. Take smoking for example; it increases your risk of getting MS by approximately 50%, not to mention rheumatoid arthritis and a whole lot of other allergic diseases. Why then do people still smoke despite the negative publicity? My wife would say marketing, the power of branding and money. I note the Canadians have just given BAT (British American Tobacco) a whopping CAD$10.4bn (£5.5bn) fine; it was large enough to wipe 2.5% off the stock market value of BAT. Good on the Canadians. But is it enough?
I was doing an end-of year assessment with one of my academic trainees yesterday and said to him that the most important thing doctors can do is practice what they preach. You can’t tell your patients to exercise and lose weight if you are obese and a couch potato. You can’t tell your patients to stop smoking , and to try and stop their kids from smoking, if you smoke and your children smoke. This is why I am so disappointed that my daughter who is 18 smokes, and so do all her friends. Why? You don’t have to look too far to find out. It is cool to smoke; a large number of the role models that teenage girls idolise smoke. Girls also smoke to lose weight and stay thin. Smoking is an appetite suppressant; if you smoke you will be thinner. As Kate Moss says ‘nothing tastes as good as thin feels’. The corollary is nothing tastes as bad as kissing a smoker, when you are a non-smoker.
|Kate Moss – pretty, young and skinny; a smoking icon!|
One of the reasons we launched digesting science (www.digestingscience.co.uk) was to educate children of MSers about environmental risk factors linked to MS; in particular the link between low vitamin D levels and MS. We have always planned to add smoking to the mix, but have always wondered how responsive 6-12 year olds would be to an anti-smoking message. A better plan may be to finesse digesting science to cover teenagers? However, the coverage of digesting science is small and the message is unlikely to get to the general public.
On reflection the fine imposed on the BAT by the Canadians did not go far enough. May be the Canadian Government should have linked the fine to a defined target, for example if the rate in teenage smoking does not drop below 10% by 2025 they will double, triple or quadruple the fine. Nobody knows the black art of marketing to teenagers better than the tobacco industry; we should harness that expertise. A one off fine is unlikely to change their behaviour. Simply reducing teenage smoking to less than 10% will reduce the incidence of MS by 10-20% and in some countries by more; not to mention the impact on other autoimmune diseases.
Can anyone help? We need a prevention strategy that works. I hope there are some politicians reading this post.”