I’ve been very fortunate throughout my advertising career to have had the privilege to work in the challenging area of behaviour change and more specifically around population health matters (such as smoking, falls and obesity amongst others).
Working in this industry (which at times has been rated in reputation surveys just one notch above car salesmen) has also provided me the opportunity to work with people who passionately believe (like me) that creativity can be an incredibly powerful driver or catalyst for positive change. People who are driven by purpose rather than profit.
I was recently reading an interesting report from the Public Health Association Australia (PHAA) titled ‘Public Health successes over the last 20 years’. In it is a section titled ‘Fewer people are dying due to smoking’ which caused me to stop and reflect for a moment.
Australia really is a global pioneer in Tobacco Control and all the campaigns, advocacy initiatives, legislative changes and endless other efforts have had long term positive impacts on the rate of smoking in Australia (under 12% of the adult population in WA if my memory serves me correctly). The statistic which really stood out to me was the rates of Australians who have neversmoked. I quote - ‘In 2016 rates of Australians who have never smoked are at around 50-60% for persons over 30 years of age, 70% for ages 25-29, 79% for ages 18-24, and impressively at 97.6% for ages 12- 17’.
As a father of three teenage boys I was pleased, but not entirely surprised, to see the 12-17 years of age statistic. I often use an anecdote from personal experience about smoking when illustrating this very point.
Some years ago, we invited a number of friends over to our home on a weekend for dinner. It was a balmy summer evening, we sat outside as the group of kids ran amuck in the house.
After dinner, the one smoker in the group of friends rolled and lit a cigarette - after politely checking with everyone around the table if it was OK for him to do so.
One of my sons, who must have only been 9 or 10 years old at the time came outside and after watching the smoker very curiously for a number of minutes asked, ‘Dad, what’s he doing?’.
It was an interesting moment for me
Here’s a generation of kids growing up, many never having had first-hand experience with smoking. My son had literally no idea what the smoker was doing and simply could not fathom why you would even want to do it. How could that possibly be enjoyable? When perhaps only a little over 20 years ago it was commonplace in the family home, today it is completely alien to an entire generation of Australian kids.
Aren’t we lucky?
But, I couldn’t end this observational piece without perhaps reflecting on what I see as the dangers ahead.
The discussion around vaping (or e-cigarettes) is significantly heating up globally with some concerning early indicators coming out of the US and the UK where vaping is less regulated than in Australia.
The truth of the matter is the evidence of the long-term health effects (or not) of vaping is not yet available, even though we have already seen a number of health issues emerging from the US. What concerns me the most however, is the misdirection and intentional confusion around the topic being generated by ‘vested interest’ groups. Those whose only purpose is to sell product and enslave another generation of youth to rely on their products without any real understanding (or regard) for the long-term health impacts.
Are we in danger of watching the last 30 or 40 years of tobacco control and smoking cessation work going up in smoke?