Thursday, March 06, 2008

Because This is What Really Matters

We all know that Pope Benedict has nothing better to do than ban smoking, right? Thought so. It seems a group of doctors are going to attempt to convince the Holy Father to do just that.

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

From the Fall River Herald News:

Reflecting the gravity and addictiveness of the health problem, two dozen area doctors and nurses are appealing to a higher authority to curtail cigarette use.

When Pope Benedict XVI visits the United States in April, they plan to come armed with a petition with thousands of names asking the pope “to declare the Vatican the world’s first country to ban tobacco in its entirety.”

They are asking the pope to also “condemn the production, distribution and sale” of cigarettes and all tobacco products.

They are citing nicotine’s addictive force and that more than 5 million deaths a year worldwide is traced to smoking.

“We are frustrated over the lack of action on the part of our leaders whose job it is to protect and advocate for the common good,” said Dr. Claude Curran, a city psychiatrist treating addicts and co-founder of Physicians and Nurses Against Tobacco.

Curran said they selected the pope not only for his religious, moral and spiritual leadership but because “he’s the head of a country. … He’s not only the Vicar of Christ. He’s also the defender of man,” Curran said. “Who’s going to protect us if he doesn’t?”

During the past few months, Curran and several others formed PANAT. “Many of us work in addiction medicine and we understand the damage caused by tobacco,” he said.

Their Web site,, contains a petition saying they’ll “implore” Benedict to join them by declaring the Vatican tobacco-free and support their aims.
The petition effort began a few weeks ago.

They plan to publish the petition in New England newpapers during Pope Benedict’s first visit to the country, to Washington, D.C., and New York City April 15-20.

Curran pointed to the World Health Organization’s report one month ago stating that smoking killed 100 million people worldwide in the 20th century with the prospect of the numbers increasing ten-fold this century.

“We hold in our hands the solution to the global tobacco epidemic that threatens the lives of 1 billion men, women and children during this century,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director general.

A WHO official that directs its tobacco-free initiative said the estimate of 5.4 million smoking-related deaths a year could rise to more than 8 million annually by 2030 if nothing is done.

While the WHO report advocates dramatic efforts to stop young people from starting smoking, helping others quit and reducing second-hand smoke, the PANAT activists attack the nicotine addiction problem.

“Nicotine causes changes in the way the brain works and nobody wants to admit it,” said Curran, a psychiatrist who has treated drug addicts in the city for the past decade.

“Chemicals that are addictive change the way the brain works,” he said. He said the changes to brain lesions from addictive chemicals are scientifically documented.
“Therefore, it’s neuro-chemical; it’s not a behavioral issue.”

People are dependent daily for the nicotine in tobacco or the caffeine in coffee “because the brain likes it,” Curran said. But he contrasts the daily lines of regular Dunkin’ Donuts coffee drinkers looking for their morning doses with addicted cigarette smokers this way:

“Six million people — the number of Jews that died in the Holocaust — don’t die every year because they drink coffee.” But they do from tobacco use.

The PANAT Web site gives an example of the nicotine implant on the brain and why smokers “don’t just quit” with a contrasting story about the excitement of riding a rollercoaster.

“The accelerations, twists and turns can be so thrilling and exhilarating that a group of friends at an amusement park may spend their whole day riding the rollercoaster,” it says. The next day, when they return to school or work, they might recollect the memories and fun to friends.

“They did not suffer irresistible urges or cravings to get back on the rollercoaster. They did not go back, day after day … to spend their life riding the rollercoaster. They did not overlook their health or responsibilities in order to get the ‘rollercoaster high’. “Not so with drug-induced euphorias,” PANAT says.

“What we want the tobacco industry to do,” said Curran, readily stating his treatment of addicts here has drawn controversy, “is to start reducing the nicotine in tobacco plants; so, within five years no one is inclined to smoke it” – or be addicted.

He said the government removed the cocaine from Coke, but with a world health care crisis won’t follow suit with tobacco products. “The reason,” he said, “is everyone is making so much money.”

“It is an indefensible, moral question that has to be addressed. The American health care system is on the brink of collapse,” said Dr. Roger Boshes, another city psychiatrist and PANAT co-founder.

“Heart disease, pulmonary disorders, lung cancer, these are all directly influenced by smoking,” Boshes said.

About 15 years ago, before Edward Bernays died at 103 years old, several PANAT members said they met the man often credited with being “the creator of public relations as we know it,” who immortalized the bacon and eggs breakfast among other accepted staples.

Working for the American Tobacco Co. in the 1920s, long before the health dangers of cigarette smoking became known and accepted, Bernays used female models and the Easter Day Parade in New York City to sell his product.

On his signal, the models lit Lucky Strike cigarettes in a successful effort to erase the stigma of women smoking, the wikipedia Web site documents.

“Group of Girls Puff at Cigarettes as a Gesture of Freedom,” read the New York Times headline of April 1, 1928.

Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, asked years ago by Curran and a couple others how to reverse the worldwide cigarette curse he helped bolster, planted the idea of petitioning the pope.

“Let us stomp out the ‘torches of freedom’ and bring something else to light: The eradication of tobacco,” PANAT says.

Yes, smoking is harmful and some theologians consider it to be objectively sinful, but...come on. Let's get real. There are bigger issues. The Vatican has already banned indoor smoking. In fact, many cardinals were unhappy during the conclave because they had to go up to the roof to smoke.


Brian Michael Page said...

I haven't smoked in two years. However, I have to agree - there are FAR bigger issues to worry about than smoking.

DominiSumus said...

I have never smoked, wouldn't advise it to anyone, and encourage everyone who does smoke to quit. I even enjoy being able to go places and not have to face a smokefilled room, but its not on the top of my list of priorities.

I wonder how far they will get with the Pope. lol!

Brian Michael Page said...

I'm willing to bet he'll use the words that Jesus said to Martha when she was bickoring about Mary not helping with the hospitality needs:

"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things..."


DominiSumus said...

I'll second that!