Sunday, 16 June 2013

Smoke and Mirrors at Piccadilly No 1 and 3, and Well Done Sue!

I was at No 3 Piccadilly Place last Thursday. It’s a fantastic building with high security and smart lifts which take you to your floor and nowhere else. The building was once the home to the North West Strategic health Authority. This ceased to exist on April 1st 2013, with their responsibilities being taken over by Clinical Commissioning Groups and the NHS Trust Development Authority. These days Health Education North West have their home there, and I was there for a meeting of the Greater Manchester Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) Education and Training Steering Group. It was the first time we had met since the AHSN gained it authorisation.

Like many areas in the public sector these days, we were there to modify our business plan for the next 5 years given our funding has been reduced from £10 million to £4 million. It was a slightly depressing meeting as the range of changes we had envisaged were reduced. Eventually our plans were revised and the meeting ended. Walking back to pick up my car up from Piccadilly Train Station, I was intrigued to see a shop had opened in the station precinct selling electronic cigarettes. It was packed and seemed to be doing a roaring trade!

I didn't know that these cigarettes have been around since 1963 when one Herbert Gilbert patented what he described as a ‘smokeless non tobacco cigarette’. It was a Chinese pharmacist called Hon Lik who is credited with current generation of electronic cigarettes. His design produces a smoke-like vapour that can be inhaled and which delivers nicotine into the blood stream through the lungs. The nicotine release can be the same as conventional tobacco based cigarettes. However as there is no tobacco in the electronic cigarettes there is no tar, and it is the tar in ordinary cigarettes that kills.

Although smoking (tobacco based products) is the biggest cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK, the benefits and risks associated with electronic cigarettes are still largely unknown. And whilst the dangers of smoking for the individual are well known, the choice to smoke or not has always been an individual one. It’s estimated that there are 10 million smokers in the UK, and about the same number of people who are ex-smokers. Successive UK Governments have done much to try and reduce the number of people smoking.

The use of electronic cigarettes is growing in the UK, there are now some 1 million people using them. Some in the medical profession see this as a good thing. Professor John Britton, who leads the tobacco advisory group for the Royal College of Physicians sees this growth as having massive potential public health gain. He noted that if all the smokers in the UK stopped smoking tobacco based cigarettes and started smoking electronic cigarettes, up to 5 million deaths could be avoided. Last week it was announced that the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency are to regulate electronic cigarettes as the UK government have now decided these are medicinal products!

Foucault (who did smoke marijuana) would turn in his grave at such social control. I was once a smoker and I used to smoke Piccadilly No 1 cigarettes. But I chose to give up. Nothing to do with any government campaign, I just got fed up with it one day and that was that – I stopped. Yesterday I saw that my friend and former colleague Sue Bernhauser was honoured for her contribution to nursing with an OBE – brilliant news and well deserved – and I have never seen her with a cigarette in her hand.