Monday, 12 August 2013

My Fight Against the Tobacco Industry (Smoking in Cars and Plain Packaging)

3 years ago, in June 2010, I went to the Children's Ward at Darlington Memorial Hospital where the British Lung Foundation had set up workstations so they could advertise their new campaign to get smoking banned in cars if there is a passenger under the age of 18.
Lungs are for Life
Here is the article from the Branksome Bugle written by Elizabeth Davey about it:
On Wednesday 16th June, members of the Branksome Bugle went to visit the Memorial Hospital to see the launch of a British Lung Foundation campaign. 

During our trip we found out lots of things about smoking and second-hand smoke such as; there is 4000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, a 20 a day smoker after 7 months will have 83ml of tar in their lungs, around two million children live in a household where they are exposed to cigarette smoke, about 21% of children and 15% of adults have been diagnosed with asthma and about one in eight boys and one in ten girls report a long term respiratory disease.

Children should be able to enjoy a smoke free environment inside and outside the home so to do this why don't you help us and the British lung foundation by getting 50,000 signatures that will then go to 10 Downing Street. The British lung foundation will be trying to ban smoking in cars where passengers may be 18 or under. The British lung foundation aims to have the 50,000 signatures by early 2011.

Whilst we were there the Memorial Hospital, the British lung foundation were launching their children’s charter. They were also celebrating 25 years of helping people with lung conditions. During our visit we also interviewed a man called Dr John Furness and here are some of the things we talked about:
Liam Pape, Branksome Bugle editor, asked “So what exactly is your job?” 
John replied “I am a consultant which is someone who looks after children with breathing problems”.
James Allison, Journalist, asked “So what are Lungs?”
John replied “The lungs are just skin with little hairs on them.”
Elizabeth Davey asked if he thinks the British lung foundation will get the 50,000 signatures they want and John said “Absolutely, there are 6.2 million people on the earth so we will definitely get 50,000”.

After the Branksome Bugle’s trip to the Memorial Hospital we have now realised how precious life is and someday that we might even save a life ourselves but unless you help the British lung foundation with the petition then more women men and children will die because of cigarette smoke or passive smoking.

Then, the following year, in March 2011 the same editorial team from the Branksome Bugle (including me) went down to London with the British Lung Foundation to hand in their petition. I was lucky enough to be one of the pupils selected to go down Downing Street and knock on the Prime Ministers door.

At 10 Downing Street
Here is the article from the Branksome Bugle about that:
On the 2nd March 2011, 5 members of the Branksome Bugle assisted by Mr Tearney and Mrs Hickerson and went down to London to hand in a petition to stop people from smoking in cars if there is a passenger under the age of 18. We were going on this trip because last June we went to Darlington Memorial Hospital and we supported the launch of the British Lung Foundation’s children charter. Since then the BLF have received over 15,000 signatures. Here is the story of our day at London:

After our long train journey, Rebecca did a Metro radio interview at Kings Cross station. After that we got 2 tubes to Westminster station where we were equipped with British Lung Foundation T-shirts. We then walked to the gates of Downing Street. There were lots of press there including BBC London. We met schools from Liverpool, Birmingham, Charfield and Surrey. It was then the time, 5 of us were chosen to go into Downing Street and hand in the petition.

The walk down to number 10 was long and when we arrived at the huge black door everyone was very nervous. We then knocked; a security guard answered and took the petition box off us. Everyone was happy but even more nervous because we had a TV interview with Newsround. After that we were lead back to the gates and had some more photographs taken.

After a short walk from Downing Street to Westminster we arrived for the British Lung Foundation reception. We walked down past Oliver Cromwell. After having a photo id taken, we had our bags scanned and we were searched. We walked down through the Great Hall, which had fabulous detail, and collected our name badges. We entered room A, which had been assigned to us. We then lined up for Westminster’s finest cuisine. After we were all stuffed, Dame Helena got up onto the plinth and gave a touching speech about why we were all gathered. Once she had finished The Health Minster got up and gave us all of his and members of his team’s support. Then when all the speeches had finished, we had one last chant and the seven of us headed to the train station for our last stop, home.

During March 2013 some people from Fresh North East came into DSMS to ask selected pupils about their opinion on the tobacco industry, cigarette packaging and smoking in general .The film was shown at their conference on March 20th where there were various other speakers talking about how bad the tobacco industry is and how they've been lying and deceiving people. 

I also made a short speech at the conference presenting a teenagers point of view of the tobacco industry and the damage they are doing. When writing the speech I was told numerous times that I need to be anti-smoking – not anti-smoker. This means I couldn’t have big rant putting down everyone who smokes because, quite frankly, it is their decision if they smoke or not.

Presenting my speech at the Ramside Hall Hotel
Here is my speech:
There has been lots of news coverage recently about the ethics and behaviour of multinational corporations, from tax evasion to horsemeat.

It got me wondering why the behaviour of an industry whose behaviour has been so appalling, over six decades is let off the hook and seems so far away from people’s radar.

The Tobacco industry makes billions, of pounds every year at the expense of health and lives lost. They are ultimately selling poison to people of any age. If they wanted to, the tobacco industry has the power to stop millions of people around the world from dying every year. Smoking causes 6 million deaths worldwide every year, and around 115,000 every week. To put this in perspective, that is the population of Durham plus the population of Chester-le-Street plus the population of Bishop Auckland every week. That is a lot of people.

For those who talk about adult choice, let’s remember this. For every customer who either dies or quits, the tobacco industry needs to replace them. Most new smokers will probably be teenagers around my age, maybe older, but many much younger. I asked some people in my school why they started smoking. Some were pressured into it by their friends, one person said their parents smoked so it was easy to get cigarettes and another person said they started smoking because they thought it was cool. The good thing is that more people said they had no intention of ever smoking.

Whether people smoked or not, I was surprised how many had a story to tell about how smoking had harmed someone in their family. There are numerous ways that the government can reduce the number of people smoking, from unlabelled packaging to simply raising the price of cigarettes. More dramatic adverts showing the damages of smoking might be effective like what they have that in Australia which has proven positive results. The unlabelled packaging would stop some first time smokers from buying cigarettes because they would have less attractive colours on the boxes.

You've all read about the horse meat scandal and how supermarkets are mislabelling their products, it confuses me why cigarette packets don’t even say what’s in the product. f people knew the vile and disgusting things they were smoking they would stop.

Bottom line, it doesn't matter what, but something needs to be done.

One thing I heard many times throughout the day was Plain Packaging. This is what most people at the conference (including MP’s and Doctors) wanted. Plain Packaging is where cigarettes are packed in a mouldy green colour and have graphic health warnings instead of fancy, attractive and colourful packaging which is currently on sale in the UK.

So during May I wrote a letter to David Cameron (Prime Minister), Nick Clegg (the deputy Prime Minister), Anna Sousbry (Department of Health), Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Health) and Jenny Chapman (MP for Darlington) asking them what they were doing to help the push for plain packaging. For writing this letter I got interviewed by The Northern Echo and Radio 1’s Newsbeat so I could tell them what I was doing.

Click here for a copy of my letter to the Prime Minister.

Not everyone agreed with what I was doing though. A group for plain packaging who think that it wouldn't make a difference got hold of the letter and wrote quite a lengthy blog post questioning some of my points. There were also a few dozen comments agreeing with the blogger and asking if the writer of the letter was even a real teenage boy or if I was just a name Fresh NE used to write letters to important MP’s. I can give you the honest truth - I am a real boy.

Although it is not going to be happening in the near future I think that by this time next decade plain packaging will just be accepted and there will be no complaints about it.