Healthy Living in the North

Tobacco Battles: the difference of a generation

cigarette, tobacco, smoking

Leave that lonely old broken cigarette behind.

Do you know the significance of Friday, January 17th, or Wednesday, January 22nd? If not, you are not alone. These days were “just another day” for many Canadians.

Friday, January 17th marked the 50th anniversary of the United States surgeon general’s report on smoking and health.

What’s the big deal? Today, everyone knows that smoking is addictive and bad for you. That’s the key, though. Today, everyone knows. It was January 17th, 1964 that the US surgeon general first linked cigarette smoking to fatal diseases. (Though, the British made the connection between smoking tobacco and poor health effects in 1956.)

This landmark report started ongoing controversy between (and among) grassroots anti-smoking groups, researchers, policymakers, and the tobacco industry. This is the time when I grew up and faced those parts of growing up that one must face: playing sports, first loves, and increasing independence. With this, came the exposure to the offers of a first drink and a first smoke (swiped from my mom’s pack and led to 31 years of smoking). All the while, the big battles of tobacco were playing in the not too far distance.

The battle of tobacco was one of the backgrounds to my life. Most of the time I was totally unaware of the issues, but every now and then it caught my attention. For example, it surprised me when someone would ask me not to smoke around them, or when I saw or heard the ads for Weedless Wednesday.

Weedless Wednesday the third Wednesday in January when people are asked to give up tobacco use (in all forms) for the day. The idea is that this is a time to reflect on what tobacco use means to you whether you use or don’t use tobacco.

At some point in my lifetime, Weedless Wednesday became part of National Non-Smoking Week. (This year, National Non-Smoking week was January 19-25.) So, what is the bigger picture here? In my lifetime (and I’m not that old), smoking has gone from something that you did just like everyone else to smoking being something that is questioned. (“So, why would you smoke?!”)

While we have made great gains in getting people to quit smoking and using other forms of tobacco, we still have a ways to go. It is something that we can maybe quit all together one day – could you imagine?! It took me 31 years to say to myself (and others) that I have smoked long enough and can stop.

We may have missed those landmark dates for in the world of tobacco, but it’s never too late for you to quit. It doesn’t need to be Weedless Wednesday to stop and think about this. What does tobacco mean to you?

George Wiens

About George Wiens

Now retired, George was a team lead for the population health team in the northeast with a background in tobacco reduction. A long time resident of Dawson Creek, he has a lifelong curiosity about people and their behaviours. This interest carried him to UBC and through a degree in psychology. George enjoys working with people, gardening with his wife, cycling in the snow-free season, and flying kites in the spring breeze. George retired from Northern Health in May 2014.