Urgent need to tackle smoking among poor
The State is losing the war against smoking and needs to radically rethink its approach, the incoming chairman of the Irish Cancer Society has warned.
With smoking rates as high as they were a decade ago, before the ban on smoking in public places was introduced, a new strategy is needed that focuses on community grassroots and poorer areas, said Prof John Kennedy.
The failure to curb smoking among underprivileged groups, where rates are more than 50 per cent, is condemning these communities to higher cancer rates and shorter lifespans, says the society.
Today, to mark its 50th anniversary, which is this year, the State’s largest domestic charity launches a new strategy document to promote cancer prevention and treatment.
It says “worryingly high” rates of cancer in poorer communities, where rates are twice those in affluent areas, need to be tackled as a matter of urgency. Smoking is to blame for up to half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest groups in society.
“Despite the strides made in cancer diagnosis and treatment . . . Ireland has become a very unequal society when it comes to health problems, particularly cancer and access to healthcare,” says said Prof Kennedy, a consultant oncologist at St James’s Hospital. “There is a worrying divide emerging and we must work to begin to close this gap.”
While diet, smoking and alcohol play an important part in determining a person’s cancer risk, he said it is wrong to argue that a person’s cancer risk is “self-inflicted” because many of these habits start at a young age. The fact that 29 per cent of the population smokes, the same as a decade ago, is “disappointing”.
“It’s an incredibly tough nut to crack but it’s clear that the State’s policy has been a failure. We simply haven’t done a very good job of getting people to give up smoking.”
The society is planning a grassroots approach, focusing on sports and community groups, especially those dealing with teenagers. “We need to deal with children and teenagers at the point before they start thinking of smoking. It seems incredibly attractive to them, and we need to understand why this is.”
The recent decision by hospitals to start collecting charges for day patients receiving cancer treatment is causing “incredible hardship”, he said. “A cancer diagnosis can be devastating, not only on the medical level but also on the financial level.”