Burning desire

GERCINE CARTER,

Added 15 August 2010

webdrtonygale3

“We welcome the measure, but it is too little too late,” says Dr Tony Gale, reacting to Government’s recently announced ban on smoking in public places.The 87-year-old retired general practitioner directed the Barbados Cancer Society’s tobacco programme from 1985 until 2008 when he resigned due to advancing age. In an interview with the Sunday Sun, Gale expressed the view that Government had been too slow in implementing the measures for tobacco eradication set out in the Framework Convention On Tobacco Control, which he said Government had signed and ratified in 2005.He explained: “The Framework Convention On Tobacco Control, an international treaty signed by 168 member countries of the World Health Organisation (WHO), had similar objectives to our [Barbados Cancer Society’s] programme. Virtually all the measures recommended by the Barbados Cancer Society to the Government since 1985 are almost identical to the measures recommended by the Framework Convention. “There are about 12 measures that have been mandated by the treaty, but they have only implemented two measures. The first was to prohibit the sale of tobacco to minors and this latest measure, banning of smoking in public places.“If it takes ten years to introduce two measures, by my reckoning it will be 20 years to implement the other ten, and signing the treaty would have had no effect at all,” Gale argued.Gale was invited to join the Barbados Cancer Society in 1985, and subsequently became director of the society’s tobacco programme started by George Johnson.He embarked on a sustained and relentless programme of public education about the dangers of smoking, frequently writing letters and articles to newspapers, supported by a radio campaign. The society’s mission was to prevent and eradicate or reduce to a minimum the disability and death caused by tobacco consumption.And Gale reports “tremendous success” was reaped from that programme.  It was the only one of its kind in the Caribbean up until 1998, and it “changed Barbadians’ beliefs, attitudes and behaviour in the way intended, and created a social environment in which tobacco smoking was no longer socially acceptable”. Gale added that “it helped the vast majority of Barbadians to understand and willingly accept the legal, social and economic measures needed to protect them from, and reduce, tobacco-related diseases”.A mark of the programme’s success and international recognition was the award of  WHO’s Tobacco Or Health Gold Medal in 1993 to the Barbados Cancer Society, and the award of the WHO Tobacco-Free World Gold Medal to Gale in 1999.“We are very pleased that we had such a good influence on changing people’s behaviour. But we feel that if we had that influence without support from Government or any other agency, Government with their resources, if they had implemented all the measures of the Framework Convention, the use of tobacco could have been eliminated within a few years,” Gale said.“This is why we are not at all impressed by this latest measure; not because of the measure itself, not because of what they have done; but because of what they have not done. “When I resigned, [tobacco] consumption had fallen to about six per cent. So I was hoping that by now it would have been down to one or two per cent.” According to WHO, tobacco is the only legal product which when used as intended by its manufacturers, endangers or destroys the freedom and wrecks the health of all habitual users, and kills 50 per cent of those who do not quit, 25 per cent prematurely.  WHO also reports that exposure to air pollution caused by tobacco maims and kills more non-smokers than any other man-made pollutant. According to a WHO expert advisor, unless a drastic reduction in tobacco consumption takes place, in the 21st century it will cause one billion deaths and 80 per cent will be in developing countriesGale has seen the damage done by tobacco in his 50-year medical practice. “I saw all types of tobacco-related diseases. My own mother smoked from the time she was very young and I stopped her from smoking. At 79 she developed cancer of the throat, but, luckily, being a doctor I looked out for it and we caught it early.” Gale has written the book Breaking The Link With Tobacco, and though he has retired from the Barbados Cancer Society’s programme, there is no letting up on the crusade against smoking.“You have to realise that the tobacco industry never rests. It is always promoting tobacco, and it targets the people who are most vulnerable: namely, children.“Unless there is an active and ongoing programme, smoking will continue among young people.”

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