We often hear smoking gun used to describe the “ah ha” moment of a who done it. I was unsure of the meaning and asked Siri. My Apple genius defined it as “as piece of incontrovertible incriminating evidence.”
I know two things with high confidence: (i) there is a very strong correlation between smoking and lung cancer, and (ii) implying smoking as a cause adds to the self-induced stigma that smacks down research for my disease. So, how do we address the stigma without pointing the smoking gun?
I couldn’t stop because I was addicted to nicotine. When I was young and fearless, almost everyone smoked and I joined the crowd. In my 30’s, most quit. I tried, many times and ways, but couldn’t. My addiction was stronger than will power. Addiction is irrational. Most addicts recognize the harm, but recognition caves in the face of physical craving.
How is addiction to nicotine different from alcohol, heroin, or cocaine? It isn’t but what do the health authorities call it? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says smoking caused 480,000 deaths last year in the United States. Note absence of the word addiction. The CDC also says about 88,000 people die annually from alcohol abuse. Note abuse is not addiction. Almost 35,000 people died from heroin overdose in 2015, according to the National Institute of Health. Note again, overdose is not addiction. It is unreasonable to suggest these deaths resulted from one time or occasional use.
I contend not using addiction to characterize the root cause is part of the problem. If I smoke, abuse or overdose, I am branded guilty of doing something wrong. I am causing the problem. There is no disease or medical abnormality; therefore, there is nothing to research. This individual guilt becomes a collective stigma. If our national health authority doesn’t treat use as addictive, it certainly won’t be prone to find new treatments. Nor, will there be interest in treating consequences. Thus, the paltry research funding for lung cancer.
Many people experiment with addictive drugs and are fortunate to stop short of addiction. But, when one can’t stop, one is addicted and mechanisms must be found to treat the addiction. So, let’s change the nomenclature. I am addicted to nicotine and my addiction likely caused lung cancer. Where is the smoking gun pointed now?
Stay the course.