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No Smoking Day puts tobacco under the spotlight

No Smoking Day 130319 {seq} ( Photo John Bugeja) and Health promotion holding its annual stand outside the ICC Building

Tobacco contains so many nasty chemicals that if a drop of some of these was spilt onto Main Street the area would have to be shut down in order to make it safe.

This was the dramatic message from Gibraltar’s Director of Public Health, Dr Sohail Bhatti, yesterday on National No Smoking Day.

And in an interview with the Chronicle, Dr Bhatti also urged the Gibraltar Government to hike the price of cigarettes by a pound in order to motivate smokers to quit.

Gibraltar, Dr Bhatti said, has cheap tobacco and going across the border into Spain you will find tobacco is twice the price.

“Personally I would like and I would beseech the Government to put an extra pound on each cigarette pack,” he said.

“An extra 10 pounds on a pack of 200 would bring in loads of extra revenue to the Government. I know Government finances can be stretched.”

“That would still keep a big difference between us and Spain, but it will also mean that some people will be more motivated to give up.”

The message underpinning yesterday’s campaign was to ram home the damage that smoking causes.

Cigarettes contain 4,000 various chemicals.

“If I put a drop on the street of some of those chemicals, the Environment Agency would shut the street down because they are so harmful,” Dr Bhatti said.

“And yet 35% of the population smoke.”

“That puts us near the top of all populations in Western Europe.”

By way of comparison, in the UK the percentage is 15, while in places like California only 7% of people smoke.

Dr Bhatti has recently returned from an international forum on nicotine and tobacco in San Francisco, USA, where “the best research and evidence is presented”.

“Over the years we have built up quiet an understanding of the harm that tobacco brings. It is addictive, we know that,” he said.

“We know it causes lots of health problems and I am bringing back some of the learning from that conference.”

Dr Bhatti was Director of Public Health in Bristol, where he introduced the first ban on smoking in a public park.

“We have to create a hostile environment against it because it is harmful,” he said.

“If your child was exposed to just one of those chemicals there would be outrage.”

“If someone discovered benzene in a school we would evacuate the children because it would be harmful and yet I know that parents smoke in the same car as their child or in the same room, same home and in the womb.”

Dr Bhatti would like the Government to introduce compulsory “unified health warnings on cigarette packs and plain paper packaging.”

“Theresa May’s deal on Brexit and the Gibraltar element did refer to the implementation of the framework on tobacco control which says we should have plain paper packaging.”

“I am not saying to people you cannot buy cigarettes, I am just saying let’s take the competitive bit out of it,” he added.

Dr Bhatti said that the view in the UK is that “nicotine has been used by human societies for millennia and nicotine is of itself 90% less harmful. E-cigarettes, vaping, for example may have some harm associated with the flavourings as they are treated as food and not medication but it is 90% less harmful.”

“To be honest if overnight everyone in Gibraltar stopped smoking and started vaping I’d be over the moon,” he added.

He believes that Gibraltar is addicted to smoking and that needs to change.

Pics by Johnny Bugeja

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