The irony of new showpiece cancer unit used as an ashtray

The North Staffs Hospital cancer unit (to the right of the sign).

The North Staffs Hospital cancer unit (to the right of the sign).

Make no bones about it – I’ve had my money’s worth out of the National Health Service.

To date my highlights include a tonsillectomy, treatment for several asthma attacks, the removal of kidney stones, emergency surgery for broken bones, the removal of metal plates from my legs, and, currently, treatment for thyroid cancer.

I’ve spent weeks on wards up at what is now the University Hospital of North Staffordshire as well as in hospitals on Merseyside.

And I still don’t get it. I still don’t understand why people – patients and relatives alike – stand outside these temples of healing and continue to smoke.

We’ve all seen them: pregnant women in dressing gowns; the overweight; people in wheelchairs; the worried mums, dads, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents; those pushing little trolleys carrying saline bags feeding intravenous drips – all puffing away.

Surely the irony can’t be lost on them?

People go into hospital, generally, as a last resort. They are admitted, hopefully, so that they can be made better. To help them recover.

Then a goodly number of them, and their loved ones, stand outside sucking lung-fulls of poison which is indisputably having a negative impact on their health.

I always wonder what the doctors must think (the ones who don’t smoke that is).

Imagine the conversation – “Nurse, have you seen Mr Benson from bay three? He really shouldn’t be up and about so soon after his triple bypass. Tell me he’s just nipped to the loo.”

“He’s outside doctor, having a fag.”

Groan. “Why do I bother..?”

You see, I sympathise completely with health chief Mike Brereton’s incredulity at recent transgressions up at Hartshill.

More than £70 million has been spent on creating two new showpiece cancer (yes, cancer) and maternity units at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire.

They have only been open a few weeks and already the smokers are congregating – stubbing out their cigarettes on the beautiful white pillars and using the entrances as ashtrays. Charming.

Now I’ve heard all of the excuses. I’ve listened to the apologists hiding behind the ‘rights of individuals’.

I’ve been told, many times, how hard it is to give up.

I’ve heard people bemoan the death of ‘real pubs for the working man’ as a result of the smoking ban.

And I’ve kept quiet while people have justified their habit or their inability to quit with every excuse under the sun.

I’ve heard how smoking soothes people at stressful times like when they are busy, worried about their jobs or when someone is ill.

I’ve seen members of my own family standing outside a hospital smoking in an attempt to assuage their grief just moments after losing someone they love.

I’ve even had to listen to smokers telling me how the tax they pay on cigarettes helps to pay for my treatment on the NHS and how alcohol, not cigarettes, is the real societal problem.

Frankly, it’s all cobblers.

It’s hard to give up, is it? Don’t give me that. I was diagnosed with asthma at four. My mum quit smoking on the spot.

Smoking helps people cope with stress, does it?

Why not try a cup of Earl Grey or listen to some music? You won’t stink, they are cheaper and they won’t kill you.

You see, I’ve never understood why people smoke and I never will.

As an asthmatic I struggle to breathe at the best of times so the thought of clogging up my airways with pollutants and toxins would never cross my mind.

I saw my mate Richie try it at 14. I watched him cough his guts up and that, thankfully, was the end of the allure for him.

Let’s face it – there’s really no excuse for smoking these days.

The causal link between lung cancer and tobacco smoking was established more than 50 years ago.
Since then a wealth of research has hammered home the tragic consequences of tobacco consumption and the addictive nature of nicotine.

The statistics are eye-watering.

Smoking is today the UK’s single greatest cause of preventable illness and early death.

More than 114,000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses including a raft of cancers.

Need I go on?

Life is full of risks and there are plenty of other perfectly legal, addictive and unhealthy drugs and stimulants I could get on my high horse about.

But I won’t be slating drinkers or people who love chocolate anytime soon.

It’s all about degrees, you see. And smoking is, without doubt, a killer – not something that in moderation gives harmless pleasure.

Smokers are, in my experience, the embodiment of selfishness. They hide behind a plethora of reasons why they can’t (won’t) quit.

And perhaps, most sad of all, is the fact that the worry they cause to people who care about them simply isn’t motivation enough for them to give up.