Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Morals and lung cancer

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Another Marlboro Man died recently of smoking-related disease. Eric Lawson was one of a series of rugged-looking outdoor types hired to promote the idea that smoking was manly. At least four Marlboro Men died as a result of smoking addiction, earning the brand the title of "cowboy killer."

Most of the Marlboro Men turned against smoking at the end of their lives, even as they continued to puff their ways into a coffin. For many people, including themselves, it was their own fault.

That attitude is not only cold-hearted, it's also a serious problem for Lung Cancer Canada.

That's because lung cancer carries a stigma as a smoking disease, which has become an obstacle to raising funds for research.

Lung cancer represents 28 per cent of all cancer deaths and kills more Canadians than any other disease -- about 20,000 Canadians each year -- but it receives only a fraction of the research funding available for cancer and less than one per cent of donations.

The cancer group says there seems to be an attitude among donors and those who dole out research dollars that victims of lung cancer have only themselves to blame. It's a case of blaming and judging the victims, rather than impartially treating the disease.

Smoking is, of course, the leading cause of lung cancer, but 15 per cent of those with the disease never smoked or, if they did, quit when they were teenagers.

Smoking is also linked to other cancers and health problems, such as heart disease, but only lung cancer is tainted by its connection to cigarettes.

As a result, lung-cancer victims are not receiving the support they need. In the case of smokers, many don't reach out for help because they believe they are to blame for their suffering. "People think you're dirty because you smoked," one cancer victim reported to a medical journal.

Lung Cancer Canada says the disease needs a higher priority, not just in terms of research and fundraising, but as a neglected health issue.

The organization wants a national program to screen high-risk cases by using CT scans for early detection, which it says could save 1,250 lives a year. New drugs are also available to fight lung cancer once it is detected.

Provincial health departments need to take another look at their priorities and question whether they are providing service where it is needed the most.

It's too late for the Marlboro Men, but there's still time for those who judge lung-cancer victims to get off their high horse.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2014 A8

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