MEDICA.de talked to the leader of die cancer prevention of the German Cancer Research Center, Dr Martina Pötschke-Langer about the former German chancellor and chain smoker Helmut Schmidt, international studies about smoking bans and picture-based warnings on cigarette packages.
MEDICA.de: Dr Pötschke-Langer, for whom is it worth to give up smoking?
Dr. Pötschke-Langer: Clearly, for every smoker. Many harmful substances are inhaled with every puff of a cigarette and these are integrated in the living tissue, probably harming the genetic constitution. Nicotine is not only toxic for the lung, but also for he heart. It animates the myocordal muscle to beat faster and narrows the vessels. Consequently the heart has to fight against a higher resistence in order to supply the body with oxygen. Consequences of these complications can be heart attacks or strokes.
MEDICA.de: How do you explain that doctors have advised Germany's former chancellor Helmut Schmidt not to give up smoking? Their explanation: The change from a heavy smoker to a non-smoker would imply too much stress on his body.
Dr. Pötschke-Langer: I do not agree with the opinion of these doctors at all. Stopping smoking is certainly a change for the body, but this does not justify to stop somebody from quitting cigarettes. Every single cigarette damages health. Helmut Schmidt is a person who presents the consequences of smoking very clearly: he has cardic arrhythmia, has suffered a heart attack and has a cardiac pacemaker.
MEDICA.de: Considering the smoking ban in Germany: Do you think that in about half a year time in federal states with a stringent smoking ban fewer patients will suffer from heart attacks than in federal states with a no smoking ban?
Dr. Pötschke-Langer: This question cannot be easily answered. I do not want to speculate about that. I would rather wait for study results. It will take three to five years.
MEDICA.de: Some international studies support a a connection between a smoking ban and a decreasing rate of heart attacks.
Dr. Pötschke-Langer: Yes, that is right. But I doubt the quality of these studies. In Scotland and in the USA scientists found out that fewer people smoked after a smoking ban, but this result does not say anything about a lower rate of heart attacks. The studies used only a small sample size and they lasted maximally one year only. This is too little time in order to present reliable results. Furthermore, these studies do not consider other criteria. Perhaps the people changed their nutrition or maybe they drunk less alcohol after the smoking ban.
MEDICA.de: But a little earlier you said that smokers more often come down with a heart attack than non-smokers. To me this means that a reduced prevalence of smokers should reduce the rate of heart attacks consequently.
Dr. Pötschke-Langer: Possibly. But we cannot say that a smoking ban is the only reason for a drop of heart attacks. As a matter of fact, every not smoked cigarette has a positive effect on health.
MEDICA.de: Some countries have picture-based warnings such as a smoker’s lung or a tumour in addition to written warnings on cigarette packages. Do you think that this make sense?
Dr. Pötschke-Langer: Yes, in any case. The German Cancer Research Center clearly recommends this kind of information. Canada started 2001 with picture-based warnings in combination with written warnings. Studies showed that the number of smokers dropped since then. Furthermore, the studies showed that fewer people took up smoking. Polls in Australia and the USA represent the consquences of picture-based warnings: smokers are concerned a lot more about dangers to their health than smokers in countries where picture-based warnings do not exist.