A billboard peeling away an image of a cigarette to reveal an image of lungs

Movement of Stopping the Smoking Stigma

I have no experience in smoking, and I have known very few people smoking around me since my childhood. Therefore, when I started lung cancer advocacy three years ago, the smoking stigma was not on my radar. However, I noticed that the smoking stigma had everything to do with me shortly after I started the advocacy. This is because it's often believed that lung cancer is a smoker's disease, i.e., lung cancer patients inflict it on themselves. Consequently, the government put much less research funding on lung cancer. From then on, I'm very active in advocating for lung cancer regardless of smoking or not.

An unpleasant incident

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month (LCAM) and like many lung cancer patients, I'm actively involved in lung cancer awareness. One day, my friend was upset and sent me a Facebook page from my city's major cancer center. It's written that "..lung cancer occurs most often in people who smoke commercial tobacco." The message continued with the numbers of patients diagnosed and dead locally.

The message is not sensitive, to say at the least, to the lung cancer patients who used to smoke or who never smoked, even those who are struggling to quit smoking. But, more importantly, November is about lung cancer awareness, not a smoking cessation month.

Smoking is only one of the causes of lung cancer. According to LUNGivety.com, 60%-65% of lung cancer patients never smoked or quit smoking long before the diagnosis. Cancer is complicated, and regardless of who gets lung cancer, no one deserves it. As my friend said, "...the pain from watching someone you love suffer through the cruelty of lung cancer until their last breath is unbearable, so does it really matter whether or not they smoked? Does it mean that they deserved to die? Do those left behind deserve less sympathy?"1

I decided to organize a movement locally to fight the smoking stigma for lung cancer.

Preparing the movement

I used the strategy that I learned from TedTalk, "How great leaders inspire action" since I have practiced it several times successfully.2 To make a long story short, the first group of people is the leaders who set up the goal. However, leaders have to lead, i.e., to have followers. The second group, I called them early adopters, usually holds the same ideology as the leaders. They typically are the minorities and take some "risk" for following. The third group, I called them late adopters, is safe to follow and is the majority. The fourth group is lagers. No matter what you do, lagers won't move.

Great leaders are important to start a movement, but more importantly, they must pay attention to the early adopters who are crucial to setting up examples for others. Note that everybody belongs to one of the four categories at different situations in their life.

The movement against smoking stigma

I planed to gather people to let our local cancer center know how hurtful and counter-productive their message is, and the post should be either removed or improved. Secondly, the cancer center staff need to be "educated" to catch up with lung cancer education in the world.

I first talked to several Canadian lung cancer advocates about the incident, and they were upset. Then I spoke to the director of Lung Cancer Canada (LCC) to get her support. LCC was very instrumental in my campaign and volunteered to post the first response to the cancer center of my city, and I also posted my reply immediately. We officially formed leaders of the movement against the smoking stigma.

Having advocated for three years in Canada, I have a pretty good idea of whom I can account for lung cancer advocacy. So I texted about 15 lung cancer friends first, asked them to judge by themselves regarding the Facebook page from my local cancer center, and wrote the responses if possible. To my surprise, within one hour, the first group of the followers sent their replies. Then, within one day, closed to 30 patients responded.

The first part of the movement is successful.

Responses from patients and caregivers

My lung cancer friends' responses are like "hit the nail on the head." Below are several examples:

  1. "...it was so disheartening to see this post making the main focus of lung cancer awareness month on smoking cessation."
  2. "...this message perpetuates the stigma lung cancer patients face."
  3. "...50-60% of all new lung cancer diagnoses are among people who have never smoked or former smokers."
  4. "One of the fastest-growing groups of people being diagnosed with lung cancer are never-smoking younger women."
  5. "Remember, November is lung cancer awareness...not smoking cessation month."
  6. "More people die of lung cancer each year than any other cancer, yet it receives far less research funding than the other most common cancer."
  7. "Saying the lung cancer occurs most often in people who smoke is opposite. It creates barriers to awareness...and it only talks about smoking giving the public a false sense of security that if they don't smoke, then they won't get lung cancer."
  8. "Using smoking cessation as part of Lung cancer awareness month adds to stigma surrounding lung cancer."

I found that lung cancer patients and caregivers are well educated, and we strongly think that if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. To emphasize the smoking stigma during the month of LCAM will jeopardize the focus to conquer lung cancer.

Thank you for completing the first part of the movement. Next is to see the responses of the local cancer center in my city, and I'll report later.

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