The Physician and the Snake

A little prose/poetry story dedicated to the World Health Organisation

A quiet moment and he drummed his fingers on his desk. Another year had turned: Another year of the pain he had shared so willingly – shared so secretly. Another year had turned, and still the snake on the staff stayed his hand. The doctor failed to understand the snake’s demand, to cure the sick, to do no harm, but also keep silence: To give advice when he, the doctor, knew it wrong to hand out lies, prescribing only second best. Gums and patches, and the rest – all failed. He drummed and drummed his fingers on the desk

A year had passed since that evening when that crowd had gathered on the excited street below, and, looking down, he remembered how the jostling and the clamour grew. ‘We have something new.’ They cried. ‘Look Doctor, we have something new.’ And each and every one held up a light. ‘We no longer have to fight.’ They cried. ‘Look! We no longer have to fight.’

The snake had also heard and had slithered down from off its stick. And shocked, the doctor saw the venom drip from hidden fangs, and from the window backed away. ‘Cure the sick and do no harm,’ the creature hissed. ‘Those outside, they won’t be missed. Give out only lies and second best, and if that fails, well, prescribe some rest. But be warned, dear doctor; say nothing of what you saw tonight. Say nothing of that awful blinding light that burns me to my very soul. Say nothing.

And thus the doctor, on the snakes command, stayed silent and said nothing of what he’d seen. Yet, in bed at night, he’d dream that in his hand there was a light which cured the sick, but on awakening all he had was a snake curled round a wooden stick.


A Dialogue with Pigs (Poem)

He talked to pigs
And hearing his words
Plunged their snouts back into the trough
But Merlin gained a gift through madness
And out of the wilderness he came, with power.

And though we too talk to pigs
Though they hear our words
They do not listen
And plunge their snouts deep into the trough
But we will gain a gift in madness
And out of the wilderness we will march,
with power.

When the Word, “Using,” Becomes ‘“Trying.’”

Nearly 2 million middle- and high-school kids used e-cigarettes in 2012. Well I never! And in the minds a large section of our society this translates as, ‘2 million youngsters started smoking e-cigarettes in 2012.’ Oh my God! And the article where I read this goes on to say,

Since fewer young people smoke traditional cigarettes than in the past, tobacco companies desperately need to find a way to create a new generation of nicotine addicts; e-cigarettes are starting to look like the answer. [1]

So not only, according to the above, are youngsters being drawn to e cigarettes in droves, but they are to be the next generation of nicotine addicts – What a load of drivel! But it looks good, and people tend to fall for the rhetoric. Much of this dross results from the reading, and misreading, of the CDC report, “E-cigarette use more than doubles among U.S. middle and high school students from 2011-2012 More than 75 percent of youth users smoke conventional cigarettes too.”[2]

 But take a closer look at what the article says and then at what the report tells us. It is not for me to instruct my reader (I will keep that in the singular for now) and tell her / him what to do, but do it anyway… Look at the words, “used,” and “started smoking.” Is that right?

 The word, used, when, as a verb, as above, has an interesting definition. Encarta puts it this way: “Indicates habitual action – used in the past tense to say that somebody habitually did something.” Well, there it is, by definition the article is saying that nearly 2 million school kids are, or were, habitual users. See how it works? Sneaky isn’t it? No, the article said nothing about habit – it did not have to, it was implicit in the word ‘used’ itself.  So, what does the CDC study actually tell us?

 It tells us that many young people TRIED an e cigarette. Perhaps just a little puff or two – This certainly DOES NOT render them habitual e cigarette users. There we have it, the word, ‘used,’ should have been, ‘tried.’ Indeed, this misuse of, ‘used,’ has become very trying.[3] (Read footnote)

 Since this has so adequately been covered by, Carl V. Phillips. I will move on.

 The CDC Report title adds that, “75% of youth e-cigarette smokers’ smoke conventional cigarettes too.” There is nothing unremarkable about that. It is just common-sense to believe that if a youngster is curious enough to try an e cigarette, they will also be curious enough to try a conventional one. But there is more to be said about this. It is also common–sense to believe, taking into consideration that many young, conventional cigarette smokers started at a very early age, and, keeping in mind that, ‘young,’ in the context of smoking means below the legal age limit, a great many of them will wish to get away from conventional cigarettes because they are users in the true sense of the word.  This would explain the 75% figure. So there is nothing ominous or threatening whatsoever in that statistic. Indeed, there has been a noticeable drop in conventional cigarette use which corresponds to the increase in e-cigarette use – Much the same has happened with the adult population.

There are other recent studies that refute the hysteria created by the CDC report.[4]

 This brings me to a much more disturbing issue. That the hype surrounding young people smoking is not designed to prevent young people from taking up the habit, but, it is designed to attract them. This is a horrible thought, but as I observe the antics of Tobacco Control and the drive to put a stop to e-cigarettes, the more this idea keeps nagging away at the back of my mind.

 It begins with this, “Being a regular smoker was associated with other risky behaviours, such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs and truancy”[5] So risky behaviour attracts. Tobacco Control does nothing but stress that smoking is ‘risky.’ They issue warnings, show graphic images, lobby for laws which hide the products from sight. Keep in mind that ‘risk’ is an attraction – are they so stupid that they cannot see this, or are they so clever that knowing this, they can promote ‘risk’ as a prevention tool so that the opposite effect will be achieved?

 This in itself is not enough to cause me to be suspicious, but when you couple it to Tobacco Control’s attitude to e-cigarettes – the suspicion grows.

 It grows when a device is invented which stop conventional tobacco use, and Tobacco Control then attempt to trample all over it. It grows when you consider the cosy relationships between the pharmaceutical industry, the tobacco companies, Tobacco Control and Government and the huge financial gains to be had by maintaining a large cohort of tobacco smokers. It grows with each sleight of hand. It grows with each lie. It grows when laws are created in defiance of peoples’ rights. It grows and grows with each illogical pronouncement made by Tobacco Control.

 But it cannot be, can it?

[3][]   Huh! I have just noticed that Carl Phillips spotted this and wrote about it before me. Ah well! It’s staying. Contrary to the claims, there is basically no evidence that children are using e-cigarettes.  What evidence exists is entirely about children trying e-cigarettes.  In particular, despite the misleading rhetoric they packaged it in the CDC’s recent survey data on children and e-cigarettes was restricted to trying an e-cigarette ever (perhaps as little as one puff) or trying one within the last 30 days (again, possibly just one puff)


[4]   The key findings of the ASH survey are that among adults current use of e-cigarettes has grown among smokers and ex-smokers since 2010 but remains at 0% among those who have never smoked. Among current smokers use of e-cigarettes has risen from 3% in 2010 to 11% in 2013. Ex-smokers report having used e-cigarettes to help a quit attempt (48%) and to prevent relapse to tobacco use (32%).

Among children, regular use of e-cigarettes is extremely rare. Children who had heard of e-cigarettes were asked about their use and knowledge of them. What little regular use that is reported is confined almost entirely to children who currently smoke or used to smoke.

• 1 in 10 16-18 year olds who had heard of e-cigarettes (1 in 20 among 11-15 year olds) has “tried e-cigarettes once or twice”.

• 1 in 100 16-18 year olds (0% 11-15 year olds) uses e-cigarettes more than once a week.

• Among young people who have never smoked 1% have “tried e-cigarettes once or twice”, 0% report continued e-cigarette use and 0% expect to try an e-cigarette soon.

[5]  The estimates from this survey indicate that in England in 2012, around 120,000 pupils aged between 11 and 15 were regular smokers, around 320,000 had drunk alcohol in the past week, 200,000 had taken drugs in the last month, and 370,000 had taken drugs in the last year. Around half (52%) of pupils aged between 11 and 15 said that they had tried smoking, drunk alcohol or taken drugs at least once in their lives. 17% had done one or more of these recently. They were more likely to have drunk alcohol in the last week (10%) than to have smoked in the last week (6%) or to have taken drugs in the last month (also 6%). There was considerable overlap between behaviours. For example, 6% of pupils reported taking drugs in the last month and most of those (4% of all pupils) had smoked or drunk alcohol in the last week, or had done both.