Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

A City of Smokers?

September 21st, 2010 · 4 Comments

Maybe my perceptions are a bit skewed coming from Southern California – where it has been illegal to smoke in restaurants the longest and anyone who lights up is shot death glares from everyone within a ten-mile radius- but it seems to me that number of people who smoke in London is drastically higher than in the States.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been walking down the street only to have the person in front or to the side of me exhale their smoke directly into my path. I’ve had cigarette butts almost land on me as a smoker tosses it away multiple times. Again, maybe I’m particularly sensitive to this- not just because I come from California, but because I had severe asthma as a child, still am highly allergic to cigarette smoke, AND my mother spent almost 10 years teaching tobacco and drug education in the California public schools. So, I think it’s fair to say I’m pretty aware of smoking.

I’m making no personal judgements on smokers, but I just don’t understand how it can be so much more rampant here. At first I reasoned that maybe the UK’s tobacco education programs (if they have them at all) aren’t as widespread as they are in the States and California in particular but then I happened to notice the label on a discarded pack of ciggies, which looked a little something like this:

[Photo: http://www.tobaccoonline.co.uk/images/products/1217200833339AMSobranie-Cocktail-cigarette.png]

I don’t make a habit of checking cigarette pack warning labels in the US, but I’m pretty sure that our warning labels use much smaller print and read something along the lines of: WARNING- cigarettes have been known to cause cancer and certain birth defects.  But, no- the Brits put it right out there in big bold print- SMOKING KILLS. So why does such what seems to be a huge percent of London’s population continue to do it? There is a very weird disconnect here . . .

I actually did some research on this and, according to the London Health Observatory, “About 10 million adults in Great Britain smoke cigarettes – 23% of men and 21% of women” (http://www.lho.org.uk/LHO_Topics/National_Lead_Areas/Smoking.aspx#Smoking). However, data from the 2008 General Lifestyle Survey showed that, compared to other regions of England, London doesn’t actually have that high a percentage of smokers:

“The regions of England with the highest prevalence were the North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber, where 23 to 25 per cent of people were cigarette smokers (similar to the level in Scotland). The prevalence of cigarette smoking was lowest, at 19 per cent, in the East of England and in London”- http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_compendia/GLF08/GLFSmoking&DrinkingAmongAdults2008.pdf

I’m not trying to make a particular point here or offer any words of wisdom for London or Great Britain as a whole- I’m truthfully just amazed at how many people seem to smoke here. Looking at the statistics, though, makes it seem like London isn’t really that much of a smoker’s city.

So, I guess, what I’m asking is, what have been everyone else’s experiences? Am I just uber-sensitive? Are the statistics plain wrong? Maybe a little of both? Whatever the case may be, I really wish Londoners would stop blowing their smoke wherever they please and be a little more conscientious- some of us have delicate lungs! *cough*

Tags: 2010 Elizabeth

Realities of Life and Death

September 7th, 2009 · 1 Comment


A description under Cradle to Grave by  Pharmacopoei states:

“Cradle to Grave explores our approach to health in Britain today and addresses some of the ways that people deal with sickness and try to secure well being.”


It is an understatement when I say that I was surprised to see an exhibit titled “Living and Dying” which is located in Wellcome Trust Gallery in the British Museum. The gallery explores how people around the world deal with  “the tough realities of life and death.” The exhibit further explores health challenges shared by many through out the world, and the ways that those individuals might deal with them based on their cultures, beliefs, and areas of residence. Creatively displaying visual representations of photography, quotes, documents, captions, and instillations the exhibit investigated people’s reliance on relationships in order to maintain their well-being. Exploration of people’s relationships with each other, the animal world, ancestors, land and sea for their well being are included. 


As I walked down the stairs of the British Museum to the ground floor expecting to see the Aztecs (Mexicana) exhibition featuring tribal sculptures, history, and art instead I was greeted by Cradle to Grave. The central installation consists of two lengths of fabric illustrating the medical stories of a man and a woman. Created by Susie Freeman, who is a textile artist, David Critchley, a video artist, and Dr Liz Lee, a general practitioner, each piece contains over 14,000 drugs representing the estimated average prescribed to every person in Britain in their lifetime, tucked away in ‘pockets’ of knitted nylon filament. This specific piece explored the approach to health in Britain and the personal approach of the piece demonstrates that maintaining well-being is more complex than just treating illness. With 14,000 drugs, the artists included photographs and some treatments that two individuals have gone through. The common treatments for the man and a woman included an injection of vitamin K and immunisations, and both individuals have taken antibiotics and painkillers at various times. Other treatments were more specific such as for asthma and hay fever that the man suffered from when younger and quitting of smoking at seventy due to bad chest infection. The piece showed his death from a stroke at the age of seventy-six, “having taken as many pills in the last ten years of his life as in the first sixty-six.” The woman’s treatments included contraceptive pills and hormone replacement therapy. She was successfully treated for breast cancer. She is still alive at eighty-two although she does suffer from arthritis and diabetes.




 Trying to figure out the purpose of the exhibit, I believe the artists are trying to explore the factor of living in the “modern” society and how treating an illness is not the only factor that needs to be taken into account. By representing two individuals, a male and a female, in the British society through photographs with their own captions written down, and objects such as contraceptive pills, a glass of wine, and needles allowed the viewers to relate in some way to the lives these characters have led and how it affected their health. 


Surrounding the installation,  representations of health in countries such as Tanzania, China and India were included. “Facing HIV/AIDS” explored the approaches these communities have to the AIDS epidemic. The stigmas attached to being diagnosed with AIDS in these societies prevent many from seeking treatments; therefore, the need for education programmes, community workshops and poster campaigns which aim to make it easier to discuss and practice safe sex. “Praying for Health” showed how certain communities use prayer and traditional medicine to treat their illness. In contrast to the British healing, it is a very different approach. Focusing more on the person and the higher being rather than the pharmaceutical companies and the business aspect, societies in Tanzania, India and China focus on the being and their needs. Although the treatment of such illnesses such as HIV/AIDS can not be done only through traditional healing, their approach should serve as a guide to western societies where a more humane way to treat patients. There needs to be an infusion between the two worlds. 



"My friend with AIDS is still my friend."

"My friend with AIDS is still my friend."







Tags: Jeyla · Museums