While attending medical school in England, I became interested in the effect of chemicals on the brain. I earned a Bachelor of Medical Science degree in Pharmacology and Anesthesia and my medical degree at age 23. After internships in England and New Zealand, I went on to qualify as an anesthesiologist in both Britain and Canada.
During 36 years as an anesthesiologist, I served as Chief of Departments of Anesthesiology four times. As a peer assessor for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, I evaluated the work of other anesthesiologists. I am an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Anesthesia and have taught anesthesiology in Ethiopia and Rwanda.
Like anyone who spends their career in operating rooms, I frequently witnessed first-hand the damage caused by tobacco use. Lungs were removed to treat smoking-induced cancers. Clogged arteries in the heart were replaced with vein grafts. Some patients returned for repeated vascular surgery and even amputations. None of these procedures would have been necessary if the patients had not smoked. It was distressing to see how many of my patients suffered as a direct result of smoking, and frustrating to see how few of them quit smoking, despite its obvious and dire impact on their health.
Research shows that smoking is the #1 cause of preventable deaths in Canada; it kills over 100 Canadians every day. Cigarettes cause twelve types of cancer and 21 other diseases including chronic bronchitis, heart attacks and strokes.
It didn’t feel as if I was doing enough by merely being part of a team of doctors attempting to repair the damage caused by decades of smoking to so many of our patients. I wanted to help prevent the damage from ever occurring by encouraging smokers to quit as soon as possible.
In 2011, I started a campaign called “Stop Smoking for Safer Surgery,” aimed at persuading patients to cut their risk of surgical complications in half by stopping smoking before elective surgery. The campaign was adopted by Ontario’s Anesthesiologists and the Canadian Anesthesiologists’ Society. Since then, I have been active in many other efforts to reduce the damage, disability and death created by the tobacco industry.
From the 60s to the 90s restrictions on tobacco advertising and the creation of smoke-free areas reduced smoking rates in Canada but in 2017 4.6 million Canadians still smoke and the adult smoking rate is rising. Canada needs new tools to reduce the death and disability caused by cigarettes.
In Britain, research has shown that e-cigarettes are almost twice as effective as standard nicotine replacement therapy at getting smokers to quit. Over a million Britons have quit smoking using vaping.
If this new smoking cessation tool can work in Britain, then it can work in Canada. Like any major change in habit and lifestyle, the chance of success is much higher when undertaken with the support of someone who is qualified to provide guidance and advice. I believe I am uniquely qualified to give sound and evidence-based medical advice to smokers who are ready and willing to quit by vaping.
Dr. John Oyston at work in an operating room.