First, Do No Harm

I keep hearing politicians, health professionals and local do-gooders stating that their War on Tobacco tactics should be seen as a model for how social and environmental problems should be addressed. To tackle climate change or domestic violence, they recommend that policymakers use ruinous taxation, fear tactics and zero tolerance inflexibility – all based upon cooked statistics and hyperbolic exaggeration of the threat.

Even understanding the above, I was stopped in my tracks the other day by one health professional who casually listed “isolation” of smokers as one of his preferred tactics. (Forgive me for not remembering where I read this other than the article appeared in print media and published very recently.)

This guy doesn’t know that social isolation is one of the most damaging conditions a human being can be subjected to? That social isolation is a major predictor of both physical and mental disease and disability?

That social isolation is the most serious (and too routine) punishment meted out in prison?

Did he not read in school that heartbreaking behavioral study about baby monkeys who, raised without touch or contact, just up and died?

 Maybe he feels he has to destroy the village in order to save it. That pushing smokers into ever-increasing social isolation will serve the “greater good.” He may believe that people in the future will applaud tactics like promoting social isolation – that they will owe their very lives and health to those who, like him, did what needed to be done.

 But he is forgetting the first words of the Hippocratic Oath, the guiding principal of the modern health profession — “First, do no harm.”

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