The link between smoking and lung cancer is indisputable; however, it is only one aspect of the problem. For too long we have accepted that smoking cessation programs were the only way of dealing with the problem of lung cancer. While these programs are very valuable, we must have a more balanced approach to lung cancer. Until we eliminate the stigma that accompanies lung cancer we will never eliminate lung cancer. The biggest challenge facing lung cancer advocates is the attitude of the public. The Lung Cancer Research Foundation released a study in September, 2011 that found that many people (45%) believe that lung cancer is something that people “bring on themselves” from smoking or having smoked in the past. As long as this is the prevailing attitude, lung cancer will remain the leading cause of cancer deaths, killing over 160,000 Americans every year and a million people worldwide.
Anyone who has ever smoked remains at a higher risk for lung cancer than those who have never smoked. As one lung cancer survivor put it, “You can quit cigarettes but they don’t quit you.” Many former smokers are unaware of their risk and some health officials are worried about publicizing this risk for fear it will undermine successful anti-smoking campaigns. However, 60% of newly diagnosed lung cancer cases are former smokers. Once this is known it is unacceptable – even criminal- to hide the health risk for former smokers.