Tag Archives: more

Doctors should order more blood cancer tests, MPs say

TV presenter Simon Thomas, whose wife died from a rare form of blood cancer last year, is calling for better training of GPs

Sky sports presenter, Simon Thomas


The Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas says doctors only diagnosed his wife’s acute myeloid leukaemia three days before she died. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

The Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas has revealed that doctors missed his wife’s blood cancer three times in the days before her death.

Thomas called for better training of GPs on the same day as politicians said doctors should order blood tests for any patient who shows symptoms of blood cancer.

Thomas’s wife, Gemma, died aged 40 in November, just three days after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a rare form of the disease.

Gemma initially had flu-like symptoms and went to see a doctor three times over the course of six days before she was finally admitted to hospital, where her condition continued to deteriorate, despite intensive chemotherapy treatment.

Since then, her husband Simon has raised more than £30,000 for charity. The money has been divided between Maggie’s Centres, a charity which offers support to people affected by cancer, and a refugee project that Gemma had launched.

On Wednesday, Thomas tweeted: “Three times my wife Gemma went to the doctor in six days and three times she was sent home and told to rest.

“Four days after her final visit to the her GP she was dead. We have to help and train our GPs and to detect blood cancer earlier.”

Simon Thomas (@SimonThomasSky)

Three times my wife Gemma went to the doctor in six days and three times she was sent home and told to rest. Four days after her final visit to her GP she was dead. We have to help and train our GP’s and to detect #bloodcancer earlier. @bloodwise_uk is doing this. #hiddencancer https://t.co/V1uEz1HCLF

January 17, 2018

Simon Thomas (@SimonThomasSky)

Acute Myeloid Leukaemia took my wife Gemma and Ethan’s Mum just before Christmas aged only 40 years and just three days after being diagnosed. This is so important. @bloodwise_uk https://t.co/V1uEz1HCLF

January 17, 2018

Thomas, 44, has been tweeting and blogging about his grief following Gemma’s death from AML, which affects around 2,600 people in Britain each year.

Thomas said he doesn’t blame the doctors who initially saw his wife before she was taken to hospital, but has encouraged people to seek a diagnosis from medics if they continue to feel unwell.

Simon Thomas (@SimonThomasSky)

The darkness will hopefully not overcome. pic.twitter.com/umuBOT0TdW

January 2, 2018

The all-party parliamentary group on blood cancer said on Wednesday that many signs of blood cancer can be “misunderstood or misdiagnosed”.

In a new report, the group said that diagnosing blood cancer – such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma – can be “complex”.

Highlighting one patient group, MPs described how some elderly myeloma patients reporting symptoms of back ache and bone pain are told their symptom is “part of the ageing process”.

In order to improve early diagnosis rates, they called on GPs to immediately order a blood test for anyone presenting with one or more symptoms of blood cancer.

Symptoms of blood cancers can be similar to the symptoms of feeling “run down” or flu, such as fatigue, night sweats, weight loss, bruising and pain, they said.

The chair of the patient group, Henry Smith, an MP whose mother died from acute myeloid leukaemia in 2012, said: “Blood cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and someone is diagnosed every 14 minutes.

“Delays in diagnosis can have a severe impact on an individual’s chance of survival, as well as on their quality of life.”

Commenting on the report, professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ““Each type of blood cancer can present in a varied way and GPs will base their decisions around what diagnostic testing is most appropriate on the symptoms being displayed by, and the unique circumstances potentially affecting, the patient in front of us.

“Any decision to pursue opportunistic testing must not be undertaken lightly as GPs need a good scientific evidence base before they order any investigations.”

Do you work more than 39 hours a week? Your job could be killing you

Long hours, stress and physical inactivity are bad for our wellbeing – yet we’re working harder than ever. Isn’t it time we fought back?

Health at work illo 1


Illustration: Leon Edler

When a new group of interns recently arrived at Barclays in New York, they discovered a memo in their inboxes. It was from their supervisor at the bank, and headed: “Welcome to the jungle.” The message continued: “I recommend bringing a pillow to the office. It makes sleeping under your desk a lot more comfortable … The internship really is a nine-week commitment at the desk … An intern asked our staffer for a weekend off for a family reunion – he was told he could go. He was also asked to hand in his BlackBerry and pack up his desk.”

Although the (unauthorised) memo was meant as a joke, no one laughed when it was leaked to the media. Memories were still fresh of Moritz Erhardt, the 21-year-old London intern who died after working 72 hours in a row at Bank of America. It looked as if Barclays was also taking the “work ethic” to morbid extremes.

Following 30 years of neoliberal deregulation, the nine-to-five feels like a relic of a bygone era. Jobs are endlessly stressed and increasingly precarious. Overwork has become the norm in many companies – something expected and even admired. Everything we do outside the office – no matter how rewarding – is quietly denigrated. Relaxation, hobbies, raising children or reading a book are dismissed as laziness. That’s how powerful the mythology of work is.

Technology was supposed to liberate us from much of the daily slog, but has often made things worse: in 2002, fewer than 10% of employees checked their work email outside of office hours. Today, with the help of tablets and smartphones, it is 50%, often before we get out of bed.

Health at work illo 2


Illustration: Leon Edler

Some observers have suggested that workers today are never “turned off”. Like our mobile phones, we only go on standby at the end of the day, as we crawl into bed exhausted. This unrelenting joylessness is especially evident where holidays are concerned. In the US, one of the richest economies in the world, employees are lucky to get two weeks off a year.

You might almost think this frenetic activity was directly linked to our biological preservation and that we would all starve without it. As if writing stupid emails all day in a cramped office was akin to hunting-and-gathering of a previous age … Thankfully, a sea change is taking place. The costs of overwork can no longer be ignored. Long-term stress, anxiety and prolonged inactivity have been exposed as potential killers.

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center recently used activity trackers to monitor 8,000 workers over the age of 45. The findings were striking. The average period of inactivity during each waking day was 12.3 hours. Employees who were sedentary for more than 13 hours a day were twice as likely to die prematurely as those who were inactive for 11.5 hours. The authors concluded that sitting in an office for long periods has a similar effect to smoking and ought to come with a health warning.

When researchers at University College London looked at 85,000 workers, mainly middle-aged men and women, they found a correlation between overwork and cardiovascular problems, especially an irregular heart beat or atrial fibrillation, which increases the chances of a stroke five-fold.

Labour unions are increasingly raising concerns about excessive work, too, especially its impact on relationships and physical and mental health. Take the case of the IG Metall union in Germany. Last week, 15,000 workers (who manufacture car parts for firms such as Porsche) called a strike, demanding a 28-hour work week with unchanged pay and conditions. It’s not about indolence, they say, but self-protection: they don’t want to die before their time. Science is on their side: research from the Australian National University recently found that working anything over 39 hours a week is a risk to wellbeing.

Is there a healthy and acceptable level of work? According to US researcher Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, most modern employees are productive for about four hours a day: the rest is padding and huge amounts of worry. Pang argues that the workday could easily be scaled back without undermining standards of living or prosperity.

Health at work illo 3


Illustration: Leon Edler

Other studies back up this observation. The Swedish government, for example, funded an experiment where retirement home nurses worked six-hour days and still received an eight-hour salary. The result? Less sick leave, less stress, and a jump in productivity.

All this is encouraging as far as it goes. But almost all of these studies focus on the problem from a numerical point of view – the amount of time spent working each day, year-in and year-out. We need to go further and begin to look at the conditions of paid employment. If a job is wretched and overly stressful, even a few hours of it can be an existential nightmare. Someone who relishes working on their car at the weekend, for example, might find the same thing intolerable in a large factory, even for a short period. All the freedom, creativity and craft are sucked out of the activity. It becomes an externally imposed chore rather than a moment of release.

Why is this important?

Because there is a danger that merely reducing working hours will not change much, when it comes to health, if jobs are intrinsically disenfranchising. In order to make jobs more conducive to our mental and physiological welfare, much less work is definitely essential. So too are jobs of a better kind, where hierarchies are less authoritarian and tasks are more varied and meaningful.

Capitalism doesn’t have a great track record for creating jobs such as these, unfortunately. More than a third of British workers think their jobs are meaningless, according to a survey by YouGov. And if morale is that low, it doesn’t matter how many gym vouchers, mindfulness programmes and baskets of organic fruit employers throw at them. Even the most committed employee will feel that something is fundamentally missing. A life.

Peter Fleming’s new book, The Death of Homo Economicus: Work, Debt and the Myth of Endless Accumulation, is published by Pluto Press (£14.99rrp). To order a copy for £12.74 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.com

Fears of Brexit drain as more EU27 ambulance staff quit the NHS

Increasing numbers of European Union-trained ambulance staff are quitting the NHS, raising fears of a Brexit drain from the 999 service just as concern over slow response times grows.

There are fears the departures could exacerbate high vacancy rates in ambulance services in England, which are already one of the most understaffed areas of NHS care.

Freedom of information requests submitted by the Liberal Democrats have revealed what the Lib Dems say is an “alarming” trend of resignations among ambulance staff trained in the other 27 EU countries.

The responses from England’s 10 ambulance service trusts show that 101 paramedics, call handlers and other staff from the rest of the EU left in 2016-17 – one in seven of the 688 EU27 personnel who were working for the trusts during that time.

Last year was the second in a row in which the number of leavers rose: 81 did so in 2015-16 and 78 quit in 2014-15.

“It is deeply concerning to see a rise in ambulance staff from the EU leaving the country. This is especially alarming when we are facing such a severe shortage of paramedics,” said Baroness Judith Jolly, who speaks for the Lib Dems on health.

“These EU citizens save lives in our communities every day, yet ministers have treated them like dirt and failed to give them certainty over their futures here,” Jolly added.

At the South Central Ambulance Service, 27 of its 143 EU27 staff quit – the most among the seven trusts that provided full figures. At South East Coast Ambulance Service, 20 EU nationals left – one in three of its cohort of 57 – while 18 of 152 did so at the London Ambulance Service, slightly fewer than the 21 who left the year before. The biggest increases in quitters were at the South Central (27, up from 17) and North West services (15, up from eight).

Danny Mortimer, co-convener of the Cavendish Coalition, a grouping of health and social care organisations that fear Brexit’s possible impact on the NHS and social care, said: “Any indication that the NHS is becoming less attractive as a place to work for paramedics and ambulance staff, from abroad or from the UK, is worrying.”

Mortimer added: “The certainty now being offered EU nationals is a massive step forward. The health and social care sector looks forward to government proposals for new migration systems which we hope will place greater weight on the contribution international recruits make to the health and wealth of our local communities.”

Fears of Brexit drain as more EU27 ambulance staff quit the NHS

Increasing numbers of European Union-trained ambulance staff are quitting the NHS, raising fears of a Brexit drain from the 999 service just as concern over slow response times grows.

There are fears the departures could exacerbate high vacancy rates in ambulance services in England, which are already one of the most understaffed areas of NHS care.

Freedom of information requests submitted by the Liberal Democrats have revealed what the Lib Dems say is an “alarming” trend of resignations among ambulance staff trained in the other 27 EU countries.

The responses from England’s 10 ambulance service trusts show that 101 paramedics, call handlers and other staff from the rest of the EU left in 2016-17 – one in seven of the 688 EU27 personnel who were working for the trusts during that time.

Last year was the second in a row in which the number of leavers rose: 81 did so in 2015-16 and 78 quit in 2014-15.

“It is deeply concerning to see a rise in ambulance staff from the EU leaving the country. This is especially alarming when we are facing such a severe shortage of paramedics,” said Baroness Judith Jolly, who speaks for the Lib Dems on health.

“These EU citizens save lives in our communities every day, yet ministers have treated them like dirt and failed to give them certainty over their futures here,” Jolly added.

At the South Central Ambulance Service, 27 of its 143 EU27 staff quit – the most among the seven trusts that provided full figures. At South East Coast Ambulance Service, 20 EU nationals left – one in three of its cohort of 57 – while 18 of 152 did so at the London Ambulance Service, slightly fewer than the 21 who left the year before. The biggest increases in quitters were at the South Central (27, up from 17) and North West services (15, up from eight).

Danny Mortimer, co-convener of the Cavendish Coalition, a grouping of health and social care organisations that fear Brexit’s possible impact on the NHS and social care, said: “Any indication that the NHS is becoming less attractive as a place to work for paramedics and ambulance staff, from abroad or from the UK, is worrying.”

Mortimer added: “The certainty now being offered EU nationals is a massive step forward. The health and social care sector looks forward to government proposals for new migration systems which we hope will place greater weight on the contribution international recruits make to the health and wealth of our local communities.”

Fears of Brexit drain as more EU27 ambulance staff quit the NHS

Increasing numbers of European Union-trained ambulance staff are quitting the NHS, raising fears of a Brexit drain from the 999 service just as concern over slow response times grows.

There are fears the departures could exacerbate high vacancy rates in ambulance services in England, which are already one of the most understaffed areas of NHS care.

Freedom of information requests submitted by the Liberal Democrats have revealed what the Lib Dems say is an “alarming” trend of resignations among ambulance staff trained in the other 27 EU countries.

The responses from England’s 10 ambulance service trusts show that 101 paramedics, call handlers and other staff from the rest of the EU left in 2016-17 – one in seven of the 688 EU27 personnel who were working for the trusts during that time.

Last year was the second in a row in which the number of leavers rose: 81 did so in 2015-16 and 78 quit in 2014-15.

“It is deeply concerning to see a rise in ambulance staff from the EU leaving the country. This is especially alarming when we are facing such a severe shortage of paramedics,” said Baroness Judith Jolly, who speaks for the Lib Dems on health.

“These EU citizens save lives in our communities every day, yet ministers have treated them like dirt and failed to give them certainty over their futures here,” Jolly added.

At the South Central Ambulance Service, 27 of its 143 EU27 staff quit – the most among the seven trusts that provided full figures. At South East Coast Ambulance Service, 20 EU nationals left – one in three of its cohort of 57 – while 18 of 152 did so at the London Ambulance Service, slightly fewer than the 21 who left the year before. The biggest increases in quitters were at the South Central (27, up from 17) and North West services (15, up from eight).

Danny Mortimer, co-convener of the Cavendish Coalition, a grouping of health and social care organisations that fear Brexit’s possible impact on the NHS and social care, said: “Any indication that the NHS is becoming less attractive as a place to work for paramedics and ambulance staff, from abroad or from the UK, is worrying.”

Mortimer added: “The certainty now being offered EU nationals is a massive step forward. The health and social care sector looks forward to government proposals for new migration systems which we hope will place greater weight on the contribution international recruits make to the health and wealth of our local communities.”

One cigarette ‘may lead to habit for more than two-thirds of people’

More than two-thirds of people who try just one cigarette may go on to become regular smokers, new research suggests.

Researchers found that just over 60% of adults said they had tried a cigarette at some point in their lives, with almost 69% of those noting that they had, at least for a period, gone on to smoke cigarettes daily.

“[This shows] prevention, providing [fewer] opportunities or reasons for young people to try a cigarette, is a good idea,” said Peter Hajek, co-author of the research, from Queen Mary University of London.

The research, published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, is based on data pooled from eight surveys conducted since the year 2000, including three each from the UK and USA, and a further two studies from Australia and New Zealand.

Together, the surveys included more than 216,000 respondents, with between 50% and 82% saying that, after trying a cigarette, they had gone on to smoke on a daily basis – at least temporarily. Further analysis showed that, taken together, an estimated 68.9% of individuals smoked daily for a period after trying a cigarette.

The team also looked at whether the results were likely to be skewed by smokers being less likely to respond in surveys than non-smokers, but no strong effect was found. However, the authors note that the study also has other limitations, including that the findings are based on respondents self-reporting information, meaning the resulting figures are only an estimate.

“It is possible that somebody who is a lifetime non-smoker did try a cigarette when they were a kid but it didn’t make any impression on them, and they forgot it or don’t see that it is important enough to report,” said Hajek. But, he added, “I think even if you assume there is a recall issue and other things, you are talking about more than a 50% [conversion rate from trying a cigarette to daily smoking].”

Decline in British smoking since 1974

Hajek added that declining rates of smoking among younger people suggested that measures such as restrictions on sales and a shift away from portraying it as glamorous were having a positive effect. But, he noted, the influence of e-cigarettes should also be explored, since the decline in smoking rates in England has accelerated since the devices came onto the market.

Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling, said the study highlighted the importance of preventing smoking in the first place.

“Tobacco use starts in childhood for two-thirds of smokers in the UK, and this study suggests that even trying a cigarette becomes regular use in most cases,” she said.

“Fortunately, in the UK, youth smoking rates continue to decline – but we shouldn’t be complacent,” she added, noting that according to recent figures every year approximately 200,000 children in the UK try cigarettes for the first time. According to recent reports, there were almost one billion smokers worldwide in 2015, with numbers expected to rise – despite a drop in prevalence – as the global population grows.

Global smoking prevalence

Bauld also agreed that the role of e-cigarettes merited further study, pointing out that while it had been assumed that experimentation with e-cigarettes would also lead to regular use, that does not appear to be the case. “

While rates of e-cigarette experimentation amongst young people have risen in recent years, rates of regular use in teenagers who have never smoked remain at well below 1%, she said. “We need to be clear about this distinction and keep our focus on doing everything we can to prevent smoking, which we know is deadly, rather than demonising vaping, which all the evidence suggests is a hugely less harmful behaviour.”

One cigarette ‘may lead to habit for more than two-thirds of people’

More than two-thirds of people who try just one cigarette may go on to become regular smokers, new research suggests.

Researchers found that just over 60% of adults said they had tried a cigarette at some point in their lives, with almost 69% of those noting that they had, at least for a period, gone on to smoke cigarettes daily.

“[This shows] prevention, providing [fewer] opportunities or reasons for young people to try a cigarette, is a good idea,” said Peter Hajek, co-author of the research, from Queen Mary University of London.

The research, published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, is based on data pooled from eight surveys conducted since the year 2000, including three each from the UK and USA, and a further two studies from Australia and New Zealand.

Together, the surveys included more than 216,000 respondents, with between 50% and 82% saying that, after trying a cigarette, they had gone on to smoke on a daily basis – at least temporarily. Further analysis showed that, taken together, an estimated 68.9% of individuals smoked daily for a period after trying a cigarette.

The team also looked at whether the results were likely to be skewed by smokers being less likely to respond in surveys than non-smokers, but no strong effect was found. However, the authors note that the study also has other limitations, including that the findings are based on respondents self-reporting information, meaning the resulting figures are only an estimate.

“It is possible that somebody who is a lifetime non-smoker did try a cigarette when they were a kid but it didn’t make any impression on them, and they forgot it or don’t see that it is important enough to report,” said Hajek. But, he added, “I think even if you assume there is a recall issue and other things, you are talking about more than a 50% [conversion rate from trying a cigarette to daily smoking].”

Decline in British smoking since 1974

Hajek added that declining rates of smoking among younger people suggested that measures such as restrictions on sales and a shift away from portraying it as glamorous were having a positive effect. But, he noted, the influence of e-cigarettes should also be explored, since the decline in smoking rates in England has accelerated since the devices came onto the market.

Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling, said the study highlighted the importance of preventing smoking in the first place.

“Tobacco use starts in childhood for two-thirds of smokers in the UK, and this study suggests that even trying a cigarette becomes regular use in most cases,” she said.

“Fortunately, in the UK, youth smoking rates continue to decline – but we shouldn’t be complacent,” she added, noting that according to recent figures every year approximately 200,000 children in the UK try cigarettes for the first time. According to recent reports, there were almost one billion smokers worldwide in 2015, with numbers expected to rise – despite a drop in prevalence – as the global population grows.

Global smoking prevalence

Bauld also agreed that the role of e-cigarettes merited further study, pointing out that while it had been assumed that experimentation with e-cigarettes would also lead to regular use, that does not appear to be the case. “

While rates of e-cigarette experimentation amongst young people have risen in recent years, rates of regular use in teenagers who have never smoked remain at well below 1%, she said. “We need to be clear about this distinction and keep our focus on doing everything we can to prevent smoking, which we know is deadly, rather than demonising vaping, which all the evidence suggests is a hugely less harmful behaviour.”

One cigarette ‘may lead to habit for more than two-thirds of people’

More than two-thirds of people who try just one cigarette may go on to become regular smokers, new research suggests.

Researchers found that just over 60% of adults said they had tried a cigarette at some point in their lives, with almost 69% of those noting that they had, at least for a period, gone on to smoke cigarettes daily.

“[This shows] prevention, providing [fewer] opportunities or reasons for young people to try a cigarette, is a good idea,” said Peter Hajek, co-author of the research, from Queen Mary University of London.

The research, published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, is based on data pooled from eight surveys conducted since the year 2000, including three each from the UK and USA, and a further two studies from Australia and New Zealand.

Together, the surveys included more than 216,000 respondents, with between 50% and 82% saying that, after trying a cigarette, they had gone on to smoke on a daily basis – at least temporarily. Further analysis showed that, taken together, an estimated 68.9% of individuals smoked daily for a period after trying a cigarette.

The team also looked at whether the results were likely to be skewed by smokers being less likely to respond in surveys than non-smokers, but no strong effect was found. However, the authors note that the study also has other limitations, including that the findings are based on respondents self-reporting information, meaning the resulting figures are only an estimate.

“It is possible that somebody who is a lifetime non-smoker did try a cigarette when they were a kid but it didn’t make any impression on them, and they forgot it or don’t see that it is important enough to report,” said Hajek. But, he added, “I think even if you assume there is a recall issue and other things, you are talking about more than a 50% [conversion rate from trying a cigarette to daily smoking].”

Decline in British smoking since 1974

Hajek added that declining rates of smoking among younger people suggested that measures such as restrictions on sales and a shift away from portraying it as glamorous were having a positive effect. But, he noted, the influence of e-cigarettes should also be explored, since the decline in smoking rates in England has accelerated since the devices came onto the market.

Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling, said the study highlighted the importance of preventing smoking in the first place.

“Tobacco use starts in childhood for two-thirds of smokers in the UK, and this study suggests that even trying a cigarette becomes regular use in most cases,” she said.

“Fortunately, in the UK, youth smoking rates continue to decline – but we shouldn’t be complacent,” she added, noting that according to recent figures every year approximately 200,000 children in the UK try cigarettes for the first time. According to recent reports, there were almost one billion smokers worldwide in 2015, with numbers expected to rise – despite a drop in prevalence – as the global population grows.

Global smoking prevalence

Bauld also agreed that the role of e-cigarettes merited further study, pointing out that while it had been assumed that experimentation with e-cigarettes would also lead to regular use, that does not appear to be the case. “

While rates of e-cigarette experimentation amongst young people have risen in recent years, rates of regular use in teenagers who have never smoked remain at well below 1%, she said. “We need to be clear about this distinction and keep our focus on doing everything we can to prevent smoking, which we know is deadly, rather than demonising vaping, which all the evidence suggests is a hugely less harmful behaviour.”

This year I bought less and spent more time outdoors, away from the smells of Christmas cheer | Ben O’Mara

I’m no Scrooge, but this December, I kept my fake, plastic smelling Christmas tree and all its baubles boxed up in a drawer under my bed.

I inherited the tree from my grandfather. The tree is fibre optic and when it’s turned on twinkles red, green, purple, white and blue. If you lean in close, you can smell its branches – they have a faint but strange tangy odour and remind me a little of rubber, and glue.

When I smell plastic things like my Christmas tree, I think of my grandfather, and how I struggled to talk with him towards the end of his life. Sometimes, I tell myself that the emphysema made breathing and talking difficult for him and awkward for us both. But most of the time, normally when I’m putting up my fake little tree, I find myself wishing I’d had the guts to say more.

Real Christmas trees like pines release hydrocarbons into the air that help create a sharp and sweet smell. It’s a scent beloved by many, associated with the fun of decorating its feathery green branches with tinsel, or placing gifts around its trunk.

Of course, the smell of a pine tree is only one scent in the rich aromatic experience of Christmas. Many foods eaten at Christmas have distinctive scents. There is the meaty and fruity smell of honey glazed ham. Fresh lobster has a strong, fishy odour. And the smell of gingerbread is powerful and spicy.

The smells of Christmas trees and food reflect some of the best things about Christmas – of celebrating with loved ones as another year draws to a close, and of giving to others without expecting anything in return.

Not everything smells like Christmas cheer when Santa comes to town, however. In fact, many smells of December are downright rank. Like the acrid pungence of vomit from a drunk train passenger who had too much booze at a work Christmas party. Or the fetid stink released from garbage cans filled with large amounts of rotting leftover food. Just waiting in a shopping centre queue on a hot day can have its own oppressive odour as the heavy stink of sweating human bodies mixes together in the air. And few smells are more abrasive than the stinging whiff of urine soaked alleyways and gutters in the city after a night of Christmas partying.

Many smells of Christmas are on the nose, and they are visceral reality checks for when the forces of commercialisation overtake a time of celebration. Comfort and joy are not found with others, but in consumer goods, and sometimes to excess.

The world is filled with scents that might be doing us more harm than good, a phenomenon which Kate Grenville writes about in her book, The Case Against Fragrance. Grenville traces the business interests driving the development of products like air freshners, scented candles and incense, and the health risks associated with these products, noting that,

Aromatherapy has a lot to answer for: there’s a vague assumption that any kind of scent in the air must be good for you.”

Christmas has its own aromatherapy of sorts, one created from food and drink, decorations and presents, a smellscape that, when indulged too much, is all about money, and not the people close to us.

As trite as this sounds, this December I tried to buy less and spend more time outdoors, away from the smells of Christmas cheer.

I avoided the mouth watering aroma of cookies and cakes baking in the oven. I missed out on catch ups at the pub and drinking those citrus smelling craft beers.

Instead, I exercised as the sun rose, on grassy smelling fields near my home. I walked through the salty air on a warm, sandy beach. And I went bushwalking with someone I love.

We walked through the giant trees of the dense bush, up rocky paths, and to the top of a tall hill. The air was crisp and carried a warm hint of eucalyptus. We sat down and in silence stared at the tiny streets and buildings of the city far below us. I forgot about work, whether my family would like the presents I’d bought them, and my worries about money. The best and the worst things of a manic year seemed to fade away.

I felt grateful for my time in the rough beauty of the Australian bush with its refreshing, earthy aromas, and to simply be alive and present with someone who cared for me. It was one of the best Christmas presents I’d ever given myself.

I broke a tradition this year by not putting up my grandfather’s fibre optic plastic smelling Christmas tree. But I know he would understand that I needed more than a scent inspired, nostalgic connection to the past.

Christmas is over now, but I wish I could have just one more day with my grandfather spent walking in the bush. We wouldn’t need presents, or a Christmas tree, real or fake. Just each other.

Ben O’Mara is a Melbourne based writer and health worker

More US teens are vaping than smoking cigarettes, study finds

More US teenagers have tried vaping than smoking cigarettes, a new study shows, raising concerns among some researchers that vaping could become a new generation’s substance delivery system of choice.

The new nationally representative study showed that 35.8% of students in their final year of high school had tried vaping, versus 26.6% who had ever smoked a cigarette.


These findings emphasize that vaping has progressed well beyond a cigarette alternative

Richard Miech, principal investigator

Since vaping’s growth in popularity, debate has raged in public health circles about the role e-cigarettes should play. American researchers have largely taken a prohibitionist stance, arguing vaping does more harm than good, while British have researchers focused on the device’s potential benefits to current smokers.

“These findings emphasize that vaping has progressed well beyond a cigarette alternative,” said Richard Miech, the principal investigator on the annual Monitoring the Future survey, which involves tens of thousands of students. The government-funded research is now in its 43rd year, and considered the most authoritative national picture of teen drug use.

“Vaping has become a new delivery device for a number of substances, and this number will likely increase in the years to come,” said Miech.

Researchers only have three years of data on how many teens use the electronic devices, but the latest Monitoring the Future study found vaping is already widespread among high school students.

From its peak in the mid-1990s, the rate of all high school students who are smoking has dropped dramatically. For example in 1997, 65.4% of students in their final year of high school said they had ever smoked a cigarette. In 2017, 26.6% of the oldest high school students had smoked one.

However, in the last few years vaping has seen huge growth. Monitoring the Future did not measure teen vaping until 2015. By that time, 35.5% of 12th graders had used one before. That number rose slightly in 2017, to 38.8%.

E-cigarette smoking in California. The study also asked how often teens vaped marijuana.


E-cigarette smoking in California. The study also asked how often teens vaped marijuana. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For the first time this year, Monitoring the Future asked teens how often they vaped nicotine, marijuana or only flavoring, though researchers warned the numbers are likely to skew low since teens may not know what is in a vaping product. They found one in four 12th graders had vaped nicotine, and 11.9% had vaped marijuana.

Vaping devices turn liquid flavorings laced with nicotine or marijuana into a vapor. In the US, they are largely unregulated. Although Congress passed a law meant to regulate the devices in 2009, nearly a decade later the Food and Drug Administration failed to issue regulations to guide manufacturers. They don’t expect to do so before 2021.

Those delays have followed heavy lobbying by tobacco companies such as RJ Reynolds and Altria (formerly Philip Morris USA), who fought against the 2009 law.

Koval also said evidence of vaping marijuana was worrying. Emerging research shows marijuana can be detrimental to the development of teens’ brains.

“But as concerns this audience, which are young people, it’s not a good idea for them to be consuming nicotine in any way, shape or form,” Koval said. “It’s concerning to see that.”

Researchers have conducted Monitoring the Future surveys among US high school students in their final year since 1975, adding lower grades in the 1990s. In all, approximately 50,000 students in about 420 public and private secondary schools are surveyed annually.