Interview with Professor Christina Gratziou, Chair of the ERS Advocacy Council

Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, we interviewed Professor Christina Gratziou, Chair of the ERS Advocacy Council, about why it is so important for healthcare professionals to play their role in tackling smoking in order to improve lung health throughout Europe.

Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, we interviewed Professor Christina Gratziou, Chair of the ERS Advocacy Council, about why it is so important for healthcare professionals to play their role in tackling smoking in order to improve lung health throughout Europe.

Could you tell us about your area of work?

I have been a medical doctor for more than 25 years and work full-time as a specialist in respiratory medicine in a university hospital department. Through my university clinical activities I have organised specialised clinics for asthma and chronic obstructive airways conditions and a smoking cessation outpatient clinic.

My research interests are mainly on asthma and allergy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the effects of smoking on the lungs, as well as smoking cessation and tobacco control policy activities. I have been active within the European Respiratory Society (ERS) since 2001, and have held several positions in the scientific working groups and assemblies in the fields of asthma, occupational lung health and epidemiology, smoking cessation, as well as several committees related to tobacco control policy.

How did your interest in this field develop?

As medical doctors and researchers we try to find the best therapies that we can offer to the people we treat to help them and their families to have a better quality of life. In my opinion, prevention of conditions should be one of our main priorities. Stopping children from smoking and encouraging people that already smoke to quit can save lives! Helping people to quit smoking is undoubtedly a cost-effective way to avoid many lung conditions in adults and in children.

We know that 13 million people in Europe are affected by smoking-related conditions, with conditions like COPD and lung cancer making up a large proportion of these.Thus, smoking is a specific target for action for a doctor treating people with lung conditions.

World No Tobacco Day will be celebrated on Tuesday 31 May, 2016. Why is it so important for people with and without lung conditions to stop smoking?

Smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death in Europe. We need to better address nicotine addiction, which is a treatable problem. Encouraging people to stop smoking is the most effective way to reverse this trend. ERS has, since it was founded, demonstrated a strong commitment to tobacco control and supports policy actions and health education in this area in a number of ways.

Through preventing people from smoking and encouraging people to quit, we can reduce the burden of many lung and heart conditions. Smoking cessation is one of the most cost-effective interventions in medicine, and it should be used more widely. It is important for all healthcare professionals to know how to help patients to quit smoking.

To support this, ERS offers educational courses for healthcare professionals on helping people to quit smoking and has also worked on specific reccomendations that were published in the European Respiratory Journal, the ERS Monograph  and ERJ Open Research. Healthcare professionals have to be more active in advising and educating the general population on health consequences of smoking, and also in advising policymakers for the right control policies at national and international level.

To mark World No Tobacco Day, the European Respiratory Society is joining forces with the European Network for Smoking Prevention (ENSP) for an event on plain packaging at the European Parliament. Could you tell us about this event?

This year for World No Tobacco Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) are calling on countries to get ready for plain packaging. Indeed, standardised plain cigarette packaging is another cost-effective public health policy to reduce tobacco use. The WHO FCTC guidance document for the implementation of Article 13 states that: “Parties should consider adopting plain packaging requirements to eliminate the effects of advertising or promotion on packaging. Packaging, individual cigarettes or other tobacco products should carry no advertising or promotion, including design features that make products attractive”.

To support this call to action, ERS, together with the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention (ENSP), is hosting an event dedicated to plain packaging on Tuesday 31 May at the European Parliament. The event, hosted by MEPs Gilles Pargneaux and Brian Hayes, aims to highlight the scientific evidence behind plain packaging and present the ERS–ENSP position paper on the topic. We will also present awards to congratulate countries that have already implemented the measure, and encourage other countries to follow suit.

Speakers will include Vytenis Andriukaitis, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Dr James Reilly, former Irish Health Minister, Nicola Gordon-Smith, Deputy Head of the Australian Mission to Belgium and Dr Roberto Bertollini, Chief Scientist and WHO Representative to the EU, as well as various professionals on the topic.

The ERS/ENSP event is open to policymakers, healthcare professionals and other organisations working against tobacco and cigarette use in Europe. Find out more about the event and to register for free.

Could you tell us about the SmokeHaz project?

While I chaired the ERS Tobacco Control Committee, we collaborated with the European Lung Foundation and the UK Centre of Excellence on Alcohol and Tobacco Dependence at the University of Nottingham to create SmokeHaz, a new website that provides information assessing the relationship between active and passive smoking and a range of health outcomes, focusing first on lung health. The data on the SmokeHaz website came from a meta-analysis of a large number of studies looking at the effects of passive and active smoking on lung health

The website is aimed mainly at policymakers, healthcare professionals, researchers and those who need to easily and quickly find reliable, evidence-based information. This website will also be helpful for members of the public and people with lung conditions who are looking for the latest information on the effects of smoking on lung health.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I am passionate about motivating upcoming medical doctors to be active in the scientific side of respiratory medicine. In addition, I also like to encourage them to use a human approach with the people they treat, by listening to their needs and treating them as individuals in a personalised manner. I believe that patient–doctor communication is a key part of treatment for any condition, and we have to work on this continuously.   

Is there anything else you would like to add?

As medical doctors and scientists we need to act with continuous efforts in order to protect our children’s health, and offer help to the people we treat so that they can have a better quality of life.

We need to encourage all current smokers to quit in order to reduce related illnesses and deaths over the next two decades. Healthcare professionals have to know how to give support and help. Special education and training of healthcare professionals to face smoking is urgent and it should be included in the training of all healthcare professionals and medical students.

As a scientific medical society ERS will continue work to help fully implement the WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control guidelines in all European countries and worldwide.

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