When to Offer Health Advice to a Stranger?

September 1, 2012
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If you travel a lot, or you move to a new country as I have, you notice differences in people. Are people thinner than back home? Do they eat healthier food? Do they walk more and use their cars less? Do they smoke? As a reader of my blog you think about health issues.

If you travel a lot, or you move to a new country as I have, you notice differences in people. Are people thinner than back home? Do they eat healthier food? Do they walk more and use their cars less? Do they smoke? As a reader of my blog you think about health issues. You are well aware of how personal decisions and lifestyle choices have a lot to do with your longevity and your quality of life now and in the future. So do you say anything when you see people who are very much harming their health?

Here’s what’s been bothering me: We’ve been living for two months in an old area of Barcelona, Spain, where there are literally thousands of tourists passing through every day. Many are young people, especially between 18 and 30. And many, many of them smoke – incessantly. They sit in cafes, they sit on the steps of the big church next door, they sit on the marble wall alongside the war memorial. They chat and they puff. Pretty girls, handsome young men. Puffing away.

I have three children, 15, 19 and 22. They do not smoke and, through education, virtually none of their friends do. They know it’s “dumb.” We have drummed that into them. But not here. The tobacco companies are making boatloads of money, cigarettes are cheap (no high taxes on them) and tobacco shops are on many corners.

I’ve been wondering if Europe is headed toward a generation of lung cancer and heart disease. Maybe it’s nothing new. But what a shame!

So that brings up the question, do you ever say anything to a stranger? Do I ask the girls on the wall if they’d thought about stopping or even if they understood the dangers to their health? Would my kids say that would be “creepy?” Should I take on public education in my new neighborhood? Would I be an American trying to push my way on them? Would anyone listen?

Many who read this are cancer patient-advocates. We know smoking kills, often raising the risk of many cancers. Should we speak out about this only in our own families or can we do more – even, in a polite way, with strangers?

I don’t have answers so I REALLY need your comments on this one. In the meantime, I just feel sorrow as I see those young people puff, yet again.

Wishing you and your family the best of health,

Andrew