Jennie Whitley - A Social Work Portfolio

Identify community attitudes to recreational drug use and reflect on the impact of these attitudes.



The back of my sisters cigarette packet tells me that in Australia in 1998, 19019 deaths were tobacco related.  In comparison, it goes on to tell me that only 2831 deaths were alcohol related and a mere 863 deaths attributable to illegal drugs.   (Benson & Hedges 2007)  Being a smoker myself once, these figures fascinate me.  I had always believed that illegal drugs were where the 'drug problem of society' lay.  My mission now, and I chose to accept it, was to take a journey into the world of tobacco – firstly because I have a university assignment to complete, but also because I hope that my journey will encourage me to never take up the habit again!

 All these deaths!  The question had to be asked – what makes tobacco so dangerous?  To answer this question, I headed to the Quitnow website and discovered that "tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals" (Quitnow, 2006).  These include:

  • Tar
  • Nicotine
  • Carbon Monoxide (like my car exhaust fumes!)
  • Ammonia (like the stuff in my floor cleaner!)
  • Arsenic (also used in rat poison!)

(Quitnow, 2006)

How about the history of tobacco use in Australia?  I thought I'd go back about 20 years, to when I first started smoking.   I remember being on an international flight to Malaysia and people all around me were smoking.  I used to go to Boarding school and on the train on my way home every third weekend, I would sit with my friends in the smoking carriage.  I'd go out to dinner and be able to sit in the smokers section of the restaurant, or head to a nightclub and find myself with a drink in one hand, smoke in the other.  I even remember going to work with my mum one day and seeing ashtrays all around the office.  Sports events were all sponsored by cigarette companies and advertisements for cigarettes were all over the television and in magazines.  Based on all this, smoking, I believe, was an accepted activity within society.  How the tables have turned.  Legislation has made all the above a thing of the past.  Advertising campaigns about the effects of smoking, I believe, has helped to push it to the not acceptable status. 

My next task was to learn more about the advertising campaigns, which, I believe, have helped to advise Australia of the risks and dangers associated with tobacco.  In 1996, the Australian Government started contributing funds to the National Tobacco Campaign.  This campaign has been going strong ever since.  Print and television commercials, the graphic warnings on the cigarette packets and the Quitline are all results of this initiative.  (Quitnow 2006). 

All this is interesting stuff.  All this death and disease from tobacco – I bet it was costing a fortune to society.  Flipping through my text book, I found out it did -  $21 000 million for the 1998 – 99 year to be exact (Collins & Lapsley, 2002 cited in Ryder, Walker & Salmon, 2006).  Interesting – the cost is huge.  Why then is it legal?   Why can it not become an illegal substance?  Of course I know from my reading that to make it illegal would not stop the consumption.  I then found some monetary figures that made me realise the enormous contribution smoking makes to the government piggy bank!  In 2004-2005, the revenue raised from tobacco products was nearly seven billion dollars!  (AIHW 2007 p. 7)  So yes, the cost is high, but pales in comparison to the revenues it generates.   

I wondered if some of my thoughts were going to be the same as others.  I had the opportunity to have a discussion with a small group of family and friends, all of whom were currently, or had been smokers.  It was interesting to note that most of us had started smoking at the same age and mostly for the same reason – peer pressure.  I also wanted to know about the effect of the graphic images on the cigarette packets.  While it seemed be confronting for most, it was not a reason for many of them to give up.  One participant thought she was "desensitized to them" (RJ, personal communications, 2007).  Finally, the general opinion of the participants was that society as a whole is becoming less and less tolerant of smoking.  (See Appendix One)

Discussions on blackboard have been flowing fast and free with regards to tobacco.  (See Appendix Two).  One thread started with a student giving her views on smoking and outlining a couple of examples based on smokers that she knew.  I was able to follow with my personal experience, which I further outline below.  Another student then discussed her experience, mentioning that "back then in the late 70's early 80's it was the in thing to do. It was still known as being cool to smoke and we all wanted to be cool".  Finding places to smoke was an easier task back then.   Now, I see signs everywhere, shopping centres, airports, hotels, universities stating that it is an offence to smoke either in the building or within four metres of any entrance. 

Of course there is a reason all these signs are up and smoking is now not permitted in many places.  I decided to research to see what the laws are with regards to smoking in Queensland in 2007.  I found the Act is called Tobacco and Other Smoking Products Act 1998 and some changes were introduced with Queenslands Tobacco and Other Smoking Products Amendment Bill 2004, which sees some new tough laws with regards to smoking.  A penalty now associated with smoking in a non smoking place is a $150 on the spot fine.  (Queensland Health, 2006). 

Before finishing my research, I wanted to know one more thing.  With all this awareness of the health dangers related to smoking, changes to law and the lack of places available to smoke, I wondered if there has been a reduction in the amount of people who smoke in Australia.  The proportion of the Australian population aged 14 years and over who were daily smokers dropped from 24% in 1991 to 17% in 2004 (AIHW, 2007 p. 3).  Proof then I conclude, that by raising the awareness of the dangers of smoking, making it harder to find somewhere to smoke and changing society attitudes towards smoking all contribute to a decline in the number of smokers. 


Identify own attitudes to recreational drug use and reflect on these attitudes.

My original idea when thinking of this assignment was to focus on illicit drugs.  My view was that they were the problem within society.  My opinion changed very quickly as I started to read and research.  I then decide to focus on tobacco for this assessment.  It is something that affects me personally, and I hope that by learning more about the detrimental effects of smoking, I will be encouraged to remain smoke free!

I tried my first cigarette somewhere between the age of ten and twelve – I can't remember exactly.   I stole a packet of my mothers winnie blues from the cupboard and over the next month, smoked them with two of my friends on our way home from the bus stop each afternoon after school.  I didn't like it, and I couldn't see the point of it, but I felt cool and my friends thought me very brave for stealing the packet.  It was about another five years before I would take up the habit on a more permanent basis. 

At the age of sixteen I went to boarding school. My friends would sneak up the back paddock to smoke, so I would go with them to chat.  It wasn't long before I was partaking in the activity myself.  From this age, I was a smoker.  I used to say it wasn't an addiction and I could quit anytime.  I consoled myself with the fact that I smoked a low milligram and that sometimes a packet would last me a week.  I classed myself as a social smoker.

I met a guy, started dating.  He also smoked.  We gave up many times together, but nothing ever lasted much longer than a month.  We were together nearly eight years then broke up.  I smoked more!  I met a new guy, he didn't smoke.  My smoking got less and less until November 2002, when I was 28 and I quit – cold turkey.  My smoke free existence lasted almost four years, till some major stresses in my life saw me start again in October 2006.  I got over it and had my last cigarette on New Years Day 2007.  Not a single day has gone past in the last four months, or even in that lengthy four year span where I haven't thought, "I'd kill for a smoke".  The idea of what it does to me and the harm that it can cause makes me ill, but it doesn't stop me craving.  Willpower however, stops me lighting up!

With regards to other drugs, I regularly partake in coffee drinking and alcohol consumption.  At times, my alcohol consumption results in injuries – such as hangovers or bumps, bruises and scratches from where I have tripped over in an inebriated state.  I predict that the future holds much more coffee and alcohol consumption.   I've also tried marijuana on quite a few occasions.  I have a brother who is a regular user of this drug, which I think has helped me to remain only a dabbler and not progress further.  With the exception of the above, I've tried nothing else, but admit to being curious and want to try other things.  Mostly it is fear that stops me.  I have heard only bad stories of drug taking gone wrong and am terrified of becoming one of the statistics.  Now I just tell myself I'm too old to try anything new and stick to alcohol and coffee. 

I've mentioned that I have a brother who I have helped come off various sorts of drugs over the years.  (See Appendix Four)  It has been through being part of his life that I have gained much of my knowledge on illicit drugs.  He is also one of the reasons I have not tried anything else.  My mother told me once that she was dead set against any sort of illicit drug and never for one moment believed she would ever have to deal with the drug issue with one of her own children.  She always used to say she thought that she could keep us protected and away from that scene.  Now she says she realises no amount of wrapping her children up in cotton wool could keep them safe.  About the most that mum would allow was a little bit of alcohol under her supervision.  (See Appendix Three)  If they are going to find themselves involved in drugs, then the least she can do is be there for them if they ever need her.  She tells me that now, she has a more relaxed attitude and understands they are simply part of society and while she won't embrace them, she no longer intends to keep her head in the sand about them. 

It is mostly my mothers attitude that I feel I have accepted throughout my life.  However, I also understand the reasons some people choose to use.  Alcohol gives me a little more confidence.  Sometimes it helps me enjoy a night out more. Smoking used to help me deal with stress.  Coffee keeps me awake.  Marijuana helps me relax.  I think the key with regards to drugs in my life has been moderation and understanding that it could be addictive and that there are dangers associated with drugs.  My own attitudes to recreational drug use prior to this subject was that it was a part of life and that licit drugs were the least damaging.  My attitude was that it was illicit drugs that cost society the most.  My attitude now is that even licit drugs pose problems and in fact, cause more deaths.  I now believe all drugs can cause harm and the aim should be harm minimisation.  I don't believe a total ban on all drugs, or trying to eliminate all drugs is the answer.  People will find a way to make more.  Projects aimed at harm minimisation are the key.  

Which leaves me with my (hopefully) smoke free existence.  The smoke free road will at times be bumpy and at other times stumble free.  At times when the cravings seem too much to bear, all I have to remember is:

Every cigarette will do ME damage!


Click here to return to list of subjects completed page

Make a Free Website with Yola.